Museum Monday: Games of Chance at SFO Airport

If, by chance, you’ve got some time before or between flights at San Francisco International Airport, you’re in luck.

That’s because the SFO Museum has just kicked off a new exhibition featuring more than sixty examples of early gambling devices, including the first automatic payout, three reel slot machine.

 

 

According to the exhibition notes, at one time San Francisco was a hotbed for these types of games:

In no part of the world did gambling take place so openly and on such a large scale than in San Francisco during the Victorian era. The city’s residents were largely pioneers or one generation removed from those who risked all to relocate and gamble on a new life in the West. San Franciscans wagered in nearly every possible manner, including horse races, sporting contests, card games, wheels-of-fortune, and impromptu barroom arguments on every conceivable subject. At the beginning of the twentieth century, more than 3,000 machines operated freely, enticing customers from busy sidewalks into the saloons and cigar stores that proliferated throughout San Francisco. “

 

 

The devices on display range from very early models that rely on simple clock mechanisms and a payout by the bartender to automatic slot machines with elaborate carved-wood, cast-iron, or painted-aluminum bodies – and each was designed to part a person with a small bit of their money.

 

 

All the objects in this exhibit (and all photos used here) are courtesy of Joe Welch American Antique Museum in San Bruno, California and will be on display at SFO Airport in Terminal 3, Boarding Area F through June 18, 2017.

You can see descriptions of the gambling devices featured here – and photos of others – in the SFO Museum’s online exhibition.  But I bet the exhibition is far more entertaining if you see it in person.

 

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