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Slot Machine Strategies

Last update: February 10, 2024


  1. I program slot machines professionally, so I know what I'm talking about.  Beware of what you read elsewhere, where the writer is often just pulling misinformation out of his @$$.
  2. The main strategy is to be very selective about which slots you play.  Some slots pay better than others.  The key is finding the better slots and avoiding the worse ones, and I'll cover how to do that below.  However, even the best slots still have a house edge, so this is not a "winning" strategy, it's a "losing less" strategy.  See my Average Loss Calculator below to see that you're likely to lose way more at slots than at other games.  To get started with other games, see my crash course in table games or my primer on video poker.
  3. There is no way to make a slot more likely to hit.  Why on Earth would a manufacturer make a machine that could be manipulated like that?  And why on Earth would a casino put such a machine on its floor?
  4. There are some "advantage plays" where you're likely to win, but they're rare an you're unlikely to ever see them.  I'll address them below.
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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.

Choosing the better slots, avoiding the worse ones

Play online instead of in land casinos

Online slots are typically looser than in land casinos because online casinos don't have the enormous costs of the buildings and physical machines.  Returns in land casinos average around 91% but they're around 96% at Bovada (my advertiser).  Losing 4% vs. 9% means your money will last about twice as long.

The catch is that it takes time and effort to visit a land casino, while online slots are just a few clicks away.  If you play four times as much online than you would in a land casino, you'll wind up losing more online, even with the better odds.  Set loss limits and stick to them!  You can also play with fake money so you don't risk losing.

Play in the looser casinos

In Vegas, the casinos on the Boulder Strip and in North Las Vegas have the best paybacks (~96%, which rival that of online casinos).  After that are the other off-strip casinos, then downtown (~94%), and then the Strip (~91%).  ("Off-strip" means any casino that's not on the Strip or downtown.) (source for the figures)

Nationwide, Reno NV is usually on the top of the list for the best paybacks in the U.S.  Most of the rest of the country has pretty lousy slot odds.  If you're in one of those areas, then either play online or graduate to a better game.

Avoid the stingiest casinos

Almost all land casinos pay worse than Bovada online, but some are especially bad:

  1. The airport.  Airport slots ranked dead last in the Wizard's slot survey.  Also, if you hit a big jackpot and have to wait for a hand pay, you might have to choose between missing your flight or giving up the jackpot—a lose-lose situation.
  2. The nicest casinos.  The nicer the casino, the worse the odds.  Among actual casinos in the Wizard's survey, the Venetian ranked dead last, and Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and Caesars Palace weren't far behind.  (The Wynn wasn't included in the survey, but I expect it would be near the bottom.)  As mentioned above, skip the Strip and head to the locals casinos.
  3. Grocery and convenience stores.  Their video poker is the tightest around, so the slots are almost certainly set the same way.
  4. Cruise ships and ferries.  They don't have to offer good odds because there's no competition—you can't walk out and go to the casino next door.  The ships know they have a captive audience and set their odds accordingly.  The worst roulette odds I ever saw in my life were on a ferry between England and the Netherlands, which means that the slots were almost certainly the same.

Choose electro-mechanical machines over video slots

Jackpots come far more frequently on old-school slots vs. video slots.  With full-time play, an electromechanical slot hits its jackpot once every few weeks on average, while it takes literally years on a video slot.  And the more likely you are to hit the jackpot, the more likely you are to walk away a winner.

On electro-mechanical slots, choose the machines with the smallest jackpots

The smaller the jackpot, the easier it is to win, increasing your chances of walking away a winner.  This doesn't work with video slots, because the jackpot odds are almost always incredibly long, and unrelated to the jackpot size.

Limit play on progressives with huge jackpots.

On the machines with huge progressive jackpots, a huge portion of each bet goes to feed the meter.  For example, on Megabucks, a whopping 10¢ of every $1 played goes to pushing the meter higher.  Excluding the jackpot, Megabucks returns only about 78% on average.  If you must play a big progressive (because you want a shot at a huge jackpot), play a two-coin machine instead of a three-coin machine, and look for a $0.05 or $0.25 machine instead of a $1.00 machine.

Avoid celebrity & licensed slots

A former slot director notes, "TV, movie, and celebrity themed games...cost the casino more in revenue sharing (they also cant be purchased), so the hold is always higher."(source)  A VP at a slot maker suggests that these slots pay about 2% points less than non-themed slots. (LV Sun) 

Play machines which are advertised as paying back a specific high percentage.

If you can find machines that are listed as paying a specific high percentage, then choose those.  This will almost never happen in a land casino, because casinos don't like to divulge that info, but it happens sometimes.  For example:

  • Circus Circus in Vegas has a bank of machines that pay 97.4%.
  • El Cortez in Vegas has some slots made by U1 which say on the screen that they pay 97.3.
  • The Hollywood Casino in Mississippi reportedly had twelve 98% machines in 2016.  (They didn't return my call to verify whether they still do.  Can any reader please verify and send me a picture?)
  • The Strat and Riviera casinos had specially-labeled 98% dollar slots that I played, but that's a thing of the past.
  • Over twenty years ago when I was in Reno, Fitzgeralds had a section of about 50 dollar slots whose average payback was 97.4%.  But Fitzgeralds is no more.

If you know of other casinos which list the payback of any machines, please send me a picture!

However, ignore a sign on a bank that says "Up to xx% payback."  The "up to" means that one of the machines pays that much, and the rest are crap.  Also ignore claims such as "Loosest Slots" or "High Payback" which are meaningless since they're not specific.

Some online casinos list the paybacks of their machines, such as Video Slots.  Unfortunately, they don't take U.S. players.

How much to bet

Bet the minimum amount that's still fun for you.

The more you bet, the more you'll lose.  It's that simple.  Bet as small as you can and still have fun.  Most casinos will still serve you free drinks even if you bet only a penny at a time.

Play the highest denomination machine that's within your budget.

Higher-denomination machines usually pay better.  The trick here is to not bet more just because you're playing a bigger machine.  If you were playing 10 lines, 5 credits on a 1¢ machine (50¢/spin), instead play 2 lines, 5 credits on a 5¢ machine (50¢/spin).

Use a slot card

Get a free slot card from the Player's Club desk (every casino has one) and use it.  This doesn't increase your chances of winning, but the casino will give you free stuff and that will mitigate your losses.  While the cashback rewards for slot points are usually insignificant, the casino may give you free meals and will usually mail you offers for free or deeply discounted rooms, and that's where the real value is.

Contrary to popular myth, using a slot card has zero effect on whether you win.  The card system is completely separate from the RNG that chooses where the reels stop.  I've won lots of jackpots with my slot card in.

What doesn't work

"Hit & run" doesn't work

Popular strategies say to move onto another machine after a set, short period of time, or after getting some nice payouts (under the assumption that after paying generously, the machine will tighten up).  These methods are useless, because every spin is random.  Previous results have no bearing on future results.

Playing fast (or slow) doesn't work

Seriously, why would they make a slot more likely to hit just because you played at a different speed?  That would be stupid.  And remember, I've programmed these things.

Advantage play

There are a few ways to get an advantage at slots, but those opportunities are rare and you're unlikely to ever see them.  They're available on only a small percentage of slots, and you have to wait until the conditions are favorable, and by that time the pros will likely have already beat you to it.  I'm including this section because it's interesting (and to satisfy the pedants who complain if I don't cover it), not to suggest that this is a viable strategy for the casual player.

Accumulator slots

Some slot have you collect tokens when you land certain symbols, and then pay you a mini-jackpot when you get enough of them.   If a slot awards a bonus when you've collected ten gold balls, the trick is to look for a machine that someone has abandoned with nine gold balls.  Then you can start playing, and not have to play very long to hit the 10th ball and get your bonus.

The problem with this is obvious:  Why is anyone going to abandon their game when they're about to get their 10th-ball bonus?  And even if they do, some other knowledgeable player is likely to swoop in and play the machine before you see it.

When accumulator slots first became a thing, circa 2002, I checked every accumulator slot in a certain casino every day, at least twice a day, for months, since I was there anyway playing blackjack.  Never once did I find a slot that was primed to give up its bonus soon.

Must-Hit-By Jackpots (MHB)

You're familiar with progressive slots, where the jackpot grows progressively larger as people play it.  A twist on progressive slots are those with a "Must-Hit-By" jackpot, where the jackpot must by awarded before it hits a certain level.  On a regular progressive there's no upper limit, but on an MHB slot, there is.  And the machine tells you what the max is.  So if the Must-Hit-By amount is $5000, and the jackpot is currently $4975, you know it's gonna hit soon.

Here's how an MHB slot works:  When someone hits the jackpot, the jackpot resets to what we call the "seed" amount, let's say $500.  And let's say the maximum jackpot, which is the "Must Hit By" amount, is $5000.  The machine picks a secret hit value between the $500 and $5000.  And it doesn't have to pick randomly, it can bias the secret value towards the max amount, and most machines do.  Let's say the value it picks is $4977.  Until the jackpot grows to $4977, you have no hope of hitting the jackpot, it will not hit.  But whoever's bet pushed the jackpot to $4977 will be the one who gets it.

The problems here are similar to that with accumulator slots: 

  1. It's not every machine.  Only a tiny percentage of machines are MHB slots.
  2. You have to wait a long time for a jackpot to grow to the MHB amount.
  3. When it does, there's lots of competition from pros and other knowledgeable people when an MHB jackpot gets close to hitting.

Now, back in 2002 Fitzgerald's in Reno had a bunch of these games and there was almost no competition, certainly no pros.  I scored lots of jackpots during my stay there.  However, I imagine the competition today would be fierce, if they even still have the games.

Challenge to "How to Beat Slots" system sellers

It galls me that some people prey on the gullible by selling "winning slot machine strategies" on the Internet.  It ought to be obvious that if someone really knew a way to consistently beat slot machines then they wouldn't need to sell that information for $19.95 (or whatever).  Unfortunately, some people are still duped.

For nearly twenty years I've offered a $10,000 to any system-seller who could prove that their system actually does what they say it does.  I hope to show that those systems are worthless, because no system-seller has ever dared to take me up on the challenge.

Bluejay's $10,000 Slot Machine Challenge

Anyone claiming their for-sale system can beat slot machines is invited to put their money with their mouth is with this challenge.
  • Contest prize escrow.  You can challenge for any amount between $5000 and $10,000.  We'll each deposit that amount with an escrow agent whom we both agree on (e.g., any licensed U.S. attorney in good standing).  We'll split the escrow agent's fee.
  • Judging.  We'll jointly choose a judge to observe and rule on who wins in the event of a dispute.  We'll each deposit the full amount of the judge's fee with the escrow agent.
  • Game selection.  You pick which slot machines to play and how you want to play them, using your own special techniques, at any single casino in Las Vegas.  (Accumulator and MHB slots, covered above, are excluded.)
  • Number of spins.  The minimum number of spins is 5000 times the ratio of your largest wager to your smallest wager.  For example, if you always play $0.75 at a time, then the minimum number if spins is 5000.  If you wager between $0.50 and $3.00, then the minimum number of spins is 6 x 5000 = 30,000 spins.  You can choose any number of spins above the minimum number, as long as you choose that number before you start playing.
  • You bank your spins yourself.
  • You use the same method you describe in the system you're selling.
  • Time Limit.  Play must be completed within 40 hours (including any time spent machine-scouting or machine-hopping).
  • Winning.  If you have made at least $15 per hour in slot payouts by the end, you'll win the challenge amount.  If you failed then I'll win it.  The judge will instruct the escrow agent to forward the money to the winner.
  • Appeal.  The losing side can appeal via arbitration through the American Arbitration Association, paying the filing fee.  The party losing the arbitration case will pay the arbiter's fees.
  • Disclaimer.  I don't promise to offer this challenge in this format forever, and I reserve the right to reject any challenger who's trying to game the challenge, rather than to actually prove that his for-sale system actually works.

    If you can truly beat slot machines this should be an easy win for you.

Number of slot "experts" who have accepted this challenge to date:


I will meet anyone in Vegas to execute this challenge.

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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