All about Slot Machines

How they work, Common myths, and Strategies

by Michael Bluejay | 2002-14
See also how to play: Baccarat | Blackjack | Craps | Roulette | Texas Holdem | Video Poker

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Slot Facts vs. B.S.

Myths and misinformation about slots could fill a book!  So let my start by explaining why you can trust this article over what you might see elsewhere:

  1. I use the very best sources, such as actual slot machine par sheets from the game manufacturers, and the actual Nevada Gaming Commission regulations (PDF) on slots.  The par sheets describe the actual probabilities of the games, and the laws regulate how the games work.
  2. I was an assistant to the legendary Wizard of Odds for ten years; he's done the programming for countless slots for online casinos (which work exactly like their real-life counterparts), and I helped him with his early slot research, even before he published his infamous survey in 2001-02 of how loose and tight various Vegas casinos were.
  3. I've done the actual mathematical design of actual slot machines myself, professionally, for-hire.
  4. Casino Player magazine recognized my knowledge of the industry and invited me to write a cover story for them (which I did).

I also put my money where my mouth is.  To show that there's no such thing as a winning slot system, for years I've offered hard cash to anyone who could demonstrate a winning system.  (The current challenge is listed further down, and is currently at $5000.)  No system-seller has ever dared take me up on it.  I also used to offer a separate challenge to those who claim that higher-paying slots are located in certain areas of the casino, but I retired that one after many years because it was hard to keep up with all the loopholes people kept trying to find to exploit the test, and nobody ever took me up on it anyway.

To summarize how slot machines work, every spin is totally random, just like a coin flip.  Nothing influences the outcome, not how long it's been since the last jackpot hit, not whether your slot card is inserted, not whether the machine has been running hot or cold, nothing.  Every spin has identical chances as the previous spin, period.  There's more about this on my How Slot Machines Work page.

With that out of the way, let's talk slots.


Slot popularity and gotchas

In the 1980's slot machines surpassed table games like craps and blackjack as the most popular game in the casino.  Slots and video poker now account for more than 70% of the casino's total take.  The reason is simple: Bigger jackpots.  With computerized virtual reels it's harder to hit the top jackpot, which means the the jackpot can be bigger since it's hit less frequently.  And players love big jackpots.  If you put $5 on a blackjack table, the most you can win is $7.50.  But $3 in a slot machine could net you thousands or millions.

(Yes, clever players could use a progression betting system to try to win $100,000 on a table game with a lot better chance of success than with a slot machine.  And some table games have side bets that pay thousands of dollars.  But the point is that in general, a single bet in a slot machine offers a higher potential payout than the same bet at a table game.  And that's why people play slots.)

But for all their popularity, there are three big problems with playing slot machines vs. table games.  First, the casinos usually don't disclose the odds on individual machines, so you can't really be an informed player.  (They disclose the odds in the U.K., but not in mosty other places.)  Second, whatever those undisclosed odds are, they're usually bad -- far worse than table games like craps, baccarat, and blackjack.  And finally, slot machines are usually played much faster than table games, so they suck away your money much more quickly.

I therefore recommend that you don't play slots very much, if at all.  Playing a table game with the same amount of money, you can play a lot longer, have more fun since you're playing with other human beings, and have a much better chance of walking away a winner.  And isn't winning the most fun of all?

And remember, if the reason you prefer slots is for the chance of a big jackpot, you can try for the same kind of big win on a table game, with a lot better chance of actually getting it.

So I hope you'll consider playing table games instead of slots, and I have a crash course in table games to help you do that.

Since I know many people will play slots anyway, here are some tips to help you lose the least amount of money, and to help you understand the games better in generalIf you work hard for your money, you might as well keep as much of it as you can.  By the way, these are better tips then you'll find just about anywhere else (until everyone starts illegally copying this website, that is).


Progressive Jackpots

On most slots the amount of the top jackpot is fixed, but some slots have a meter that shows the jackpot amount getting progressively higher.  Those are called progressive machines (as opposed to "flat-top" machines).  A portion of the money played in those machines goes towards making the jackpot higher.  The more people play, the higher it goes.  If nobody's playing, the jackpot amount doesn't budge.

Progressive machines are usually linked together so that play on any of the linked machines feeds the jackpot.  And of course, any of those linked games can win the jackpot.  There might be as few as a single bank of machines linked together, but there are also machines that are linked through the entire state of Nevada, like Megabucks and Wheel of Fortune.  If you walk from one casino to another, you'll see that the jackpot for Megabucks is the same.  In fact, the Megabucks jackpot at all the casinos in Vegas is the same as all the casinos in Reno, since they're all linked together.  Play on any Megabucks machine in the whole state makes the meter go higher.  That's one reason they can afford to make the jackpot so big.

The other reason is that the statewide progressive machines have lousy odds.  A huge portion of each dollar played goes to fuel the jackpot, so a lot less is returned in the form of small pays.  Pioneering analysis by the Wizard of Odds showed that for each dollar played on Megabucks, about 10 goes to feed the meter, 11 goes to profit, and only 78 is returned to players in the form of non-jackpot payouts.  Ouch.

A to Z Las Vegas has a good list of current statewide progressive jackpot amounts, along with the date, amount, and location of the last hit.


Odds of hitting a slot machine jackpot

A common mistake is to reason that if a bunch of machines all cost $0.75 to play, you might as well choose the one with the biggest jackpot, because that will be the best deal for your $0.75.  This misses a few important things:

  1. The bigger the jackpot, the harder it is to actually hit.
  2. Among flat-tops (machines without a meter which keeps going up), the overall odds are generally similar no matter how high the jackpot is.
  3. The higher the jackpot, the more likely you'll lose in the short-term.  It takes a lot of play to fund those extra-big jackpots.
  4. The machines with the huge jackpots like Wheel of Fortune and Megabucks have lousy odds.  Not just for getting the jackpot, but for the small pays, too.  Yes, they cost the same amount to play as regular machines, but they definitely suck your money away faster.

To have the best chance of winning in the short term, choose the machines with the smallest jackpots.

It's rare than any article will actually tell you the actual odds of hitting a slot jackpot (because the writers have no idea), but let me lift the veil off that mystery right now.  Here are the odds of hitting the top jackpot on various machines.


Jackpot Amount
Odds
Source
Red White & Blue 2400 coins 1 in 262,144 Wizard of Odds

Double Diamond

2500 coins
1 in 46,656
Par sheets obtained by Canadian researchers (PDF)
Blazing 7's
5000 coins
1 in 93, 312
Bally's par sheet (PDF)

Phantom of the Opera

5000 coins
1 in 114,131
to
1 in 155,345
Par sheets obtained by Canadian researchers (PDF)
Double Strike
5000 coins
1 in 500,000
Wizard of Odds (estimate)
Money Storm
10,000 to 50,000
1 in 2,188,411

Par sheets obtained by Canadian researchers (PDF)

Lucky Larry's Lobstermania

10,000 to 50,000
1 in 8,107,500

Megabucks

$8 to $33 million
(progressive)
1 in 49,836,032
John Robison in Casino City Times
Note that there are often different versions of machines with the same name, so the numbers above might not apply
to every flavor of the named machine.  What you should take from this is that as the jackpot goes up,
so does the difficulty in actually hitting it.

Incidentally, Megabucks easily has the biggest jackpot of any progressive slot in Nevada, often hitting at around $12 million, but hitting as high as $33 million.

Here are the odds of hitting the top jackpot on the progressive slot machines at the online casino Casino.net, along with the jackpot amount for the $0.25 and $1.00 machines at the time I created the table.

Progressive Slot Machines at Casino.net

Jackpot Odds
$0.25 machine
$1.00 machine

Aladdin's Lamp

1 in 2.5 million
$118, 385
$227,676

Haunted House

1 in 1 million
$20,450
$42,038

Jack in the Box

1 in 250,000
$36,985
$91,110

Gold Pirates

1 in 250,000
$5,577
$22,685

Based on these figures, Jack in the Box is clearly the best bet. The chances of hitting the jackpot are better than with Aladdin's Lamp and Haunted House, and the jackpot is larger than Gold Pirates.

It's significant that Casino.net makes their jackpot odds public. I've never seen another land or Internet casino that's up front with their players like this. Casino.net gets big, big kudos for making these figures public.

It doesn't matter how long it's been since the machine hit its last jackpot.  If the odds of hitting a jackpot on one spin are 1 in 250,000, then they're always 1 in 250,000, whether the last jackpot hit last year or five minutes ago.  No slot machine is ever "due" to hit.  That's the way probability works.  The odds of getting heads on a coin flip are always 1 in 2, no matter what you got on previous flips.   If you just flipped ten heads in a row, then you're just as likely to get heads yet again as you are to get tails.   If you're not convinced about this then see our article about exposing the gambler's fallacy.  The point is, past events have no effect on future events.  Many people think that they can get an edge by playing a machine that hasn't paid out big in a while, thinking it's "due", but it's not.  Slot machines are never "due".


Strategies for Saving Money

Play the lowest denomination machine you're comfortable with.

Even though lower-stakes machines have worse odds, you'll still lose less money on them.  A 90% 5-coin nickel machine loses $18.75/hr. on average, while a 98% 2-coin dollar machine loses $30/hr.  (The disparity in payouts between different denominations usually isn't that extreme, but I'm just showing that even when the difference is extreme you'll still lose less money by playing the lower denomination machines.)

Choose machines with the smallest jackpots.

The smaller the jackpot, the easier it is to win, increasing your chances of walking away a winner.

Limit play on progressives with huge jackpots.

On the machines with huge progressive jackpots, a huge portion of each bet goes to feed the meter.  For example, on Megabucks, a whopping 10 of every $1 goes to pushing the meter higher.  Excluding the jackpot, Megabucks returns only about 78% on average.  If you must play a big progressive (because you want a shot at a huge jackpot), play a two-coin machine instead of a three-coin machine, and look for a $0.05 or $0.25 machine instead of a $1.00 machine.

Avoid video reels.

Video reel slots often pay back a percentage point or two less than their physical-reel counterparts.  That's because the video slots take some time to display all the special little entertainment features, and while that's happening the casino isn't making any money, so they take a little more from you while you are playing.  Also, the ability to play 5 coins and 9 lines ($1.45/spin on a nickel machine) could seduce you into betting a lot more than you should.

Use a slot card.

Get a slot card and use it at any casino you play at. While the cashback rewards for slot points are usually insignificant, playing on a slot card means that the casino may give you free meals and will usually mail you offers for free or deeply discounted rooms, and that can save you a bit of money.

Contrary to popular myth, using a slot card has zero effect on whether you win.  They're two separate systems and neither has any knowledge of the other.  I won several jackpots at Fitzgeralds in Reno with my slot card in.  (I was playing only because they were running a special promotion which improved the odds of winning. Normally I don't play slots because I can get better odds at table games.)

Play in the less stingy casinos.

In Vegas, off-strip casinos generally have the best paybacks, downtown is in the middle, and the Strip is the worst.  ("Off-strip" means any casino that's not on the Strip or downtown.)  In the Wizard of Odds 2002 survey of nickel video reels, off-strip machines paid 92.07% on average, downtown was 91.66%, and the Strip was 91.47%.  The exceptions downtown are La Bayou and Mermaids, both of which had terrible paybacks.

Play machines which are advertised as paying back a specific high percentage.

Most casinos won't tell you how much their slots pay back, but some do.  On the Vegas Strip, Riviera has specially-labeled 98% dollar slots.  The last time I was in Reno, Fitzgeralds there had a section of about 50 dollar slots whose average payback was 97.4%.  If you're playing dollar slots, I recommend that you play only these machines, or at other casinos which advertise a specific high payback.  (If you know of other casinos which list the payback of any machines, please send me a picture!)

Ignore claims such as "Loosest Slots" or "High Payback".  Those terms are meaningless since they're not specific.  Also ignore specific numbers married to vagueness, such as "up to 98% return".  The machines have to be labeled without qualification for the claim to be meaningful.

Learn other games.

Play anything but slots and you'll almost certainly lose less money.  Video poker is a good game to graduate to because it's still a machine, for those who like machines.  Table games are even better because the odds are better and you get to play with other human beings.  Check out how your expected loss for playing 10 hours of slots vs. other games:

Game

Avg. Loss for
10 hours play

Slots, $1.00 (2-coin game)

$800

Slots, $0.25 (3-coin game)

$360
Video Poker, $0.25 (5-coin game)
$125

Mini Baccarat, $5/h.

$80

Roulette, $5/spin

$79

Blackjack, $5/hand

$25

Craps, $10/round
($5 Pass, $5 odds)

$25
Assumptions: Slots played 800 spins/hr.  Slot paybacks are average for all machines in Las Vegas Strip & Downtown casinos as published in Jan. 2002 Casino Player (94% for quarters and 95% for dollars). Video Poker played at 400 spins per hour with proper strategy, 99.5% payback machine, with 2% subtracted from the payback to account for not hitting the jackpot in 10 hours of play.  Mini Baccarat, Roulette, Blackjack, and Craps played at 30, 150, 100, and 30 rounds/hr. respectively. Table games played as per crash course strategies listed below.

If this piques your interest, check out our crash course on table games.


How do Slot Machines Work?

This part of the article got so big I moved it to a separate page on how slot machines work.

 

Slot Returns and Paybacks

The terms returns and payback are often used interchangeably but in this article I'll assign specific meanings to avoid confusion.

The return of a slot machine is the percentage of money actually paid out vs. the amount of money paid in.  If you put $100 into a machine and get $92 back, your return was 92%.  If all players put $1,000,000 into a casino's machines in one week, and they collectively won $967,000, then the return was 96.7%.  The 3.3% that wasn't paid out is the casino's profit, in this case $33,000.  In most jurisdictions casinos have to report their slot returns to local governments, and that information is public, and published monthly in Casino Player magazine.  However, slot returns and video poker returns are usually lumped together, so you can't see the returns for just slots.  

The return is contrasted with the payback, which is the theoretical amount the machine would pay back over an infinite number of spins, according to the math.  If a machine is set to pay back 95% then if it were played forever it would return 95 cents on the dollar for every dollar played.

But of course you can't play forever.  In the short term anything can happen, and that's why people play slots.  Obviously a machine isn't going spit back exactly 95 cents at you every time you play a dollar.  But if you sat there and played for years, you would get back about 95% of what you put into it.  What we know is that the closer our return will come to the theoretical payback.

When a casino orders a slot machine from the manufacturer, it specifies the payback it wants for that machine, which generally ranges from 87-98%.

That may seem like a good deal, but it's not.  If you're getting back 95% of your money, that means the casino is keeping 5%.  If you play a dollar machine, two coins at a time, 800 spins an hour, for one hour, you're putting $1600 into the machine.  The casino's 5% take means you lose $80/hr. on average.  Ouch.

This is one reason that casinos don't cheat with slot machines:  They don't have to.  The odds are so overwhelmingly bad, all they have to do is put the machine on the floor and rake in the money.

Understand that your expected loss is based on how much money you play, not how much money you take with you.  For example, you might think, "Okay, I'm bringing $500, and the slots take an average of 5%, so I should lose about $25."  Not even.  You'll go through that $500 in less than an hour on a $1, two-coin slot, and lose an average of $25 on that.  But then when you play the $475 or so that you got out of the machine, you'll expect to lose 5% of that, etc.  Losing a bit every time you replay your bankroll is called the grind.  The casino grinds you down.  It doesn't matter whether your return is 90% or 99%, if you play long enough at any game you'll eventually lose all your money.  To figure your expected loss, see our primer on figuring expected loss.

The return on a machine is determined by the chances of every winning combination times how much those combos pay.  For example, let's say there are 64 stops on each reel.  There are therefore 643 = 262,144 total combinations.   If we played through every combination exactly once, on our hypothetical machine we win 498,074 coins.  So 498,074 / 524,288 = 95%.  Ta-da.  (I'm assuming this machine doesn't have a bonus for a multi-coin jackpot to keep things simple.)  Here's a more detailed analysis of how the payback on a machine is calculated.

In general, the higher denomination the machine, the higher the payback.  For example, in the Wizard's survey of video slots, looking at casinos that had multiple denominations of the same machines, nickels paid 91%, quarters paid 92%, and dollars paid nearly 94%.  But even though the odds are better on the higher-stakes machines, you'll still lose more money playing them, because you're wagering more money.  If you want to limit your losses, play the lowest stakes machines you're comfortable with.  If you want a better chance of winning even if it means losing more money, play the higher denomination machines.


How much of the payback comes from the jackpot?

Most of the return on a typical slot comes from the small pays, not from the jackpot.  In fact, the jackpot usually comprises less than 2% of the total payback.  The exception are the huge progressive slots like Megabucks, where the jackpot is a huge part of the total return.  Here's what portion of the total payback is comprised of the jackpot:

 

Who has the best slot paybacks

Casinos rarely disclose the paybacks on their machines.  I don't know what they're so scared of, because that knowledge doesn't put the odds in the players' favor.  I could see why the casinos with the lousy odds wouldn't advertise them, but why don't the casinos with the good odds trumpet them up and down the street?  It's a mystery.

The only casino I know in Vegas which advertises a specific payback on specific machines is Riveria, which has a bank of 98% dollar slots.  (Harrah's doesn't count because their "up to 98%" wording is so vague as to be meaningless.)  If you know of other casinos which advertise specific returns without the "up to" qualifier, please let me know and send me a picture!

Casinos in most jurisdictions are required to file reports on their slot returns to the local government, and since this is public information, Casino Player magazine publishes the results every month.  Unfortunately, this isn't ideal for a number of reasons.

(1) While you can see the returns for individual casinos like Tropicana and Showboat in Atlantic City, the Nevada returns lump all the casinos in an area together.

(2) The returns listed are actual returns for one month, and an unusual number of jackpots (or lack thereof) can skew the results.

(3) Video poker machines are mixed in with the slots, so you can't see how much is from slots and how much is from video poker.

(4) Most Native American casinos don't have to report their returns, so they don't.

What's most useful about the return tables is seeing what geographic regions have the best slot returns.  For example, Atlantic City, surprisingly, seems to have some of the worst slot returns in the whole country.  Nevada has the best, and within Nevada, the best returns are usually in North Las Vegas and Reno, followed next by Downtown Vegas.  Not surprisingly, the Vegas Strip has the worst returns in Nevada, but even so, they're still way better than most of the rest of the country.  As high as Vegas slot returns are, though, you'll still lose less money on average by playing blackjack, craps, or baccarat at $5/hand.  Heck, with proper strategy you'll less at blackjack at $25 a hand than you will on a five-coin nickel machine with a 94% return.  (If this gets your interest, see our crash course on table games.)

 

Number of Coins Played

Slots accept multiple coins per spin -- 2, 3, or 5 coins on mechanical slots, and 45 or more on video reels.  When you win, your payout is matched to the number of coins you played.  For example, three single bars may pay out $10 for one coin played, $20 for two coins played, and $30 for 3 coins played.  Most machines have a bonus for the top jackpot.  For example, 1 coin pays $1000, two coins pay $2000, but three coins pays $5000 (not $3000).  This is to try to get you to play more coins at a time, since the casino makes more money that way.

Most gambling experts tell you to always play maximum coin, and if you can't afford to play maximum coin, move down to the next denomination (playing quarters instead of dollars, for example), in order to get the highest payback.  These "experts" are wrong. The penalty for playing maximum vs. one coin is usually less than 1% of the total return, while the penalty for downgrading to a lower denomination slot is usually more than 1%.  So you'll usually enjoy a better return (and have a better chance of winning) by continuing to play your high-stakes machine for one coin at a time rather than downgrading.  Besides, the difference in return only becomes an issue if you hit the jackpot, and how often does that happen?  (On typical slots, you can expect it to happen about once a month with full-time play.)

The advice to downgrade is good for a different reason, though: You'll be putting less money into the machines, so your expected loss will be smaller.  You'll lose less on lower stakes machines even though the odds are worse, because you're not pouring as much money into them.

The above advice is geared towards typical slots.  If you're playing progressive machines where the top jackpot is huge and keeps escalating higher (like Wheel of Fortune and Megabucks), then obviously you'd want to play the maximum coins, since the only reason to play progressives is for the shot at hitting the big jackpot.  But limit your play on progressives, because the house take is often twice what it would be on a regular slot -- meaning you'll lose your money twice as fast.


What doesn't matter

The outcome is NOT affected by:

  • How long it's been since the last jackpot.
  • Pressing the button vs. pulling the lever, or vice-versa.
  • Whether your slot card is inserted.
  • The day of the week or time of day.  (Casinos don't constantly change returns.)
  • Whether there's a convention in town.  (See previous.)
  • Whether the coins are hot.
  • Anything else you could think of.  The stops are chosen randomly, period.  There's is no mystery.  It's just random, just like every other casino game.
There's more about this in my How Slot Machines Work article.

Where the highest paying slot machines are located

Frank Scoblete's 1994 book Break the One-Armed Bandits said that casinos place higher-playing slots in certain places, such as the ends of the aisles instead of in the middle.  He based this on an interview with a casino slot machine manager.  That might have been true at the particular casino Scoblete visited decades ago (and it might not have been), but that's not the case today.  Independent research by the Wizard of Odds confirmed that either all machines are set to the same payback level or placement is random.  And a casino slot machine technician confirms that the casino doesn't put higher-paying slots in certain areas.

A cottage industry has sprung up reselling the information from Break the One-Armed Bandits.  All over the Internet you can buy the "secrets" for finding out where the casinos put the higher-paying slots.  But it's no secret, and it's not accurate anyway.

Lots of people still insist that higher-paying slots are located in certain areas of the casino, but not a single one of them has offered any evidence to back their assertion.  And the evidence that is available suggests the exact opposite.

How to beat slot machines

You can't.  That's because the machines are 100% random (just like every other game in the casino).  With a 100% random game, there is no pattern that can be discovered, and no style of play that can overcome the odds.  Every game in the casino, slots or not, operates on that same, basic principle:  The game is completely random, and the chances on the game result in a small average profit per bet for the casino. If you were a casino manager, which of these would you do?

  • Put machines on the floor that are simply 100% random so that no player could ever get an edge over the casino, or...
  • Put machines on the floor that had some sort of discoverable pattern and hope and pray that the players never figured it out.

No casino is so stupid that they would put a game on the floor with a vulnerability that could be discovered. 

Anyone who thinks that it's possible to find any sort of pattern in slot machine payouts is just wrong, plain and simple.

If a system could beat a slot machine and had been discovered and the first few people who knew about it started winning a lot of money, the casino would quickly notice and fix the problem.  They wouldn't just leave a game on the floor that was losing money for them.

All this doesn't prevent people from selling systems that supposedly make you a slot winner.  One website claims you can "start making a minimum of $1,000 a day playing the slot machines".  If it were true then why aren't they raking in $365,000 a year playing slots instead of having to resort to making $47 a pop from selling their system?  And how is it that all the people who have bought the system are each taking a third of a million dollars a year out of the casinos and the casinos aren't noticing, or going bankrupt?

For years I've challenged system-sellers to prove that their systems actually work, but not a single one has accepted.  It's pretty clear why.  My $5000 challenge is as follows:

Bluejay's $5000 Slot Machine Challenge

Anyone claiming to have a system that can beat slot machines is invited to put their money with their mouth is with this challenge.
  • Game selection.  You pick which slot machines to play and how you want to play them, using your own special techniques, at any single casino in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
  • Number of spins.  The minimum number of spins is 5000 times the ratio of your largest wager to your smallest wager.  For example, if you always play $0.75 at a time, then the minimum number if spins is 5000.  If you wager between $0.50 and $3.00, then the minimum number of spins is 6 x 5000 = 30,000 spins.  You can choose any number of spins above the minimum number, as long as you choose that number before you start playing.
  • You bank your spins yourself.
  • Time Limit.  Play must be completed within 120 hours (including any time spent machine-scouting or machine-hopping).
  • Winning.  If you have made at least $15 per hour by the end, I will pay you $5000.  If you failed then you will pay me $5000.
  • If you can truly beat slot machines this should be an easy win for you.

Number of slot "experts" who have accepted this challenge to date:

- 0 -

I will meet anyone in Vegas to execute this challenge.


Slot Machine playing speed

Slots are typically played at around 600-800 spins per hour (sph).  In 2011 I surreptitiously watched some players playing video slots to figure playing speed.  A slow player played at 300 sph (6-min. sample).  A fast player played 780 sph (4.3-min. sample).  An extremely fast player played at 862 sph (5.5-min. sample).


Misinformation from others

It's easy to find slot machine myths and misinformation, even in published books, national magazines, and professional websites.  I could spend forever providing examples of wrong info, but here are just a sample of what I've run across.

"There are plenty worse gambles [than slots] in the casino.  Take a stroll down to the keno lounge or wheel of fortune, make some of the proposition bets at craps, make idiot plays at blackjack, bet a parlay at the sports book.  An average loose machine pays better than roulette." --Slot-Machine-Games.net, Nov. 2004

While keno has a higher house edge than slots, slot machines definitely suck your money away faster. (Slots: 3-coin quarter machine x 6% edge x 800 spins/hr. = $36/hr. loss. Keno: $1 game x 28% edge x 7 games/hr. = $1.96/hr. loss.)

While an "average loose machine" may pay better than roulette how are you supposed to know which machines are loose? Most casinos don't disclose the odds on their slots. The average slot machine in general pays worse than roulette. And once you factor in that slots are played 25 times faster than roulette it's easy to see why you lose much slower at roulette than slots.

"[Casinos often] put their better-paying 'hot slots' in heavy-traffic, highly visible locations, with room for crowds to gather and cheer winners on. Such locations include crosswalks, elevated carousels, and banks of slots near the casino bar, lounges, change booth, and coffee shop." --Slot-Machine-Games.net, Nov. 2004

This isn't true, and not surprisingly, those making this claim never back it up. They certainly don't put their money where their mouths are. I've had an open challenge of $1000 to those who claim that location matters:  They pick a "good" location for their machine and a "bad" location for mine, and after 1000 spins we see who's ahead. The number of "experts" who have accepted this challenge to date?  Zero.

"The best odds in the casino are the dollar slot machines.   After that, craps gives you the best chances of winning." -- The Travel Channel; I caught this one the Travel Channel in Aug. 2004. It's not an exact quote but it's pretty close.

They're way off the mark.  Blackjack, craps, baccarat, single-zero roulette, video poker, and many other games give better odds than the typical dollar slot machine.

"Most slot machines are set to a 75% payback." -- The Travel Channel, as per above

Absolutely wrong.  In fact, almost no slot machine is set that low. The typical range is around 88 to 97%. Even nickel video slots at McCarran Airport in Vegas (which have the worst odds in the city) pay in the mid-80's.

"You don't really have to know much to get into the game.... [B]e aware that nothing improves your odds of winning." -- Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

Not true.  Choosing the right game greatly affects your chances of winning.  Choose a flat-top over a progressive and your chances are better.  Choose a mechanical slot over a video slot and your chances are better.  Play in an off-strip casino and your chances are better.

"For many gamblers, the big decision isn't whether or not to play slots, but which slot to play. You'll be happy to learn that within certain limits, there is no right or wrong answer; it's just a question of what kind of machine serves your personal desires and style best." --Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

Wrong.  See the above answer.

"If you aren't playing max coins, you're gambling very poorly.  If the maximum number of coins seems too expensive (for example, $3 on a $1 slot), move to a lower denomination slot." --Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

"If you don't feel comfortable playing the maximum coins you should drop to a lower coinage.  Play the quarters instead of dollars." --Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

"My advice is to fill the machine with the maximum amount of coins and play every available payline.  If you find yourself at a machine that is out of your budget then move on to a smaller denomination machine..." --Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

This common (and wrong) advice is addressed above.  In short, the penalty for downgrading to a lower stakes slot is higher than the penalty for playing only one coin.  You'll generally have a better chance of winning by playing only one coin on the higher stakes slot.  On the other hand, it's a good idea to play lower stakes machines simply because you're wagering less and you'll likely lose less money, even though the odds are worse.

"Slots tend to pay off from 80 to 98 percent, meaning that for every $100 that somebody puts into the machine, the machine will pay back from $80 to $98." --Gambling Magazine

Probably the author knew what he meant, but just worded it poorly. The machine won't pay back $80 to $98 each time someone wagers $100, but rather will pay back $80 to $98 for all $100 insertions played on average over the long term (an infinite number of spins).

[Alludes to the highest return on a slot being 97%.] --Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

Riviera in Vegas has 98% slots.  Fitzgeralds in Vegas and Reno actually have a couple that pay slightly over 100% (but of course, they're not telling you which ones).

"Ask an employee in the slots area which machine is the best to play (based on how often they have noticed people winning at it).  Offer them a percentage of your profit for pointing you in the right direction." --Slot-Machine-Games.net, Nov. 2004

"Ask the staff.  You have waitresses, coin attendants, and the machine attendants who do nothing but watch the slots all day.  They will know best the machines that payoff more than others or which machines are due for a large jackpot." --Gambling Magazine (page no longer exists)

This is ridiculous.  First of all, no machine is ever "due" for a jackpot; every spin is independent and completely random.  Second, if employees knew of profitable situations in the casino, they wouldn't be working those low-paying jobs to begin with.  Third, the volatility in a slot machine is so high that you can't get a feel for which machines pay out better even if you work with them day in and day out.  The only way to find out is to play a lot and record your results.  Even then, all you'd find is that the odds are so poor you'd be better off playing table games anyway.

Incidentally, a high-paying slot doesn't give the jackpot more frequently; it gives the small returns more frequently.

"The strategy calls for picking one Online Slot Machine. Spend an hour playing at different times during the day or night.  You might find that some slot machines fall into a payout cycle and they tend to pay off around the same time every day or every couple of days. " -- TopSlotMachines.com (site no longer exists)

It doesn't matter when you play.  There is no such thing as a payout cycle.  The results are always random.  Random, random, random -- that's how slot machines work.  (More on how they work...)

Play Slots Online

Play this slot machine with fake money or real money at Bodog

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Again, I suggest you play something else rather than slots because the odds are so bad. Of course, if you play online with fake money then it doesn't matter.  A good casino for free-play is Bodog, since it requires no download and no registration -- one click and you're in.  You can play with real money too, though I hope you won't.

 

Other Resources (hand-picked)

  • Wizard of Odds. Nobody knows more about the math of casino gambling than the Wizard. His survey of slot returns of Las Vegas casinos was groundbreaking and legendary.
  • Slot Machine Fan. Useful, no-nonsense articles about playing slot machines, without the guesses and other B.S. so common on the net.
I hope this article has been helpful to you. Have fun!
See also how to play:

 

a d v e r t i s e m e n t s

Online Casino Guide
Guide to gambling online features casino reviews, game guides, payout percentage information and a guide to online casino bonus offers
CasinoChecklist.com


Gambling Problem?
Call the 800-522-4700 hotline, and read this.

Also, know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling


Reason I like Bovada #3:

Good Odds

Bovada online casino ad

The odds are always against you when you gamble, so it pays to play at a casino that offers good odds. I spent some time looking for an online casino with good odds, and I found it in Bovada. Let me first tell you about the competition, though.

It's disappointing that most online casinos are greedy when setting the odds on their games. They think they'll make more money by setting the games tighter, so the player has less chance of winning, but they're wrong. Most gamblers eventually gamble away all their playing budget anyway. They're going to lose the same amount of money no matter what, the only question is how long it takes them to do so. And when they play at a tight casino and lose quickly, they're less likely to return.

A casino which offers good odds will make just as much money as a tight casino, because the players will usually gamble away whatever they deposit anyway, no matter what the odds. The only difference is that with better odds, they'll get to play longer before they go bust. And that means they had more fun in the process, and they're more likely to return.

Bovada is one of they few casinos that understands this. They offer games with good odds, knowing that if your money lasts longer, you'll be a happier, loyal customer. Among their offerings are:

  • Two blackjack games returning over 99.8%
  • Single-0 roulette
  • Full-pay Jacks or Better (99.54%)
  • Nine other video poker games returning over 99%

You don't have to play at Bovada, but wherever you play, make sure they offer odds at least this good!

Try their blackjack for free.
One click and you're in.


Gambling Problem?
Call the 800-522-4700 hotline, and read this.

Also, know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.