If you're just learning how to gamble, you're probably going to try slot machines. I have some strategy tips to offer beginners, but you might find something useful here even if you've been playing for a long time. In fact, if you believe a lot of the myths and superstitions associated with the games, you're the perfect person to read this post—beginner or not.
Here are my best 7 slot strategies for beginners:
Slot machines used to be mechanical, and their inner workings were pretty simple. The spinning reels were powered by springs and levers. You had an equal chance of getting any of the symbols on each reel on a stop at any given time.
About 30 or 40 years ago, they changed the way they worked. They look the same, for the most part, but they're bigger and fancier now. And they're no longer run mechanically. They're electronically powered now.
Here's who a basic slot machine works:
You might have a game with 10 symbols on each reel. The odds of getting any one of these symbols on a stop might be 1/10. Lining up all 3 of any of those symbols might have a probability of 1/10 X 1/10 X 1/10. That amounts to 1/1000. But since you have 10 different opportunities, you really have a 10/1000, or 1/100 chance of getting 3 symbols lined up on a payline.
The casino has different payouts for different combinations of symbols. The one thing that all these payoffs have in common is that they're paying off at less than the odds of getting that combination. That's how the casino makes its profit.
A super-simple game might have the same payout on every combination—95 coins. Since you have a 1/100 chance of winning, the casino has a payback percentage of 95%. For every $100 the game takes in, it will pay out $95 on average.
Casinos and designers have different ways of massaging these numbers to create any payback percentage that they want. They can, for example, put more symbols on a reel. Since these are just video screens that look like spinning reels, there's no real upper limit to the number of symbols you can use.
Also, the designers can set different probabilities for different symbols. A cherry might come up only once every 25 spins, while an orange might be set to come up once every 5 spins. The number could be set to anything.
This also enables the casinos to offer huge jackpots that they wouldn't have been able to physically create and afford on a mechanical machine. The size limitations would just prevent that completely.
Modern slots are computerized affairs that use a computer program called a random number generator to create the results of what you see on the screen. You have no way of knowing what kind of payback percentage a particular slot machine game has. In fact, you could be playing identical games right next to each other, and they might have dramatic differences in how much they pay out.
Some jurisdictions require casinos to report their payback percentages, but others don't.
A progressive jackpot is one which gradually gets larger as the game is played. These are available in 3 different varieties. A game might have its own jackpot, in which case the jackpot is powered only by the money fed into that machine.
But it might also be networked with other slot machines in the same area of the casino. In that case, all those games share the same jackpot. Every coin wagered on any machine in that local network feeds that jackpot.
And some jackpots are shared among slot machines at multiple casinos over a wide geographical area.
What all these games have in common is that they take a tiny percentage of each of your bets and use it to feed the jackpot. This might be as little as 1% or 2% of each bet you make. But if a lot of machines are networked together, these jackpots can grow rapidly.
The problem is that the jackpot is incredibly hard to hit. In fact, if the jackpot is large enough, it's probably almost as hard to hit as a lottery.
At any rate, since part of the payback percentage on one of these games comes from the huge jackpot, your effective payback percentage is going to suffer just from the fact that, realistically, you'll never in your entire life hit that jackpot.
Also, since a percentage of each of your bets goes to power that prize pool, you're losing out on even more payback percentage.
It's fun to talk about what you'd do with all that money if you were to win a life-changing jackpot. But you're better off money-wise playing a flat-top slot machine. That's a slots game with a fixed jackpot as the top prize.
It might not seem as exciting, but you're more likely to go home a winner if you stick with the simpler games.
You'll see some conflicting advice about players' clubs. They're just loyalty programs offered by casinos to incentivize players to keep playing at a particular casino. The cards given to you by the casino are inserted into the slot machine game while you play. Then the casino tracks how much money you cycle through the machine, and they rebate some of your action back to you in the form of comps.
Comps are free goodies from the casino that reward you for your play there. You usually earn these at a rate of 0.2% to 0.3% of the money you put through the machine. At the lower levels, comps take the form of free food and beverage. A free breakfast coupon or a comp buffet are common.
When you play even more, you're able to earn free lodging at the casino. This is a great deal for the property, because it motivates players to lose more money gambling. And unless the hotel is at 100% occupancy, it doesn't really cost the casino anything to provide this perk.
You can also get cash rebates, free play on the games, and tickets to events. Entertainment is, in fact, one of our favorite comps.
What you need to remember is that you're not getting credit based on how much you've lost. You can be a net winner and still get comps through your players' card. That's because the percentage of comps you earn is based on the amount of action you bring to the casino, not how much you've lost.
The casino is relying on the law of large numbers to make up for any losses they might have.
If you spend 4 hours playing slots at 600 spins per hour, and you're playing for $5 per spin, you're putting $12,000 into action. You get comped based on that $12,000 regardless of whether or not you walk away a winner.
The casino is playing the long game. They're looking at the results of hundreds, maybe even thousands of players per day, each of whom is placing hundreds of bets. The net effect of that kind of action is big winnings for the casino.
They more than make up for any winnings you might have over time.
Don't believe anyone who tells you that the slots pay out less when your card is inserted. That's just a silly lie. Casinos don't have any motivation to PUNISH you for using the players' club card. They WANT you to gamble more. If you have occasional winning sessions, you'll become a better customer and an almost certain net loser in the long run.
We like slot machines, but the simple fact is that video poker offers a similar kind of entertainment with better odds. You do have to make some decisions and use some strategy to see these better probabilities, but that makes the games even more fun.
And you can make better educated decisions about which machines you want to play on when you're playing video poker. Since the games are based on the probabilities inherent in a deck of 52 playing cards, you can compare the payoffs for hands with the probability of getting them to determine the expected return.
You have no way of comparing one slot machine's long-term payback percentage with another's. But as long as you can access the Internet, you can find information about a video poker game's payout.
An average video poker game pays out between 95% and 99%. The average slot machine runs closer to paying out between 91% and 94%.
Sure, most video poker games lack some of the bells and whistles available on most modern slot machines, but you might enjoy the challenge of finding the best pay tables and using the appropriate strategy.
You can't do this in every location. For example, the Native American casinos in Oklahoma aren't required by law to disclose their payback percentages. You have no way of knowing which casinos offer the best payouts.
But jurisdictions like Las Vegas, Nevada are required to file frequent reports about their payback percentages. You can find the results of these reports at sites like American Casino Guide and Strictly Slots, both of which offer print publications in addition to their websites.
These reports are usually organized by the location of the casino and the denomination. You can look at what your bankroll is and how it compares with the stakes in question, and then you can make an educated decision about what game you want to play.
If you're playing video poker, you have to bet max coins in order to activate the bonus payout for the royal flush. But this isn't a post about video poker—it's a post about slot machines.
Some slot machine games have bonus jackpots that are only available to people who play max coins, but most of them don't have that requirement any more. And if you're not careful, you could wind up wagering WAY more on a spin of the reels on a penny slot than you expected. Sure, the denomination might be listed as a penny, but they might have the option to bet 25 or 100 pennies. And the bet is per line. A lot of slot machines now have 25 paylines or more.
So max coinage on a penny slot machine can add up way faster than you'd expect.
We have a friend who blew half his gambling bankroll on a penny slot machine because he wasn't paying attention.
Remember our first tip? Understand how the games work?
We wrote that for him.
No matter how you slice it, slot machines are a negative expectation game. They come in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and colors now. And they have all kinds of sound effects, bonus games, and themes. But at the end of the day, you can't expect to win consistently on a slot machine, no matter what kind of so-called "strategy" you've found.
Budget your slot machine bankroll with the understanding that you're probably going to walk away a loser. Do your best to maximize the amount of fun you're buying for your money. One way to do this is to consciously try to make fewer spins per hour.
Slot machines can be a lot of fun, but there's no strategy tip that can make a losing game into a winning game. The math behind slots guarantees that the casino will always win in the long run.
That doesn't mean you can't have fun. It also doesn't mean you can't try to maximize the amount of fun you have for your money.
Follow the tips in this post, and you'll have done just that.