Slot Machines
Guide to Slot Machines

If you’ve ever set foot in a casino or logged onto a virtual gaming site, there’s a strong possibility that you’ve tried your luck at a slot machine. These games are the lifeblood of the gambling industry, offering spinning reels, dazzling graphics, and the chance for a major payday.

While slots don’t allow for much in the way of strategy, that hasn’t stopped players from flocking to them in droves. Just walk into any casino in the world and you’ll notice a disparity between slots and other games of chance, as the former often take up the bulk of the floor space allotted for gambling.

This article is meant to examine the basics of slot machines, from how they work to their colorful history. We’ll also discuss possible strategies for getting the best return on your wagers, as well as dispelling some of the most common myths that a surprising number of players continue to cling to.

A Brief History of Slots

The first slot machine—the Card Bell—was created by Charles Fey in 1898. Using painted-on symbols inspired by playing cards, it would soon give way to a more patriotic-themes version known as the Liberty Bell. Fey made money by renting these devices to bars and taverns, receiving half of the profits.

Then and Now of Slot Machines

The slot games were an immediate success, and Fey received offers from numerous companies wanting to purchase the manufacturing or distribution rights. When he declined their offers, they went in search of someone who could duplicate the machines.

In 1907, a Chicago inventor named Herbert Mills created a similar slot known as the Operator Bell. It was the first game to use fruit symbols, and it soon enjoyed a presence in bars across the United States. In some states, winning players received coins as a prize. In states where gambling was illegal, however, payouts often consisted of food, alcohol, or cigars.

Mechanic slots continued on for decades, but the industry took a major leap forward in 1963 when Bally unveiled the first electronic version of the game. Its popularity was immediately noticeable, and it would soon dominate the casino landscape.

The first video slot appeared in 1976 at the Las Vegas Hilton, and it spread throughout the world in no time at all. A decade later, the first progressive jackpot game arrived on the scene, and that’s when the popularity of slots began to skyrocket.

Less than 10 years later, another innovation came when Microgaming Software created the first online casino. Slots were an integral part of this development, and they continue to be the biggest source of casino revenue—in both virtual and land-based establishments—as of this writing.

Slot Machine Categories

Whether you enjoy playing slots at a brick-and-mortar casino or in the privacy of your own home, you’ll encounter several types of games to choose from. They might all seem the same at first glance, but reading this section should inform you of the differences. Keep in mind that some games also fall into more than one category.

  • Video Slots

    Instead of old-fashioned physical reels, this modern slot uses computer technology to create digital simulations. This allows for a wide array of effects, including animated reels and scenes from movies and TV shows. All modern games fall into this broad category.

  • Reel Slots

    This category includes slots with physical reels. While these are no longer manufactured for casinos, they were once the most common option for gamblers. Today, they’re only purchased by collectors.

  • Single-Line Slots

    This no-frill type of slot machine features a single payline. Such options are becoming increasingly rare, as advancing technology makes the creation of multiple paylines an inexpensive option.

  • Multi-Line Slots

    This version has replaced the single-line slot, offering anywhere from 3 to 50 paylines (and even more in rare cases). These games typically pay left to right, although more exotic options may also allow for inverted paylines. In addition to the usual straight-across pay pattern, multi-line games also include payouts for diagonal and zig-zag matches, as well as other more unique patterns.

  • Straight Slots

    Cash prizes are awarded according to a pay table. The most type of slot machines, these games often include additional incentives such as bonus rounds, wild symbols, and scatter pay icons.

  • Progressive Slots

    When a customer plays this type of slot machine, a percentage of their bet is added to a progressive jackpot that continues to grow until someone hits the symbols necessary to win it. At that point, the jackpot resets to a predetermined base and begins to grow once again. Progressives are categorized in the following manner: stand-alone (a single machine), proprietary (machines within the same casino share a jackpot), and wide-area (machines are connected across states or gaming platforms). These jackpots can make someone an instant multi-millionaire, and some of the largest payouts have been in the $30 million range.

  • Jackpot Slots

    This type of game pays a top prize if the player achieves the proper combination of symbols. Given the fierce competition between game developers, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a game that doesn’t fall into this category.

  • Bonus Round Slots

    In addition to the regular prizes offered on the reels, a player can unlock one or more bonus rounds by getting a certain combination of symbols. Some bonus rounds offer nothing more than free spins, while others provide cash bonuses, prizes, and even progressive jackpots.

  • Multi-Spin Slots

    After the reels have come to a stop, the player has the option of spinning again while holding one or more of the reels from the previous spin in place. This greatly increases the odds of a big payday, which explains why the pay tables for these games are often lower than other machines.

  • Buy-a-Pay Slots

    A slot machine in this category includes multiple pay tables, with each being more lucrative than the last. In order to play on the better tables, the customer is called upon to make more substantial wagers.

  • Multi-denomination Slots

    Instead of being limited to a single denomination when you spin, this type of machine allows you to vary the size of each wager. Almost all modern slots included fall into this category.

How a Slot Machine Works

The driving force behind modern slot machines is the random number generator. This piece of technology is present on both online and land-based slots, and it ensures that each spin is independent of all others.

Definition of: A Random Number Generator
A Random Number Generator is a function object that can be used to generate a random sequence of integers. That is: if f is a Random Number Generator and N is a positive integer, then f(N) will return an integer less than N and greater than or equal to 0.

As soon as a machine becomes active, the RNG begins to constantly generate numbers at a rate of hundreds or even thousands per second. When a player makes their wager and presses the spin button, the most recent batch of numbers is taken in order to determine which symbols appear on the reels.

This means that the spinning reels provide nothing more than a visual indication of what digits were selected by the random number generator. As soon as the button was pushed, the outcome was determined faster than the human mind can process.

Some symbols on a slot machine appear more frequently than others, which mean a game is “weighted.” This is common to all slots, otherwise the major symbols would appear more frequently and the casino would surely end up losing money in the long run.

Slots are also programmed with a certain payback percentage, which is the amount paid back over the life of the machine. A slot with a 98% payback can be expected to deliver 98 cents for every dollar wagered, although this can fluctuate greatly during the short term.

The Case for Online Slots

Some players still prefer to game on a physical machine, while an increasing number swear by the virtual options offered at online casinos. In case you’ve never tried the latter, here are a few reasons why you might prefer the experience:

  • Cheaper
    While the game itself might cost just as much to play, you don’t have to leave your house to enjoy an online slot. That means you’ll end up saving money on gas, airfare, hotel accommodations, and food.
  • Avoid Cigarette Smoke
    People who don’t smoke often complain about the stench in some land-based casinos, but that’s never an issue when you play online. If you’re especially obsessed with air quality, you can even crank up your humidifier while you play online.
  • Free Play
    Most online casinos offer free versions of their games for practice and fun. I’ve yet to see a free slot machine in Macau or Atlantic City.
  • Privacy
    If you play at a casino that’s located near your home, you might have to worry about running into nosy neighbors. That’s never an issue when playing online, as you can lock the door, draw the blinds, and keep the neighbors in a perpetual state of suspense.
  • The Sound of Silence
    Real-life casinos are distracting with their chatty patrons and noisy slots. For some, this can be an overwhelming experience. You never have to worry about such distractions when you play at home.
  • Instant Access
    There’s nothing worse than going to a land-based casino and finding that someone else is already playing your favorite slot machine. And even if you finally get on the game and manage to win, you may still have to stand in line at the cashier. When you play online, all the games can be accessed with just a few clicks of the mouse, and any winnings are automatically deposited into your account.

Slot Machines: Strategy VS Myths

It’s important to note that no strategy exists for consistently beating slot machines. These games are entirely random, so you may win big during one session and then lose it all the following week. There are, however, a few things that you can do to maximize your time spent in front of the slots.

  • Play as slowly as possible in order to savor the experience and minimize your losses.
  • If you’re playing at a land-based casino, always make sure to get your ticket when you leave.
  • Otherwise, you won’t be able to cash out your winnings.
  • Never play slots at a brick-and-mortar casino without a player card. This can lead to lots of comps, which are freebies on everything from food to hotel accommodations.
  • Simplistic games tend to offer better odds to the player.
  • Avoid getting drunk while playing.
  • Always play the lowest denomination that you feel comfortable with.
  • Whenever you play a game with a skill feature, always follow the advice printed on the screen or the side of the machine.
  • Research casinos and online software designers to find those with the best payback percentage.
  • Try video poker instead, as it’s a more profitable option.
  • When you play at a higher denomination, your overall odds tend to improve on the machine.
There are lots of superstitions and misconceptions about slot machines floating around, and the ones listed below are some of the most common.
  • If you watch a slot machine long enough, you can begin to predict patterns on the reels.
  • Slots pay out in cycles. Once a cycle has been completed, it starts over from the beginning.
  • If a machine hasn’t paid out a jackpot in a while, it’s due to hit.
  • The most profitable slots are always placed together on the casino floor.
  • If a slot machine has a handle and a button, you’re more likely to win by pulling the handle.
  • People who sell slot systems have made millions by using these strategies at casinos.
  • Betting a single coin gives you a better chance of winning.
  • At land-based casinos, the slots with the highest payback percentage are often located near the front door and other casino entrances.
  • By pressing the spin button at the right time, you increase your odds of winning.
  • The temperature of a coin can often have an effect on the outcome of a spin.

Slot machines are the kings of casino gaming, and both land-based and online establishments draw the bulk of their profits from these devices. Unfortunately, their odds always favor the house, and there’s no way to consistently turn a profit while playing these games of chance. The best recommendation I can give is to focus on enjoying your time in front of the spinning reels, and look at any profits gained from a session as an added bonus.