- 1 How do slot machines work?
- 2 Progressive jackpot slots
- 3 Slots at land-based casinos in the US
- 4 Slots at tribal casinos in the US
- 5 Slots at legal online gambling sites in the US
- 6 Slots at social casinos
- 7 A history of slot machines
How do slot machines work?
Slot machines are very simple, which is why they are so popular at land-based casinos and online casinos.
To play, you first select how much you want to wager and then spin the reels. Typically, you must match two or three or more symbols in a row in order to score a win. Generally, there are a number of different ways to win, known as paylines, and various symbols that will award different prizes.
You will be able to see the value of the different symbols on your game of choice by consulting the slot paytable.
Paylines refer to the order in which a set of symbols must fall in order to pay out a winning combination. In most cases, this must be at least three matching symbols from left to right, starting on the first reel.
The simplest fruit machine slots may have a single payline running across the middle of the reels. So, on a three-reel slot on which each reel displays three symbols, the payline will be a straight line from left to right; if you hit a three of a kind on the middle of the reels, you’ll win.
In online slots, you’ll find that the majority of games have at least 20 paylines and often many more. This is because the paylines in online slots do not necessarily run straight across from left to right. In many games, paylines will still run from left to right but via all sorts of paths; a winning payline might zig-zag over the reels or form a V shape. Some games pay in any direction and have over 1,000 ways to win!
You will be able to find out the number and shape of the paylines on any online slot by accessing the paytable menu during gameplay. Many games have fixed paylines, meaning you must bet on all of the paylines; some, however, allow you to bet on any number of paylines from one up to the maximum bet.
Wild symbols and scatter symbols
As well as the regular symbols you see in an online slot, there are also special symbols known as wild symbols and scatter symbols.
Wild symbols act exactly like wild cards in certain poker games, in that they take the place of any other symbol. This means that four consecutive symbols followed by a wild symbol counts as a five of a kind win rather than four of a kind.
Scatter symbols typically pay out higher than average wins for three of a kind or higher, and can often pay a win for just one or two symbols. They usually pay scattered, which is where they get their name; this means that they don’t necessarily pay out from left to right and don’t have to start their winning payline combination on the leftmost reel. Often, a set of scatter symbols will launch a feature round.
Feature rounds, or bonus rounds, are the best part of online slots gameplay in the eyes of most online casino players.
That’s because it’s in the feature rounds where you can make the biggest profits. Typically, feature rounds will award prizes many times higher than ordinary payline wins during regular slots spins.
A feature round may take one of the following forms:
- Free spins: you’ll receive a free spin at your current stake level, receiving a predetermined number of risk-free chances to score payline wins.
- Pick and win: you’ll be presented with a series of blind choices, choosing from a number of prizes including multipliers, instant wins and other bonuses.
- Instant win: you’ll immediately receive a cash prize.
- Re-spin: your last spin will get a “do-over”, often with additional parks.
- Mini-game: you’ll play an interactive game to win prizes. This may be skill-based, chance or a mixture of both.
Feature rounds, especially re-spins and free spins, may also feature additional incentives such as winning combinations being held and extra wilds added to the reels.
Progressive jackpot slots
The biggest online slots prizes and slot machine wins are paid out via progressive jackpots. Progressive jackpots are so called because a jackpot is progressively added to with each wager made by players; often, especially online, several or even dozens of machines are hooked up to the same jackpot.
Each wager adds to the jackpot until it is triggered and one lucky player wins it all. At the time of writing, the largest online slots jackpot win in history is €17.8 million ($19.6 million). The largest land-based slot machine win was in Las Vegas in 2003, when an anonymous Los Angeles gambler won over $39.7 million.
Slots at land-based casinos in the US
The vast majority of land-based casinos in the US and indeed around the world will feature far more slot machines than any other type of card game or table game. Slot machines typically make up around 70 percent of the income of an average US casino.
Casino slot machines in the US
Wagering on games of chance has been part of American culture ever since the first European settlers arrived in the original colonies. The birth of legalized gambling in Nevada came in 1931, when Assembly Bill 98 was signed into law.
Today, there are over 1,500 casinos operating in the United States, with Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey acting as two hubs of land-based casinos in the country. Of these, roughly 450 are privately-owned commercial casinos that operate on non-Native American land.
There are 20 states that allow commercial casinos to operate, including Nevada and New Jersey. Despite these restrictions, the gross gambling revenue of land-based casinos in the US (excluding Native American casinos) is in the tens of billions year after year.
Other slot machines in the US
Outside of commercial casinos or tribal casinos, you may find slot machines at other entertainment venues such as racetracks or adult-orientated arcades. Whether or not slot machines are allowed outside of casinos varies from state to state.
Gambling law in the US can be complicated, as gambling is federally legal but enforced differently from state to state. This applies even more for privately-owned slot machines, which are either commonplace or highly restricted (or even totally banned) from state to state.
Privately-owned slot machines are legal in some form in all states save for Connecticut, Hawaii, Nebraska, South Carolina and Tennessee. In Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia, all types of slot machines are legal.
In all other states, slot machines are restricted in some way based on their age or the type of machine.
Different kinds of machines used in land-based slots
There are, broadly speaking, two different types of slot machines: Class II and Class III. The latter are “Vegas style” machines, and are the typical machines found in commercial casinos in the US.
They work with a Random Number Generator (RNG). These are the most common type of slot machine you’ll find in most commercial casinos.
Class II machines are also known technically as “Virtual Lottery Terminals” (VLT) and are pre-programmed.
The key difference is that a Class III machine is constantly generating random numbers, and the number generated upon a player hitting “spin” will determine whether or not that is a winning spin.
A Class II machine, according to the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, is designed to simulate the mechanics of the game of bingo. Over time, these games have evolved to look and act much more like their Class III counterparts; it can be difficult for the casual slots player to tell the two apart.
Slots at tribal casinos in the US
A further option available to American casino fans is to play slots at tribal casinos on Native American reservations and tribal lands. Thanks to tribal sovereignty, these casinos and gambling venues are rarely restricted by the state in the same way that commercial casinos are.
For many gamblers in the US, the nearest casino venue is on a Native American reservation. There are actually more gambling operations run by Native American tribes in the US than there are commercial casinos. There are 460 gambling operations run by more than 200 tribes across the country and represent a significant gambling economy in the tens of billions.
Typically, you’ll find Class II slots at tribal casinos. This means that the machine has a pre-programmed payout structure determined by a hidden bingo game, as opposed to the Class III slot machines that use a Random Number Generator to determine wins.
Why are there so many tribal casinos?
Tribal casinos are commonplace across the country largely thanks to the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. This act provides legislation and protection for the operation of gambling on tribal land as a means of income for Native American tribes.
The act aimed to promote tribal development and self-sufficiency as a by-product of Native American income. The latest statistics show that the tribal casino industry generates over $6 billion in annual revenue for 240 of the 565 federally recognized tribes in the US.
However, two-thirds of this revenue is generated by 12 percent of the casinos, largely those located near large metropolitan areas.
The biggest tribal casinos in the US
The Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut is the biggest tribal casino in the country, covering an area of more than 9 million square feet on the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation.
The hotel boasts over 2,600 rooms and the casino floors hold nearly 400 gaming tables. Foxwoods has over 4,700 slot machines, which means that you’ll certainly be able to find a game that suits you!
Foxwoods’ neighbor, Mohegan Sun, is the third-largest casino in the US and the second-largest tribal casino. It boasts more than 5,300 slot machines, which makes it by far the largest collection of land-based slots in a tribal casino.
Slots at legal online gambling sites in the US
Legal online slots can be found in a couple of states in the US, though at the time of writing only a few states have fully regulated online casinos.
Online slots in New Jersey
New Jersey is one of the few states with regulated, legal online gambling. In fact, New Jersey has always had a reputation as being the most gamble-friendly of the US states (with the notable exception of Nevada).
The first bill to regulate online gambling was rejected by Governor Chris Christie in 2011, but passed in 2013. Currently, New Jersey online casinos are accessible only to players within the state itself (though permanent residency is not required) and, furthermore, must be licensed in tandem with one of the major live New Jersey casino operators.
New Jersey has a wide range of online slots available at all major casino operators. In fact, the Garden State boasts the best selection of legal online slots in the US; players there can also benefit from a wide range of deposit bonuses and other sign-up incentives at the casinos.
In 2014, New Jersey’s online casino industry saw the first million-dollar online slot winner. Cathy Ruela won over $1.3 million playing the Millionaire Genie online slot at Harrah’s Casino.
Online slots in Delaware
Delaware was the first state to legislate for online gambling. The three licenses currently held in Delaware are owned by the state’s three major racetracks; gambling has a rich history in Delaware dating back to the first racetrack in 1760.
Delaware’s online casino industry is small, as is the state itself. Discussions about merging the state’s online gambling pools with that of neighboring New Jersey have as of yet not finalized any plans.
Online gambling in Nevada
Despite Nevada being one of the few states with fully regulated and legal online gambling, there are no online slots available in the state. That being said, Nevada residents have no shortage of land-based slot machines, with more than 175,000 slot machines in the state.
Despite the lack of online slots in Nevada, the online casino industry is thriving in its offer of other casino games like poker and sports betting.
Online gambling in other states
At the time of writing, only the states listed above have fully regulated online gambling.
However, there are several ongoing discussions and arrangements to introduce online gambling to other states. Pennsylvania is likely to be the next state to boast legal online casinos, with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives having passed a bill to regulate and legislate for online gaming. However, the 2016 US election has meant that it is unlikely to pass the Senate until much later.
California is another state with ongoing discussions for regulation of online casinos and online poker. Californian tribes are divided over the introduction of online gambling, specifically poker, to the state of California. This has hampered any progression with regulating online gaming in the state.
Social casino slot machines in the US have become a major industry in their own right, despite many of the most popular social slots not giving out real world rewards.
The explosion of social media, particularly Facebook, and the amount of social gaming apps available on these platforms, meant that social gaming was a natural step to take for the online casino industry. Zynga Poker, for example, absolutely dwarfs the biggest real-money poker sites in the world despite only being available for play money.
Many social gaming companies operate entirely free-to-play online slots, all of which are legal in every US state. These games are immensely popular on social media networks such as Facebook and on mobile and tablet devices.
Many players find social gaming a form of exciting yet risk-free gambling entertainment. Recent surveys show that more than half of all Facebook users engage in some form of social gaming. Facebook’s online poker and online slots games draw in more than 10 million players every single day.
Of this huge range of varying social slots, some are affiliated with real-world casinos and can therefore be played in exchange for casino rewards. Many of the social slots you can play on your mobile are based on, or exact duplicates of, real-world online slots or casino slot machines that you will find in a land-based casino.
Playtika, for example, is owned by casino company Caesars, and their social casino games can reward players with points to spend at Caesars land-based casino venues.
A history of slot machines
The first slot machines were invented in San Francisco in 1891 and have since exploded to become by far and away the most popular casino game in the world.
The first gambling machine that we would recognize as a precursor to the modern slot machine was invented in Brooklyn, New York, by Sittman and Pitt. This five-reel drum held fifty card faces and was based on poker ranks. This tradition continues today, with the majority of online slots featuring A, K, Q, J, 10 and 9 symbols on their reels.
In 1899, Charles Fey of San Francisco devised a much simpler three-reel game with an automatic mechanism to pay out all possible winning combinations. This game was known as the Liberty Bell, and proved an immediate hit.
The first fully electromechanical slot machine was invented in 1963 by Bally, which is still a major casino game manufacturer today. Money Honey was the first machine to be able to give automatic payouts of up to 500 coins without human assistance.
Nowadays, the majority of slot machines are electronic video slots. The father of these games was invented by Fortune Coin Co. This became the de facto standard for slot machines around the world, and the basis was expanded upon throughout the decades.
In the mid-1990s, machines with a bonus round consisting of a different mini-game within the slot began to become popular. These would be the basis of the feature rounds that are standard in online slots today.