How To Play Slots [Updated 2017]
You don't need skill or strategy to learn how to play slots. In fact, this is part of the appeal for slots players. Unlike card games, you don't have to know any rules to try your luck at the reels.
It helps to understand what the different pay lines and symbols represent on each machine, but it isn't necessary. With nothing more than the push of a button, you have a shot at the jackpot.
There is only one way to gain an advantage at slots: choose the right machine.
Want to learn how to play slots and actually win? Learn to read pay tables and calculate the game's expected return. This will help you pick the machines that maximize your bankroll.
If you don't want to bother with charts and calculations, look up slot machine reviews to get other players' feedback. Often, these reviews include estimates of payback percentages for quick reference.
Slots Tips and the Casino's Edge
Before you begin playing slots, it's helpful to understand how casinos use them to make money.
Casino operators love slot machines above all other forms of gambling. They usually comp slot players better than they comp anyone else.
A penny slot player who plays a dollar a pull often gets better offers and freebies than blackjack or poker players who are wagering $10-20 minimum per hand.
Slot players get preferential treatment because casinos make more money from slots than any other game. The machine's expected return affects their profit. In most of the regulated gaming territories, slots are allowed to be set as low as 70-80%. At this level, they are statistically one of the worst bets in the casino.
However, most casinos don't set the return nearly this low. 85-95% payback is the most common range, and some go as high as 97% or 98%. This is almost the expected return for blackjack or video poker if you're playing with favorable rules and perfect strategy.
The casino's advantage isn't just based on expected return, it also depends on the pace of play. Since the house always has an edge, more bets means better profits for the casino.
And slot players tend to make a lot of wagers. On average, casinos expect a slot player to make about 600 bets per hour, or roughly 10 per minute. That far outpaces many table games, where a full minute or more might go by for just one wager.
Basics of Slot Play
The original slots were mechanical three-reel machines. Players tried to line up three identical symbols across a horizontal center line. For example, the famous 7s and BAR or fruit symbols.
Over time, slot machines expanded to include more pay lines. So players won when symbols lined up vertically or diagonally.
As machines transitioned from mechanical components to electronic systems, they also started adding more reels. New, entirely electronic video slots have up to 100 pay lines that move in all sorts of convoluted patterns.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about video slots is that more pay lines doesn't necessarily equal better odds for the player. In fact, the flashy video slots with 50 pay lines are often among the worst bets, since most of the pay lines only return a small fraction of your wager!
Another important thing to understand about playing slots is that bonus rounds have a huge impact on expected returns. A bonus round usually begins when you get an adequate amount of special bonus symbols across a pay line. Some games require this to happen on a few different spins before the bonus round actually starts.
Slots have a variety of bonus rounds. The most common is a series of free spins, but with the reels adjusted so that the game pays out a little differently than usual.
Betting Strategy for Slots
In general, you want to look for the highest minimum bet denomination that you can afford. In most cases the higher the minimum bet for each line, the better the machine will pay out. Playing the maximum amount per spin often increases the payback percentage by a few whole percentage points.
If you're on a fixed budget, avoid high-limit machines. Although they offer the best odds, you'll stretch your budget further by prioritizing machines with a higher minimum bet per line. Also, play as many lines as you can afford.
For example, let's say you want to wager 25 cents per spin:
- Higher return: play five lines on a game with a minimum bet of five cents per line
- Lower return: bet one cent per line on 25 lines of a penny machine
Progressive jackpots can be fun, but in general they offer worse overall returns than games with a fixed jackpot. The more games and players that are feeding into the pot, the less the game will return in smaller non-jackpot wins.
In the end, what matters most is that you're having fun. You'll never make a living off of slots, so play them for enjoyment. Forget strategy and play however you like!
Slot Play FAQs
When should I press the slot machine “stop” button?
You can stop the reels from spinning at any time, since the outcome of the spin is already pre-determined. A random number generator determines the results for each spin before it begins.
Some very old mechanical slot machines could be influenced by manually stopping the reels at the right time. Since electronic machines took over, this strategy is no longer relevant.
Factors like levers versus buttons and the ability to stop reels early are included as a nod to tradition and for player preference. They don't have any actual influence over the game.
Do games have hot and cold streaks, or pay out better at certain times? Can they be “due” to pay out?
If the casino is honest and properly regulated, every spin should be a completely isolated and totally random event.
Live casinos in places like Nevada and Macau follow these guidelines, and so should any online casino you play at. Otherwise, the site may not be trustworthy with your money.
What about the progressive jackpots that guarantee to pay out by a certain amount? How is that possible if each spin is a completely random event?
In some cases, progressive jackpots are a matter of simple probability. It's technically possible that the payout threshold could be reached without a winner. However, the odds against it are so infinitesimal that it's a virtually guaranteed someone will hit the jackpot before that point.
Smaller jackpots that are more realistic for someone to reach will usually go to the person whose spin contribution puts the game over the jackpot limit. If this is the way the game is set up, you’ll win the jackpot even if you had a losing spin.
Review of How to Play Slots
Pay tables and payback estimates are often vague. You can't see always see the full pay table or bonus terms, so you won't be able to calculate the payback percentage.
If you're having difficulty determining a slot game's expected return and you can't find reliable numbers online, follow these basic rules of thumb:
- The larger the main jackpot is, the worse the odds of hitting it are going to be, and the game will return less in smaller wins
- The larger the minimum bet, the better the payback percentage
- Betting the maximum improves the payback percentage considerably
- The more people feeding into a progressive jackpot, the less it will return in terms of non-jackpot wins
- Pick a game you enjoy and that lets you play for a satisfying amount of time on a reasonable budget rather than worrying too much about payback percentages