Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York developed a gambling machine in 1891 that could be considered a precursor to the modern slot machine. It contained 5 drums holding a total of 50 card faces and was based on poker. This machine proved extremely popular and soon there was hardly a bar in the city that didn’t have one or more of the machines bar-side. Players would insert a nickel and press 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 you a free beer, whereas a Royal Flush could payout cigars or drinks, the prizes wholly dependent on what was on offer at the local establishment. In order 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.
The first “one-armed bandit” was invented in 1887 by Charles Fey of San Francisco, California, who devised a much simpler automatic mechanism . 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. Charles 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. 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 his home State after a few years, Fey still couldn’t keep up with demand for the game elsewhere.
Another early machine gave out winning in the form of fruit flavoured chewing gums with pictures of the flavours as symbols on the reels. The popular cherry and melon symbols derive 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.