All about Slot Machines

How they work, Common myths, and Strategies

Last update: May 2024


Play this slot machine with play money or real money at Bovada

Gold Rush Gus slot machine

No popups, no download, no registration, no B.S., just the game. One click and you're in.

Of all the things I cover on Easy Vegas, my slot machine coverage is far and away the most popular.  So let's get to it.  Here's what I've got for you:

On this page:

Licensed from Dan Piraro of Bizarro.

On other pages:

How much does it cost?

It depends on the machine, but you can play for as little as a penny per spin, or as much as $5000.  I can't find any good figures for how much people typically play, but from observation and informal polling, it seems to be in the neighborhood of 50-75¢ per spin.

You'll spin 300 to 800 times per hour depending on how fast you go.  Which means:

  • At 1¢ per spin, you'd be putting $3.00 - 8.00/hr. into the machines.  You'll probably get back in the neighborhood of $2.64 - 7.04/hr, for a net loss of $0.36 - 0.96/hr.
  • At $1 per spin, you'd be putting $300 - 800/hr. into the machines.  You'll probably get back in the neighborhood of $276 - 736/hr, for a net loss of $24 - 64/hr.

Professor Harrigan says video slots can be played at 1200 spins per hour, but he doesn't disclose his methodology and I think he's ignoring the time that bonus rounds take.

How much can you win?

The top jackpot on most slot machines is around 1000 times the amount you bet.  So, if you bet a penny per spin, the most you can win on most machines is around $10.00.  If you bet a dollar a spin you could hit for $1000.

Some machines pay a little more, but the higher the jackpot, the harder it is to hit.  And some machines pay a lot more, like Megamillions whose top prize is at least $10 million, and which someone once hit for $39.7M.  Of course, since Megamillions has the highest jackpot, it also has the longest odds.

See more on my page about slot machine jackpots.

How much should I expect to lose?

You probably didn't actually ask this question, did you?  Most people don't; they just want to know how much they can win.  But if you did ask, then good on you!  The answer is that in an hour you'll lose in the neighborhood of 50 times the amount you bet on each spin, on average.  If you bet $1 per spin, plan to lose $50 per hour.

My calculator will give you a more accurate estimate of your average loss, as well as the average loss of other casino games.  As you can see, slots suck away your money way faster than the others.

Turn your phone sideways for a better calculator!
Average Loss Calculator
Game Rounds / Rolls
Per Hour
Bet per round House Edge Average Avg. Loss for
hour(s) hrs
of play
Slots $ 
Roulette $ 
Video Poker $ 
Baccarat $ 
Craps $ 
Blackjack $ 
These are mathematical averages based on infinite play.  You could lose more or less.
Play online casino games with fake money!  It's better than losing real money.

Why are slots such a bad bet?

It's bad odds, compounded by the fact that you can play the machines so quickly.  Blackjack is played at around 100 rounds per hour, but you can easily spin 800 times an hour on a machine.  Play with the calculator above and you can easily see how speed of play jacks up the losses.

Note that while table games are usually a better bet, online table games can be played so fast that you could wind up losing as much as on slots.  The trick here is to simply bet less.  If you'd bet $5/hand in a casino, bet $1/hand online.  Play with the calculator to find an average loss that's right for your budget, whether you're playing in an online or land casino.

How popular are slot machines?

In the 1980's slot machines surpassed table games like craps and blackjack as the most popular game in the casino.  Slots and video poker now account for more than 70% of the casino's total take. 
(Even so, many Vegas casinos are surprisingly unprofitable.)

On the other hand, the number of slot machines is declining, because millennials aren't very interested in gambling.  (That goes for table games, too.)  As older gamblers pass on, they're not getting replaced by as many younger ones.

Number of slot machines

Vegas Strip
Locals Casinos
Peak (1999)
61,000 machines
55,000 machines
Feb. 2018
38,000 machines
45,000 machines

Figures likely include video poker.  (LVRJ)

Why are slots so popular if they're such a bad bet?

  1. Big jackpots.  Put $5 on a blackjack table and you'll win $7.50 at most.  But put $3 on a typical slot machine and you could win $1000 or more.  And with some progressive jackpots, it could be millions.
  2. They're easy.  There are no complicated rules to learn.  Just press the Spin button.  That's it.
  3. They're fast.  There's no waiting for the other players to finish their hands, or the dealer to shuffle the cards.  As soon as one round is over, you can spin again immediately.
  4. They're entertaining.  Video slots have an array of animated graphics, sounds, music, a storyline, and bonus rounds.
  5. There's a huge variety.  Blackjack is blackjack.  But there are thousands of different slot machine themes.
  6. Players don't know how bad the odds are.  Most slot players have no clue that they'd lose far less at other games.  Part of my mission is to pull the shroud off that mystery so players can graduate to other games and lose less money.

How can I limit my losses?

  1. Play other games.  Games like video poker, blackjack, craps, and roulette have much better odds.  Here's my crash course in table games.
  2. Play for small stakes.  There's no rule that you have to play multiple lines and multiple credits.  My wife and I generally play a single penny at a time, even though we can afford much more, because we have just as much fun that way.
  3. Play with fake money. Bovada lets you play all their slot machines with play money, and you don't have to register an account to play.

If you like slots because of the chance of winning a big jackpot, then here are two alternatives:

  1. Play video poker.  You still have a shot at a jackpot, but the odds are a lot better, as long as you learn proper strategy.
  2. Double your bets on table games.  You can keep doubling your bet when you win on games like craps or roulette.  And your odds of getting a jackpot-sized win when doing so are a lot better than hitting a slot jackpot.

What determines whether I win or lose?

On traditional slot machines, the results of each spin are completely random.  They're not influenced by anything else, not whether the machine's been recently running hot or cold, not how long it's been since a jackpot hit, not whether a player's card is inserted, etc.  There's more about this in my article about how slot machines are random.

There are now some games where the result is partially or completely based on skill.  The law recently changed to allow those, and they started appearing in Vegas in 2017.  Here's my article on skill-based slots.

How fast are slot machines played?

Slots are typically played at around 300-800 spins per hour (sph).  In 2011 I surreptitiously watched some players playing video slots to figure playing speed.  A slow player played at 300 sph (6-min. sample).  A fast player played 780 sph (4.3-min. sample).  An extremely fast player played at 862 sph (5.5-min. sample).

Professor Harrigan says video slots can be played at 1200 spins per hour, but he doesn't disclose his methodology and I think he's ignoring the time that bonus rounds take.

Play speed is important for figuring your average hourly loss.  You calculate that with sph x $ bet per spin x house edge of machine.  My Average Loss Calculator (above) lets you choose various playing speeds.

Play slots online

I suggest you play something other than slots because slot odds are so bad.  You could also play online with fake money, because then it doesn't matter if you lose.  A good casino for free-play is Bovada, since it requires no download and no registration.  (If you see a registration box, you can close it and continue without registering.)  You can play with real money too, though I hope you won't (or at least won't bet more than you can comfortably afford to lose). (advertisement)

All my slot machine articles

Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

You can play Bovada's games (below) right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's the main reason Bovada is the only online casino that gets advertising space on my site.  (When you see the registration box, you can cancel it and proceed to the game without registering.)

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