In the not-too-distant past, slot-machine players were the second-class citizens of casino customers. Jackpots were small, payout percentages were horrendous and slot players just weren't eligible for the kind of complimentary bonuses — free rooms, shows, meals — commonly given to table players. But in the last few decades the face of the casino industry has changed. Sports betting and internet gaming are growing rapidly and are becoming a larger piece of the revenue pie for casinos. But they are still no match for slot machines. Though commercial casino gaming revenue dropped in the U.S. in 2020 due to the coronavirus disease pandemic, a hefty 63 percent of that revenue came from electronic gaming devices and in many jurisdictions, that figure tops 80 percent. (The American Gaming Association considers slot machines "electronic gaming devices" and includes video poker, instant racing, and similar platforms in the category.)
Slot machines are more popular than table games for a reason. It's easy — just drop coins into the slot and push the button or pull the handle. Newcomers can find the personal interaction with dealers or other players at the tables intimidating — slot players avoid that. And besides, the biggest, most lifestyle-changing jackpots in the casino are offered on the slots.
The following article will tell you everything you need to know about slots, from the basics to various strategies. We'll start at square one, with a primer on how playing slot machines works.
How to Play
In the early days of slot machines, all of the games used mechanical reels. But now, most slot machines display reels on video screens, and they usually take and dispense payment through bills, vouchers, and tickets rather than coins or tokens. Slot machines offer several denominations, where the denomination is the value of each credit played. There are games in penny, 2-cent, nickel, 10-cent, quarter, dollar, and even $100 denominations, and some machines allow players to choose which denomination they want to use. Once you pay the machine, your money is converted into credits. Slots can take 45, 90, and even 500 credits at a time.
Once payment is inserted into the currency acceptor, the equivalent amount of credits is displayed on a meter. On reel-spinning slots, push a button marked "play one credit" until you've reached the number of coins you wish to play. Then hit the "spin reels" button, or pull the handle on those few slots that still have handles, or hit a button marked "play max credits" or "bet max," which will play the maximum credits allowed per spin on that machine.
On video slots, push one button for the number of paylines you want to activate, and a second button for the number of credits wagered per line. One common configuration has nine paylines on which you can bet 1 to 5 credits. Video slots are also available with 5, 15, 20, 25, and even 50 or more paylines, accepting up to 25 credits per line.
The symbols that stop on a payout line determine whether a player wins. The classic symbols are cherries, bars, double bars (two bars stacked atop one another), triple bars, and sevens. But there are plenty others, such as fruit, playing card symbols, and images based on the theme of the game.
A single cherry on the payout line, for example, might pay back two credits; the player might get 10 credits for three of any bars (a mixture of bars, double bars, and triple bars), 30 for three single bars, 60 for three double bars, 120 for three triple bars, and the jackpot for three sevens. However, many of the stops on each reel will be blanks, and a combination that includes blanks pays nothing. Likewise, a seven is not any bar, so a combination such as bar-seven-double bar pays nothing.
Video slots typically have representations of five reels spinning on a video screen, but there are slots with more reels. Paylines not only run straight across the reels but also run in V's, upside down V's, zigs and zags, and other configurations across the screen. — In addition, video slots usually feature bonus rounds and "scatter pays." Designated symbols trigger a scatter pay if two, three, or more of them appear on the screen, even if they're not on the same payline.
Similarly, special symbols will trigger a bonus event. For instance, the bonus may take the form of free spins, pick-a-prize interactions, or mystery bonuses. The player may be presented with a "second screen" bonus. An example of a second screen bonus comes in the long-popular WMS Gaming Slot "Jackpot Party." If three Party noisemakers appear on the video reels, the reels are replaced on the screen with a grid of packages in gift wrapping. Players touch the screen to open a package and collect a bonus payout. They may keep touching packages for more bonuses until one package finally reveals a "pooper," which ends the round. These bonus rounds helped video slots grow in popularity, but they aren't as prevalent today, as game designers experiment with format.
When you hit a winning combination, winnings will be added to the credit meter. If you wish to collect the credits showing on the meter, hit the button marked "Cash Out," and on most machines, a bar-coded ticket will be printed out that can be redeemed for cash. In a few older machines, coins still drop into a tray.
Slot Machine Etiquette
Many slot players pump money into two or more adjacent machines at a time, but if the casino is crowded and others are having difficulty finding places to play, limit yourself to one machine. As a practical matter, even in a light crowd, it's wise not to play more machines than you can watch over easily. Play too many and you could find yourself in the situation faced by the woman who was working up and down a row of six slots. She was dropping coins into machine number six while number one, on the aisle, was paying a jackpot. There was nothing she could do as a passerby scooped a handful of coins out of the first tray.
Sometimes players taking a break for the rest room will tip a chair against the machine, leave a coat on the chair, or leave some other sign that they'll be back. Take heed of these signs. A nasty confrontation could follow if you play a machine that has already been thus staked out.
Payout percentages, or the proportion of wagers returned to players as winnings, have risen since the casinos figured out it's more profitable to hold 5 percent of a dollar than 8 percent of a quarter or 10 percent of a nickel. In most of the country, slot players can figure on about a 93 percent payout percentage, though payouts in Nevada run higher. — Keep in mind that these are long-term averages that will hold up over a sample of 100,000 to 300,000 pulls.
In the short term, anything can happen. It's not unusual to go 20 or 50 or more pulls without a single payout on a reel-spinning slot, though payouts are more frequent on video slots. Nor is it unusual for a machine to pay back 150 percent or more for several dozen pulls. But in the long run, the programmed percentages will hold up.
Since earlier slot machines were mechanical, if you knew the number of stops — symbols or blank spaces that could stop on the payout line — on each reel, you could calculate the odds on hitting the top jackpot. If a machine had three reels, each with ten stops, and one symbol on each reel was for the jackpot, then three jackpot symbols would line up, on the average, once every 10,310,310 pulls, or 1,000 pulls.
On those machines, the big payoffs were $50 or $100 — nothing like the big numbers slot players expect today. On systems that electronically link machines in several casinos, progressive jackpots reach millions of dollars.
The microprocessors driving today's machines are programmed with random-number generators that govern winning combinations. It no longer matters how many stops are on each reel. If we fitted that old three-reel, ten-stop machine with a microprocessor, we could put ten jackpot symbols on the first reel, ten on the second, and nine on the third, and still program the random-number generator so that three jackpot symbols lined up only once every 1,000 times, or 10,000 times. And on video slots, reel strips can be programmed to be as long as needed to make the odds of the game hit at a desired percentage. They are not constrained by a physical reel.
Each possible combination is assigned a number, or numbers. When the random-number generator receives a signal — anything from a button being pressed to the handle being pulled — it sets a number, and the reels stop on the corresponding combination.
Between signals, the random number generator operates continuously, running through dozens of numbers per second. This has two practical effects for slot players. First, if you leave a machine, then see someone else hit a jackpot shortly thereafter, don't fret. To hit the same jackpot, you would have needed the same split-second timing as the winner. The odds are overwhelming that if you had stayed at the machine, you would not have hit the same combination.
Second, because the combinations are random, or as close to random as is possible to set the program, the odds of hitting any particular combination are the same on every pull. If a machine is programmed to pay out its top jackpot, on the average, once every 10,000 pulls, your chances of hitting it are one in 10,000 on any given pull. If you've been standing there for days and have played 10,000 times, the odds on the next pull will still be one in 10,000. Those odds are long-term averages. In the short term, the machine could go 100,000 pulls without letting loose of the big one, or it could pay it out twice in a row.
So, is there a way to ensure that you hit it big on a slot machine? Not really, but despite the overriding elements of chance, there are some strategies you can employ. We'll cover these in the next section.
Slot Machine Myths
Because most players do not understand how slot machines work, whole sets of beliefs have grown over when to play a machine and when to avoid it. Little truth is in any of them. Here's a look at some of the more pervasive slot myths:
Change machines after a big jackpot — the machine won't be due to hit again for some time. From a money-management standpoint, it makes sense to lock up the profits from a big hit and move on. But the machine is not "due" to turn cold. In fact, the odds against the same jackpot hitting on the next pull are the same as they were the first time.
Play a machine that has gone a long time without paying off — it is due to hit. Slot machines are never "due." Playing through a long losing streak all too frequently results in a longer losing streak.
Casinos place "hot" machines on the aisles. This belief is so widespread that end machines get a good deal of play regardless of how they pay. It is true that not all machines in the same casino are programmed with the same payback percentage. And it's true that casinos want other customers to see winners. But slot placement is more complex than just placing the hot ones at the ends of aisles.
The payback percentage is lowered when the crowds are bigger and demand is greater. It's not that easy to change a machine's programming. Changing the programmed payback percentage requires opening the machine and replacing a computer chip. That's not something to do cavalierly. Server-based slot machines that allow casinos to change payout percentages remotely, but there are still regulations around making these changes.
Slot Machine Strategies
Slots are the easiest games in the casino to play — spin the reels and take your chances. Players have no control over what combinations will show up or when a jackpot will hit. There is no way to tell when a machine will be hot or cold. Still, there are some pitfalls. It's important to read the glass or help menu and learn what type of machine it is. The three major types of reel-spinning slots are the multiplier, the buy-a-pay, and the progressive.
The multiplier. On a multiplier, payoffs are proportionate for each coin played — except, usually, for the top jackpot. If the machine accepts up to three credits at a time, and if you play one credit, three bars pay back ten. Three bars will pay back 20 for two credits and 30 for three credits. However, three sevens might pay 500 for one credit and 1,000 for two, but jump to 10,000 when all three credits are played. Read the glass to find out if that's the case before playing less than the maximum coins on this type of machine.
The buy-a-pay. Never play less than the maximum on a buy-a-pay, on which each credit "buys" a set of symbols or a payout line. The first coin in might allow the player to win only on cherry combination, while the second coin activates the bar payouts, and the third coin activates the sevens. Woe is the player who hits three jackpot symbols on a buy-a-pay with only one coin played — the player gets nothing back. A variation is the machine with multiple payout lines, each activated by a separate credit. All symbols are active with each credit, but if a winning combination lines up on the third-credit payout line with only one or two credits played, the payoff is zero.
The progressive. You also have no reason to play less than maximum coins on a progressive machine. A player who eventually lines up the jackpot symbols gets a percentage of each coin played. The first progressive machines were self-contained — the jackpot was determined by how much that particular machine had been played since the last big hit. Today most progressives are linked electronically to other machines, with all credits played in the linked machines adding to a common jackpot.
These jackpots can be enormous — the record is $39,710,826.26, a $1 progressive at a Las Vegas casino. The tradeoff is that frequency and size of other payouts are usually smaller. And you can't win the big jackpot without playing maximum credits.
If you must play fewer than maximum credits, look for a multiplier in which the final-coin jump in the top jackpot is fairly small. Better yet, choose a machine that allows you to stay within your budget while playing maximum credits. If your budget won't allow you to play maximum credits on a $1 machine, move to a quarter machine. If you're not comfortable playing three quarters at a time, move to a two-quarter machine. If you can't play two quarters at a time, play a nickel machine.
With so many paylines and the possibility of betting multiple credits per line, video slots are different. Some penny slots with 20 paylines take up to 25 coins per line. That's a $5 maximum bet — a pretty penny indeed! Most players bet less than the max on video slots but are sure to cover all the paylines, even if betting only one credit per line. You want to be sure to be eligible for the bonus rounds that give video slots most of their fun. Some progressive jackpots require max bets, and some don't. If a max bet is required to be eligible for the jackpot and you're not prepared to roll that high, find a different machine.
Managing your money wisely is the most important part of playing any casino game, and also the most difficult part of playing the slots. Even on quarter machines, the amount of money involved runs up quickly. A dedicated slot player on a machine that plays off credits can easily get in 600 pulls an hour. At two quarters at a time, that means wagering $300 per hour — the same amount a $5 blackjack player risks at an average table speed of 60 hands per hour.
Most of that money is recycled from smaller payouts — at a casino returning 93 percent on quarter slots, the expected average loss for $300 in play is $21. Still, you will come out ahead more often if you pocket some of those smaller payouts and don't continually put everything you get back into the machine.
One method for managing money is to divide your slot bankroll for the day into smaller-session bankrolls. If, for example, you've taken $100 on a two-and-a-half-hour riverboat cruise, allot $20 for each half-hour. Select a quarter machine — dollar machines could devastate a $100 bankroll in minutes — and play the $20 through once. If you've received more than $20 in payouts, pocket the excess and play with the original $20. At the end of one half-hour, pocket whatever is left and start a new session with the next $20.
If at any point the original $20 for that session is depleted, that session is over. Finish that half-hour with a walk, snack, or drink until it is time for a new session. Do not dip back into money you've already pocketed.
That may seem rigid, but players who do not use a money management technique all too frequently keep pumping money into the machine until they've lost their entire bankroll. The percentages guarantee that the casino will be the winner in the long run, but lock up a portion of the money as you go along, and you'll walk out of the casino with cash on hand more frequently.
There is a lot more to slot machines than meets the eye. But if you learn the ins and outs of playing them, you can use some strategies that just might help you hit the jackpot.
Slot Machines of the Future
Interest in and revenue from iGaming, or online gaming, has been growing rapidly. Online slots are attracting more players as mobile gaming technology advances and law changes. And it doesn't hurt that they also have huge payouts — like the 18.9 million euro ($22.4 million) Mega Moolah payout in 2018.
Originally Published: May 23, 2006
Are slot machines luck or skill? ›
The Science Behind Slots
Though advertised as such, slot machines aren't simply based on chance. While chance and pure luck do play a large role in the game, slot machines are built with a mathematical algorithm used to choose the next outcome.
How are jackpots triggered? Free spins, special symbol landings, and random features are all ways to trigger the feature. As more people bet on the slot machine, the jackpot resets to a lower value and grows in value. It is possible to find a progressive jackpot on various slot and video poker machines.What should a beginner do in a casino? ›
- Know Your Budget. Before you go, know how much money you can spend and are willing to donate if luck isn't with you. ...
- Start with Slot Machines. ...
- Move on to Roulette. ...
- Learn the Game Before Playing. ...
- Sign Up for Rewards Cards. ...
- Find the Loose Slot Machines. ...
- Know Casino Etiquette.
- Train with online games. ...
- Wear casual clothes. ...
- Drinks and alcohol. ...
- Walk around. ...
- Don't let the others intimidate you. ...
- Go light with your first bets.
In most cases, players choose to play ten spins but this does not mean you cannot opt for another number. However, you have to stick to your chosen number. The next step you have to take before you start spinning the reels is to set an amount you want to invest in playing your preferred slot game.How do you know if a slot machine is hot? ›
- Looking at a slot's return to player (RTP) percentage. For those hoping for a speedy return on the bulk of their spins, the RTP % of the game is all they need to know. ...
- The slot's volatility. ...
- Tournaments of slots.
What slot machines have the highest payout percentage? The Ugga Bugga slot machine game has the highest payout percentage, at 99.07%. The second highest is Mega Joker by NetEnt, with a 99% RTP. Jackpot 6000 by NetEnt and Uncharted Seas by Thunderkick come in second and third, with RTPs of 98.8% and 98.6%, respectively.Do slot machines have a pattern? ›
Definition. A slot machine (American), fruit machine (British), or poker machine (Australia and New Zealand) is a coin-operated gaming machine that generates random combinations of symbols on a dial, certain combinations winning varying amounts of money for the player.Is it better to stay at the same slot machine? ›
Well, mathematically speaking, there is no difference whether or not you are playing one slot or moving around the casino. Due to the fact that slots are built around RNGs, and the consequence of every spin is totally arbitrary, you'll get the same fate whether you play at one slot the entire day, or move around.What time of day do slots hit? ›
Most gamblers agree that the best time of day to play slots is either in the morning or at night. In fact, the peak hours are somewhere between 8 pm and 2 am.
What time is best to go to casino to play slots? ›
Many gamblers prefer hitting the casino after midnight or around 2 a.m when there's less traffic and increased chances of betting against high rollers. Con of evening gambling: Like going to the casino on weekends, expect more packed tables and slots during peak evening hours and fewer games available to play.Do casinos control the slot machines? ›
A video slot machine is controlled onsite by the central computer at the casino. A video lottery terminal is controlled offsite by the state lottery. The only sure way to tell the difference between these two slot machine types is to take a look at what the state gaming commission says they are at that casino.How to win at the casino with little money? ›
- Find The Best Games. ...
- Find The Best Machine. ...
- Find The Best Payouts. ...
- Find A Two-Seater. ...
- Know When To Bet The Max, Or To Bet Less And Play More Lines. ...
- Walk Away After You Win. ...
- Take Breaks. ...
- Don't Chase Losses.
A sure sign that it is time to walk away from a specific slot machine is multiple losses. No one is going to give you much of a recommendation in this case. It will be up to you to determine how many losses is enough. If you keep spinning and coming up with losses, it is time to try another machine.What is the best payout slot machine to play? ›
- Cleopatra Mega Jackpots.
- Monopoly Big Spin.
- Divine Fortune.
- MGM Grand Millions.
- Mercy of the Gods.
The 1:1 payout comes every 8 plays. The 5:1 payout comes every 33 plays, whereas the 2:1 payout comes every 600 plays. Most players assume the likelihood increases proportionate to the payout.What is the easiest game in a casino to win? ›
Blackjack has the best odds of winning, with a house edge of just 1 percent in most casinos, Bean said. Plus, you are playing against only the dealer, not hooded poker champions. "Blackjack is one of our easiest games to play," Bean said.What's the easiest casino game to learn? ›
1. Slot games. If you have never played a slot game before, you must have lived a sheltered life. Everyone knows about slot machines, and they are, therefore, the most simple of gambling games.What not to do at a casino? ›
- Don't Think It's A Win For You Every Time. ...
- Don't Rush To The ATM When You Are Out Of Cash. ...
- Do Not Try To Win Your Livelihood. ...
- Avoid Casinos That Don't Give Complimentary Drinks. ...
- Drink Very Carefully. ...
- Don't Misbehave With The Cocktail Server or Your Dealer.
No, slot machines do not have any sort of algorithm that rewards players when they start playing and then takes the winnings and the players' bankrolls away as they continue to play.
What is the best casino game to win money? ›
Blackjack is the best game to earn lots of real money in a short time. However, you'll need luck and strategy to act at the right time. Since you are not playing against experienced players in this game, the odds of winning are already high.Should you play all lines on a slot machine? ›
Those who want to win the progressive jackpot should play as many lines as they can afford. This will maximize the amount of time you spend on slot machines, and offer you more chances to win the jackpot. Assuming you're just looking to have some fun, it's best to keep the number of paylines under 5.How often do slot machines hit big? ›
Real-world conditions vary. Not all slots within a casino have the same jackpot hit frequency, most paying a lot less often than once per 10,000 spins. On a game with a big multimillion-dollar jackpot like Megabucks, the jackpot chances are closer to 1 in 50 million.Is there a secret to slot machines? ›
Although some slot machines feature a stop button, even this feature doesn't actually affect the outcome. Unlike some other casino games (blackjack, for example), slot machines are purely based on luck. There's no skill or strategy you can employ to increase your winning chances.Can you confuse a slot machine? ›
By playing a certain pattern of stakes and games, players could confuse the machine and trigger a glitch that pays out the jackpot. Many slots cheats benefited from this over the years but now many jackpot winners are also being denied their winnings because of it.Why don t I ever win at slots? ›
You can't win at slots in the long run
Slots are manufactured and programmed in a way to ensure that they only pay back a certain percentage of the money that's placed into them by players. Usually, this is in the range of 70-90% but it can be far worse or better depending on where you're playing.
Slot machine odds are some of the worst, ranging from a one-in-5,000 to one-in-about-34-million chance of winning the top prize when using the maximum coin play.Are penny slots worth it? ›
If you do not have a huge budget and want to beat the huge odds, penny slots might be worth your time. There are some penny slots with max bets of under $2.00 per bet. Nowhere else in the casino can you turn a dollar bet into thousands or even millions of dollars.Should you leave a slot machine after winning? ›
The main reason to leave a machine after hitting a substantial jackpot has nothing to do with whether or not you think the machine will pay off again. After you have a nice win it is perfect time to take a break and lock up a win.What time of day is best to win at the casino? ›
How Important Is the Day and Time to Win at a Casino? Winning at casinos is purely based on luck and chance, particularly when you play games with a house edge. As such, there is no special period when you are likely to win at a casino. The odds stay the same regardless of the day or time.
Is it better to bet high or low slots? ›
Generally speaking, it is always best to play the maximum bet when you play slots, whether it's online or in real world casinos. Wins normally pay out at higher multiples and many progressive jackpots can only be won via a max bet.What days do casinos payout the most? ›
What days do casinos payout the most? Payouts are higher throughout the weekend: Many gamblers believe payouts are higher on Saturday and Sunday due to a higher turnout during the weekend so that casinos can encourage more spending.Do slot machines hit in the morning? ›
Casino games have shown us hefty bettors, all day and all night! So, when the question comes, whether slot hits in the morning, the answer is- IT DOES! You can play slot games anytime you want!What slot machine wins the most? ›
What slot machines have the highest payout percentage? The Ugga Bugga slot machine game has the highest payout percentage, at 99.07%. The second highest is Mega Joker by NetEnt, with a 99% RTP.What is the 5 spin method? ›
Put your chosen bankroll into a machine. Make five minimum bets but stop if you win anything at all. If you win anything on the first ten machines, continue until you've tested twenty machines.Do casinos manipulate slot machines? ›
For more information on your specific state, territory, or federal district of interest, see my State-By-State Online Resource for U.S. Casino Slots Enthusiasts. So, at its high level, slot machines are controlled by gaming regulators by the placement of legal requirements for payout return percentages.What's the best day of the week to go to the casino? ›
Payouts are higher throughout the weekend: Many gamblers believe payouts are higher on Saturday and Sunday due to a higher turnout during the weekend so that casinos can encourage more spending.What are the odds of hitting big on a slot machine? ›
Slot machine odds are some of the worst, ranging from a one-in-5,000 to one-in-about-34-million chance of winning the top prize when using the maximum coin play.What slot has the best odds? ›
Which Online Slots Machine Wins the Most? Statistically, a high-RTP online slot game has the highest winning odds over the long run. Some of the popular options with a high payout percentage include 777 Deluxe with 96% RTP, Jungle Stripes with 97.03%, and Cyberpunk City with an impressive 98.2% RTP.Can you tell when slot machine will hit? ›
You cannot tell when a modern slot machine will hit because the outcome of each spin is random. No matter how many times a machine has spun, and no matter what the outcomes of those spins were, the probability of the next result remains the same.
Do slot machines have cameras in them? ›
When a player plays a game, such as a slot machine, the player is scanned at the machine by a digital or video camera to acquire and develop a digital image of the player's face.Is it better to put small bills in slot machines? ›
They don't care how they get that money - be it from a $100 bill or a $3.39 tito ticket - the odds remain the same. Therefore whether you use a ticket or cash or whatever amount of money you put in the machine, it doesn't matter.