Slot Machine Symbols History and Meaning

The History and Meaning of Slot Machine Symbols

Last Updated on October 29, 2021 by Avia

Exploring recreational symbolism and the history of slot machine symbols:  Symbolism and symbols are everywhere.  In fact, the Universe is stuffed with symbolism because that is its first language (at least, that’s what I think).  From symbolic meanings of animals to symbols in alchemy – we’re surrounded with lovely messages that carry deep meaning and intense wisdom. 

But what about recreational symbols?  I’m talking about traditional slot machine symbols.  You know, like the symbols found in the one-arm-bandits at the casino (also known as slot machines).  How did those slot symbols come to be? Who decided a bell or a horseshoe was a perfect lucky symbol?  If you’re curious (like I am), then read further for the story and meaning of traditional slot symbols.

Slot Machine Symbols
Slot Machine Symbols History and Meaning

Avia’s First Introduction to Traditional Slot Symbols

Now, you should know, I’m not a gambler.  Well, strike that – I am a gambler in terms of taking risks…but I don’t take risks with my money at casinos.  However, I had a friend when I lived in Buffalo, NY who absolutely loved to hit the slots at Seneca Niagara Casino. 

One day this friend of mine, Beverly, asked me if I’d like to join her at one of her weekly sessions at the casino.  I wasn’t sure. I’d never been to a casino, and as I said – it just didn’t seem like my scene.  I have light sensitivity issues, and I’m definitely a died-in-the-wool, hard-core hermit.  But, Bev pleaded, so I acquiesced and joined her.  That was the first and last time I ever went to a casino.  I was way too overstimulated and way too bedazzled by the big lights.  The energy was too frantic for me.  Plus (of course) I lost money.

David J. Crotty Photography on Etsy

Aside from my less-than-favorable maiden voyage into the world of casinos – I was intrigued by the culture.  What really got my noodle twisty was the slot symbols I saw on all those machines.  Why cherries? In fact, why would any fruit be a lucky symbol on a slot machine?  Herein lies the focus and purpose of this post.  While my trip to the slots was a bit of a bust – it did prompt me to do some research on the meaning of traditional slot symbols. 

Oh, and Beverly? Well, she won $1100.00 that night when she hauled me into the casino with her.  She shared some of her prize with me, which was sweet – so I guess it wasn’t a complete bust! LOL! Thanks Bev!

Nothing Beats Classic Slot Machine Symbols

There is still a heated debate about which is the oldest slot machine symbol ever used. However, the most popular slot symbols are tied between the horseshoe and the bell. Both are the first gambling symbols to come on the gambling scene when the first slot machine was introduced in San Francisco, California in 1894.

horseshoe good luck symbol and tattoo ideas
horseshoe good luck symbol and tattoo ideas

The Horseshoe & The Bell Slot Machine Symbols

While the first horseshoe was made around 400 BC, the horseshoe was considered a lucky emblem ever since horse racing got underway in America during the mid-1600s. It makes sense that the horseshoe is a common and traditional slot symbol because it’s been associated with gambling (as in, betting on the ponies at the racetrack) for a very long time. To this day, a horseshoe is connected to winning, good luck, and a very good sign you’ll get a good payout when you see this iconic symbol 3 in a row at the slots.

As far as the bell is concerned, there are varying theories as to why this is a traditional slot machine symbol. The most agreed-upon origin of the bell is due to the very first slot machine. According to historical records, the first slot machine was invented by Charles Fey and rolled out in San Francisco in 1894.  Fey dubbed his gambling machine, “The Liberty Bell.”

This early invention featured three spinning wheels and when the bell symbols aligned, a mechanism in the slot machine would immediately dole out coins to the lucky winner.  Consequently, the bell is a lucky slot machine symbol that is as beloved today as it was back in the old days.

good luck number meanings
good luck number meanings

The History of Fruit Symbols and Slot Machines

It may seem ludicrous for big game gamblers today, but in around 1910 gambling was illegal in the US.  In fact, slot machines were so frowned upon that governments inflicted heavy restrictions and fines on gambling of any kind. Never ones to be outdone (or thwarted at making a profit), clever casino managers figured out a way to outsmart the government regulations. 

Slot machine owners and gambling facilities started coming up with ingenious ideas to get around the prohibition of gambling.  One such endeavor was to dispense fruit candies or gum in the event a slot machine was a winner.  While fruity candy was a great treat – the reality of this ploy was that gamblers traded their fruit bits to the house manager in exchange for money.  This was one of the most popular ways to skirt the law.

This chicanery essentially sealed the survival of gambling in spite of the legal restrictions on using slot machines. In fact, Bell-Fruit-Gum based in Chicago made a killing off of supplying casinos with their enticing fruity chewy treats dispensed in winning slot machines back in the 1910s.

The dispensing of fruit from winning slot machines in this restrictive era eventually evolved into fruit symbols on slot machines.  So, when you see cherries, lemons, or oranges on your spinning slots – that’s the history behind those fruity beauties blinking back at you.

The Evolution and Future of Slot Machine Symbols

Once slots went digital in the 1980s, everyone who wanted their own theme on a slot machine could do so according to his or her whim. For instance, slot machine symbols can now be fashioned around movie franchises, rock bands, or theme parks all for the purpose of putting a personality or trademark on a spinning symbol that may grant someone a huge jackpot.

Today, just about anything can be a spinning slot machine symbol. From space ships, cartoon characters, or figures from Greek mythology. Despite the debut of new icons, figures, or images, the classic slot machine symbols (such as fruits, bells, or horseshoes) remain the most popular ones and are regularly featured even in modern themes. The traditional slot machines carry a sense of nostalgia that connects players with the history of this genre of gambling.

These beloved symbols contribute to the over 100-year legacy of the slot machine. Even though the evolution of slot symbols has morphed over the century, people often still choose their favorite online slots based on traditional slot symbols.

Slot Machine Symbols
Slot Machine Symbols

Last Word on Slot Machine Symbols and Their Meanings

Whether you’re a gambler or a fan of the one-armed bandit machines or not, one thing is clear. Slot machines are here to stay, and they provide enjoyment for millions all over the world. 

While these money-taking machines aren’t my scene, my friend Beverly will attest that playing slots is the best thing ever!  Nonetheless, I did learn a lot in researching slot symbols, and I hope these insights proved interesting to you. And please know, I’m not condoning gambling or supporting it in any way. I realize it can be fun for some, but it can also hold others into addictive slavery. If you have a problem with gambling, please seek help. As always, thank you for reading!

Mighty brightly,

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