Las Vegas Icons: The history of slot machines

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There are many iconic landmarks in Las Vegas -- there’s the Las Vegas Strip, Caesar’s Palace, Fremont Street, among others. And these famous sights aren’t the only thing that can depict Las Vegas. Even something as small as a pair of dice, a pack of playing cards, or even a poker chip can allude to Las Vegas. And according to Las Vegas local Stacey L. Tokunaga, the humble slot machine is without a doubt one of the most iconic symbols of Las Vegas. But how did the slot machine come to be?

The very first slot machine was made in New York back in 1891. The game featured 50 playing cards and can be operated with a nickel. To win, a player must end up with a five-card poker hand. Unlike modern-day slot machines, the first machine wasn’t capable of instantly paying out to winners so winnings were paid at the bar. Given this flexibility, bar owners would often give non-monetary prizes like free drinks or cigars.

The first slot machine that did payout winners came in 1895. Instead of five drums, this machine showed icons in three separate reels. If a player were able to come up with three matching symbols, they would win a certain amount of money. This model was the one that everyone ended up copying, explains Stacey L. Tokunaga.

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Despite being banned in 1902, manufacturers continued to make slot machines. By the early 1900s, slot machines were known as fruit machines, alluding to the fruit symbols that players had to line up to win. Since cash prizes were illegal, these machines dropped sweets like candies and chewing gum as prizes.

The modern slot machine would only be invented in 1964. While the reels were operated electrically, the lever remained a part of the machine. According to Stacey L. Tokunaga, pulling a slot machine’s lever is one of the many charming aspects of slot machines.


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