Slot machines have been a casino staple since the original three-reel varieties appeared in the late 1800s. Since then, they’ve evolved from being entirely mechanical to entirely electronic. Now, modern video slots are available in live casinos and online.
Video slots that are highly popular on casino floors, such as Buffalo, Wheel of Fortune and Kitty Glitter, are also available at many online casinos. There's no real difference between versions, other than being able to control cigarette smoke and no wait for a drink!
No matter which slot machine you’re interested in, you can find it online, even classic three-reel slots. An advantage of playing online is that you can make use of no-deposit bonuses, one of the best promotions available to slots players.
How To Play Slot Machines
A big part of the enduring popularity of slots is that they're extremely simple to play. You don't have to learn any rules or strategy; just spin the reels and hope for the best!
So how do you choose a slot machine? You can break it down to a handful of criteria:
- What is the pay table, or expected return?
- Does it offer interesting and profitable bonus rounds?
- How fun and entertaining is it to play?
Let's look at each of these factors in a little more detail.
Slot Pay Tables
The pay table tells you two important things: how much the machine pays out for each winning line, and how much of an advantage the casino has over you on this particular game.
The first part of that is easy enough to understand, and the casino makes this information available to you in the pay table. For example, the pay table might tell you that three “7” symbols in a row pay you back 50 times the amount of your wager, while three cherries only return three times the wager.
Odds and Casino Edge
The second part is not something the casino will provide to you, so you have to do some math to determine their advantage (by using the pay table). The casino’s edge at any particular slot machine is usually expressed as a percentage, usually in the range of 85% to 95%. The process of calculating this number is somewhat complicated, but good slot machine reviews will often provide their own estimate.
Return to Player (RTP)
Let's say a slot machine is estimated to have a return of 93%. Over your lifetime course of playing that particular machine, you can expect the casino to keep about 7% of the money you wager.
However, that's the estimated average return; it doesn't mean that every session will end with you losing 7%. It's possible for you to lose 100% of your money in any given gaming session, just as it's possible to hit the big jackpot and rake in a massive profit. The expected return just gives you a better idea of how likely these outlying possibilities are. The higher the expected return, the more chances you'll likely have to hang in there and hit it big.
Loyalty Programs for Online Slots Players
It's true that the casino always has the advantage, but there are a few ways to reduce their edge. Participating in loyalty programs (if offered) and getting slot bonuses for your play helps to offset your losses and increase your expected return. Also, wise use of slot bonuses helps to tilt the field in your direction even further.
A “bonus round” in a slot game usually starts when a certain pattern of “bonus” or “wild” symbols appears in the playfield during a spin. Slot machines have a wide variety of bonus rounds. In most cases, they provide you with a series of free spins from which you get to keep any winnings.
Bonus rounds have to be factored into the expected return of any slot machine. With some machines, a dismal return in the main game is boosted into the 90% ranks by the presence of the bonus rounds!
Turning Totems Slots by Thunderkick – Video Gameplay
Playing For Fun
Most slots players understand that they are at a disadvantage. They don't expect to make a living from slots the way poker players or sports bettors might. They play on occasion for fun and for the thrill of chasing that huge jackpot. The goal is more about making the bankroll last for as long as possible while having a fun time and taking as many cracks at the big win as you can.
The presentation of a slot game is a big factor in its popularity, often much more so than the expected return percentage (which the majority of players are not even aware of). The core of this is the lights, sounds, and overall design. Video slots have really taken this to the next level in recent years by incorporating animated sequences or clips from popular movies and TV shows. Many players pick their preferred game based solely on how much they enjoy playing it rather than how much money they expect to win.
It might seem a little silly to “practice” a game that involves no real skill. However, taking slots for a no-risk test drive is actually a good idea. It will help you determine which ones you enjoy the most, and may even clue you about which games are more likely to pay out.
Many casinos offer a “free” or “practice” mode so you can play the slot games without wagering actual money. Just be aware that they may be “looser” in these modes, or have a higher expected return; it depends on the terms of the agency that regulates them.
Slot Machine FAQs
Do slot machine payoff percentages vary as you play?
At an ethical and well-regulated casino, the expected return will not change over time. People sometimes believe that casinos will “tighten” or “loosen” the slots periodically, for example tightening the odds back up after someone hits a jackpot. However, a properly run and regulated casino will not do this.
How does a progressive slots jackpot work?
Progressive slot jackpots are made up of wagers from the slot game’s previous players. A small percentage of each wager goes into the jackpot. In live casinos, progressive jackpots are often tied to a specific bank of machines, or even every machine of that type throughout the building. Online casinos allow progressives to be more easily fed by multiple players. Progressives keep growing until a player hits the jackpot, at which time they usually reset to some small fixed amount and begin growing again.
What is the difference between reel slots and video slots?
Reel slots are based on the original mechanical form of slots. They are a relatively simple style, usually with nine possible pay lines and no bonus modes. Video slots can have a dizzying array of pay lines that move in all sorts of patterns and an equally wide variety of bonus rounds.
There's a popular perception that reel slots pay off better than video slots because they're simpler to maintain and run. In some live casinos, this can actually be true since the fancier a video slot machine is, the tighter it tends to be in order to offset its operating costs. However, there's no guarantee that any given reel slot has a higher expected return than any given video slot.
Is there a difference between UK fruit machines and the other types of slots?
“Fruit Machine” is merely UK slang for a slot machine, but there is a perception that UK machines pay out worse than slots in other parts of the world. That's because, for a long time, UK law did not require machines to have a minimum payout percentage. In contrast, gaming venues like Nevada set a legal minimum of 75%.
The UK Gambling Commission now requires that the online casinos it regulates set a minimum payout percentage of 80% for slot games. However, many UK-based casinos will set a better payout percentage than this since it's best for business when players don’t lose their money too fast.
Why do slot machines so commonly use fruit symbols?
Seven is well-known as a lucky number in multiple cultures, but the fruit symbols come from many slots originally giving out food or beverage prizes rather than cash so as to not run afoul of gambling laws. The “BAR” symbol actually comes from machines made by the Bell-Fruit Gum Company, who created their own machines that gave out candy as prizes in the early 1900s.
What happens if an online slot machine has a glitch while I'm playing?
Live casino machines almost always bear a “malfunction voids all wagers” disclaimer, and that policy tends to transfer to online casinos as well. If the glitch gives the player an erroneously big payout, the casinos are generally not obligated to honor it. Customarily, casinos will offer some smaller compensation to keep the player happy. If the glitch hurts the player's bankroll, a reputable casino will usually make it right (assuming the player reports it). Glitches in the middle of a wager will generally negate the wager and return the bet amount to the player.