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One Armed Bandit


Welcome to day four of our week at the museum! Touring the shelves of the museum's storage area, one can find old radios, computers and even a microwave purchased as a Christmas gift for $581.36 in 1979.

One piece of older technology in the collection is a slot machine. The first such machine was invented in the late 1800s by Charles Fey, called the "Liberty Bell" for its iconic symbol of the cracked bell. Pulling a lever caused three reels to spin, the lever giving rise to the machine's nickname of the "One-Armed-Bandit."

Efforts to outlaw the machines grew and efforts to outsmart such laws followed. In order to classify the devices as "vending machines," which were legal, payouts often included cigars and gum. Different fruit symbols matched up with the different gum flavors a person could win. This is why the symbols on slots are often fruits, including a bright red cherry on the front of the museum slot machine. Manufactured in Chicago by the O.D. Jennings Company, some of the machines made their way to a Minot Country Club.

Being illegal didn't stop gambling in the state, and authorities often turned a blind eye to charitable bingo and the occasional stag party. But gambling steadily grew, and one attorney general was even, "convicted of conspiring to bring slot machines into the state."

In the late ‘70s, Attorney General Allen Olson felt the disregard for gambling laws compromised other law enforcement activities. It was time to put the issue on the table. Charitable gaming subsequently became legal, and Prairie Public TV was one of the largest benefactors. Today, charitable gaming permits are required, and casinos can be found on reservations across the state.

But in July of 1947, when gambling was still illegal, two government agents took their jobs seriously. They confiscated 10 slot machines from the Minot Country Club.

The tarnishing on the metal payout slot on the museum's machine testifies to its long-standing use. On this date in 1947, it was in state custody. Russel Reid, the superintendent of the State Historical Society, hoped it could become another form of state property. In requesting possession of the machine, Reid submitted an affidavit, which read, "Affiant (Russel Reid) further states that the aforementioned device will not be operated contrary to the laws of the state of North Dakota and will be used only as an exhibit and article of interest to the citizens of this state."

Russel Reid got his way and the machine came to the museum. It remained the only legal device in the state for many years. Today a few dimes sit in the jackpot and its slender arm waits for someone to try their luck.

Dakota Datebook written by Alyssa Boge


Accession record for object 10882 and 2000.49.1

North Dakota History vol. 74 no. 1 & 2

Bismarck Tribune - October 25th and 26th 1982