The One-Armed Bandit & The History of Slots

The One-Armed Bandit is the name for the vintage slot machine, the classic one where instead of tapping or pressing buttons you would pull a lever. But do you know its full history? 

 

The One Armed Bandit and its further evolutions have been given several names since the 19th century, but whether you call it a slot machine, a slot, a fruit machine, a puggy, pokie or fruity, the one-armed bandit is still the same vintage slot machine that we all know and love. 

Its many names which change depending on the country you’re from are a clear hint that classic slot machines have been, are and always will be insanely popular all around the world. 

Let’s learn about the history of this beloved casino game together and try to understand why even with so many advancements in technology they are still on top of the online gambling “food chain”.

Brief History of the One-Armed Bandit

One-armed bandit slots are called this because of the large mechanical levers they used to have on the sides, and also because they were believed to empty the pockets of players as a thief would. 

The standard layout had three or more reels which would spin after you would put a coin in and pull the lever. Some modern slot machines still use the lever in order to bank on players’ nostalgia and make things interesting. 

Still, most of them have been given buttons and touchscreens and the mechanics are completely different and were exchanged to random number generators. While in the past you could use magnets and coins tied on a string to try and cheat the system, now everything is completely random and no tricks will work. 

As the story goes, according to Wikipedia, the first gambling machine appeared in 1891 in New York, when Sittman and Pitt from Brooklyn made the precursor of the modern slot machine. It had five drums that held 50 card faces as it was based on the classic poker game. 

As it quickly became hugely popular, many bars had them. You had to insert a nickel and pull the lever which would spin the drums. You would have to get a good poker hand to win. You would not win money, but you could get a free beer, cigars, drinks and other prizes, depending on what that particular bar would offer.

The mechanics behind it were pretty simple. There was no complicated math, the house edge was given because two cards would be removed from the deck (generally the ten of spades and the jack of hearts), which would give players fewer chances of getting a royal flush. 

Between 1887 and 1895, Charles Fey from California came up with a simpler mechanism that had three reels and five symbols: horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell. The game was named after the Liberty Bell. with the introduction of the reels and the symbols, figuring out winning combinations was much easier thus Fey’s slot machine had a better automatic payout mechanism.

Thus the first game with actual payouts was born. Three bells in a row would give out the biggest payoff of 10 nickels. The slot machine became widely popular so other slot machine manufacturers began producing it, but the devices were banned in California. 

In 1907 another Liberty Bell appeared created by Herbert Mills. It used the same symbols as Fey’s slot machine. Soon after, another version with patriotic symbols on the reels was launched. And then the Operator’s Bell which had a gum-vending attachment. 

Since the gum had a fruit flavour, the symbols were changed into fruit symbols like lemons, cherries, oranges and plums. The bell was kept, and a picture of the stick of Bell-Fruit Gum (the original BAR) was added. So, the classic slots were born.

It wasn’t until 1963, that Bally developed the first fully electromechanical slot machine called Money Honey, a slot that had an automatic payout of up to 500 coins. 

Things began evolving at a faster pace, and in 1976 in California, the first video slot machine was launched. The manufacturing company was bought by IGT in 1978, and with ever-increasing popularity, the slot machines soon took over the Las Vegas Strip, and after that… the world.

From the One Armed Bandit to 3D Slots

Things have quickly evolved. The first slot machine to feature bonus rounds and bring us closer to the slots we know and love today was WMS’ Reel ‘Em In which appeared in 1996. 

Software providers from all over the world continued improving on design, functionality and gameplay and now we can play slots online and on mobile, for real money, or even free slots in demo mode.

Nowadays, the arm was replaced by a button, and the machines are covered in lights, sounds and flashy colours to make them stand out in crowded brick and mortar casinos. More and more players are playing online, where slots have a much similar interface to that of a normal video game. 

Classic slots are still popular, although they have seen many changes. A great example of this comes from the beloved software provider Yggdrasil

The company actually created an online slot machine called The One Armed Bandit, but it’s nothing like the original game. Expect 3D graphics, epic sound effects, a Wild Wild West theme and plenty of bonus features. 

This is a clear testament to the way slots have evolved. Long gone are the days of small payouts and mechanical reels. Sure, we will always have a place in our hearts for these old-school slots, but it’s time to step into the future with online slots. 

The payouts are better, the RTPs, volatility levels, gameplay, everything is improved. And the best part is that you can play completely safe with no worries because everything is licensed and regulated and you can even get free spins bonuses to improve your chances of winning. Slots are no longer one-armed bandits, they’re fun-filled one click away potential winning machines.  

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about the One-Armed Bandit

These are the most frequently asked questions about one-armed bandits and easy to understand answers for all of them. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact us and we’ll help you out.

Who invented the one-armed bandit?

Opinions are split on this one as to which machine is actually considered the “father of slots”, but generally it’s considered that Charles Fey was the inventor of the one-armed bandit classic slot machine called Liberty Bell in the 19th century. 

How did old slot machines work?

Old-school slot machines did not have a Random Number Generator and instead worked in a mechanical way. You choose a machine, make a bet, and pull the lever to spin the reels. Each reel stops at a random position. If the reels stop in a way that forms a line of the same symbols, you win. 

How does a one-armed bandit work?

The vintage classic slots with a lever are a little bit different than modern ones today. Instead of everything being automated, it was mechanical. So when you pull the lever it sets off a clock and releases the brake holding the wheels. When you let go of the lever, the spring activates the ‘kicker’ which sends the wheels spinning.  

Are one arm bandits rigged?

There are very few remaining actual one-armed bandits that haven’t been replaced with newer options. While in the past there were several ways to trick the system into paying out, they won’t work anymore. Nowadays there are a lot of regulations in place and if you play only at safe, legal and licensed casinos then games can’t be rigged.

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