How to Be Lucky at Slots

Ever since 1895, when inventor Charles Fey put the finishing touches on his Liberty Bell machine, gamblers the world over have embraced the simple pleasures of the slot machine.

The ultimate game of chance, slots don't require any knowledge or skill to enjoy, making them the perfect starter game for gambling beginners.

Put a coin in, pull the lever, and hope to hit a winning combination - that's all you need to know to get into the action as a slot machine player.

Or is it?

Despite its status as a luck-based pursuit - or one in which the outcome is based on random chance alone - some people can still play the slots better than others.

No, I'm not talking about any of those silly slot strategy systems you'll find being hawked by less reputable gambling outlets. I'll cover those down below, so don't worry, but suffice it to say, they won't do a lick to help you get lucky.

Instead, I'm referring to the many intricacies that make the slot machine industry what it is today.

If you're able to navigate the admittedly confusing world of slot machine design and operation, you'll stand a far better chance of long-term success than somebody who is flying blind.

When it comes to slot machines, the best players make their own luck - plain and simple.

This page is devoted to teaching you how to do just that, so strap in and get ready for a primer on how to be lucky at the slots.

Steer Clear of Systems and Strategies

If you've braved the wilds of the internet to find your way here, I'll assume you already have a basic level of knowledge when it comes to slot machines.

But for those who are just starting out on their slot journey, you'll need to know a few essential items of information if you hope to have Lady Luck on your side.

First of all, the term "slot machine" isn't some all-encompassing monolith, so pay attention to the differences from machine to machine. You'll find traditional 3- and 5-reel layouts, video slots that hold even more reels, progressive games boasting life-changing jackpots, and even "skill based" slots that incorporate elements like hand-eye coordination and puzzle solving.

Then there are the pay lines, which can run the gamut from a single winner to 100 zig-zagging pay lines scattered all across the screen.

Every slot manufacturer - from Aristocrat to International Game Technology (IGT) to Bally - makes their games a bit differently when compared to competitors. As a player, you'll invariably find a favorite designer among the crowd, and when you do, it's best to study up on their proprietary features.

Next up, put in a study session to learn about the key factor called payback percentage (also known as return-to-player, or RTP). For slot enthusiasts, this number, which is inherent to every slot machine, is a direct reflection of the game's long-term odds. Typically, you'll find slots with an average payback percentage between 90 percent and 95 percent - but outliers exist which run much higher or lower, depending on the design.

Payback percentage and RTP are terms common to machine-based gambling games, meaning slots and video poker. If you're more familiar with the term "house edge," simply think of payback percentage as the inverse.

In other words, a game offering a payback of 95 percent holds a house edge of 5 percent. Find a game with payback set at 92 percent, and the house edge climbs to 8 percent. It really is that simple.

Gamblers use these metrics to assess the viability of a particular game or wager. Obviously, when the house edge is higher, the casino holds a larger advantage. Conversely, a higher payback percentage favors the player.

Top Tip

Top Tip:Another way to think about payback percentage is through the lens of expected return. Indeed, any payback percentage figure can be equated to your long-term expectation in the game.

Take that 95 percent number I've mentioned already. On a slot machine like this, you can expect to bring back $95 for every $100 wagered. Of course, within a short-term sample size, you may lose the entire $100 in a session, win a modest amount, or even score the jackpot prize.

But over the long run of your life, those results will always average out and return to that baseline of a $95 loss per $100 wagered.

With those numbers in mind, the secret to getting lucky at slot machines becomes quite clear - always play games offering the highest payback percentage.

That's easier said than done, however, because casinos definitely don't make it easy to find the most favorable games. It's not like they hang banners overhead advertising their slot machine payback rates.

No, in order to give yourself the best odds of success, you'll need to know the lay of the land.

Thankfully, I've already conducted quite a few scouting missions of my own, and I'm more than happy to put you on the right path.

Know the Best Bets and Stick to Them

If you ask several slot regulars about the role of location, you're likely to hear a lot of malarkey.

Many players believe that machines at the end of a row are "loose," while those on the inside are "tight." Others hold firm to the view that slots placed near the entrances don't pay out as often, as casinos know they'll be the first stop for casual gamblers walking through the door.

But these locational theories about slot success are nothing more than myths and misconceptions, old wives' tales passed down through the ranks.

First of all, throw the idea of loose and tight machines right out the window. Gambling regulators require companies like Aristocrat and IGT to set every machine within a game type to the same payback percentage parameters.

Put another way, if you find a classic Mr. Cashman machine in the corner, in an entirely different casino, or even in another country altogether - each one will hold the exact same payback rate (92.39 percent in this case).

That's because payback percentages are based on the game's unique relationship between payouts and the probability of hitting them. Every game includes various winning reel combinations and corresponding payouts, and each winner will appear based on preset probabilities (1 in every 20 spins, 1 in every 200 spins, etc.)

By calculating the connection between those payouts and their probability, and averaging them out across the entire machine, you find a game's unique payback percentage.

Therefore, one machine of a certain make or model can never be adjusted to be loose or tight. They simply pay back at the percentage created by payout-to-probability ratios.

With this in mind, you should realize that the idea of locational "looseness" when it comes to individual slots is nothing more than nonsense.

But what about the location itself? Now you're thinking like a sharp gambler...

If a certain casino decided to spread 20 slot machines, with 10 set to a 95 percent payback and 10 more set to payback at 92 percent, you can use basic math to figure out that venue's average payback. In this case, that comes to 93.5 percent across the board - with 10 paying back a bit higher, and the other 10 paying back a bit lower.

That's a simplified example, of course, but it can be expanded to illustrate which casinos spread the most player-friendly slots.

The task of a slot machine manager in any major casino involves juggling a massive selection of machines to create a desired effect. For established venues in popular tourist destinations, such as the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, slot managers know they'll always have a steady stream of customers walking through the door - and unsophisticated customers at that.

Knowing this fact, they can devote the bulk of their inventory to lower-paying machines, while sprinkling a few of the higher-paying machines into the mix. The casual gamblers, which make up the majority of their customer base, will never know the difference anyway, and the casino can pad its bottom line in the process.

On the other hand, if you're managing the slot selection at a less popular casino - such as those located in the Off-Strip wildlands of Las Vegas - you need a hook to get people in the building. And that hook usually comes in the form of higher payback percentages.

These slot managers tend to devote their limited floor space to higher-paying games, hoping to attract savvy gamblers who know the score. This allows the smaller venues to compete with the big boys on The Strip, as they offer players more bang for their buck.

This might sound like some sort of theory I came up with, but trust me, I'm not that smart.

Instead, this approach to slot machine strategy is taken straight from the Nevada Gaming Control Board's annual data dump, as the regulator regularly releases payback percentage numbers for its various districts.

Take a look at the tables below to see what I'm talking about:

Las Vegas Slot Machine Paybacks by Location

1¢ Slot Machines

  • The Strip 88.45 percent
  • Downtown 88.66 percent
  • Boulder Strip 90.42 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 90.71 percent

5¢ Slot Machines

  • The Strip 91.84 percent
  • Downtown 92.08 percent
  • Boulder Strip 95.73 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 95.38 percent

25¢ Slot Machines

  • The Strip 90.59 percent
  • Downtown 94.48 percent
  • Boulder Strip 96.39 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 96.58 percent

$1 Slot Machines

  • The Strip 93.03 percent
  • Downtown 94.78 percent
  • Boulder Strip 95.60 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 95.74 percent

$1 Megabucks Machines

  • The Strip 87.10 percent
  • Downtown 87.55 percent
  • Boulder Strip 88.91 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 87.53 percent

All Slot Machines

  • The Strip 92.12 percent
  • Downtown 92.87 percent
  • Boulder Strip 94.42 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 93.62 percent

In every single case, the slots found on The Strip pay back at significantly lower rates than their Off-Strip counterparts.

Penny slot players face an 88.45 percent average payback on The Strip, but a trip to North Las Vegas increases their odds to 90.71 percent.

Move up to the nickel stakes and you'll have a 91.84 percent payback on average while visiting The Strip. But take your money to the Boulder Strip just outside of Las Vegas proper, and that figure jumps to 95.73 percent.

This isn't because casino operators there have "loosened" their machines. Instead, they've simply chosen to spread more of the higher-paying models to boost their property-wide average.

With these facts fresh in your mind, the secret to getting lucky at slot machines - just as in real estate - boils down to nothing more than location. Take your bankroll to the quaint and cozy casinos, rather than the megaresort alternative, and you'll instantly secure significantly better odds than the tourists on The Strip.

And remember, this rule holds true anywhere you gamble. The larger, more popular venues will always carry lower average paybacks on their slot selection, simply because they don't need to compete for customers to the same extent.

So if you make your way to Atlantic City, for example, skip the Borgata hotspot and hit the old Boardwalk instead.

You've Got to Pay the Piper

The traditional image of a slot enthusiast usually involves elderly folks spinning the day away on the penny slots.

And while any gambling game that costs only a copper coin is worthwhile in my book, the penny slots are essentially money traps for the most part.

No matter where you play, you'll find the same slot hierarchy across the board - with penny slots offering the lowest payback percentage, then nickel slots, and so on up the line. By the time you reach the high-roller machines, where players spend $25, $50, or even $100 per spin, the payback percentages climb back into the realm of respectability.

Think of it like a ladder, only in reverse. When you start out at the bottom of the betting spectrum, you'll face far worse odds - but as you climb though the coin denomination ranks, your odds improve considerably.

Obviously, I'm not advising anybody to play for more than they can afford. I recommend responsible gambling at all times, so you should always stick to a betting range that fits your personal budget and bankroll.

But with that in mind, if you've been a penny slot player simply by default, and you can easily afford to play for nickels or quarters instead - by all means, make the jump.

Put the Progressives Away

Nowadays, most slot players prefer to play a style of machine known as "progressives."

The term "progressive" refers to the top line jackpot, which isn't set in stone like they were in the old days. On a progressive machine, such as the original Megabucks game by IGT, the top jackpot is continually fed by tiny percentages taken from each bet.

Over time, the jackpot can grow to enormous proportions, as evidenced by the Megabucks jackpot history (from 2010 through today) found below:

Megabucks Jackpot History (2010 - 2017)

08/08/17 Fremont Las Vegas, NV $11,809,407.24
03/22/16 Gold Dust West Elko, NV $12,515,708.83
03/14/15 Westgate Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, NV $10,744,293.40
11/30/14 Rampart Casino Las Vegas, NV $14,282,544.21
12/05/13 MGM Grand Casino Las Vegas, NV $10,337,637.92
11/04/13 MGM Grand Casino Las Vegas, NV $12,463,147.70
04/10/13 Bonanza Casino Reno, NV $11,798,514.65
12/14/12 M Resort Las Vegas, NV $17,329,817.67
06/15/11 Grand Sierra Resort Reno, NV $10,379,294.92
04/22/11 Aria Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, NV $10,636,897.78
01/21/11 Aria Hotel and Casino Las Vegas, NV $12,769,933.87
02/21/10 Reno Airport Reno, NV $10,422,754.08

And while I'll admit to tossing a few bucks into the Megabucks machines from time to time, I know full well I'm throwing money away when I do.

First of all, the odds of winning those life-altering multimillion dollar jackpots are truly astronomical. I'm talking 1 in 49,836,032 odds, which make the chance of being struck by lightning (approximately 1 in 700,000) sound extremely realistic by comparison.

But leaving the insanely low chance of winning aside for a moment, progressive games like the Megabucks slot offer far lower average payback percentages on the whole.

A look at the numbers below, compiled by the Nevada Gaming Control Board as per usual, which show the story:

$1 Standard Slot Machines

  • The Strip 93.03 percent
  • Downtown 94.78 percent
  • Boulder Strip 95.60 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 95.74 percent

$1 Megabucks Progressive Machines

  • The Strip 87.10 percent
  • Downtown 87.55 percent
  • Boulder Strip 88.91 percent
  • N. Las Vegas 87.53 percent

That's right, your eyes aren't playing any tricks here - a Megabucks slot cuts your payback percentage by six full points on average.

This turns a slot session from a reasonable gamble into a lottery-like longshot.

Now, if that's what you're looking for when you play slots - a tiny chance to win massive amounts of money - the progressive machines are the ticket. And by all means, don't let me dissuade you from chasing the dream - if you can afford it, that is.

But for the rank and file within the slot-playing community, chasing payback rates under 88 percent is simply unsustainable over the long run.

If that's you, resist the temptation to splash around on Megabucks and other popular progressives. Stick to the standard machines - which still offer huge jackpots, mind you - and you'll instantly pad your expected return by meaningful margins.

Join the Club

Finally, once you've accepted the cold, hard fact that slot machines are a negative-expectation game of chance - the best way to proceed is a preemptive approach.

You're likely to lose more than you win during any given session; that's just the nature of the beast when it comes to slots, or any gambling game for that matter. Knowing this, you should always be on the lookout for ways to mitigate that negative variance.

I've already introduced you to locational game selection, the link between higher bets and higher payout rates, and the risky nature of progressives. By combining those three tips, you're already well on your way to cutting your losses relative to that of the average slot player.

But to really take things to the next level in terms of savings, you absolutely must join the Players Club or Slot Club maintained by your favorite casinos.

You've probably seen players who sit down and insert a plastic card into the machine before firing up the reels. These folks are members of the Players Club or Slot Club, and that card allows the casino to track their play during any given session.

Player tracking benefits the house most of all, as they can use that data to improve their slot selection - weeding out underperforming games and putting more popular models on the floor.

But players stand to benefit quite a bit, as well.

When you have your slot play tracked via clubs and other promotions, the casino will be on the lookout for high-volume players. These slot aficionados are the house's bread and butter, as they tend to devote most of their gambling budget to slots - which carry a higher house edge than most table games.

In an effort to keep these valuable resources in the building, rather than a competing venue, casino operators use Players Clubs and Slot Clubs to lavish their regulars with rewards.

You'll receive Player Points for every spin you put in, and over time, those credits can be redeemed throughout the casino's dining and entertainment options. Trust me, a nice buffet spread is always a treat, but when you pay with Players Points, every bite just tastes a little bit better.

In addition to the Players Points program, players who are identified as slot regulars receive generous offers in the mail. Invitations for a complimentary weekend, discounted rates on suites, free buffet and show tickets, and even free play vouchers for the latest slot release are all on offer.

When you're playing a negative-expectation game like the slots, earning rebates like this is the best way to break even by the end of the trip.

Maybe you didn't get lucky this time, losing a couple hundred bucks along the way. But perhaps you were comped a pair of buffet vouchers (at $39 each), used Players Points to buy a new swimsuit ($29), and saw a comedy show for half off (saving $99).

Do the math, and you'll find that the $200 loss was entirely mitigated by those perks of the Players Club - and you actually came out ahead $6 for your trouble.

A weekend in Sin City can be expensive, especially for slot enthusiasts, but using the power of the Players Club gives you plenty of opportunity to recoup those losses.

And hey, if you happen to hit a jackpot along the way, every comp and freebie you score simply equates to an extra payout.

I recommend reading "The Frugal Gambler" series by casino savings expert Jean Scott to learn all about exploiting Players Clubs and Slot Clubs. Scott is famous for earning a living through her slot play combined with that steady stream of supplementary income - so you might as well follow her lead.


Follow the tips I've included on this page to learn how to be lucky at slot machines. You can't alter the house edge, but you can still have fun and extend your playing time through smart decisions.