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Miscellaneious Gambling Stories

“Charles Fey
and the First Slot Machines”

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The slot machine, an American invention, is now found in all parts of the world - Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, the Caribbean and of course the United States.

A 29-year-old mechanic, Charles Fey, made the first slot machine in 1887 in a small machine shop in San Francisco; he began manufacturing them by hand and placed them in the local gambling palaces on a 50% rental basis. He is, therefore, not only the inventor but also the first slot machine operator.

His first machine was not, as some gambling historians say, cruder and bulkier than modern machines, nor did its reels carry the fruit symbols commonly used today. His original one-armed bandit, called the Liberty Bell, was somewhat smaller than present-day slots, although mechanically very similar. It had three wheels carrying bright litho-graphed pictures of playing-card symbols - hearts, diamonds and spades - and bells, horseshoes and a star. This original machine can be seen today in the collection of old machines at the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant in Reno, which is owned and operated by Charles Fey’s grandsons, Marshall and Franklin Fey. Charles Fey also developed many other slots which old-timers may remember: Draw Poker, On the Square, Little Chief, Duo, Little Vender, Silver Cup and Silver Dollar, the first one-armed bandit designed to take that large a coin.

The wheels on the first machine were smaller than those used today; each had only 10 symbols instead of the 20 now used; only the three symbols on the pay line could be seen through the small window. Also, there was no jackpot. Fey’s wheels, like the present-day three-wheelers, were vertical. The player inserted a nickel and pulled the lever to spin the wheels. If the three symbols showing when the wheels stopped were a winning combination, the machine paid out the correct number of coins. A colored reward chart on the machine’s front listed the pay-outs for each winning combination, as follows:
  • Three bells 10 drinks
  • Flush of hearts 8 drinks
  • Flush of diamonds 6 drinks
  • Flush of spades 4 drinks
  • Two horseshoes and star 2 drinks
  • Two horseshoes 1 drink
Although the reward chart listed drinks, the machine’s payout mechanism paid out nickels. At that time there was a 2 Federal revenue tax on a deck of playing cards, and Charles Fey thought it wise to buy the tax stamp and paste one on each of his slot machines because he used playing-card symbols. A shrewdie, I must say.


This gambling story courtesy of:
"Scarne’s New Complete Guide to Gambling" (1986), written by John Scarne

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