Beer history pubs

The First Pub Gambling Machine?

A line of vintage slot machines.
Adapted from ‘Bryans Museum of Penny Slot Machines‘ by Russell Davies on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Gambling machines are part of the furniture in many pubs, though less popular today than in the 1980s, but who first had the bright idea of combining coin-slot gambling with boozing?

Here’s a good candidate for the first in Britain, from a story that appeared in the Daily News for 18 June 1907 under the headline PUBLIC HOUSE SLOT MACHINES:

What was described as a test case was heard at Welwyn (Herts) Petty Sessions yesterday, when a publican named Titmus was fined 10s and costs for permitting gambling on his licensed premises by allowing a customer to use a “test your skill” penny-in-the-slot machine. The customer had to place a penny in the slot and pull down on a spring. There were two channels the penny could be dropped into and returned, two in which it was lost, and one from which a ticket was obtainable from a drawer exchangeable at the bar. The magistrates asked the superintendent to warn householders in the division that the use of the machines was illegal.

We think we can recall playing on similar machines during childhood holidays in places like Southend, Fleetwood and Weston-super-Mare, where they’d either been adapted to take modern coins or where old coins could be bought as tokens. They were very tactile with lashings of instant gratification.

In fact, with their wooden cases and vintage style, they’re just the kind of thing that would fit into a modern bar. Someone must already have done this, surely?

3 replies on “The First Pub Gambling Machine?”

I remember playing on similar machines on the Isle of Wight in my childhood holidays, when old pennies could be obtained from my Mum if I asked her nicely (for I am Old). But they used ball bearings – like the machine on the far right in your picture – rather than actually throwing the penny around; I don’t imagine that system lasted very long.

Usually you’d get your penny back if you were lucky – or get three or four pennies back if you were very lucky – but I distinctly remember one ball-bearing machine that dispensed a packet of fruit Polos when I won on it.

The quintessentially quirky Hand in Hand in Brighton has an old fashioned one-armed bandit sitting next to the door. Never played it but it certainly looks the part.

The Fox & Hounds at Funtington, West Sussex, has one of these — in fact, I seem to remember it’s the same as the one on the right of the picture, but I’ve not been up there for a few months.

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