5 Differences Between Land Based Slots and Online Slots

Slot machines are by far the most popular form of gambling on the planet.

The old one-armed bandits that were pioneered in the American west back in 1895 have since spread worldwide. English punters call them fruit machines, and Australian action junkies play the pokies, but slot machines are ubiquitous within the modern gambling industry.

When the development of the digital age created internet casinos, the land based-slots eventually gave rise to online adaptations. In fact, many of the major slot machine manufacturers - including Bally Technologies, International Game Technology (IGT), and Aristocrat - have converted their land-based slot favorites for online play.

Adding to the mix, most online casino software providers - such as Microgaming, Real Time Gaming (RTG), and 888 Holdings - have included design divisions to produce proprietary titles of their own.

Today, while millions of players around the world spin away on land-based slots, millions more are chasing jackpots on the computer from the comfort of home.

If you're like most slot enthusiasts, you probably came up playing the traditional machines, before discovering that your favorite casino classic had been brought online. And if that's the case, you're probably wondering what makes those land-based slots of old different from their modern remakes.

Well, look no further for the answer, as this page covers five key ways traditional slot machines are different than the online version.


They Slow the Pace of Play

When you sit down to play on a physical slot machine, a few steps must be taken before the game even begins.

You'll insert your Players Card to track your play, deposit funds via coin, cash, or casino voucher, and set the game's coin denomination and payline count. This process takes only a minute or so, but it must be repeated every time you change machines.

Meanwhile, an online slot player simply fires up a web browser on their desktop, laptop, or mobile device. Seconds later, with their favorite online casino platform pulled up, a quickinput of a password opens up the slot menu. A few clicks later, and the reels are already spinning away, thanks to saved preferences and other convenient shortcuts.

And that's just to get into the game.

Once you're actually playing, land-based slots typically take a bit longer to complete a spin than the online variety does.

The slot machines of old - which used physical reels rather than video screens - require players to wait until the reels have spun several dozen times before slowly coming to a rest. This "spin cycle" can take 20 seconds or so on average, meaning a player could realistically expect to put in about three spins per minute.

Even with the advent of video slots, land-based machines take a dozen seconds or so to cycle through the reels. Players who prefer a faster pace can always press a special button to skip the reel spinning animation altogether, but even with this feature activated, modern video slots usually come equipped with side games, bonus screens, and other diversions from the main game.

A video slot player in a land-based casino may be able to increase their frequency slightly, say to four or five spins per minute, but that still pales in comparison to the online arena.

An online slot game offers the same time-saving ability to skip reel spinning animations, so you can click "SPIN" and "STOP" one after another to complete a spin in mere seconds. You can also set online slots to run through a predetermined number of spins, and the game will take over from there.

These features turn online slots into a turbocharged version of the original game.

And in many cases, online slots ditch the extended video clips and animations that make land-based video slots so entertaining. With those pauses in the action removed, the session becomes a frenzy of fast-paced spinning. Many online slots fans report hitting 10 spins per minute or more, which simply can't be done with most modern land-based slots.

Remember one thing, though: speed isn't a selling point when it comes to slots.

This is a negative expectation game by nature, meaning that the house holds a healthy edge on each wager placed. In other words, following an average session, a portion of your starting stake will usually be claimed by the casino.

And because players have no skill or strategy to fall back on, spinning the slots is a true gamble. Games of chance combined with negative expectation ensure a steady flow of cash into the casino's coffers.

For a savvy slot player, the goal is actually to slow the game's pace down.

By taking a negative expectation play only three times in a minute, as opposed to 10, your bankroll simply stretches out and lasts longer. The goal for slot players is survival, after all, as you're hoping to stay on a machine long enough to land a high-paying jackpot.

If you're burning through your bankroll by spinning too quickly, those jackpots will be that much harder to hit.

Online slots don't have to play at a furious pace, however, which is another key difference between them and the land-based lot. You can read the news on another browser tab, check your email, or do any number of online tasks in between spins - and these distractions serve to slow the session down.


They're Louder and Livelier

There's nothing quite like the natural noise of the casino floor.

Chips are riffling, coins are splashing into the hopper left and right, and all around you, people are happily chatting away. Throw in bells, whistles, sirens, music, sound effects, and other ambience-enhancing sounds, and the casino is a veritable sonic wonderland.

But when you take your slot spinning online, most of those sounds dissipate altogether.

Maybe you'll hear the dog barking, football being broadcast in the background, or something sizzling on the skillet. But the natural background noise of your home simply can't compare to the casino.

Don't believe me? Check out the two videos below to see for yourself.

Here you'll find a short video posted by a slot fan playing the KISS slot machine by WMS Gaming.

And next up is the online version of that same hard-rocking KISS slot.

Take a listen to both and you'll notice one striking difference between two identical games: the noise.

Along with the sweet sounds of Gene Simmons singing his heart out, the land-based KISS slot features the loud bells and whistles which accompany most modern video slots. The reels spinning, pay lines being connected, and winners paid out all generate their own sound effects.

And the experience is only enhanced by that natural casino background buzz I mentioned above.

Conversely, the online version of KISS plays a basic backing track alongside a few standard sound effects. Depending on the speakers your computer or mobile device has built in, these sounds may come in choppy or distorted.

And with one click of the "MUTE" button, all of that can be silenced in a second.

Another reason land-based slots tend to be livelier than the online alternative is the power of people.

When you play slots in a casino, you'll wind up sitting alongside strangers who enjoy the same hobby. If everybody is hitting their spins and collecting payouts, the mood can become quite merry, as newfound friends exchange high fives and back claps. Even if you're on a losing a jag, having a fellow slot fanatic around to commiserate with can ease the pain.

But for online slot players, the experience is solitary and lonesome. You'll be on your own here, with nobody to talk to as the game progresses.

Now, this solitude can be exactly why some players move from land-based slots to the online arena. Not all of us are social butterflies, after all, and a crowded casino can present challenges for folks who deal with anxiety and other issues. For them, sitting at home in a nice, quiet office is the best way to enjoy the slots.

Personally speaking, I enjoy the camaraderie which comes with playing slots in a group, so the land-based versions have more to offer. But plenty of players want to escape the cigarette smoke, drinking, and loud music that define the casino environment, making an online slot game the perfect place for them.


They Cost More in Extra Expenses

If you're keen on visiting Las Vegas or even just the local casino to take a shot at the slots, there will be some logistics involved.

A trip to Sin City or another gambling destination will cost airfare or gas, along with basic travel expenses. And even a short drive to a nearby casino takes time and money to get there.

Once you arrive, valet parking will pull a few more dollars away from your bankroll. Get yourself a seat and order a complimentary beverage, but don't forget to tip the cocktail server their standard dollar or two. And after a few hours spent spinning, you'll probably want to hit the food court or buffet to grab a bite.

All things considered, playing slots at a land-based casino adds several expenses to the equation.

Meanwhile, the online slot player travelled from their bed to the desk to get in the game - no gas money needed. They can hit the fridge for whatever drink tickles their fancy, and when lunch time arrives, a sandwich can be whipped up in minutes - free of charge.

In this way, online slots can save your bankroll from supplementary expenses.


They Can Produce Perks and Comps

On the other hand, one of the joys associated with playing slots at a brick-and-mortar casino is the Players Club and similar promotions.

Casino regulars can have their play tracked through a Players Card, which is inserted into the machine before each slot session. From there, every spin adds a tiny amount of credit to your account, and over time these credits can accumulate to provide a major rebate.

When your Players Card begins racking up credit, you'll be able to mitigate the expenses mentioned above by using that rather than cash. Everything from Starbucks to the steakhouse will accept casino credit, so slot players who put in a decent amount of volume can always fall back on these freebies to save a buck.

This concept goes even further as you become a known slot regular. Casinos love to lavish generous rewards on their slot players, because they know better than most that slot winnings are the industry's lifeblood. Rather than let your valuable business slip away to a competitor, most casinos will send offers for complimentary rooms, meal vouchers, and even slot "free play" to keep you as a loyal customer.

The savviest land-based slot players take full advantage of this credit and comp system, using their tracked play to generate generous rebates. In fact, many slot veterans have learned how to completely offset their expenses for a trip by using nothing but credits and comps.

Within the world of online casinos, however, this "give and take" philosophy isn't employed nearly as often. Sure, many online casinos will promise bonus funds and other promotions, but these tend to be bait-and-switch tactics more than anything else.

And in an online casino, you definitely won't enjoy credits and comps like the ones I just described.


They Offer Lower Average Payback Percentages

Knowing they can't compete with the perks offered by brick-and-mortar casinos, online operators have resorted to a different strategy: offering a better bet.

For the most part, land-based slot machines run with payback percentages of between 90 percent and 96 percent. You'll find a wide variety within that range, and even a few outliers that are lower or higher than the baseline - but that's the standard for traditional slots.

Take a look at the payback percentage data compiled by the Nevada Gaming Control Board from July 2015 through June 2016:

$1 Slot Machines in Las Vegas

Area Average Payback Percentage
The Strip 93.03%
Downtown 94.78%
Boulder Strip 95.60%
N. Las Vegas 95.74%
As you can see, land-based slot machines in Las Vegas hew quite closely to the 90-96 percent range.

Get outside of Sin City and things don't change all that much, as evidenced by the payback percentage data released by Florida's Division of Pari Mutuel Gaming for the same time period:

Casino Average Payback Percentage
Magic City 93.87%
Casino Miami 93.80%
Hialeah Park 93.49%
Dania Casino 92.21%
Gulfstream Park 92.39%
Mardi Gras 91.95%
The Isle 90.98%
Calder 90.89%
Average 92.44%
Now I'd like to run through a few of the most popular online slot software providers, beginning with Aristocrat:

Game Average Payback Percentage
Big Red 97.04%
Let's Go Fish'n 97.00%
Pelican Pete 94.97%
Queen of the Nile 2 95.86%
Red Baron 95.70%
More Chilli 95.69%
More Hearts 95.69%
Big Ben 95.55%
Zorro 95.50%
Pompeii 95.50%
Average 95.64%

Next up, you'll find a few of the most widely played online slots by Playtech:

Game Average Payback Percentage
Ocean Princess 99.07%
Ugga Bugga 99.07%
Tropic Reels 99.07%
Golden Tour 97.70%
Football Rules 97.10%
A Night Out 97.06%
Desert Treasure 97.05%
The Mummy 96.80%
Average 97.69%

The point of this math lesson should be apparent by now - land-based slots offer far lower average payback rates than online versions.

This is due in large part to overhead expenses and the like, as an online casino operator doesn't have to pay floor staff, cocktail servers, cashier attendants, and other employees to keep the ship running smoothly. Without these additional expenses eating into their bottom line, online casinos can afford to spread a slot menu with higher payback percentages across the board.

Another factor is increased competition, as the online gambling marketplace is home to hundreds and hundreds of operators worldwide.

Players have more variety to choose from when playing slots online, so the sites do their very best to entice customers by offering a better bet.


Land-based slot machines have been around for more than 120 years now, so it's no surprise to see the technology updated for the digital age. And while the machines of old are still eminently useful - a point proven by millions of gamblers every year - the online updates are always welcome. Whether you prefer physical slot machines or their virtual replacements, both versions have plenty of pros and cons to consider.