Antique and vintage slot machines

It’s late in the 1890s, more precisely in 1899 so much is happening in the Americas region. Cuba has just gained its independence from the Spanish rule; the city of New York has received one of its future gangsters, Al Capone and Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant has just patented Aspirin. However, in San Francisco, something else is going on, and no one is really giving it much thought. Charles Fey, a car mechanic has just developed the world’s first slot machine for the general public to play and enjoy. Since his ‘little’ discovery, so much has changed and that’s why we are going to look at all the machines that have been since then. We are going to take a look at antique slot machines, beginning from their humble 50c origins, to some of the late 1980s vintage machines.

The Liberty Bell

This is considered the world’s first slot machine. It was the original design of Charles Fey and constituted of three spinning reels, one payline and constituted of rarely used slot symbols – the heart, the diamond and the spade. It also had a cracked liberty bell symbol, which was used to denote the slot machine’s cash symbol. Lining three of these symbols on the payline would have paid out a humble 50c to the lucky player. Whilst in today’s standards the liberty bell might be a very humble machine, its demand in the period when it was released surpassed Charles Fey’s wildest dream. In fact, the demand grew so big that his little workshop couldn’t manage to handle the production, forcing him to get a bigger production line. And while different manufacturers were still trying to fight to buy the rights to the original one-armed bandit, a new player was born.

The Operator Bell

In 1907, a Chicago manufacturer, Herbert Mills, decided to come up with something much better and more entertaining than Charles Fey’s design. So he decided to come up with a 3 reel slot machine, which he named it the Operator Bell. This became the new slot machine that everyone wanted to play, and it introduced the following features:

  • An ice cream making and vending machine
  • A movie viewing machine that’s called the Autosteroscope
  • Machines that would dispense Coca-Cola in both cups and bottles.

After the Operator Bell came into place, they became the most widely spread machines across the US and Europe. In fact, these antique machines became the first to introduce the fruit symbols, which became so durable that in the UK, they got a special name ‘fruit machines’ or ‘fruities’.  

Trade Stimulators

Until the state of Nevada made it legal to gamble in 1931, all the slot machines that paid out their winnings in cash form were illegal. But it didn’t mean that such machines weren’t in existence. They were, but they paid out in a slightly different fashion.

  • Instead of offering casino games, some of these machines were used as trade stimulators. They were placed on the shop counters to attract customers and help grow the business.
  • Instead of paying out in cash, the trade simulators paid off in merchandise. Among the prized merchandise were cigars and golf balls.
  • However, some of the popular games paid in the form of the chewing gum, more especially the Bell Fruit Gum. The trademark for the company that produced the gum was a black rectangular bar, which eventually inspired the ‘BAR’ symbol that you see in the modern slot machines.

Rise of Bally

The slot machine business was proving to be lucrative, and different companies wanted to get a piece of the profits generated by the machines. In 1932, a new Chicago company was founded under the name Lion Manufacturing. Their earliest success was the pinball game, referred to as the BallyHoo. This game was such a big success that the company decided to change its name to Bally Manufacturing – the same Bally that we know of today. A few years later, the company moved its headquarters from Chicago to Las Vegas, where it is still stationed today. A few years after Nevada legalized gambling within the state, Bally was in the forefront to dethrone Mills as the largest slot machine developer. And their first step towards this was to develop their flagship slot machine, The Bally Baby. This tiny countertop slot machine dispensed award cards in exchange for chewing gum.

International Game Technology

Bally Technologies experienced a significant growth in the industry, and in the 1970s, some of the team members came aboard with different fresh ideas. Si Redd, an Engineer at Bally Technologies, developed the first-ever video poker game. However, Bally didn’t want the game, so they gave him the permission to take the credit for developing the game. Subsequently, he split from Bally Technologies and founded a company known as Sircoma. A few years later, a video poker game became a hit among players and the Sircoma went public and sold stock. They later renamed the company to International Game Technology (IGT) with their head office in Reno, Nevada. IGT became an international brand, and in the years that would follow, it would outdo Bally as the largest slot manufacturer.  

Popular Types of Antique Slot Machines: 1980’s – Modern Day

Understanding the different types of slot machines is the very first important step to getting the most out of your gaming experience. It doesn’t matter whether you are entering a Vegas-like casino or visiting an online casino, once you’ve understood the different types of slots, your gaming experience will be vibrant and very diverse. The sheer choice and assortment of slot machines can be irresistible just as it is enticing. And to help you know the different types of slot machines offered at the casinos, we’ve highlighted just a few below.

Three Reel Slots

This type of slots is sometimes referred to as the classics or the vintage slots. They are the ones that Charles Fey, Robert Mills, Bally Technologies and IGT developed, and they’ve remained popular to this day. If you are a player who prefers simplicity over excess, then these are the games to choose. At the land-based casinos, the lever is an iconic feature in these machines. In fact, this lever prompted some players to refer to it as the ‘one-arm bandit’ because of the nature in which they kept ‘stealing’ money from players.   In the modern video slots, the three reel slots are characterized by fruit symbols, 3 reels and 1 single payline. They are equally exciting as the land-based machines, only that they don’t have the lever to pull.

80's Nostalgia: Video Slots

In the late 70s, right after the video poker machines were developed, slots transitioned from mechanical electronic into the video era. In 1975, the first video slot machine, named the Fortune Coin, was developed by Walt Fraley. Despite being manufactured then, it wasn’t until the 1980’s when video slot games become a hit among slot players. These machines revolutionized how slots were being played. They came with better technology, improved graphics, and more bet options that the vintage slot machines could offer. They even introduced what is referred to as jackpots, which attracted players in droves.

Owning the Vintage Machines

We have two categories of people who want to own slot machines: the serious collector and the other one who thinks it’s just cool to own a machine in their entertainment room or at the basement of their house alongside a classic pinball machine and a pool. In simple words, a slot machine could be an extremely valuable collectable or it can complete your entertainment room. Collecting slot machines isn’t something that everyone can achieve. It’s a hobby that requires time, patience, dedication and determination. It’s something for the diehard collectors. A collector can spend months, even years looking for a specific exemplar. Most of the time, they end up getting them, but they are usually in the old state. So they’ll restore them and probably sell t at extremely high prices. How about the recreational player who wants to win a slot machine for what it’s actually is – an entertainment toy that nobody else has? Well, in the United Kingdom, this depends on the UK Gambling Commission Laws. When you want to own a slot machine, you are basically getting it for pure entertainment purpose. This means that you are required to take a single machine permit. According to the site, ‘Single machine permits are not intended for those that are operating a commercial business; for that, you will need a full gaming machine technical operating licence.’ Therefore, those who collect machines either for repairing, selling, maintaining or entertainment, you are meant to pay an application fee of £25 annually.  

So, is it legal to own a vintage slot machine?

Yes, it is legal to own a vintage slot machine. As long as you have the right papers to prove that you’ve paid the legal fee required, you can own one and use it as you please.