The name Charles Fey may not be familiar, but you could call him the Isaac Newton of gambling. A San Francisco car mechanic by trade, Fey invented a game where people spent a little money in the hopes of winning back much more. It had three spinning reels (similar to today's 3 reel slots) with different symbols painted on them. For a penny, you could send them spinning and, if three bells line up in a row, you won the jackpot. In 1895 Fey's slot machine, complete with a bell that rang every time the jackpot was won, became a reality. He called it the Liberty Bell.
Joining forces with the Mills Novelty company, he continued to pioneer to pioneer in the new craze and created the first "themed" slot machines. The company followed up with the double jackpot feature, assuring players that once a pot had been won it could be won again in quick succession.
The slot machine was evolving and, while such gimmicks ensured the slots always remained popular, nobody could have foretold what Vegas would do for the game's future. When Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel he ordered a few slots to be scattered around the resort to entertain the wives, girlfriends and mistresses of the high rollers while thy were at the table playing poker and blackjack.
Unfortionately, Siegel didn't live long enough to see the revenue from his slots eclipsing that of the tables.
The appeal of the slots was immense. Suddenly people could dictate the pace at which they wanted to gamble, and the monetary rewards were very generous compared to the short outlay it cost to play.
But in the 1980's the once popular slots machine had hit a lull. Revenue was down and the slots were in need of a makeover. It happened in the form of more reels, more paylines, bonuses and much bigger winnings in both progressive and straight varieties.
Today the slots and fruit machines are the backbone of the casinos - the real money-spinners and a hub of excitement. With the advent of online casinos, some might say that the slot machine has truly come into its own. There is nothing to be dreamed that cannot be done, no bonus feature to elaborate, no jackpot too outrageous. In 1895 the Liberty Bell's jackpot was 10 nickels. Today, jackpots can exceed $10 million. Charles Fey would be proud.