Beginner’s Guide to Playing & Winning at Slot Machines

When playing slots, you generally want to hold on to your money for as long as you can – to maximize your fun and have a chance to hit a large payout. That’s the way to get the most from playing slots. There are also strategies that can help you get the most out of your slots gaming with different-denomination machines. Here you’ll learn a simple, logical way to get the biggest bang for your buck from slot machines.

But first, we’re going to take a look at how slot machines work and the different types of games you’ll find at casinos.

How Slots Work

One thing neither beginners nor veterans have to worry about these days is being cheated by a slot machine, thanks to the computers, called RNGs (random number generators) that now run all slots games.

Slot machine manufacturers set the payoff by programming the RNGs that runs the machine. Brick-and-mortar casinos and online slots casinos can access a microchip to change its programming, as long as it’s within the legal range. What’s more, casinos are so regulated that changing out a microchip in a slot machine requires reams of paperwork, as well as a big financial expense.

Slot machines in both physical and virtual venues use the same kind of random number generators, or RNGs, to determine the outcome of each spin. The RNG never stops working, even when no one is playing. This means that the outcome of every spin is entirely random, making it all but impossible for either the house or a player to cheat.

Basics of Playing Slots

In order to win at slots, it’s important that players learn the chart known as the payoff table. This chart tells players what the winning combinations are, how much each combination pays, and whether players get better payoffs betting multiple coins.

The biggest challenge will be games with multiple reels and multiple payoff lines. These innovations were made possible through the application of computers to slot machines. Thanks to complex software programs, multi-reel and multi-line games provide slots players with much more excitement. They also make it harder to win, but the possibility exists for big jackpots. That’s why it’s crucial for slots players to know at least the basics of the payoff table. Knowing how the game works is essential for knowing how to place bets.

Another thing to learn is what special enhancements a game might have, such as free spins, bonus games or progressive jackpots. A game with free spins can help preserve a gambler’s bankroll. Bonus games provide opportunities to win even more money. Progressive jackpots are an innovation that has produced some truly spectacular wins.

To maximize winning at slots, players should set realistic expectations. They should set a budget for their play, and never, ever play beyond their limits. By setting personal limits, it will be easier to find slots games that meet a player’s goals.

Progressive Slots

With progressive jackpots, several machines are linked together through computer connections. Play on all these machines contributes to a huge collective jackpot. But there’s a trade-off with progressives, as the odds of winning are much worse, typically 1 in millions. Even so, it can be worth a few coins for a chance at a jackpot that can grow as high as $20 million. All it takes is one win to be financially secure, and it’s certainly less complicated than the kind of gambling that stock brokers have played on Wall Street over the past few years!

With land-based casinos, a progressive slots network can encompass a large number of different casinos. Online progressive slots can accommodate nearly unlimited numbers of players, so the jackpots can rise to life-changing amounts of money. 

That said, progressive slot machines aren’t any more lucrative than other slots. That’s because only one individual can win the progressive jackpot, whereas multiple players can win varying amounts playing their respective machines. In addition, many casinos require that players bet the maximum in order to be eligible for the progressive jackpot. The appeal of progressive jackpot slot machines is the excitement of watching the pot grow and the suspense of waiting to see who wins it. For many players, this entertainment is a major part of the satisfaction they get from playing the games.

Another truth about progressive jackpots is that there really isn’t a definite strategy to win at these kinds of slots games. Intuitively it might seem that playing more frequently would increase one’s chances of winning, but it’s key to remember that all gambling is predicated on the odds of losing, not winning. The more you play, the more you lose in most cases.

Added to this is the reality that today’s slot machines are truly games of chance thanks to random number generators. Some people play slots for months and win only modest amounts. Other people can go online, play for half an hour, and hit the jackpot. That’s why they call it “gambling.”

Possibly the best way to approach a strategy for playing progressive jackpot games is to choose a casino that offers customer bonuses, such as sign-up bonuses and customer loyalty programs. Using this “free” money to play can produce better odds of winning, since the player won’t deplete his or her bankroll as quickly.

Slots with Bonus Games

Slot machines with bonus games may be more advantageous to players than big-money progressive jackpots. That’s because free spins and bonus rounds for certain combinations add to a player’s gaming time, as well as providing the opportunity for more payoffs.

Most slot machines with bonus games don’t post their pay tables on the main video screen. It’s necessary to click through to the Pay Table screen. This screen will inform players of the bonus features and explain the symbols necessary to access the bonus.

Many bonus-game slots offer wild symbols that work just like wild cards in poker. Since the wild symbol can stand in for any other symbol, it increases the changes of winning both cash and bonuses.

Another common icon on bonus games is the scatter symbol. This symbol will create a winning combination without having to be on the same line. Often as few as two scatter symbols will result in some kind of small payout that will lengthen the game play.

With a bonus game, the player’s strategy should be to try and stay in the game as long as possible in order to reach the bonus levels, which is where the big payoffs are. Some bonuses involve choosing different symbols that reveal varying amounts of bonus money. Some games with free spins will double or even triple the standard payouts during the free spin period. A game with both free spins and a bonus is a highly attractive option.

The final version of a bonus is called a gamble feature, which lets the player gamble with his or her winnings rather than with a bankroll. Most gamble features allow players to bet double or nothing with winnings up to five times. This option may not bring much in the way of payouts, but it does help preserve a player’s bankroll and extend playing time.

Bonuses have become so popular with slots players that there are now dozens of games featuring this type of enhancement. The trick is to find out which games are offering the kind of bonuses that match your personal gaming plan. The type of bonuses and how they work are crucial to this strategy, so it’s important to study the Payout Table before beginning play. If anything about a slot machine’s game is unclear, online players may contact customer service while casino players may consult floor bosses or information booths.

Classic Reel Slot Machines

How much can playing slots cost?

So you’ve chosen to try your hand at slots; now what? The first thing you need to decide is your limit. Decide how much money you’re going to play with before you begin. Not only is this the best plan for gambling in general, the size of your bankroll will help you develop the best strategy for your gaming experience. Never gamble with more money than you can afford to lose. The following table illustrates just how much money you could lose, at 10 spins per minute, on a standard 3-reel machine and never getting a payout.

Per-hour cost of playing (and losing) a three-reel slots machine

DenominationOne CoinTwo CoinsThree Coins
(Cost per hour is based on the number of coins bet)

5 cents (Nickel)$30$60$90
25 cents (Quarter)$150$300$450
$1 (One dollar)$600$1,200$1,800
$5 (Five dollars)$3,000$6,000$9,000
$25 (Twenty-five dollars)$15,000$30,000$45,000

These rates may seem scary enough to make slots your last choice at the casino. However, losing every spin is just as likely as winning every spin. It’s highly improbable, but it can still happen. Regularly playing, you should actually be able to retain between 80 percent and 98 percent of your bankroll, depending on the payout percentages of the machines you choose and how long you stick with them.

There are some places that regulate the payout percentage of slot machines, like Nevada and Atlantic City. Las Vegas states that slot machines must payout at least 75 percent of the money they take in. You’re likely to find advertised percentages as high as 90 percent and above. This is how casinos in regulated cities compete against each other for more business.

Expecting great returns

You’ve seen the makings for the slots game in history in the table above. Now we can look at what’s a little more likely to happen when you try out the one-armed bandit. Let’s say you find a machine that’s running pretty closely to the 90 percent payout that’s advertised by the casino. The losing rate on this machine is only 10 percent of the cost-per-hour numbers in the table. At three quarters a spin, you should expect to lose about $45 per hour instead of the massive hit of $450. Slot machines are truly unpredictable, though. Any machine could pay out 85 percent one hour, less than 50 the next, and then hit a jackpot.

How long can I play?

The next thing to decide is how long you’d like to play. This can help determine which slot machine is the best choice for you.

* Take your total bankroll and divide it by the number of days you’d like to play. This total will give you a daily allowance of bets.

* Next, divide your daily wagering allowance by the number of hours you’d like to play per day. Your hours don’t have to be back-to-back; in fact, it might be a better strategy if you didn’t play continuously. Fatigue can make a gambler take unnecessary risks. Instead, plan on morning, afternoon and/or evening game times.

* The table and information given earlier in this article can help you choose the machines right for you. Say you want to play 5 hours a days for 4 days, and your bankroll is $1,000. That’s 20 hours of total playtime, and you should expect to lose around $50 per hour. With this in mind, 3-quarter spins on a quarter slot machine would be the perfect selection.

* You can balance your denominations by changing your play time. If you calculate you should be playing nickel machines, but feel like you might get lucky with dollars, shorten your allotted to compensate for the higher loss rate. Just remember to quit playing as soon as your bankroll runs out!

Keep hold of your capital!

Always start out slowly when playing slots, whether playing nickel, quarter, dollar or even VIP machines. Once the winnings start coming in, you can start to increase your bets. Most people tend to put up the big money first, and then back off when things take a downward slide. Slot machines work in reverse, building up winnings at lower denominations, which allows you to take bigger chances on riskier machines. Start early or walk away; it’s the house’s money you want to wager on the risky stuff, not your own.

Set the right size for your investment

Any regular slots player will tell you loading up the machine is the way to go. When you “load up” a slot machine, it means that you bet the maximum number of coins allowed by that machine on each spin. Playing the maximum bet not only increases your winnings by double or more, but can offer even more chances to win on multiple playline machines. Loading up a three-coin machine could even triple your payouts! It’s the best way to get the most out of any machine, flat-top or progressive.

Some machines offer exactly double your one-coin winnings for two coins, and triple for three. These machines are perfect for those people that don’t generally like playing the maximum bet. For just a straightforward, one playline machine, games like Wild Cherry and Red White and Blues are a great start.

Know when to move along

Stick to the denomination you’re most comfortable with, and be willing to switch to a similar machine if the one you’ve chosen to begin with isn’t paying out. Most machines pay off better with a hit-and-run approach. The winning cabinets pay out soon after you start. One roll of coins, or at most $20, will be enough to indicate whether you’ve found a lucky game. If a machine is stubborn, move on! There’s no use feeding a machine that doesn’t pay out early.

Video Slots are the latest fad

Similar to video games you can play on a computer, or home console device, video slots have made quite a name for themselves. There are no spinning reels in these machines, only pictures of them. That’s the only major difference between these new games of chance and the standard electronic reel machines. Both are programmed by computer chips that predetermine the icon combination of each spin with a random-number generator.

What really sets a video slots experience apart from electronic slots is the amount of creativity available in the games. Manufacturers have added more interaction to the games with touch screens and widespread options. Some video slot machines even have “bonus” rounds, or “mini video games” offering even more possibilities to win big money! Multiline video slots with bonus games are slowly becoming the most popular form of slots gambling these days. The future likely holds yet more innovations.

Playing multiple paylines

Most players couldn’t tell exactly how they manage to continue winning. It’s simply a random event; a certain symbol happens to land in a certain spot. It all relies on chance.

Video reel machines are making slots more exciting. A majority of these games have 5 reels, showing 3 symbols on the screen. With this wide playing area, they can offer as many as 45 paylines to you for betting. The paylines are formed by drawing lines across screen, lining up five symbols in various ways, and not necessarily in a straight line. A winning combination on any active payline is going to pay out, not just straight across the middle. The best part is that the machine tallies all these paylines for you, so any winning combinations combine into a single payout at the end of the turn. Activate paylines by betting more coins per spin. More paylines means more chances to win!

Scatter symbols are available in some games. These symbols will pay out any time they appear on the screen, usually in groups of two or more. They don’t even have to form a combination, or even be on a payline.

A few games offer multiplier symbols, too, which will multiply the payout of any winning combination in which it is included. A 10-credit combination would yield a 150-credit payout with a 15 times multiplier symbol on the winning payline.

The bonus rounds mentioned before can sometimes be triggered by special symbol combinations appearing on the screen. These games can lure gamers in, offering more chances to win and even more fun. There’s one point worth considering, however. Most of the video games that include a bonus round provide smaller payouts than other games without bonus rounds. The opportunity to win big is the major draw with a video game, and is what you pay for. With so much creativity in the machines, there are too many interactive games to mention. You’ll know if you’ve hit the bonus round; the games include speakers and extra video to enhance the entire experience. Just follow the bonus game instructions and try for that big payout!

Win REALLY big in tournaments!

Slots tournaments are lots of fun. They offer great fun, whether you win or lose. And tournaments are getting big. Casinos now host tournaments themselves, offering free room and board at the hotel while your participate in a multi-day event for a fixed fee. As a valued customer, the casino personnel will treat you like a big VIP as long as the tournament is in progress. More than the luxurious attention, a tournament offers you the chance to compete against other slot players aiming for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.

A slots tournament is separated into rounds. At the beginning of each round, the players are given a set number of machine credits. Players then play until they run out of credits, or the allotted time for the round runs out. Cash prizes are awarded to players with the most credits left at the end of each of round, as well as a spot in the final. The top three finalists usually receive the top prizes.

Slots machines offer tons of thrills and excitement, and a tournament can provide the opportunity for major winnings. There are two simple rules to coming out ahead in these games of chance: press the Spin button as quickly as possible, and find tournaments that offer the best returns for your fee, like room, meals, and prizes. The slots club at your favorite casino can help you find the best tournaments available in your area.

Rules for Winning at Slots

There are some logical strategies for trying to come out ahead in slots, but the truth is that it really does come down to luck in the end. No one has yet figured out how to beat the computerized slot machines of today’s casinos. Even if the jackpot doesn’t rain down on you from above, slot machines can still provide tons of fun! The best things to remember about slots gambling are as follows:

* If slots are your thing, join a slots club for more opportunity to play.

* Slots tournaments are a great chance at big prizes while you enjoy the luxury of a free room and complementary meals.

* Search out defective machines that might pay out a little more than what’s posted for each winning combination. The best candidates are machines that need refilling.

* Check for machines that may still have credits on them when you’re walking through the slots areas—unlikely, but it happens!

* Stick to your limit! Never play more money than you can afford to lose on a day of fun.

* Never take your credit cards, checkbook or ATM card to a casino when your intention is gambling. Leave them at home, and make sure a responsible person handles the one credit card needed for your hotel room.

* Don’t play the machines if you’re feeling tired or hungry. Keep yourself in good working order. Mix a game of chance with fatigue and hunger and the recipe can sap control right out of you.

* Don’t forget: Hit and run!

* There’s always tomorrow; you can always come back later.

Veteran players’ views on slots

Here are a few things learned while playing slots. They may help you save a bit of money while enjoying the game, even if they’re not statistically important like other information in this series.

* The biggest and best wins will usually happen when you start playing a machine. If a machine starts cold with you, it’s probably not going to warm up any time soon. It’s time to move on to a hotter game, rather than throwing money away on a dud.

* Don’t get overly excited if a machine gives you a jackpot! Give it a few more coins to see if it has any more big payouts left in its system. If not, move along and keep that prize money while you have it!

* A big mistake is thinking a machine is “due” for a win. It just doesn’t happen, and stuffing more money into the cabinet won’t make it so.

* Keep track of the days of the week you play. It may just turn out you win more money on a Friday than a Tuesday.

* Seek solace from a professional counselor if the pull of the slot machines gets to be too much. Let it get out of hand, and it can be a financial disaster. Talk to a friend, rather than pushing coins into a machine.

* The casino has to report any slots win of $1,199 or higher to the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes. (Yes, Uncle Sam gets his cut of your slots winnings!) If you happen to hit it big, make sure you’re carrying a picture ID and you know your Social Security Number so the casino personnel can fill out the IRS forms.

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