From One Armed Bandits to Interactive Video Slots
The History of pokies and slot machines is as colourful as the symbols that appear on its reels – and have done so since they were first created over 100 years ago. Let’s take a look back at the how and the what – and of course the when.
Charles Fey – The Father of Slots & The Papa of Pokies
Charles Fey was a mechanical engineer from California who’s contributions to slot machine development and the resoltuion of various problems makes him he undisputed father of them all. Charles also developed some other pokies and slot machine designs as well as managing to solve some other problems connected with those machines, such as the fake nickels inserted in the device by scammers. He is also the inventor of the casino franchise, as he rented the machines to the casinos for a profit share.
Learn more about The Father of the slot machine at the official wiki page –> HERE
Pictured below is the man himself and alongside three of his slot machines – including the Liberty Bell.
1891 – Before Bells There Were Drums
A few years before Charles Fey came up with the Liberty Bell and the concept of what we know as the slot machine or pokies, a pair of businessmen from New York devised a machine of their own…
The Sitman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York , U.S. developed a gambling machine in 1891 which was a precursor to the modern slot machine. It contained five drums holding a total of 50 card faces and was based on poker. This machine proved extremely popular and soon many bars in the city had one or more of the machines. They inserted the currency and pulled the lever which turned the drums and the cards they held, while the player hoped a good poker hand . There was no direct payment mechanism, so a pair of kings might get the player a free beer, whereas a Royal Flush cigars or drinks. The awards were entirely depended on the offers in each local installation.
It took another 4 years before Charles would take this concept the extra step required to reproduce machines with consistent results – well as consistent as chance can be.
1895 – LIBERTY BELL The First Ever Slot Machine
Let there be pokies – and so it was done.
The Liberty Bell was/is a 3 reel slot machine with 10 symbols on each reel. It functioned like any man would imagine a slot machine should work. Each reel had a liberty bell symbol while the other were mostly suits from playing cards. The jackpot was reached when the lever got pulled and all 3 reels showed the same symbol.
The big jackpot was the Liberty Bell and if you get 3 of those you win 50 cents, or 10 nickels, a little fortune.
You could easily calculate the odds. There were 10 potential stops and 3 reels so the odds (combinations) were: 10X10X10 = 1000. Only one combination of those got you the jackpot.
Incredibly, you can still find the original Liberty Bell slot machine in the Liberty Saloon in Nevada.
1900 – Gambling Outlawed
Within 5 years of the invention of the pokies and slot machines they were banned.
In 1901: Nevada legislature makes poker games legal. [818.3] This includes Charles Fey’s recently created Liberty Bell Slot Machine.
Innovative slot owners replaced the coins with gum, drinks or candy and changed the card suits symbols with images of fruit or gum. In fact the ‘BAR” symbol that is so prevelant on many pokies today is actually a throwback to the original ‘sticks of gum’ that were given away instead of coins during the period when poker games were outlawed. We also still see the cherry and other fruit and in fact the common phrase for pokies and slot machines in England is ‘Fruit Machines’ – so there you go.
An early Liberty Bell that has been changed to accomodate Nevada Legislature around Poker.
1956 – Pokies Arrive Down Under
After Australia legalised pokies in 1956, NSW pubs saw an influx of pokie machines and they soon spread across the country. NSW still boasts the largest number of pokies in Oz.
Aristocrat Leisure was formed in NSW in 1953 to provide pokie machines across Oz. Aristocrat still produces land-based and online pokie games, and in 205 the Aussie firm took over American manufacturer Video Gaming in a deal worth $1.3 billion. In the process, Aristocrat tripled its pokie machines tally in North America.
1963 – Electromechanical Slot Machines
In 1963, Bally developed the first fully electromechanical slot machine called money honey. (Bally had actually created an electromechanical slot machine in 1940 called High hand but it wasnt until 1960 that they perfected it enough for production and release to the public). The electromechanical approach of the 1960s allowed the ‘Money Honey’ Pokies to be the first slot machine with a bottomless hopper and automatic payment combinations, up to 500 coins, without the help of an attendant.
The popularity of this machine led to the increasing prevalence of new electronic format and the side lever soon became a thing of the past…
So big were the jackpots paid out by Money Honey, and its younger sister, Big Bertha, that a human attendant had to sit by the machine overseeing payouts.
Big Bertha, as the name suggests, was a two-tonne monster that sat in the lobbies of major Vegas casinos. It cost $150,000 to build and featured 160 symbols on its eight reels.
1970 – 1980: Video Pokies, Free Spins & Progressive Slots
Australia’s first legal casino offering pokies was opened in Tasmania in 1973, and two years later the arrival of the first video poker machines signalled a new revolution in games for the world. Fortune Coin featured a video screen so players could see the symbols on-screen, and the game also included the world’s first Random Number Generator**
However, it wasn’t until the 1980s when first, IGT’s Megabucks introduced the idea of progressive jackpots to the world, and their Wheel of Fortune pokie gave gamblers the chance to win huge bonus jackpots on the spin of a wheel. Bally later joined the party with video pokies featuring bonus rounds and free spins.
Modern Video Slots have come a long way since the days of Charles Fey and his humble Liberty Bell
**Pokies use a RNG (random number generator). This ensures every spin is random and fair. The pokie will randomly choose its reels the very second you press the button or pull the handle. Before this point it does not know what it will show next. Pressing 1 second later would change the outcome to one second before.
The above point means that if you walk away from the machine and someone else goes on and spins once and gets the jackpot, that jackpot would probably have not been won by you as the second you press the button determines the outcome of the reels.
1990 – The Birth of Online Pokies
Microgaming launched the first online pokies for real money in the mid-1990s. Based on classic three-reel pokies from Vegas casinos, the game meant that players could enjoy pokies from the comfort of their own front room. The game only had a Spin button and a slider to choose your stake, but it wouldn’t be long before major players like Playtech and Cryptologic were developing their own online pokies and casino gaming rooms.
Today the online casinos are a different beast than what they provided all those years ago. The advent of progressive jackpots – introduced by Microgaming and now provided through most of the online game tech companies has changed the landscape dramatically and made the world of online gambling and playing slots from home as exciting as actually being there in person.
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2016 –> The Future of Pokies
Online gambling in Australia is governed by the Interactive Gambling Act (2001). It became illegal for Internet gaming sites to offer real-money gambling to Aussies. However, many overseas rooms continue to offer pokies and other games without prosecution.
However, with Australia boasting some of the highest pokie-per-capita rates in the world, and crackdowns on problem gambling across the country being waged in various states, the future of pokie machines in Oz is definitely not certain.
See chart below to get an idea just how bad our obsession with pokies actually is. Stats from 2014.