If you’re at all familiar with slot machines, you probably think there’s no strategy involved in this particular gambling game. In a sense, you’re right. The slot machine results are entirely random, and none of your decisions can affect those outcomes.
But you do get to decide which games to play and at what stakes. You can also decide how fast you play and where you play.
These kinds of decisions are what strategy is really about anyway. Most people confuse strategy with tactics.
A tactic is an individual decision, like how you’re going to play a specific blackjack hand.
A strategy is an overall approach to an activity or to achieving a goal.
Once you understand the basics of how slot machines work, you can devise a strategy. You might not like some of the basics of slot machine strategy, but the observations in this post are accurate.
The last thing you (or anyone else) needs is another guy selling you an information product about how to beat slot machines. Those expensive products are worthless. This post contains more helpful information about slots than all those ebooks combined.
Here are the basics of a realistic slot machine strategy:
1- The Best Slot Machine Strategy Is Counter-Intuitive: Don’t Play Slots at All
No game in the casino is more expensive for a gambler than slot machines. The combination of rapid-fire betting and high house edge is deadly to your gambling bankroll.
Understanding why these things matter requires and understanding of how to calculate your average expected hourly loss on a slot machine game.
The first thing to understand about a slot machine is that the house edge varies dramatically from machine to machine, even if you’re playing what looks like an identical game.
A gambling game’s payouts are determined in the long run by the odds of winning compared to the payoffs for winning. If you’re playing a game where the odds of winning are even, but you only win 90 cents on the dollar every time you win, the way the house gets its edge is clear.
With slot machines, we measure the “payback percentage” for the machine. That’s the percentage of each bet you can expect to win back on average over the long run. It’s a mathematical expectation, not a certainty.
But if you play long enough, your actual results will start looking more like your expected results.
The flip side to the payback percentage is the “house edge.” This is the amount of each bet the casino expects to keep in the long run on average.
The average slot machine has a payback percentage of 92% or 93%, but it can be significantly more or less than that. We’re going to go with 92% for this illustration.
The average slot machine player spins the reels 600 times per hour. At 75 cents per spin, the average slot machine player is putting $450 per hour into action.
Compare this with the expected loss for a game like blackjack or roulette.
An average blackjack table might deal you 100 hands per hour on a good day. The house edge might be as low as 1%. At $5 per hand, which is the usual minimum, you’re looking at $500 in action each hour, but your expected loss is only $5.00.
An average roulette table is even slower. You might only get 50 spins per hour. The house edge is higher, 5.26%, though. At $5 per spin, you’re putting $250 into action each hour.
Your expected loss per hour is $12.50 in that situation—worse than blackjack, but far better than slot machines.
The first strategy you should consider when thinking about playing slot machines is simple—play a different game.
2- If You’re Still Going to Play, Do Everything You Can to SLOW DOWN
Just because the average player spins the reels 600 times per hour doesn’t mean you have to play that fast. You’d think that the house edge is the most significant factor determining how much you lose when playing a casino game, but it turns out that the number of bets you make per hour is probably more important.
You can have a good time playing slots making 200 spins per hour. And you can still enjoy the free cocktails. If you just reduce your speed of play from 600 spins per hour to 200 spins per hour, in the above situation, your expected hourly loss would drop from $36 to $12.
How do you slow down?
There are a number of ways.
I spent some time at a casino in Oklahoma once with a recovering speed addict. He just whacked on the speed button as fast as he could repeatedly. He didn’t even watch the results.
On the other hand, every time I hit the spin button, I watched the game play out on the computer monitor in front of me. I can promise you that I was making 1/3 as many spins per hour as my friend.
I would also stop occasionally and try to have a conversation with my buddy. He didn’t like that much, because his eyes were as glued to that screen as his hand was to the spin button.
Another way to slow down your slot machine play is to use the lever on the side instead of the spin button. It’s just for show, and it doesn’t change the odds, but it does make sure you slow down.
Taking occasional breaks to go the bathroom or just to step outside for some fresh air can also slow down your rate of play. In fact, if you’re one of the many people who lose track of time in the casino, you can also set an alarm on your cell phone. Every 45 minutes or so, take a 15 minute break.
3- Reduce the Size of Your Bets
One of the most often repeated slot machine myths on the internet is the legend that you’ll see a better payout percentage if you play the maximum number of lines for the maximum number of coins per line.
This might be true on some games, but it’s not true for most of them.
How do you know the difference?
You look at the pay table for the slot machine game you’re playing. If it doesn’t have a correspondingly higher set of jackpots for the people placing the maximum bets, there’s no advantage to playing for max coins or max lines.
This is an insidious way that penny slot makers ensure so much profitability on their machines. Yeah, you can bet a single penny on a single payline.
But most players bet 5 coins on 25 paylines, for a total wager per spin of $1.25.
You’d almost always be better off playing a dollar slot machine for $1 per spin than you would placing 25 bets at a nickel apiece on a penny slot machine.
4- Find the Boring Games with the Lowest Jackpots
The newer and flashier the slot machine game is, the lower the payback percentage is.
The higher the jackpot is, the lower the payback percentage is.
That’s because big jackpots and flashy bonus games all cost money. And casinos aren’t in the business of losing money. That’s why these features reduce your payback percentage on these games.
In the case of progressive jackpot games, your payback percentage will be lower than the theoretical payback percentage most of the time anyway. You’re unlikely to hit that $10 million jackpot, and that factors into the theoretical payback percentage.
Since you won’t hit that jackpot, it won’t factor into your real payback percentage.
Also, bonus games slow down the number of spins you make per hour. They also result in additional prize amounts for the players.
The only way the game has to pay for that is to reduce the payouts for the other prizes on the game.
This means most of the time you’ll be getting an inferior payback percentage.
On the other hand, the games that look like old-time, mechanical 3-reel slot machines don’t need to save money to pay for bells and whistles. That’s because these games don’t any bells and whistles to pay for.
Combine this strategy with #2 and #3, and you’re well on your way to preserving your bankroll.
5- Change Your Goals
Most people play slot machines because they want something for nothing. That’s the wrong way to think about these games.
Sure, in the short run, you can sometimes get ahead and win a big cash prize.
But in the long run, the payout structures and the odds of winning combine to make it impossible to win.
Your bankroll is crushed by the math behind the game.
Once you accept that, you can change your perspective.
Instead of wanting something for nothing, you see that you’re really exchanging money for entertainment. The more entertainment you can get for your money, the better deal you’re getting.
That’s why you should play slot machines that are expensive enough to be exciting, but only just.
I know people who play penny slots for a single penny per spin and have a good time. But I don’t see how you could have much fun doing that. Even if you win a 2500 coin jackpot, you’re only looking at a $25 win.
I don’t get out of bed in the morning for $25. I just need more money to justify what I’m playing.
But you SHOULD play for the lowest amount per spin that keeps the game interesting for you. Don’t play slots at all unless you’re having fun.
And start measuring your success on these games by how much fun you’re having.
I have another friend who goes to the Winstar Casino at least once a week. He loses a fortune on the slots almost every time.
But once in a while he comes home with $70 or $80 in winnings.
He always seems dejected when he returns having lost his entire bankroll.
If he considered the gambling an entertainment expense, he might have more realistic expectations. He might think that was money well spent.
6- Don’t Spend Money on Books or Information Products Offering “Secrets” to Winning at Slots
You’ll find plenty of books and other information products on the web claiming to have the secrets to winning at slot machines. Some of these authors even claim to have been slot machine technicians. These books and information products are all equally worthless.
Here’s the thing about slot machines:
They’re completely random. You can’t get an edge playing them, no matter what kind of silliness the system sellers have on their sales pages.
In fact, think about this:
If you had a system that would beat slot machines, would you sell it on the internet?
Or would you spend your time winning money on the slot machines?
If you were winning consistently on slot machines, you wouldn’t need to sell a book about how you’re doing it. In fact, if you had any sophistication as a casino gambler at all, you’d realize that any time a player gets an edge at a game, the casinos figure it out and plug that hole.
Look at the countermeasures in place to prevent counting cards in blackjack. If you really had a system for beating slot machines that worked, you’d never expose it by selling a book about it. Any casino manager in the country could buy such a book, read it, then take steps to prevent your system from working.
And the systems are ludicrous.
- Some of them involve trying to find the “loose” slot machines based on their location in the casino.
- Some of them involve figuring out when a slot machine is “due” to pay out. (Sorry, that’s not how it works.)
- Some of them involve raising and lowering your bets based on how the game is going.
- Some systems involve switching from one machine to another based on how often or seldom you’re winning.
Most of these so-called strategies incorporate more than one of these factors.
The money you spend on books about how to beat slot machines is money that would be better spent on ANYTHING else. If you like playing slots, use that money to get more spins instead.
7- Take Advantage of Free Spin Offers at Online Casinos
If you know anything about online casinos, you know that they’re motivated to recruit players. One of the ways they do this is by offering signup promotions. Every online casino I know of offers free cash in your bankroll just for signing up and making your first deposit.
But many online casinos are now throwing in free spins on their slot machine games. I’ve already established that if you’re going to play the slots, you should make darn sure you enjoy it. That enjoyment is the only value you’re going to get from playing those games.
If you find an opportunity to get 50 or 100 free spins on a slot machine game online, take it. This is one of the best marketing gimmicks in the history of slot machines—at least for bona fide slot junkies.
Online casino promotions change all the time. Be sure to check back on this site periodically for updates offers and new promotions.
8- Set Win Goals and Loss Limits
This is one tip where I disagree with most other gambling authors. I agree that money management techniques don’t affect your long-term expectation when playing slot machines. And most of the writers recommending win goals and loss limits imply that you can improve your chance of winning with such methods.
But slot machines are a short-term game, and the only way to walk away a winner is to quit while you’re ahead. Most of the slot players I know aren’t able to quit while they’re ahead. That’s where a win goal comes in.
A win goal is an amount that, once you’ve won it, signals you to stop playing.
A loss limit is just the opposite. It’s an amount that, once you’ve lost it, signals you to call it quits.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking these bankroll management techniques are going to increase your long-term expected win rate or reduce your long-term expected loss rate.
But my friend who visits the WInstar with me gambles every penny he has until it’s gone every time he hits the casino. Don’t be like him. Set some limits other than going broke.
9- Avoid Slot Machines in Places with Lousy Payouts
You can’t differentiate between the loose and the tight slot machines in an individual casino by their location within the casino. The managers at the casinos don’t arrange them in such a way anymore.
But you can differentiate between a casino that’s competing for customers’ business with a casino that’s not.
If a casino is the only game in town, the payouts for their slot machines are going to be much worse than if they had a lot of competition.
I can promise you that those airport slot machines offer lousy paybacks.
Or let’s pretend you’re on a cruise ship. You definitely can’t find any other action. You’re at sea, for goodness’ sake.
On the other hand, the Strip in Las Vegas has more casinos than you can shake a stick at. You can bet they’re trying to out-do one another for your business. These casinos probably have the highest payback percentages in the area.
10- Use that Slot Machine Club Card
Every major casino now offers a slot machine club card, or a players’ card, to reward returning customers. The more you play, the more refunds and bonuses you rack up.
When you sign up for the players’ card, you get a plastic card that looks like an ATM card. You insert it into the slot machine while you’re playing.
The card tracks the amount of money you put in the machine. You then get rewards of between 0.1% and 0.3%, depending on the casino.
Also, some casinos offer double player rewards during certain days and times. You should take advantage of these opportunities as often as possible.
Some people think that inserting the slot machine club card has some kind of effect on your outcome. That’s not true. The random number generators aren’t able to tell whether you have the card inserted or not.
These rewards have a monetary value. Money saved is just as valuable as money won.
So save as much money as you can with the rebates available via the players’ card.
Slot machines are the most expensive entertainment in the casino. The best strategy for winning at slot machines is to avoid playing them altogether.
That might not be the advice you were hoping for, but it’s the truth.
But if you’re going to play anyway—and that’s okay—think about some of the facts shared in this blog post. You don’t have to lose thousands of dollars playing slots to have a good time.
Be frugal, be sensible, and get lucky.