The Modern Slot Machine was Invented in Australia

Chloe Wilson - EditorChloe Wilson - 19 November 2018 in Features

Most people assume that after Charles Fey created the first slot machine in the last decade of the 1800s, the development of these machines followed a natural course in the United States. In fact, what many don’t know is that the modern slot machine was invented in Australia. In the 1950s, it was a company Down Under that pushed to produce machines with innovative new designs. Aristocrat Leisure’s first poker machine, the Clubman, changed the face of modern slot machines with the introduction of brand new features.

Charles Fey created the first slot machine

Tracing the History of Pokies

Before we look at how Aristocrat Leisure contributed to modern day pokies, we need to head back around 130 years. In the late 19th century, somewhere between 1887 and 1895, a Bavarian immigrant to the United States invented the first slot machine.

Features of Charles Augustus Fey’s Liberty Bell:

  • It allowed automatic payments
  • The existing five drums were replaced with three
  • Playing cards were replaced with five symbols – hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes and, naturally, the Liberty Bell

Slot Machines Come to Australian Shores

Australia started importing slot machines based on Fey’s model as early as the late 1890s. Although they were illegal in theory, they became an instant hit with players. For the next fifty or so years, Aussies couldn’t get enough of these US-supplied slot machines. The country soon became the world’s second largest slot machine market.

All this came to a head in 1951 when the US passed the Johnson Act of 1951. Suddenly, casino gambling was restricted to Nevada and the effect was felt immediately. Most of the major slot machine manufacturers saw their businesses collapse. The effects were felt in Australia where the supply of slot machines from the US had already experienced trouble keeping up with the demand. Less suppliers meant even less poker machines for Aussie players.

Ainsworth Steps in to Save the Day

In the early 50s, Leonard Ainsworth, realized that the company his father had started in Sydney could take an entirely new direction. Until then, Ainsworth Consolidated Industries was producing large-scale floor model-type equipment. It dawned on Ainsworth, however that some of the machinery in use could easily be converted into the production of poker machines.

With such a high demand for pokies, exacerbated by the passing of the new laws in the United States, Ainsworth stepped in to save the day.

Bringing Innovation to Modern Slots

Leonard Ainsworth could easily have continued building slot machines based on the classic Liberty Bell. However, he was not content to use existing designs. As such, the modern slot machine was born thanks to the innovation and creativity of the Australian company. In 1956, Ainsworth launched its first poker machine. Known as the Clubman, this machine brought with it many industry firsts, including multiline and scatter payouts. It was succeeded a little while later by the Clubmaster machine.

The Spread of the Modern Day Slot

Ainsworth’s timing couldn’t have been better. In 1956, with the launch of Clubman, New South Wales decided to legalize poker machines. Literally overnight, the Australian public lapped up Ainsworth’s new slot machines. The company grabbed a significant part of the NSW games market and then went on to supply most of Australia’s slot market.

Ainsworth went on to conquer the world market. In 1960, only four short years after its first slot machine went live, the company entered the European market.

Incorporating Electronics Technologies

Ainsworth was on a roll. Not satisfied with only creating new designs, the company wanted to change the way slot machines functioned. In 1965, the company introduced the first slot machine to incorporate electronics technologies. Moon Money became such a huge success that it managed to keep international competition (from groups such as the US Bally) at bay. The company continued to dominate its home market.

Enter Video Slots

Ainsworth was not yet ready to rest on its laurels. It saw the great potential to be had in combining video arcade machines with slots entertainment and created the world’s first all-electronic game, Wild West. In 1982, Ainsworth again proved its excellence in innovation with the release of its DACOM 5000 system. This system allowed electronic accounting and player tracking.

Innovations After 1990

Even in recent years, the Australian company has continued to bring new and innovative features to the slots market. In 1996, after going public on the Australian stock exchange, it officially changed its name to Aristocrat Leisure Ltd.

Aristocrat innovations in the 90s include:

  • 1995 – the launch of the MK gaming system.
  • 1997 – the launch of the Hyperlink gaming system (which helped make the company the second most successful slot producer in the world.


There is no doubt that some of the biggest changes seen in the slot machine market originated from Australia, with Ainsworth (now Aristocrat) playing a huge part in it all. The tendency is to believe that the modern day slot machine resulted from simple changes made to Charles Fey’s original invention. The truth is that innovation and Ainsworth’s desire for new slot machine designs led to the birth of the modern day slot machine.