The Slot Machine
Mechanical coin-operated gambling machines, often referred to as The Slot Machines have been a popular American pastime for well over 100 years…
From the San Francisco **“The Call ”
“The desire of everybody to take chances is that which leads to enterprise and lends variety to life. No man, woman or child is there that does not desire to try his or her luck. This opportunity is afforded by many devices which collectively carry the name of slot machines.”
“There are few men in the land who have not played the slot machine and there are few who do not find the charm of this practice sufficient to lure them to practice it with great regularity.”
The most popular “Slot Machines” in their heyday were manufactured in Chicago; however it was a young immigrant from Germany seeking freedom and opportunity in San Francisco of America who created the first slot machine that proved to ignite their explosion onto the scene in the 1890’s, starting with different variations of the slot machines, poker machines, penny-drop machines, and “trade simulators.” It wasn’t until the latter part of that decade that 3-Reel Slot Machines came into the picture.
In San Francisco 1889, a 29 year old mechanic named Charles Fey designed and built the first coin-payout 3-reel slot machine that rang a bell upon a payout. Fey named his invention “The Liberty Bell.”
The American Influence
The slot machine is representational of this era, when invention, creativity, and the American spirit of the “can do anything” pursuit of an “American Dream”.
The West Coast during that time was a ready market for these gambling machines as a host to the entrepreneurial spirit that embodied a different form of risk-taking, specifically the California Gold Rush. It all came from the same energy that transformed innovation and grit to turn dreams into reality!
In 1900 at the height of the California Gold Rush, innovation and entrepreneurialism was not only alive, but enthusiastically thriving in San Francisco! Americans went “all-in” betting on new frontiers in the Old West during the California Gold Rush. This provided an ideal place; fertile grounds if you will… for the development of coin-activated gambling. Even though the earliest devices were conceived and produced on the East Coast, the device that led the way taking the market place by storm was the “Liberty Bell” tinkered together by Charles Fey in 1889 – 90.
Maybe you are wondering, “Why San Francisco?” Well, let’s just start with the discovery of gold in the California Sierras, which attracted every kind of adventurer, risk-taker, and dreamer you could possibly imagine!
These are the personality types who would take to this mechanical device. Far away from Eastern influences of government and church, the California pioneers had bets placed on just about anything that had a variable outcome.
Fey built his second slot machine in 1895 in the basement of his home in Berkeley. The slot machine was called, “4-11-44”, which was based on “Policy”, which was the name of a popular illegal lottery game at the time.
Policy had three concentric number dials with a 3-digit combination, which was called a “gig.” The number combination of 4-11-44 was a popular sequence in the lottery game because even though it almost never occurred, it was the highest paid winning combination at $5.00, and this was especially attractive to the Negro community and the poor populations alike.
A book titled, “Aunt Sally’s Policy Players Dream Book” was very popular at the time… it discussed many different number strategies, including dreams people had revealing the lucky winning number combinations to anyone with the will to believe. This book was the only book many of the “Policy” lottery players had ever read in their life.
Fey placed his second slot machine ever created…his first “Fey 4-11-44”, in a salon; it became so popular that Fey promptly created a few more, and made a decision to devote his full time to designing and manufacturing slot machines.
In 1896 Fey formed a factory on Market Street in San Francisco and left his share of the electrical equipment business to his partner, Holtz.
The reason for such popularity on the 3-Reel slot machines is because:
The suspense factor that relives itself every time the handle is pulled to start spinning the reels and then Reel One stops… then Reel Two… then Reel Three in succession.
With 10 symbols per reel, the possible combinations were many, and this foiled the player from the ability to mentally calculate how far the odds were stacked against him.
By 1899 Fey was making machines branded as the “Liberty Bell” named after an obvious patriotic symbol; (which Fey respected deeply) and the bell that rang with every winning combination and payout.
Fey adopted a business model of only operating his machines on location rather than selling them to the proprietor. The best way a competitor could copy it (there was no patent protection for these machines) was to steal one.
Liberty Bell Influence
In 1905 a Fey Liberty Bell mysteriously appeared in the Mills Novelty Company plant in Chicago. Soon after, Mills had a Liberty Bell on the market with attractive cosmetics – an all-cast iron case with fancy patterns in the castings and nickel plated.
Mills was already gambling machine powerhouse, followed by Caille Brothers of Detroit… the “Cadillac” of gambling machines, which was always implied in the attractiveness of their case designs. Caille released their version of the Liberty Bell on the market shortly after Mills, all around 1910.
Even though their adoption of the 3-Reel slot machine helped to establish a national market opportunity for everyone, as you might already guess, Fey was not happy about these copycats, especially because they were so much bigger in the industry than he was. Fey was never able to patent his machine because there was too much prior art in the components
From the Book Titled “Illustrated Price Guide to the 100 Most Collectible Slot Machines” By Dick Bueschel
“If any single machine created the slot machine boom of the teens, twenties and thirties, it was the early “Iron Case.” Called the Operator Bell, it was the first in a long line of Bell machines with fruit symbols that are most sought after by collectors.”
“The Operator Bell was a re-engineered Liberty Bell, created for the heavy play that the earlier model had initiated. Its name was its own advertising. It was a Bell machine made for operators, a new form of independent business man that owned machines, placed them on locations on routes, and split the take – historically 50/50 with the location. The operators called the machine the “Iron Case.”
“The idea of fruit symbols on the reels was created to beat the laws. Caille started it with its “G-U-M” reel. A gum vending attachment was initially made part of the machine so that a nickel played was a stick of gum paid, plus any lucky winnings.”
In 1911, Mills succeeded in patenting the Gum vendor Slot Machine, and a year earlier, in 1910 copyrighted the fruit symbols. However it wasn’t very long until everyone started copying them… (Kharma for stealing Fey’s Liberty Bell Design; which is just my personal opinion) The gum idea worked initially, with gum vender side attachments, but soon laws caught up, and the feature was dropped from the gambling machines. They began to focus their sales on markets that still allowed them instead of trying to stay one step ahead of the law.
In 1912, when Nevada legalized slot machines with certain restrictions, Charles Fey took up doing repairs, maintenance, in addition to upgrading the designs in small doses.
There has always been strong resistance from crusaders against gambling who seek to stamp out gambling devices. Laws were passed…regulations… restrictions! Someone wants their hands in the pot…or someone wants everyone’s hands out of the pot so they can eliminate the pot! Nothing has changed through the years on that end… Que Sera, Sera!
As fast as laws were passed outlawing a definition of gambling, here comes the clever inventors to design a machine that worked in a way to “foil“ the outlawed definition.
Gustav Schultz, for example, patented a chance feature on a “money back” weight scale, in which the defense was that the patron spent coin for his body weight and whatever he got back besides was just gravy!
Another example is the machine designed by Adolf Caille, which dispensed a stale stick of gum (yours if you want it) for each play of a nickel, but you might also get some coin in return!
The Slot Machine
Eventually the laws discovered the secret behind the gum vendor slot machines, and the entrepreneurs being one step ahead came out with the “future pay” machines based on the principle that you drop a nickel in the machine, pull the handle, and you will always get a pack of gum. There is a circular window on the face of the machine and in that window when you insert your nickel and pull the handle, the word “GUM” appears, but in addition to the gum, if you had a winning combination of symbols on the reels when you pulled the handle (to vend the gum you just bought, right?!) a rotating dial appears through the “GUM” window with numbers on it and a number will be displayed in that window, which is the number of coins you will get in addition to the gum you bought. To get those nickels in return you have to insert another nickel to get the number of nickels shown in the window PLUS the nickel you had to insert to get your winnings… no element of chance there, right?!
The machine went even one step further in that it was played with “Trade Checks” or nickels. Trade Checks were used in locations where real cash payouts were illegal. Instead of cash the machines would payout in these “Trade Checks”, or essentially coins that were minted and allegedly good only in trade for cigarettes, mints, gum, baseball cards, gumballs, and even golf balls! Of course the house will cash your trade checks into cash just like the casinos today will give you cash for chips.
The Slot Machine
This cat and mouse game continued for many years, even after gambling was legalized in Nevada, then Atlantic City, and so on. Even today, while gambling is legalized in some of the US… and online gambling is now the fast growing alternative for most of us… it is the online gambling that is targeted by crusaders to stamp out online forms of gambling.
Now there are 2 main categories of online casinos and then branch out from there… the 2 categories are US Friendly Online Casinos and No USA Players Online Casinos.
Online Casinos that accept players from the United States of America include Real Time Gaming (RTG) Casinos, Rival Casinos, Top Game Casinos, BetOnSoft Casinos (now Saucify), and BetSoft Casinos.
Online Casinos that do not accept players from the United States of America include Microgaming Casinos, Playtech Casinos, IGT Casinos, Cryptologic Casinos, and NextGen Casinos.
For both of these categories there are some variables and some that I did not list because my mind began to draw blanks… (the cost of having only marble dust where marbles used to be long ago)!! We can all thank Charles Fey for our ability to play fun games on The Slot Machine!