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Slot Machine History

A gambling machine developed by Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York is considered as the forerunner of the today's slot machines. The machine had 5 drums holding a total of 50 card faces and the winning combinations were based on poker hands.

Players would insert a nickel and pull a lever, which would spin the drums and the cards they held, the player hoping for a good poker hand. There was no direct payout mechanism, so a pair of Kings might get the player a free beer, whereas a Royal Flush could pay out cigars or drinks, the prizes were wholly dependent on what was on offer at the local establishment.

This machine proved extremely popular and soon there was hardly a bar in New York that didn't have one or more of the machines beside the bar.

To make the odds better for the house, two cards were typically removed from the "deck": the Ten of Spades and the Jack of Hearts, which cut the odds of winning a Royal Flush by half. The drums could also be re-arranged to further reduce a player's chance of winning.

But due to the vast number of possible wins with the original poker card-based game, it proved practically impossible to come up with a way to make a machine capable of making an automatic pay-out for all possible winning combinations.

Then in 1887, Charles Fey of San Francisco, California, devised a much simpler mechanism and invented the first "one-armed bandit" called the Liberty Bell.

Fey devised a machine with three spinning reels containing a total of five symbols - horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell, which also gave the machine its name.

By replacing ten cards with five symbols and using three reels instead of five drums, the complexity of reading a win was considerably reduced, allowing Fey to devise an effective automatic payout mechanism. Three bells in a row produced the biggest payoff, ten nickels.

The Liberty Bell was a huge success and spawned a thriving mechanical gaming device industry. Even when the use of these gambling devices was banned in California after a few years, Fey still couldn't keep up with demand for the game elsewhere.

Another early version of the slot machine gave out winnings in the form of fruit flavored chewing gums with pictures of the flavors as symbols on the reels. Popular cherry and melon slot machine symbols were derived from this machine. The "BAR" symbol now common in slot machines was derived from an early logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company. In 1964, Bally developed the first fully electromechanical slot machine called Money Honey.

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