In a Nutshell
In 1947, mobster Bugsy Siegel introduced the first slot machine into his casino The Fabulous Flamingo so that the wives and girlfriends of male card players would have something to do while their husbands and boyfriends gambled. They were so popular that they began springing up everywhere.
The Whole Bushel
Slot machines are everywhere in Las Vegas, Nevada—including grocery stores. Casinos dedicate a lot of floor space to slot machines and even on-line gambling sites use the promise of payouts to lure players. Where did slot machines come from and how did these “one armed bandits” get to Vegas in the first place?
The first coin-operated gambling devices in the U.S. were found in late 19th century saloons and tobacco stores. Early novelty machines like the Sittman & Pitt mechanical poker games or mechanical horse racing games didn’t pay with money, but if a player struck a winning hand on the reels or his horse came in first, he could claim a prize—free drinks, a cigar, a sandwich or other promotional item—from the bartender or shop owner.
In San Francisco, California, immigrant Charles Fey, after tinkering with mechanical poker machine designs, developed the Card Bell in 1898. The simpler mechanics, lever action, and automatic coin payout proved popular, leading to his bestselling slot machine, the Liberty Bell in 1899. Other manufacturers followed. The “jackpot” payout was invented by Mills Novelty Co. in 1916. Slot machines were soon tainted by corruption scandals and targeted by moral campaigners.
In 1947, following the re-opening the first hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, the Fabulous Flamingo, mobster Benjamin “Bugsey” Siegel noticed the wives and girlfriends of male card players had nothing to do. He introduced nickel slot machines to attract casual gamblers, which were immediately popular with the ladies. Word spread about the revenue earners. Today, the city of Las Vegas boasts nearly 200,000 slot machines.