From the rise of millionaire moguls to the secrets of prohibition, from old traditions to new technologies emerging, from in-laws to outlaws, across the Atlantic and back -we have the stories of how it all got started. Discover how it began with our Big Fish series on Casino Legends: The History of Gambling. This intriguing history is brought to you from Jackpot City – the exciting slots game from Big Fish.
The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell was the name of the first mechanical slot machine. It was invented by Charles Fey in 1895 as an alternative to poker, or automated poker. The original symbols included diamonds, spades, hearts, and a cracked liberty bell. Charles Fey went on to invent other popular machines including the Klondike, Draw Power, and Three Spindle.
Charles Fey wasn’t able to keep up with demand of his machines, so Mills gambling started mass producing a knock-off called the Operator Bell. Mills was the first group to introduce the now widely seen slots fruit symbols. The Bell-Fruit Gum Company was the original logo for the bar symbol, as machines would dispense fruit gum to avoid gambling laws. Other machines would dispense mints or tokens.
Slots and the Mob
When prohibition ended the mob needed alternate sources of income. Gambling provided a legitimate outlet for organized crime. Shortly after the St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, the mob began placing slot machines wherever they could.
Frank Costello gets credit as the mob pioneer of slot machines. In the 1930’s he set up machines all over New York – about 5,000 total. He and his mob were reported to have earned at least $18 million a year during the depression (some stories site even higher amounts). In addition to placing machines in speakeasies, drugstores, and lunchrooms, the crew also catered to schoolchildren. In the more kid friendly locations they made sure to supply wooden chairs, so small children could easily reach the machines.
Bugsy Siegal was a pioneer of slots in Las Vegas in the 1940s. When he opened the Flamingo Hilton Hotel in 1946 it was filled with slot machines. Slot machines were thought of primarily brought in as entertainment for the wives and girlfriends while the men played at the tables. Unfortunately, much of this casino success came too late for Siegal, as he mismanaged the construction and expenses at the beginning of his venture. Stealing from the mob to build a casino, would be murdered in 1947.
Frank Nitti took over as the front man of Chicago mob operations after Al Capone was sent to prison for tax fraud. After winning the bloody and violent gangland wars he had many people for whom to provide. Prohibition was ending, and Capone’s activities were drawing extreme scrutiny from feds like Elliot Ness, so he needed a new venture to keep the cash coming in.
Mobsters in Chicago took over the slot machine business, which continued to take off for the next two decades before law enforcement cracked down on illegal gambling. This is also the time when the mob infiltrated and began to run many of the area labor unions.
20 years – No Jackpot
On the floor of the MGM Grand a machine has sat for 20 years without a single jackpot. Called the Lion’s Share, the classic three reel has raised its progressive jackpot to $2.3 million. With only a $3 maximum bet, the stool is first come, first serve until you get up or run out of money.
“It was surreal when it happened. I just sat there thinking it hadn’t actually happened.” ~ Walter Misco on winning the unwinnable jackpot
This is not to say the machine has never hit. With frequent non-jackpot payouts, a player can win up to $10000 on a maximum bet. Veteran gamblers and slots sharks are so highly attracted to this machine, that there is often a line and it has become an attraction in itself. At the height of its popularity the machine had its own Twitter, Facebook and forum discussions. Drawing in gamblers both superstitious and calculating the odds (or lack of), the oldest three reel slot in the casinos 1900 strong fleet of machines is standing strong and holding its bank until recently.
After 20 years and a lucky $100 bill, the machine finally gave up it’s jackpot on a max bet. In August of 2014, Linda and Walter Misco of Chester, NH won $2.4 million dollars from the Legendary Lion’s Share.