Classic Slot Machines: From the Toast of Vegas to the Auction Block

Bally's Money Honey Slot Machine With a Fruit Reels Background

Classic slot machines once dominated the casino landscape. They were so popular, in fact, that they still form the modern stereotype for slots.

The general population often envisions three spinning reels and fruit symbols when thinking of slot machines. Of course, slots technology has changed greatly from these days.

Modern slots feature 3D graphics, entertaining features, and exciting animations. Classic slot machines, meanwhile, are more common in auction houses than casinos these days.

What happened? I’m going to discuss more on the basics of classic slots along with how they went from being the most-popular casino games to irrelevance.

What Is a Classic Slot Machine?

No standard definition exists for a classic slot. But at its very core, a classic game features three reels, one payline, and fruit symbols.

The classic slots definition has expanded over the years, though. Some people consider any machine that’s void of features and high-quality graphics to be classic in nature.

For example, a game may offer five reels and 10 paylines. But it falls into the traditional class if it doesn’t offer any features or high-tech visuals.

Up until the 1970s, all slot machines were mechanical and ran on reels. All of these slots easily fit under the classic umbrella.

Video slot machines came about in the mid-1970s. Although they introduced video technology to gaming floors, many early video slot machines were also classic.

The Rise of Classic Slots

Charles Fey developed the first slot machine in San Francisco California in 1895. His Liberty Bell machine featured three reels and five symbols, including a diamond, horseshoe, heart, spade, and Liberty Bell.

Up until this point, gambling machines were unable to make automatic payouts. Fey made a breakthrough, though, when he created an automatic payout system that delivered up to $0.50 for three Liberty Bells in a line.

Fey’s invention served as a precursor for what was to come. Slot machines began spreading throughout bars and other establishments in the US.

Row of Vintage Slot Machines

Entrepreneurs quickly took notice of slots’ popularity and began producing upgraded versions of the Liberty Bell. Eventually, developers produced a larger cabinet that operated through mechanical reels and made big payouts.

The slot machine’s popularity began to grow right along with the prizes. Gamblers started flocking to machines that offered jackpots worth up to 100 coins.

Of course, 100 credits is nothing special by modern gaming standards. However, this prize was quite significant to low rollers back in the day.

In 1963, Bally furthered the popularity of classic slots by introducing an electromechanical machine. Their Money Honey game became the first to offer payouts worth up to 500 coins and a bottomless hopper.

Classic Slot Machines Hit Their Peak in the 1970s

Bally’s Money Honey machine introduced new revolutionary slots features that included bigger payouts and more-unique themes. Soon, games were offering inventive concepts and prizes worth thousands of coins.

Players were previously impressed by hundreds of coins. So, they were enamored when jackpots grew even larger.

Gamblers appreciated themes that went beyond just fruits and bells. They could now look forward to slots based on adventure, animals, holidays, and more.

In many ways, the time period between the early 1960s and mid-1970s was the golden era of classic slots. Electromechanical machines and bigger payouts made these games more popular than ever.

Video Slots Change the Casino Industry

Things never stand still in the gaming industry for long. Just as classic slot machines were hitting their peak, video slots were being introduced to gaming floors.

Fortune Coin Co. produced the very first video slot machine in 1976. Their invention featured a 19-inch TV monitor that served as a display, and logic boards that controlled all of the betting actions.

The first video slot certainly wasn’t pretty, but it did usher in a new era for slots. This initial game served as the launching point for great things to come.

Vintage Video Slot Machine

Slowly but surely, developers started taking advantage of the new technology available to them. Video slots gave game providers the ability to produce graphics, animations, and, eventually, features.

By the 1990s, multi-line video slots were hitting casinos. These games became quick hits because they offer players more chances to win in a single round.

In 1996, Reel Em’ In would become the first slot to offer a second-screen bonus. The latter is notable because it paved the way for some of the outstanding features of today.

Online Slots Revolutionize the Casino Industry

Video slot machines already put a major dent in classic land-based slot machines. Real money online slots would give gamblers yet another option when they launched in the mid-1990s.

Internet slots essentially use the same type of programming that video slot machines do. Only, they’re available online rather than in brick-and-mortar casinos.

Gamblers don’t have to leave the house to play these games. Instead, they simply need an internet-capable device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Aztec Gold Online Slot

Online slots certainly haven’t replaced the brick-and-mortar gaming industry. But again, they do provide an alternative for those who don’t feel like traveling to casinos.

Going further, they’ve shown even more of what’s possible with slots. Online games have often started slots trends, such as cascading reels, expanding wilds, and Megaways.

Internet slots may not have been in direct competition with classic machines when they came out in the mid-1990s. But they helped show just how dated classic slots had become.

Classic Slots Are Collected Today – Not Played

The old classic slot machines, which feature three reels, fruit symbols, and no bonuses, aren’t found on many casino floors today. If they are, they’re merely some type of antique that the casino offers to a limited number of nostalgic players.

By and large, though, classic slots aren’t available on gambling floors. Everybody plays video slots these days, which makes classic games useless by the casino standards.

A classic slot wouldn’t bring in revenue for casinos. Only rare breeds want to play games with three reels and a single payline. These machines are more collectible items than anything today. They’re sold at live auctions and through eBay.

States have laws against owning unlicensed slot machines. However, they do make exceptions for classic slots.

Lawmakers don’t see classic machines as antiques rather than viable sources of illegal gaming revenue. That said, you can legally purchase a classic slot from an auction and store it at your house.

Classic Games Are Still Around in Some Form

The few truly classic slot machines that exist in casinos today are rarities. However, the concept of classic slots still exists in some form.

As mentioned before, a broader definition has emerged for classic games. A Slot machine can still be considered classic even if it has five reels and multiple paylines.

The defining element is that it can’t offer high-quality graphics, animations, and features. Instead, it just has to be a basic game to exist in the classic category.

Some online gaming developers today still make what could be considered classic slots. For example, WGS has produced a few three-reel, five-reel games.


Classic slot machines enjoyed a nice run from the late 1800s into the 1970s. However, their limited technology ensured that they eventually got passed by video slots.

A video slot simply offers developers more capabilities when producing games. Developers can add more paylines, features, and animations thanks to technology.

Meanwhile, classic slots disappeared from casinos floors due to their simple nature. Few people want to spin three reels and one line today.

Classic games are right where they belong today—at auctions and in people’s basements. Although an important part of gaming history, they hold little relevance in the modern gaming industry.