November 26, 2018

Photo Essay: A Cache of Slot Machines At the Southern Tip of Nevada

I might never have found myself in Laughlin, Nevada on my own.

I only ended up there as part of a group of friends on a weekend getaway to take a tour of an old ranch in Searchlight (photo essay coming soon).

Choices for overnight accommodations near there are limited—so, instead of staying at the state line at one of the casinos in Primm or in Needles along Route 66, we ended up in the poor man's Reno.

Like anywhere else we go, we made the best of it by exploring whatever Don Laughlin's eponymous town had to offer.

And in his Riverside Casino (the river being the Colorado), I found something I never knew I needed in my life until the moment I laid eyes on it.

It was a collection of antique slot machines.

Now, I don't feel the need to own a 1949 Jennings Sun Chief Super Deluxe or a 1936 Jennings Four Star Chief Prosperity—but knowing they exist (and what they look like) has changed my view of casinos and gambling.

There was so much art to creating these little jackpot gadgets. There were 40 different styles of the Watling Rol-A-Top alone—not just the "coin front" from 1035 or the "cherry front" from 1936.

Like pinball machines and even modern digital slots, these amusements actually required a bit of skill to play and more than just luck to win, whether it was the 1929 Mills Baseball Vendor...

...the "Penny Skill Flip" (made in 1927 by Pace out of Chicago, Illinois), or the "Bonus Horsehead" (Mills, 1937), for which you had to spell out the word "BONUS" in order to win.

In 1933, the Watling Gold Seal dispensed Lifesavers (which had been brought to market 20 years prior).

In the faces of these vintage contraptions, you can find the figures of Dutch Boys (as with this 1930 Jennings model)...

...figures from the royal court depicted on face cards, and even birds...

...whether it's the "War Eagle," as depicted in a Mills machine from 1931...

...or a "Bird of Paradise" on a 1935 Watling.

The 1931 "Silent Gooseneck" model by Mills featured a spectacular figure that baffled gamblers...

...who alternately referred to it as "Lion Head," "Wolf Head," and "Tiger Front" as they played.

I spent a short stint gambling, before I gave it up with the knowledge that I could drop too much money too quickly. It was easy enough to quit when I did, because casinos had phased out the pull levers and replaced them with buttons—and took much of the satisfaction out of it. Little did I know that in 1920, Caille made a model with a "Center Pull" front lever instead of a side handle.

Coined the "Victory," short for the "Victory of the Allied Powers" in WWI, this model is one of the more valuable ones in the collection, with an estimated worth of $11,500. But, like the other vintage slot machines on display at the Riverside Casino, it's not for sale.

Neither is the Operator Bell "Iron Case" by Mills from 1910, though its assessed value is more than $10,000.

The oldest disply in the museum is actually a poker machine in a cast-iron case, called the "Little Model Card Machine."

The prize given by this 1894 Sitman and Pitt model was cigars—which seems better than the golf balls given out by the Jennings model that cashed in on the golf craze of 1934.

Some of the machines accomplished amazing feats as part of the play. The 1932 Jennings Little Duke penny slot told fortunes, dispensed gum, and paid out jackpots.

The 1935 Bally Reliance played craps—that is, it threw dice and read them—which is probably why it's now worth an estimated $14,500. (Again, not for sale.)

They all seem really fun, and the stakes appear to be relatively low. With a low investment and a modest payout, I don't think you could lose a fortune—or your life savings—on any of these, unlike modern innovations in gambling technology.

But the major change that probably kept others playing is one of the main factors that keeps me away.

Casinos replaced real money with stored-value cards, eliminating the ca-ching factor.

Without the buckets of pennies, nickels, or quarters to cash in, I just don't get the same high as I did when I first experienced Vegas or Atlantic City or Turning Stone or one of the other "Indian casinos" in the Northeast. (I forget which it was.)

But I could spend hours gazing at those works of art without even touching them, kept apart by the glass cases and the security cameras.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Pinball Forever (Or, At Least, Since the 1930s)
Photo Essay: Pinball Hall of Fame, Vegas
Photo Essay: Pinball Hall of Fame - Riviera Annex, Vegas


  1. When I was a teenager in the 1950s our family got to stay a few days at a friend's home in Long Beach. My sister and I were given the treat of spending some time at the Long Beach amusement park. For us, there was a lot of variety and it was fun, even to just was around and look. I wonder if, after visiting it over 70 years ago, it is still there.

    1. If it was The Pike, it's not there anymore. Although Looff's Lite a Line survived and was moved farther north.