How to Win at Slots

How do slot machines work, myths and RNG

There are thousands of slots at casinos and online, with new slot titles being dreamt up all the time. While millions of people enjoy these games, few know how they work behind the scenes. On this page, we explain how slot machines work and the essential playing concepts that can make a difference for your bankroll.

Slots have evolved drastically from the first mechanical three-reel devices. These days, most slots are electronic, showing animated symbols on HD screens. Many have elaborate themes, some tie-in with popular music, TV or movie franchises. Bonus games might vary widely, though the underlying technology based on random number generator (RNG) software is standard for all games.

Below, you’ll find out more about how RNG software works, key factors like return-to-player (RTP) percentages and the many varieties of slots available.

Also, we share how to take advantage of bonuses and loyalty schemes to get the best bang for your bucks from slot play. If you’re looking for a spot to play slots online, we recommend the list below. Most of the casinos offer games similar to those you find in your local casino.

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How does the RNG software work on a slot machine

Each time you press the spin button, the slot machine will generate a random sequence of numbers that determine the outcome of that spin. The RNG happens independently every single time you play.

While it can seem that sessions go in streaks, this is not the case. Each spin is an independent and random event. If you had hit the spin button a split second later, the RNG would have given you a different outcome. Both online slots and live casino slots use RNG software.

Auditing companies test the software to ensure the spins are fair and that (over the long run), the returns from each game are equal to the published amount.

Mechanical slots use a different system, which involves “stops” on each reel. Lower paying symbols will have a lot of stops, which means they occur (along with blanks) more frequently. Those with higher-paying, jackpot symbols will have the lowest number of stops, making it rare to line them up.

What is the RTP percentage?

Slots return most of the money put into them to players; however, this varies from 90% to 97%. You will often find “return to player %” in the help information.

The primary factor affecting the RTP of a slot is its denomination, which is the size of your stake per line. The range goes from penny slots up to dollars. While the stake might be the same (30 lines on a 10 cent slot equals $3, and three lines on a $1 slot also equals $3), the higher the denomination, the better the returns and all else being equal.

While this is a useful guideline, it is not enough information on its own to check whether a slot is worth playing.

How volatile are slot machines?

What you can’t tell from the RTP% is how volatile an individual slot is. Some games give you regular, smaller payouts, while others pay big prizes though do it infrequently. This is known as the “variance” of a game.

The highest variance slots have big jackpots.

If someone wins a million occasionally, then the overall returns (to non-jackpot winning players) naturally need to be smaller to balance this. You’ll find a lot of casino slots that pay small prizes of less than your spin amount, as well as bigger wins. These lower your variance, though not necessarily the overall returns.

Best payout slot machines and online casinos

Slots
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RankingSlot machinePayout percentage
1888 Fortunes96%
2Wheel of Fortune Triple Extreme Spin92%
3Lucky Larry's Lobstermainia 292.84%
4Little Green Men Nova Wilds92.04%
5Double Jackpot Bullseye88%
6Solar Disc92.05%
7Wheel of Fortune Hawaiian Gateway93.32%
8Smokin' 77788%
9Red White & Blue92.54%
10Butterfly Staxx92.06%
11Jumanji96.33%
12Divine Fortune96.60%
13Spartacus95.94%
14Da Vinci Diamonds94.94%
15Da Vinci Diamonds Dual Play93.38%
16Red Alert88%
17Double Diamond95.44%
18Red Hot Tamales92.67%
19Cleopatra95.02%
20Double Stacks 96.10%
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Getting the most from slot bonuses and promotions

Both live and online casinos have bonuses and promotions to attract new players. Taking advantage of these is a great way to top off your bankroll.

Live casinos offer free play or matched play when you sign up for their loyalty schemes. You can then track your gameplay and get further rewards depending on the amount you gamble.

Online casinos offer a greater range of bonuses. Look out for some of the following:

  • Match Deposit Bonuses: The 100% match bonuses based on your first deposit are at most online casinos. Some are at 200% or more.
  • No-Deposit Bonuses: Many state-regulated casinos in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will give you bonus cash to try their games for merely signing up. These bonuses are usually in the $10-$30 range.
  • Rebates on Losses: An alternative incentive is to offer bonus credits if you lose your initial deposit. The terms of these deals (for example, playthrough) can vary widely.
  • Free Spins: These can be linked to a deposit, or be completely free. You will usually have to wager any money you win a specified number of times.
  • Tiered Loyalty Schemes: Online slots enjoy loyalty rewards as well as their live counterparts. You’ll get bigger and better bonuses the more you play.

How to win at slots – Don’t fall for slot machine myths

Over the years, many tales have emerged regarding slots. If you visit any casino, you’ll find people trying to win at slots by rubbing or tapping the screen for luck or saying that a particular title is their “lucky game.”

Below are 5 common myths that people believe will help them win:

  1. Due to Pay: Slots work by generating random numbers every time you hit the spin button. Except for special games such as “must pay by” jackpots, a game doesn’t have any memory of the outcome of previous spins. If you hear someone saying that a game is “due to pay,” treat this as nonsense.
  2. Secret Hacks: Contrary to what you might find online, there are aren’t any secret hacks or systems to beat slot games. If there were a guaranteed way to win thousands, this would not be on sale for $30 on some shady website.
  3. Kill Switch: Many players fear that the casino “sees” them winning and hits a hidden switch to have the game take their money. While the payout percentages of a game may be changeable, this is not something that can happen without a full reset. What players here are experiencing is natural variance.
  4. Playing with a Loyalty Card Reduces Wins: Some people claim they do better without their card. This comes under the selective memory category; the software-controlled random outcome and predetermined RTP can’t be changed by a card that tracks you for loyalty rewards.
  5. My Friend, the Winner: Conversations about slot play often results in claims of a lucky friend consistently winning on them. Over any reasonable sample size, this is simply incorrect. Possibly those small losses are easily forgotten, and the big wins easily remembered and shared.

Playing slots online

Regulation for online gambling is rapidly expanding on a state-by-state basis. For most states, only sports betting is currently on the statute books.

If you live in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you will be able to enjoy online casino games, too. These casinos have hundreds of slot options. They range from versions of classic casino titles to brand-new games developed for online use.

However, if you live outside of a regulated state, you can play online slots legally via sweepstakes gambling sites. These include the popular Chumba Casino and LuckyLand Slots. Both use laws designed for sweepstakes contests (used by many businesses for marketing) to let you enjoy colorful and unique online slot games.

In order to play, you buy “gold coins.” Gold coins are for entertainment only and don’t have any redeemable value. The casinos give you free sweeps cash alongside this purchase. You use this to play slots and can swap any winnings for dollars and cash out to your bank account.

Sweepstakes is a popular model that works in most states. You can even get sweeps cash for free. Chumba Casino gives players $2 simply for registering. Both casinos have promotions on social media and give you extra sweeps coins for mailing a letter, too.

New slots are being created all the time. As technology improves, new formats, new gameplay and ever more immersive production become possible. Each generation of games sees classics emerge.

Here are some popular slots, which have stood the test of time:

  • Electro-Mechanical: Classics include Wheel of Fortune, Top Dollar and Pinball. The three-reel format remains popular today, with some up-to-date games combining three-reel formats with interactive bonus games.
  • Classic Video Slots: Early five-reel video slots that have remained popular include Ancient Egypt-themed Cleopatra range, Texas Tea, Quick Hits and Aristocrat’s Buffalo games. These classics are often updated, with new versions keeping the themes and adding new gameplay.
  • Multimedia Slots: These days, slots often have themes around popular TV shows, movies and music stars. Popular games include the Walking Dead series, Michael Jackson-themed games and the Lord of the Rings.
  • Slots with Huge Jackpots: The biggest jackpot slots you’ll find in casinos are the MegaBucks range in Las Vegas. The prize pool for these is seeded at $10 million and often goes higher than that. Many casino slots around the country now have prizes above $1 million.
  • Online Slots: There are thousands of online slots. Among them are casino slot games that have been adapted for online play. Most are created for online play by various studios. They include huge jackpot slots, including Mega Moolah and Mega Fortune, plus classics like ThunderStruck II and Da Vinci Diamonds.

Slot bonus rounds and on-reel features

While the slots of the past were all about lining up those “7s” or bars, today’s games pay their biggest prizes via bonus features. Creative slot studios are coming up with entertaining variations of these games every month. They can include on-reel features, e.g., expanding wild symbols or separate bonus games.

Here are some of the types of bonus games to look out for:

  • Wheel Bonuses: While mechanical wheels that tower above casino slots are still being produced, there are also electronic versions. The format started with the famous Wheel of Fortune games from IGT. These days, you can win jackpots and bonus features as well as cash prizes.
  • Electro-Mechanical Slots with Bonus Games: Reel slots with picks games were early examples of innovation. These include Pinball and Top Dollar, and basic pick games that use lights on the top section of the cabinet.
  • Free Spins Bonuses: Many slots have free spins, which can come with multipliers, expanding reels, extra wild symbols and sometimes reveal systems. Retrigger your free spins and you could see those wins keep accumulating.
  • Hold and Spin Bonuses: Pioneered by Aristocrat with their Lightning Link range, hold and spin swaps regular symbols for balls (in different designs), giving cash prizes and progressives. Each time you hit a new prize, you reset to three spins. There are now many variations of this concept.
  • Jackpot Picks Games: Picking tiles or objects from screens for cash prizes or jackpots can be made into many entertaining bonus games. The standard system is to match three jackpots and win that prize. This system also decides what kind of bonus game you will receive.

Final thoughts

Slots are elaborate machines these days. Many have multiple on-reel features, impressive animations and second-screen bonus games.

When you strip away all the fancy features, slots work similarly. RNG software generates a string each time you hit spin, and this determines how the symbols land and how much you win or if you win at all. Returns are calibrated in advance to hit a specific percentage of the money put in.

The payout percentage is usually between 90%-97%. Games are tested over millions of spins to ensure that the real returns match the percentage that is published. What is harder to judge is the variance of a game, which describes whether the payouts come in bigger though less frequent chunks or smaller (more regular) ones.

There are a lot of slots to choose from in live casinos and online. With plenty of competition between the studios to create the next big thing, those of us that enjoy these games can only benefit.

Slot Machine FAQ

Are online slots legal?

There are regulated online casinos in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Outside of these states, you can play slots via sweepstakes casinos like Chumba Casino or LuckyLand Slots.

Are slot machines rigged?

Slots will make money for the house over time. You have a fair shot at winning money based on the return-to-player percentage of the game and variance levels. Slots are not coded to start you off winning and then take all your money. Any perception of this is simply the brain’s attempt to fit a narrative to random events.

Which slot machines have the best return?

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the denomination of a slot, the better the return to player. As an example, Nevada breaks down the take from different slot denominations. These show that penny slots hold around 8% to 9%, while games in the $25 bracket have holds closer to 4%.

Do online casinos create their own games?

No, slots are created by independent studios for both live and online casinos. Online, these include IGT, Bally and NetEnt. These studios then license their titles to many online casinos. With slots now available via your browser window, there are many new and innovative smaller studios now producing games.

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