How to Play Slot Machines
June 2019If you've never played slot machines before, this article is for you! (If you're an experienced slot player, check out my more advanced articles.)
The first thing you should know about slots is how much you're likely to lose. Here's my average loss calculator:
|Average Loss Calculator|
|Game||Rounds / Rolls
|Bet per round||House Edge||
|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.|
I hope that scared you spitless. Part of my mission with Easy Vegas is to show what a bad deal slots are, and help players graduate to better games where they won't lose their money hand over fist. Here's how to limit your slot losses:
- Play other games. Games like video poker, blackjack, craps, and roulette have much better odds. Here's my crash course in table games.
- 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.
- 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. (advertisement)
- Choose a denomination. The base bet on most slot machines is 1¢, 5¢, 25¢, or $1. Different machines advertise their denominations boldly. But there's a trend for machines to be multi-denomination, where you can press a button to change the denomination on the machine. Online slots are generally like this.
- Choose a machine within that denomination. Playing slots is supposed to be fun, so pick something that looks fun.
- Insert paper money. The machines take $1, $5, $10, $20, and $100 bills. They don't take coins (that ended years ago), and they don't take credit cards. The amount you inserted will show up on the screen, look for it. Sometimes it shows up as the number of credits instead of dollars and cents. For example, if you put a dollar on a 5¢ machine, it might show that you have 20 credits. (For an online casino, you make a deposit with a credit card or Bitcoin. See depositing at online casinos for more.)
- Choose the number of lines. We'll cover lines in more detail later, but for now, think of it as "ways to win". Of course, the more ways to win you get, the more it costs to play. On a dollar machine, playing one line will cost a dollar per spin. Playing 30 lines will cost $30. There's a button to choose the number of lines. (See the picture below.)
- Choose the bet per line (aka "coins" or "credits").
This is where you choose how much you want to bet on each
line. On a dollar machine, playing two lines, and five
credits on each line, your total bet per spin is $10. Note
on the screen where the "Total Bet" is shown, so you know how much
you're wagering before you press the Spin button. Lots of
slots have 30 lines and let you play up to 5 credits per line, so
a "penny" slot could quickly turn into a $1.50 slot if you play
the maximum number of lines and the maximum number of credits.
This is how they suck you in: they advertise the machine as a "penny slot", but then they try to get you to bet a lot more than that once you sit down. Some machines also enforce a minimum bet, so you can't play just a penny on some "penny" slots. And even if they don't, most slots require that you bet the maximum number of coins on at least one line in order to be eligible to win the top jackpot.
- Press the Spin button. The reels will spin and then stop after a few seconds. If they don't land on a winning combination, then nothing will happen. If they do land on a winning combination, that combination will light up and you'll get paid. If you get winning combos on more than one line (and you bet on those lines), you'll get paid for all of them. When you win, the number of credits you have on the machine will increase. (Look for a box on the screen called "Win" or "Last Win".) The machine doesn't spit actual money at you. In the picture below, my last win is listed as $0.00, because I didn't win anything yet in that session.
- Keep spinning. Keep pressing the Spin button until you've either had enough fun, or you've lost all your money.
- Cash out. When you're done playing the machine, if
you have any money left, press the Cash Out button and the machine
will print a ticket, that you can redeem for cash at a ATM-like
kiosk, or the casino cage. Or, you could just insert it into
another slot machine and it'll work like cash. (For online
casinos, you don't have to cash out. Your balance will
automatically move with you to the next machine.)
By the way, if you find credits that somebody left on a machine, don't play them! That's considered stealing, which is a crime. It's not common that someone gets prosecuted for playing abandoned credits, but it happens.
Reels and Lines
Each column is called a reel. They spin vertically. Most modern slots have five reels, like our example slot.
To win, the winning combination must appear on a line, as shown in the picture below. Most slots have multiple lines, and most let you choose how many lines you want to play. If you play just one line, it'll be the center row. If you play two lines, they'll be the top row and the center row. If you play three lines, they'll be all three rows. If you play more lines than that, they'll start to cut across rows. The picture below shows four lines selected, with the fourth line (blue) starting on the first row, dipping down to the middle and bottom rows, and then going back up to the top row.
Playing more lines means more ways to win. But you have to cough up more money for each extra line you play. On a 25¢ machine, playing three lines means you're wagering at least 75¢ per spin, if you wager one "coin" per line. If you bet 4 coins per line, you'll be betting $3.00 per spin. Playing fewer lines (even just one line) means you're betting less, so you'll lose less. But it'll be longer between hits, because you have fewer ways to win. If you want to bet higher, it's better to bet on more coins per line, rather than more lines, because that way you'll be eligible for the top jackpot on most machines.
On most slots, you win by lining up at least three of the same symbol on a line, from left to right. The symbols have to be all right next to each other, without gaps. Here's an example of an actual win, with three J's from left to right on the center line (the only line I played):
Here are more examples of winning combinations on a fictional slot machine:
- 😀 😀 😀 😎 😍 (3 matched)
- 😀 😀 😀 😀 😍 (4 matched)
- 😎 😎 😎 😀 😎 (3 matched; not 4, because they have to be consecutive)
- 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 (5 matched)
- 😀 😀 😎 😎 😍 (usually need at least 3 to match)
- 😀 😀 😎 😎 😎 (matches must start from the left, not from the right)
- 😎 😀 😎 😀 😎 (symbols must be consecutive)
How much you win depends on the paytable. That's our next topic.
The paytable is the list of winning combinations and how much they pay. In the picture above, note the button labeled "PAY TABLE" in the top right. Pressing it brings up this:
For example, line up five sharks and you'll win 1250 credits. If your denomination is 1¢, that's $12.50. If your denomination is $1, that's $1250. Also, as we saw above, that'll also be multiplied by the number of credits you bet per line.
Play slots online
I suggest you play something other than slots because the 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
- Slot machine basics. How much it costs to play, how much you can win, expected loss, why they're a bad bet, why they're popular, how you can limit your losses, speed of play
- How to play slot machines
- Slot returns. How much they pay back.
- The Randomness Principle. Slots don't continually get looser and tighter as they're played. They don't have to.
- How they work. Explains the randomness principle, and runs through the math to show how a game returns a particular payback percentage. There's a companion page on Par sheets.
- Slot Machine Myths
- Slot Machine B.S. Wrong info that's published elsewhere.
- Strategies. Tips for increasing your chances of winning, and saving money.
- Slot Jackpots. Odds of hitting the jackpot, progressive jackpots, and other jackpot topics.
- Biggest Jackpots. The largest slot and table game jackpot wins in Vegas.
- Skill-Based Slots. The scoop on the new games in which your results aren't entirely determined by chance.
- Slot Machine malfunctions. How and why slot machines screw up, causing players to think they've won the jackpot when they really haven't.
- Slot Machine Simulator. I programmed an exact replica of the Blazing 7s slot (odds-wise). Click it to play thousands of spins in one second and see how you do.