Slots of Montana owner Lou Adler
For more than a century, people have been mesmerized by slot machines. Coin after coin, pull after pull of a lever (or push after push of a button), millions of people have stared longingly into a slots’ window, hoping against hope that the next spin will release the coveted jackpot prize. For Lou Adler, a long-time fascination with antique slot machines delivered a jackpot of another kind.
At 81 years of age, Adler is the owner of a shop in Billings, Montana, where he restores and sells all varieties of mechanical slots. He doesn’t deal in today’s computerized video slots. Only the antiquated ‘One-Armed Bandits‘ pass through his doors.
Adler told the Billings Gazette he has more than 200 antique slot machines in stock, many of which are fully restored and lining the expanse of his showroom floor – as well as the pages of his website, SlotsOfMontana.com. Refurbishing and restoring these mechanical pieces of history is a passion for Adler, and one that has harvested interest from customers all over the country.
“The old saying around the house,” quipped Adler, “is that it’s an old hobby that went wrong.”
Lou was a young man in his early twenties when he got his hands on his first slot machine in 1957. It was love at first sight, and he’s been tinkering with them ever since. When he’s not fixing up antique slot machines, he’s searching for more stock for the store.
Adler regularly seeks out old devices at internet auctions, scours the inventory of estate sales and networks with a group of enthusiasts like himself.
“You get them banged up. You do,” he said. “That’s the challenge.”
He said the majority of the vintage machines he works on are 60 years old or more. Decorating his own home is an antique slot machine that dates back to 1915. But Adler says older isn’t always better in this business.
For his shop, he generally prefers the machines that were built after World War II, saying the quality of the steel used at that time was far superior to slightly older models. Thus, by the time they make their way into Adler’s hands, they are in a lot better condition, with the guts of the machines surviving decades of wear.
When fully restored, Adler said the tall, post-WWII machines with wooden enclosures go for anywhere from $1,500 to $7,500, depending on the popularity and rarity of each piece.
Adler often gets calls from customers who are in search of specific antique slot machines, such as the 1947 Walting, the Mills Hightop Nugget, or the most commonly requested brand, Jennings. Those who aren’t collectors generally want something to add a touch of nostalgic flair to their rec rooms.
Every machine at Slots of Montana is 100% mechanical, and requires no electricity to run, although some do have plugs to operate auxiliary lighting. Adler says that’s one of the biggest draws for antique slot machines – that they are genuine artifacts from a time long past.
“When it’s gone, there’s no replacing,” explained Wes Harr of Deer Lodge, a fellow vintage slots enthusiast who’s spent 17 years working alongside Adler to restore the gambling devices of old. With 450 or so pieces inside each machine, from tiny springs to virtually irreplaceable metal parts, Harr “can take a machine completely down to nothing”, and more importantly, put it back together again in working order.
Slots of Montana has been in business since Adler retired in 1999. In 2015, he sold and shipped 63 antique slot machines across the country and says he’s already on track to have record sales this year.