How a Vintage Slot Machine Works -- And How to Repair One (VIDEO)

Posted by on Apr 02, 2018

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Owning a vintage slot machine is one of those fun yet daunting ideas. Many old school one-armed bandits are beautifully designed and instant conversation pieces. Plus slot fans who own a machine don’t ever have to worry about losing money to the house. 

Still, most antique machinery breaks down or wears out eventually and finding a repair person who knows how to fix a piece of equipment that’s over 50 years old can be tough. Thankfully, antique slot machine enthusiasts have figured out how to use the internet and uploaded plenty of great information about repairing these mechanical marvels. 

Newer slots will require you to know a bit about computer circuitry, but the classics just need a screwdriver, wrench and a magic touch. (OK, you probably need more tools than that.) Watch the videos below to understand how the slot machines work and what’s required for common repairs. Even if you’re not ready to plunk down a grand or more for a classic slot machine, you’ll probably get a kick out of understanding what makes those coin swallowers tick. If you want to quickly itch your scratch for playing slots, you can also check out an online casino like Royal Vegas Online Slots. Finally, enthusiasts who are serious about buying a vintage machine may want to take a look at the Antique Slot Machine Pricing Guide.

Charles August Fey, a Bavaria-born inventor, was living in San Francisco when he invented his first gambling machine in 1984. His games grew to be so popular at local bars, he quit his day job and opened a factory to start mass producing them, most notably the Liberty Bell machines in 1899. A lot of the functionality from that early game remained in place through much of the 20th century. Watch this video to see the seven mechanical actions set into motion when you pull back the bandit’s arm. The inner workings are probably a little more complex than you expect.


Given that a lot of old slot machines are hand built, it isn’t surprising that coins can get jammed on their way through the mechanism. Big warning: If your machine jams, don’t force the arm or you can break, twist or damage a part inside. Different models and makes tend to have common jam points. The Mills model shown in the above video can have coins stuck in the “elevator” section that displays the last five coins dropped into the machine. Getting the slot working again can be as simple as cleaning the gunk off of an old part. You just need to be smart when you’re disassembling and reassembling the machinery.

Okay, there are plenty of more places where a coin can get stuck and the above video demonstrates how to fix a variety of jams. It also explains how to disassemble the major parts of the machine and where common problem areas are.

Curious how an antique slot machine knows how much money a winner gets? This video shows the punch-card like communication that trips payouts and how. If you ever need to replace the reel symbols or calibrate the machine you’ll need to understand how these work. Even if you don’t ever plan on owning a machine, the metallic “circuitry” is interesting to see.

Want to own a modern slot machine? New ones have plenty more bells, whistles and dings, and also a lot more advanced parts. If you plan on getting one, you may want to have an idea of what’s inside. In addition to the classic reels, there are speakers, motherboards filled with programming chips and plenty of wires. Unless you have a way with a soldering iron you probably won’t try and fix it. But in case you do, here’s a clip from Discovery showing what’s inside.

Did you know newer slot machines are smart enough to test themselves when a problem happens? This video shows you the procedure for having the machine check its own system. The host’s desert dry delivery is also enough to make this vid worth a watch.



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