who thinks slot machines contribute to compulsive gambling and criminal enterprise
should blame Charles Fey. Anyone who thinks slot machines will benefit Texas school
children and the state's economy should be thankful for Charles Fey.
Texas lawmakers ever decide to legalize video lottery machines (AKA slot machines)
to generate revenue for public education, a decision Texas voters likely would
have to ratify by approving a Constitutional amendment, it will mark a major turnaround
from the days when Texas Rangers used to smash slots with sledge hammers and dump
the shattered machines into Galveston Bay.
However the story plays out
in the Lone Star State, it began in San Francisco in 1895 when the German-born
Fey invented a money-making machine fueled by mankind's eternal hope for easy
gain. Referred to be some as the Thomas Edison of slots, Fey perfected his first
machine in the basement of his residence.
His device, which had three
rotating wheels set in motion by the pull of a handle and collected fifty cent
pieces (and occasionally paid the money and more back), quickly proved highly
popular. In fact, after placing a few prototypes at strategic locations, he did
so well that he gave up his partnership in an electrical supply company to give
his full attention to the manufacture of his machine. He called it the Liberty
In 1896, Fey opened a slot machine factory, mass producing the Liberty
Bell and three subsequent inventions, machines called Draw Poker, Three Spindle
and the Klondike. The devastating San Francisco earthquake destroyed the business
in 1906, but by then many Americans were hooked on Fey's one-armed bandits. If
he ever had occasion to come to Texas, it is not revealed in any of the Web sites
that tell his story, but his machine definitely made it to the Lone Star State.
the early 1920s, the beginning of what has been called the Golden Age of Slots,
Texas was awash in crude oil and money. Production in West Texas had created boom
towns around Wichita
Big Lake, McCamey
and Borger. In Central Texas, Mexia experienced
an oil boom as well.
In all of these towns, illegal slot machines constituted
part of the gambling mix available to oil field workers and others who descended
on the areas to make money off the boom. Rangers battled gambling and the other
boomtown vices from town to town, keeping the lid on until they had to move to
the next assignment.
Fey's invention also helped the economy on Galveston
Island, where slots relieved visitors of their silver with an efficiency that
pirates like Jean Laffite could only have marveled at.
When Bugsy Siegel
opened his Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in the late 1940s, he had slot machines
installed. Siegel made his big money off table games like roulette, but slots
grew in popularity. By the mid-1980s, slots amounted to half of most casinos'
business. In the 1990s, they took the lead in revenue generation.
are all electronic these days, but Fey's invention laid the groundwork for the
devices now delicately referred to by lawmakers as video lottery machines.
Slot machines may not have been invented in Texas, but of the hundreds of machines
manufactured over the years, two have had the word "Texas" in their name. In 1931,
a firm manufactured a slot called the Texas Leaguer. Thirty-three years later,
in what surely was intended irony, another company built an arcade