In a lot of ways, Las Vegas has been the source of a lot of firsts – at least when it comes to the establishment of a gambling resort with everything located in one place.
One of the few other exceptions would be Atlantic City, but even that cannot match the scale, prestige, and global fame that Vegas has established.
Slot machines were not invented in Las Vegas, but it was perhaps one of the first places in the world where there had been so many in one spot. But what exactly was the first slot machine in Las Vegas, and how was it received?
The Invention Of The Slot Machine
The first slot machine was invented in Brooklyn, New York in 1891, and is considered as the forefather to the modern machine.
The machine was developed by Sittman and Pitt, and was a machine holding 50 cards with a game based on poker. This proved incredibly popular, both as an attraction, and as a source of gambling.
This was eventually the launchpad for the ‘Liberty Bell’, one of the first slot machines that could be recognized today for its similarities to modern machines.
The Liberty Bell was created by Charles Fey of San Francisco, who developed a simplistic system involving a revolving reel with three symbols on each of the axes.
This was the introduction of the first ‘slot machine’, also known as the ‘one armed bandit’, wherein gamblers would attempt to get three symbols the same in a row to win.
Las Vegas’ First Slot Machines
After the opening of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1946, the now famous ‘Strip’ began to draw guests from all corners of the country – attracting both the rich, famous, and fortune seekers alike, all looking to marvel at this new resort, and see what fortunes could be made.
Slot machines were introduced to the Flamingo in 1947 by owner and renowned gangster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, who wanted something to attract both casual gamblers, as well as the wives and girlfriends of serious male gamblers – both to keep them entertained, and to keep them away from the tables.
Many of these early models included different editions of the Liberty Bell, as well as other lesser known brands that followed the same style.
Many of these were changed and bolstered with new additions and inventions – such as Mills Novelty Co. who developed the ‘jackpot’ payout system in 1916.
This introduction skyrocketed the popularity of slot machines, enticing more and more people to favor them for their low risk input and moderate reward prizes.
What Variations Were There?
There were many different variations of this initial Liberty Bell design, with many offering various other prizes.
This was notably true during the Great Depression, when food items – such as candy and bubblegum – were rewarded instead of cash.
This was also a good way for vendors to get around anti-gambling laws, as food wasn’t considered gambling in the same way that money was.
Other variations included patriotic models released during the Second World War – many of them adorned with patriotic, American flag motifs, and featuring equally American symbols, such as flags, and wreaths.
This marked the beginning of ‘themed’ slot machines, which are now a common occurrence in modern times. This also marked the start of the ‘fruit machine’, wherein symbols of fruit like cherries, plums, and oranges were used on the spinning reels.
How Did Early Machines Work?
After the complexity of the original poker-based machine, Fey’s Liberty Bell operated on a series of three reels – a mechanized system that made things a lot easier.
This system made it much easier to determine a winner, and the winning combination consisted of three bells in a row, which would earn the gambler a prize of 50 cents.
Slot Machines & Problem Gambling
Slot machines have also been attributed to the rise in problem gambling, with experts suggesting that the very nature of slot machine gaming leads more towards addiction than traditional methods.
This is supposedly because slot machines create a lack of bodily awareness, a lack of time awareness, and the lack of notice surrounding monetary value.
This is described with the term ‘machine zone’ – a state characterizing total immersion in the gambling, where all other states of awareness slip away.
This is characterized by a heightened sense of arousal, wherein the act of using the slot machine itself gives a sensory reward of pleasure regardless of whether the player has won or not.
Slot Machines & The Law
Since their introduction, slot machines have been the subject of various legal reasons.
Cheating Devices & Scams
Since the invention of the Liberty Bell, there have been numerous cheating devices and scams, the most notable of which was the use of a coin on a plastic wire – wherein they put the coin inside, with the machine accepting the coin, and then the spinning on the wire inside the machine releases the coin through the exit slot.
Through various states in the US, gambling laws were subject to change regularly throughout the early 20th century (see also “Gambling At Home: Is It Against The Law?“). This saw the rise of food based slot machines as a means of counteracting these laws.
However, these soon became subject to legal changes, with notable examples being mint dispensing machines, which also became considered gambling machines under the law.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about slot machines, and the first one located in Las Vegas!
It’s certainly true that Vegas changed the face of gambling forever (see also “How Old To Gamble In Vegas?“), taking something that had been a small-scale pastime, and transforming it into a collective multi-million dollar industry.
Las Vegas is a place of many firsts, and can hold many wonders to both the historian and the gambler alike – and these slot machines are an example of that.