Slot machines often get a bad rap from gambling writers. But the truth is, slot machines are the perfect gambling activity for certain types of people. They’re easy to understand, they’re easy to play, and they offer the possibility of big winnings.
The unicorns that most gamblers are looking for in the casino, though, are the loosest slot machines. What does that mean?
When a gambler describes a slot machine as “loose” or “tight,” she’s usually referring to the payback percentage for the game. Slots with a higher payback percentage than average are loose, while slots with a lower payback percentage than average are tight. Loose slots usually have a higher hit ratio than tight slots, too.
You’ll find plenty of inaccurate information about how to find the loosest slot machines in the casino. I try to avoid most of those inaccuracies in this post, but I do want to begin with a warning:
The probabilities involved with slot machines are “opaque.” That means you don’t have any way of knowing what the payback percentage for any particular slot machine game is. The random number generator that determines the outcomes is programmed to have each symbol come up with a certain probability, but there’s no way of knowing if that number has been set to 1/6 or 1/60. Even observing a large number of spins only provides limited insight into these probabilities.
You do know what the payouts are for the various combinations. But since that’s only half the equation, you can’t really know whether a game is loose or tight except anecdotally. I’m going to assume that anecdotal evidence has some value, but in terms of math, science, and statistics, anecdotal has no value at all.
1- Look for the Loose Slot Machines in the Locations Where Loose Slot Machines Are Found
Casino mapping is a real thing, but it’s not as simple as some gamblers would have you believe. If finding the loose slot machines were as easy as just playing the games located nearest the walkways, everyone would play those games to the exclusion of the other games.
That being said, it might be worth giving those games a try if they look like fun. They’re not more likely to be tighter than the other machines than any other game on the casino floor.
I’ve read that some areas in the casino have lower payout machines than others, and it might be wise to avoid games in those areas. These might include:
- The main slot machine floor. These games probably see the most action, so it would make sense for them to have lower payback percentages.
- Near the table games. These games see more than their fair share of action, too. The same reasoning would apply.
- Near the poker room. I’ve seen some gamblers swear that these are the worst machines in the casino. You have to wonder about a poker player who spends a lot of time playing slots, though.
Of course, there are other locations where the loosest machines might be located. Depending on whom you believe, these might include:
- Anywhere that gets more traffic than usual. For example, if a slot machine is located near the elevators, it might have higher payouts to attract play from someone who might not otherwise play.
- Anywhere that another gambler recommends. This is, of course, the classic mistake—relying on anecdotal evidence. It’s possible, though, that you might find a slot machine player who’s been paying close attention and knows where the loose machines are.
In fact, that leads me to my next point…
2- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
The obvious person to ask about the location in the casino of the loosest slot machines is someone who works there. This isn’t a guarantee that she’ll be able to direct you to a loose machine, but she might have some insight based on her observations. Depending on how long she’s worked at the casino, she’s probably seen tens of thousands of even hundreds of thousands of gamblers over her career there. She might have noticed that a lot of them seem to be winning on slot machines in a certain location.
If you’re dealing with a cocktail waitress, it’s a good idea to tip generously. For that matter, no matter what they do at the casino, if they try to help you find a loose gambling machine, tip them. At some casinos, employees are forbidden from suggesting specific games. Sometimes you’ll find casino employees who just don’t want to be bothered with such concerns, too. Don’t be a jerk if that’s the case.
3- Don’t Play Slot Machines That AREN’T in Casinos
In towns like Las Vegas, slot machines are everywhere, in all kinds of businesses. Every bar in the city seems to have some slot machines. The airport is full of slot machines, too. You can even find slot machines in the gas stations and convenience stores.
We know one thing for certain about slot machine games in these non-casino locations:
Casinos, on the other hand, are competing with other casinos for the mindshare and hard-earned dollars of the casino gamblers. Since they’re in competition with the other casinos, they must offer payback percentages that are as good as their competitors’ or better.
This is one ironclad rule for finding the loosest slot machines in the casino:
ONLY play slot machines in a casino, not the slot machines in other businesses. That’s as good a starting point as any. The difference could be as significant as the difference between a 94% payback percentage and a 74% payback percentage.
Assuming you’re a conservative, low-stakes player, here’s the difference in predicted hourly loss between those 2 examples:
- Assume 400 spins per hour at $1.25 per spin, for $500 per hour in action.
- A game with a 94% payback percentage will see predicted losses of $30/hour.
- A game with a 74% payback percentage, though, will see predicted losses of $130/hour.
If that difference doesn’t seem significant to you, what are you doing playing penny slots anyway?
4- Look for the Plainest, Most Boring Games with the Fewest Paylines
Generally, the slot machines with lots of paylines have lower payout percentages. They’re able to compensate for this psychologically by having a high hit frequency. With 25 paylines, you might win something on almost every spin, even if it’s an amount lower than the amount you wagered in total.
For example, you might be playing a penny game with a max bet of 5 coins and 25 paylines. You’re betting $1.25 every time you spin the reels. Many times, 1 or 2 paylines might win, but the payout on those bets might only be 50 cents. That’s a lot compared to the nickel you bet on that individual payline, but you bet on 25 paylines, remember?
Since such games have no bonus features or bells and whistles, the casino can afford to have them pay out more than the big fancy games. I had a lot of fun on The Big Lebowski slot machines recently, but I can’t even imagine what such a big impressive game like that must cost a casino. The cost of the machine alone must be outrageous.
5- Stick with the Flat Top Slot Machines
Slot machines can be broadly lumped into 2 different categories:
- Flat tops
A flat top slot machine is a game with a jackpot (top prize) of a fixed amount. This amount is usually 1000 times the size of your bet, give or take.
For that matter, you probably won’t get rich playing progressive slots, either. The odds of winning the jackpot are just terrible, comparable to playing the lottery. Sure, some people win the lottery. But I can’t imagine playing a game with a house edge that large repeatedly, hundreds of times per hour.
6- Play the Highest Denomination Game You Can Afford
You’d probably be surprised to know that penny slots are often as expensive to play (or even more expensive) than dollar slots. Here’s why:
Most penny slots require you to wager 5 credits or more per spin. It’s also hard to resist betting on multiple paylines. It’s easy to find a game with 5 coin bets on each line and with 25 paylines. Before you know it, you’re betting $1.25 on every spin.
But you could switch to a dollar slot machine and probably do a lot better. For one thing, you could just bet a dollar per spin on a single payline. Now you’re betting less per spin than you were on the quarter machine. But what’s really impressive is the difference in payback percentage.
Suppose you play 600 spins per hour on that penny machine. You’re putting $750 in action each hour–$1.25 per spin multiplied by the 600 spins per hour. With an 88.49% payback percentage, in the long run, you’ll average $663.68 back per hour. That’s an average loss per hour of $86.33.
No play those same 600 spins on a dollar machine, betting only a dollar on each spin. That’s $600 in action multiplied by 92.63% to get an average payback amount of $44.22. You’ll lose HALF the money on the dollar slot as you would the penny slot! That’s a significant difference, and one you should take note of.
Just be careful and read the pay tables. Slot machines vary a lot from one machine to another, and you should always play enough coins to activate the biggest jackpot. If the ratios change based on playing for fewer coins, you want to avoid that game or bet max coin. You might be surprised at how many slot machines DON’T require you to place a max coin bet, too, though.
7- Try Online Slot Machines
Since online casinos don’t have all the brick and mortar expenses of land-based casinos, their games sometimes offer higher payback percentages. You must balance this with the trustworthiness of the casino, though. Some internet casinos are notoriously hard to cash out of.
Of course, if you stick with the casinos recommended on this site, you probably won’t have to worry about that. Our team of casino reviewers and researchers has thoroughly vetted the properties we list here on our site.
And if you take how competitive they are as a measure for how loose their games must be to attract customers, you’ll find that the casinos on the web are even more competitive than the casinos in Las Vegas.
8- Track Your Results and Make Some Assumptions
I recently visited a casino and tracked my results carefully on a machine. Of course, there’s nothing especially scientific about 200 spins on a machine, but you’re still operating from more data than most players if you do this.
It’s not hard to project a payback percentage, either. Start by writing down how much money you put in the machine. Then count how many spins you make on that machine. When you cash out of the machine, take a note of how much you’ve lost. You multiply the number of spins you made by how much you were betting per spin. You divide the total amount of money you lost by how many spins you made. Then you know the average loss per spin and can convert it into a payback percentage.
In my case, I was betting $1.25 per spin, so I put $250 in to action over 200 spins. I lost $50, which amounts to 25 cents per spin. 25 cents divided by $1.25 is 20%, which is the house edge. The payback percentage is the amount you get to keep—in this case, 80%. (You just subtract it from 100%.) Your goal is to find a payback percentage that’s better than average. Tracking your results this way also makes playing slot machines more interesting, because you have something to pay attention to.
Gambling at a casino—especially on slot machines—should be considered an entertainment expense. Budget for it accordingly, and if you occasionally win, great. But don’t count on it.