Slot machines: the rise of the one-armed bandit

Invented in San Francisco back in in 1898 and introduced to France in the late 1980s, slot machines are currently experiencing a digital revolution.

Invented in 1898 in San Francisco, the slot machine took almost a century to cross the Atlantic. They were only authorised in France in the late 1980s. More commonly known under their nickname "one-armed bandit", these amusement machines are now undergoing a digital revolution. With the internet, jackpots are sky-high.


Is the end nigh for one-armed bandits? Perhaps – at least in their current form. In the future, a tablet could be used as an interface without doing away with the unique thrill of the Slot Machine. In over a century of existence, it has certainly seen its fair share of changes.


Maximum win: 5 dollars


An icon of the American West, the mechanical one-armed bandit was invented at the end of the 19th century. At the time, gambling was the preserve of the upper classes, with games to be found in private clubs. Armed with his pioneering spirit, modest German-born mechanic Charles Frey racked his brains until one day he had a revelation.


Inspired by the 36-number roulette played in casinos, Frey's machine was simple. Using an articulated arm, three concentric reels are operated independently. If the three Liberty Bells align, the player wins the jackpot.


Sending the bandit into space


The very incarnation of the American dream, Charles Frey set up his own company, the Slot Machine Factory. His success was only slowed by the shadow of Prohibition. No matter – in the 1920s, Frey and his associate transformed their invention into a sweet dispenser. Coins were replaced with tokens which could be exchanged for confectionery or drinks. The reels were made somewhat more virtuous with the ace of spades and dollars being replaced by cherries and bananas. However the famous ding-ding of the Liberty Bell survived.


Following the turbulent inter-war period, the one-armed bandit resurfaced in the 1940s in a one-horse town in the middle of the desert: Las Vegas. Once allowed into the casino, previously restricted to games tables only, the slot machine spread across the world. And now, with the cloud, across the universe!

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