There is nothing more typical and representative of a casino than the slot machine. Relative to the long history of gambling, slot machines are a new creation. They are a modern vehicle for people to risk money in the hopes of winning much more.
Where did the idea for the slot machine come from? And just how did the quintessential gambling device come to be the most common fixture of today’s casinos? Though slot machines number somewhere in the hundreds of thousands in Las Vegas and in the millions across the United States, they were once an unlikely candidate for that kind of omnipresence.
Online slots are enjoyable in demo mode. You can play for fun, experience all the features and elements like expanding or moving wilds, and not have to worry about ever losing cash.
If you have ever played online slots with real money, you’ll already know that this is a lot more fun.
Best US casinos with real money slots
Nothing quite beats the excitement of a big jackpot that could hit at any time, a bonus round that gives you 100x or more your bet or just a big line hit.
There are several steps to take to enjoy real-money slots before you start spinning online.
Here’s how to enjoy the slot machine games safely and securely:
- Find a Legal Real Money Slots Site in Your State: For residents of the states that have regulated online casinos, you’ll have plenty of choices. Competition is fierce between the brands in PA and NJ, with many more to follow. If you are outside of these states, then the sweepstakes casinos offer a legal, online slots option.
- Check the Bonus Offers: Many online slot casinos offer free play, free spins or matched welcome bonuses. Reading the fine print before you deposit will make sure that an offer is as good as it initially seems.
- Make a Real Money Deposit: There are many options at legal casinos. These include credit cards, bank transfers, cash or third-party services like PayPal. What you choose will depend more on security than convenience.
- Range of Online Slots: The number of titles and which studios created them can vary widely between the casinos. You will be able to play in demo mode at many state-regulated casinos, which gives you a preview of the choices. In addition to the live casino slots that have been adapted for online play, look out for a broad selection of slots made with it in mind.
- Mobile Access: You can enjoy online slot games for real money on your desktop or laptop computer. Most casinos have apps or responsive websites that allow play on your smartphone. Testing out the games on your phone in demo mode first will make sure they work smoothly before you spin for real money.
- Player Promotions: The best online slot casinos have plenty of promos to keep their loyal players coming back. Look out for comp (points collection) schemes, free spins and leaderboard-style contests.
- Jackpots Available: Some online slot machines feature progressive jackpots in the $1 million-plus range. They can include the Mega Jackpots, from IGT; and some online-only ones, e.g., Mega Moolah, from NetEnt.
If you are unsure which casinos score best on the criteria above, then check the detailed online casino reviews here at PlayUSA.com.
Mobile slots and real money slot apps
Many developers create online slot machines with mobile play in mind.
They will have different layouts depending on whether you access them via a desktop or your smartphone. This design will put the various options behind menu icons for mobiles to save space and the spin button on the right for easy access.
Online slot apps are available at all real money casinos for Android phones. iPhone and iPad users will find slot apps for most casinos.
If you choose new brands in newly legal gambling jurisdictions, you’ll have to wait. Apple recently changed the technical requirements for their apps, and slot studios are in the process of getting their apps updated.
While the best casino apps guarantee the best mobile experience, you can still access web-based casinos from your smartphones or tablets. The games will automatically adjust to your screen size.
Most casino apps have a limited slot selection compared to the web-based alternatives. It pays to shop around to ensure you get the range of games you want before you commit to one mobile casino.
Is it legal to play online slots?
The legality of playing slots online for real money depends on the statutes of your state.
Recently, many states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have regulated online casinos within their state lines. Licensing for online casinos has been via established brick-and-mortar venues. Partnerships between these live casinos and global gambling brands, like 888 and Betfair, create apps and websites where you can enjoy the games.
Offshore casinos exist in a gray area of the law and offer no protection for players. It is against federal law for banks or financial institutions to facilitate payments to or from these casinos. This rule is under the UIGEA, a bill passed in 2006.
There are many cases of operators disappearing along with their customers’ bankrolls. This is one of many reasons why we recommend playing at a legal online casino in the US.
States with legal online casinos
Here are the states that already have regulated, legal online casinos:
- New Jersey Casinos: This was the first state to go live with casino gambling. Bill A2578 was passed on Feb. 26, 2013. Currently, there are 21 live online casinos, with the largest one offering more than 600 slot titles.
- Pennsylvania Casinos: PA is a more recent participant in the online casino market, with the first sites going online this summer. This followed bill H271, which set up the licensing system. Many more online casinos, sportsbooks and (eventually) poker rooms are expected to join the current operators.
- West Virginia Casinos: This is the most recent state to pass online gambling legislation. While sports betting is online already, the framework and rules for licensing casinos are expected in the summer of 2020.
- Michigan Casinos: Michigan’s online casinos launched Jan. 2021 with nearly a dozen online gambling sites going live at the same time. It did not disappoint either, with more than 200 online slot games available for real money and free play.
Many more states are moving toward making online casinos legal. Some are going with sports betting only. Others are legalizing all the different gambling formats, with casinos, poker and sports betting in the same legislation.
I only want to play for fun
No problem! Below is a list of some of our favorite Vegas-style slots. In total, we have over 200 of the best free online slot games which you can play absolutely free!
All Slot Games
If you are a fan of Vegas games, then you’ll find several ways of enjoying slots online for free and for real money.
Many popular titles by the biggest and best slot software creators have been adapted for online play.
You can’t entirely re-create that live experience of the huge cabinets with surround sound and special effects. But what you will find is the same gameplay, bonus rounds and, in many cases, those same life-changing jackpots.
The most accessible slot machines to bring online include classics, e.g., Triple Red Hot 7’s and Lobstermania. These all play out within a simple grid for the reels, without the need for too many special effects. You can enjoy Cleopatra, Texas Tea or Quick Hits action on your iPhone / Android or your desktop computer.
With some of the tallest cabinet games, think Kronos Unleashed, Heidi’s Bier House, or the newer Michael Jackson-themed slots. You’ll get the narrow band of the reels on your screen to fit in everything. While this is not quite the same as the big-screened originals, these games can still be a lot of fun.
In the world of free online slot games, few ideas are truly original ideas for long. As soon as a theme, novel gameplay concept or bonus game gets popular, many slot studios copy it.
Examples include the famous Buffalo game by Aristocrat slots. You’ll find almost every studio has a similar title featuring Native American wildlife, many with similar cows running toward you.
The games Cleopatra, Lightning Link and Wheel of Fortune have also been copied many times over.
For players, this is good news.
For those times you cannot find the original Vegas slots you are looking for online, you’ll find games that closely resemble them. Who knows, those “copies” may even have an extra feature or two that make them even more enjoyable.
How much money do slot machines make?
One would correctly infer that if the ratio of slot machines in casinos over time has changed, so has their impact on a gaming establishment’s revenue model.
In 2016, nearly two-thirds of Nevada gaming revenue came from slot machines. That’s a monthly average of around $600 million of the total $950 million statewide. As recently as 1984, slot revenue represented 53 percent of total gaming revenue in Nevada. In the 1950s and 1960s, slot revenue represented an even smaller portion of total gaming revenue.
In some, if not most, jurisdictions, slot revenue contributes the majority share of gaming revenue.
There are many racinos across the US. Racinos are gaming establishments traditionally within race tracks but have added slot machines and sometimes live poker. Jurisdictional regulations prohibit playing blackjack, roulette, craps, or other house-banked table games.
Furthermore, one could claim that as horse and greyhound racing lose their popularity, slot revenue becomes even more valuable. These venues attract unfamiliar gamblers with offers of dining and live events, such as concerts and shows. Thus, chances are greater a guest inserts a bill into a slot machine as opposed to sitting down at a live poker table or making a race wager. Sticking currency into a machine and hitting a button is a lot less complicated to a novice than making a race wager.
The UNLV Center for Gaming Research studies the popular racinos in Florida. At Pompano Park, for one, the racino saw revenue (excluding over $2 million in promo credits) of over $147 million in the month of November 2017 alone.
Net revenue, which is the dollar amount retained by slot machines after jackpot payouts, for November was $10.9 million. The hold percentage for the month was 7.4 percent. This is nine-tenths of one percent higher than the state average. With a modest gaming floor (slots downstairs, live poker and race windows upstairs), the slot machine revenue surpasses the revenue of race wagering and live poker combined.
Different kinds of machines used in land-based slots
Broadly speaking, there are two different types of slot machines: Class II and Class III. The latter are “Vegas style” machines. They work with a random number generator (RNG). These are the most common type of slot machine in most commercial casinos.
Class II machines are also known technically as “Virtual Lottery Terminals” (VLT) and are pre-programmed. American Gaming Systems (AGS) features many Class II games.
The key difference is that a Class III machine is constantly generating random numbers. The number generated upon a player hitting “spin” will determine whether 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. In fact, it can be difficult for a 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 slot machines at tribal casinos located 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 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 — 46 run by more than 200 tribes across the country. These represent a significant gambling economy in the tens of billions.
Typically, you’ll find Class II slot machines 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.)
The Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut is the biggest tribal casino in the country. It boasts over 4,700 slot machines. 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. This makes it by far the largest collection of land-based slots in a tribal casino. (The brand also boasts Mohegan Sun online casino.)
Slot machines 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% of the income of an average US casino.
Outside of commercial casinos or tribal casinos, you may find slot machines at other entertainment venues, such as racetracks or adult-orientated arcades. Whether slot machines are allowed outside of casinos varies from state to state.
Gambling law in the US is somewhat complicated. Gambling is federally legal but it is 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.
Is it legal to own a used slot machine?
Whether you can own a slot machine legally varies from state to state. Most states will allow this, with varying degree of approval required.
Only Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin completely ban owning slot machines.
Keep in mind that running an unlicensed gambling venue is illegal everywhere. The penalties vary, though the deterrents are usually strong.
Having said that, there is a lively market for both electromechanical and video slot machines that have been retired from live casinos. Enthusiasts often restore these; they vary from the old-school, three-reel, single win-line games to classic titles like the early Cleopatra slots.
It is also possible to have the original cabinets fitted with new monitors for video slots. Most slot machines are set up so that you can play them for free, without the need to insert coins.
The most common restriction for owning used slot machines is age. Guidelines vary between ages 18 to 21 years (the usual legal gambling age in your state), though you must be 30 years old in Maine.
There can also be restrictions based on the age of the machine or registration requirements that ensure state governments track the ownership of machines.
The in and out of a slot machine
Slot machines are very simple, which is why they are so popular at land-based casinos and USA 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 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’ll be able to see the value of the different symbols on your game of choice by consulting the slot paytable. Have a look at this page to see how slot machines work.
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. In 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 win.
In real money and free online slots, you’ll find the majority of games have at least 20 paylines and often many more. This is because the paylines in online slot machines 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’ll be able to find out the number and shape of the paylines by accessing the paytable menu. Many games have fixed paylines. This means 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. These are wild symbols and scatter symbols.
Wild symbols act exactly like wild cards in certain poker games. They take the place of any other symbol. This means that four consecutive symbols followed by a wild symbol count 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. They can often pay a win for just one or two symbols. They usually pay scattered, which is where they get their name. This means 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.
Slot machine bonus rounds
Feature rounds, or slot 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: receive a free spin, a predetermined number of risk-free chances to score payline wins.
- Pick and win: you are presented with a series of blind choices. Choose from a number of prizes including multipliers, instant wins, and other bonuses.
- Instant win: immediately receive a cash prize.
- Re-spin: your last spin will get a “do-over,” often with additional parks.
- Mini-game: 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. These include winning combinations being held and extra wilds added to the reels.
Progressive jackpot slots
The biggest real money slot prizes and slot machine wins pay out via progressive jackpots. Progressive jackpots are so called because the jackpot increases gradually with each wager from 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’s triggered. Then, one lucky player wins it all. At the time of writing, the largest online slots jackpot win in history is $19.6 million. The largest land-based slot win was in Las Vegas in 2003. An anonymous Los Angeles gambler won over $39.7 million.
What is the payback percentage on slots?
Payback refers to the average percentage return gamblers can expect to see on their slot play.
In Nevada, the law requires slot payback percentage to be 75% or higher. Because of the competition in much of Nevada, slot payback percentages are rarely below 90%.
In Arizona, where tribal gaming establishments are the only places to find legal slot games, casinos must maintain a minimum return of 80%.
The Seminole Tribe dominates gambling in Florida, and similar to Arizona, the tribe does not release payback information on any of its gaming machines. Applied to the dozens of non-tribal establishments, Florida regulations require all gaming machines to pay back a minimum of 85%. Most of these racinos, like Pompano Park, Gulfstream, Casino Miami, or Mardi Gras return 90% or more throughout their respective properties.
Payback gems are typically found in small places. Towns like Wendover or Sparks, Nevada have machines that typically payback 95 to 96%. Mississippi is a great destination for a high percentage payback as well.
How to win real money playing slots online
So what are the odds of winning? Is there a legal, scientific way to gain an edge playing online slots and slot tournaments for real money? Though the preconceived notion is that programming makes the games random and unbeatable, this is not the complete story.
Slot machines with a progressive payout structure — jackpots that increase with coin-in — are either programmed to have to hit at a certain value or they increase in value indefinitely until someone hits the respective jackpot.
What does progressive play mean for slot players? As progressive values increase, house advantage moves in favor of the player. A progressive machine with a base payback of 94% may become a 98% machine if the progressive is high enough. In a few rare and special cases, progressives can get high enough to turn that Vegas style-slot machine into a neutral expectation (100% payback) game, or even a positive proposition for players.
Using rewards and comps
Though slots are not typically thought of as a form of gambling where a player can have an advantage, slot clubs or players cards, essentially casino loyalty programs, are the key to player advantages through promotions, cash back, comps, and other perks.
Think about finding a special machine with progressives high enough where the casino does not have an advantage. Or if they do, it is only a few one-hundredths of a percent.
Factor in the equity of winning a brand new luxury car in a drawing, earning comps for free meals and hotel rooms, cruises, and other luxuries with real cash value. Some loyalty programs may even convert points earned from slot play into real cash at an advantageous rate. Add in all of these conditions, and a once-negative expectation experience can become a lucrative one.
Generally, slot club or loyalty programs at casinos have tiers. This means that once the progressive jackpot hits, making the machine no longer advantageous to play, a player will retain his/her loyalty status for an extended period of time. In a corporate gaming world where single companies own several properties around the country and even around the globe, having the higher tier status continues to pay dividends.
Slot edges have changed over time with computers. An example from a few decades back is card pulling. A player could wait until the reels lined up in a way that opens up a bonus round of sorts — digital extras that award free games, free spins, or other chances to win without having to pay for additional movement of the machine and then pull their players card from the machine.
These cards keep track of coin-in and wins and losses. Casino management and marketing view these to determine the value of a patron to the casino. A player’s goal is to appear to be a bigger loser in hopes of preferential treatment from casinos.
Technology at the time would often register that the player spent the money to spin the machine. However, once they pulled the card, the player account would not be updated to include the result from the activity of the bonus round. Slot manufacturers have long since eliminated this opportunity for player advantage. Of course, that doesn’t mean that older versions of slot machines can’t be found.
Types of slot machine players
While everyone may have their own idea of a typical slot player, it’d be a bit foolish to think such a popular game doesn’t have lasting appeal to a wide range of people. Still, some general categories of players can be observed.
Based on the types of machines that exist, there are four main groups.
When somebody refers to a “slot player,” this is likely the person that comes to mind. Enthusiasts enjoy slot machines entirely on their own merits. It’s a fun experience. The flashing lights, bells, spinning reels, and general casino ambiance, win or lose, all amount to a legitimately good time. And it’s that good time, rather than the allure of the wager, that represents their reason for playing.
Enthusiasts aren’t necessarily focused on a machine’s specific theme because it’s the slot experience in and of itself that provides relaxing afternoons and fun nights out. These customers look at their wagers as money they’re spending. Similar to spending money on going bowling or to the movies, their money is being used in exchange for entertainment.
They don’t chase the big win and don’t risk the big loss because they’re not truly looking to gamble. Penny and nickel machines, or other low stakes games, are where enthusiasts get the most for their dollar. Of course, everybody appreciates having a few extra dollars in their pockets, but for enthusiasts, that’d just be a little extra icing on the cake.
Perhaps the direct antithesis to an enthusiast is a gambler. Gamblers are all about the money. They are trying to win big and might even put big money at risk to achieve that.
A good time for them is derived from the very act of gambling and, in the end, will usually depend on whether they’ve won money. Consequently, their choices of game and machine will be dictated by where they feel they can win.
The specific theme of the slot machine is even less of a focal point for gamblers than enthusiasts. Rather, they choose what machines to play based on how much money they’re willing to risk in order to win.
Where an enthusiast is simply “spending” money for entertainment, gamblers are either winning or losing when they play. As a result, they often prefer higher stakes machines because they know that’s where their chances to win are best.
Just like enthusiasts, experiencers are in it for the entertainment value. They’ll have a good time at a slot machine regardless whether they’ve won money.
The difference with experiencers is that it’s not purely a slot machine itself that provides the fun, but rather the experience of the specific theme or game. It’s the nostalgic effects of hearing the music to “Pure Imagination” while helping Willy Wonka find a successor to run his chocolate factory.
It’s the excitement of seeing Howie Mandel instruct them to open another case, just as he would contestants on their favorite game show. In the end, they’ve experienced something sensorial and referential.
While an enthusiast or gambler might choose to sit at their machine of choice for hours, an experiencer is more apt to play a variety of machines. As long as the theme or game falls in line with their interests, they’ll give that machine a try.
Seekers are the most selective of all slot players. Like gamblers, their main concern is winning money. But they’re not willing to risk as much to get there. Instead, they look to capitalize on specific money-making opportunities.
Since it’s the perceived value of the opportunity that’s important, a seeker will almost exclusively stick to the machines that provide that particular opportunity. The gameplay and the theme are unimportant. Slot machines with large jackpots, improved payout percentages, or special casino promotions (such as increased comps) are good examples of these opportunities. An unusually large progressive jackpot is almost certain to attract even the most selective of seekers.
In hoping to avoid losing too much money while trying to take advantage of great opportunities, seekers will usually forego the higher limit machines. They, like the enthusiasts and experiencers, are not truly drawn in by the gamble itself.
Still, especially if there’s a life-changing jackpot to be won, they’ll search low and high to find their great opportunity.
Evolution of slots
For many casual gamblers, the evolution of slot machines might feel anti-climactic, but the contrast of the slot machine of 1918 and 2018 is as great as that of the automobile.
Gamblers can wager in many multiples and denominations across a factor of 100, or even more, paylines. The nickel slot machine in 1918 took only five cents per spin. Today’s nickel slot games might cost a player $40 per spin to have the potential to earn the maximum payout.
Single machines have the capability to accept a wide range of coin denominations and wager sizes. High-limit rooms in casinos around the world have slot machines where gamblers can risk $500 or more on a single spin. One can even visit a $5,000 per credit slot at the Aria and Wynn casinos in Las Vegas.
Alas, only as a nostalgic gimmick are real coins accepted and disbursed from a slot machine. Nearly every slot machine manufactured after 1993 uses “ticket in ticket out” (TITO). The smoky depths of antiquated Downtown Las Vegas casinos are where classic slot aficionados can find a few slots with hoppers full of coins.
Where slot machines started
Charles Fey, a Bavarian-born mechanic and machinist, is generally credited with inventing the first slot machine at the end of the 19th century in San Francisco.
He solved a problem in the slot machine’s precursor by simplifying the design. He also created a structure for automatic payouts. In the 1890s, a popular gaming machine existed with cards where players would insert a nickel (comparable to $1 today). They would then try to make a good poker hand from the drum of cards.
These machines were novelties in some bars, but they weren’t intended as full-fledged gambling devices. Since there was no mechanism for automatic payouts, each establishment had its own prizes and prize structure. Often they would load 50 cards, instead of the full 52, into the machine to create an inherent house advantage, usually to make a royal flush less probable.
The first gambling machine 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 50 card faces and was based on poker ranks. This tradition continues today, with the majority of online slot machine games featuring A, K, Q, J, 10, and 9 symbols on their reels.
In 1899, Fey devised a much simpler three-reel game. It had an automatic mechanism to pay out all possible winning combinations. Known as the Liberty Bell, it proved an immediate hit.
Early electromechanical slots
Bally invented the first fully electromechanical slot machine in 1963. Money Honey was the first machine able to give automatic payouts of up to 500 coins without human assistance.
Nowadays, the majority of slot machines are electronic video slots. Fortune Coin Co. is known as the father of these games. 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 real money online slots today.
The future of slot machines in the US
Slot machines will continue to be a cornerstone of casino gaming. The brick-and-mortar casino landscape is constantly developing to attract millennial gamblers, who appear disinterested in traditional gambling compared to their parents and grandparents.
Slot manufacturers are perpetually reviewing new ideas for added features, bonus rounds, free spins, and interactive media in order to make slot machine gaming more appealing.