The online slot machine might be the most wonderful or the most horrible thing ever invented. If you own an online casino, games like these are your bread and butter. If you’re a slots player, these might be the bane of your existence.
Like most things in casino gambling, though, online slot machines are nothing to fear. They’re something to understand, though—that’s the first step in becoming an educated, sensible slots player.
The purpose of this post is to provide you with that education and good sense with a series of information-rich nuggets specific to online slot machine games.
You can ignore any and all of this advice, as long as the advice herein informs your playing experience.
1- DO Give Online Slot Machines a Try
An online slot machine works almost exactly like a slot machine game in a brick and mortar casino. There’s no real advantage to playing a slot machine in a traditional casino go when compared to playing online. Some people are under the mistaken impression that most online casinos are somehow “rigged” against the players so you can’t win.
While some online casinos MIGHT be rigged in such a way, most aren’t.
There’s no reason for the casinos to “rig” these games, because they’re “rigged” already.
On any slot machine—online or land-based, mechanical or video—you have a specific number of paying combinations and a probability that each of those combinations will come up. You also have a specific payout for each of those combinations.
When you multiply the probabilities by the payout amounts, you get an expected return for that outcome. Add all those together, and you get a theoretical payout percentage for that machine. That expected payout is always less than 100% by design.
For example, you might play a slot machine game where you get a payout of 0 on 60% of all the spins, an even money payout on 20% of your spins, and profitable results on the other 20%. You might only be able to hit the top jackpot of 1000 coins 0.05% of the time.
But the payouts are always lower than the probability of receiving the payout.
You don’t have to rig such a game.
In the long run, the math behind the game takes care of the casinos’ winnings for them.
They don’t have to cheat.
So, sure, if you enjoy slot machines, give online slot machines a try for real money and see how you like the experience.
2- DON’T Ignore the Other Online Casino Games
People have varying reasons for enjoying slot machine games. Sometimes they like playing for the big jackpots that are available on such games. Sometimes they just enjoy not having to deal with other people when they gamble. Some of them don’t like making decisions.
Depending on what your motivation is, you can usually find an online casino game that meets that need but with a lower house edge.
What’s the house edge?
It’s just the percentage of each bet that the casino expects to win from you on average, over the long run.
If a slot machine game has a payback percentage of 95%, the house edge is 5%. (That would be an exceptionally good game, too, by the way.)
Over enough spins, the casino would expect to win a nickel for every dollar you gamble through the machine.
That doesn’t sound like much until you consider that the average casino gambler makes 600 spins per hour.
Other online casino games, like blackjack, might have a house edge as low as 0.5%. In that case, your average loss per hour drops significantly, even if you’re playing for higher stakes.
Assume you’re playing 200 hands of blackjack per hour at $5 per hand. That’s $1000 per hour in action. With a house edge of only 0.5%, your expected average loss is only $5/hour on that game.
If you get as much entertainment value from blackjack as you do slot machines—and many people do—you’re better off playing blackjack.
3- DO Consider Playing for Real Money
I know people who play free casino games—including free slot machines—on the internet. I’ve never understood the appeal of that. I watched a roommate of mine spend hours spinning the reels of some nonsensical animated slot machine game that never paid off ANY real money.
I do understand that such a game costs nothing to play, which is cool from one perspective.
But the entire point of gambling is to try to win big, right?
Or even to win small?
If it’s impossible to win any money, what’s the point of engaging in the activity in the first place.
It’s like having a bet on the Super Bowl that doesn’t involve any kind of money at all. It’s not really a bet if there’s not something of value on the line. We might bet that I’ll wash your car if my team wins, but that’s still something of value.
With nothing of value on the line, you’re just making a prediction, not a bet.
And what possible fun could there be in predicting how a slot machine spin will turn out if you have no money on the line?
In fact, I don’t see much point in playing any kind of gambling game for free and without putting any money at risk, because that makes it impossible to win any real money.
If I’m going to do that, I’d rather read a novel or watch a good movie.
4- DON’T Plan on Winning Big
I don’t care how lucky you feel or how strong a hunch you have, you absolutely cannot count on winning big when playing any kind of online casino game for real money. If you need that money for something else, don’t gamble with it. That’s just reckless and dangerous.
Sure, you might win big. It happens all the time. If it didn’t, no one would play slot machines.
In fact, there’s nothing wrong with HOPING you’ll win big.
That’s part of the point.
But you can’t plan on it or count on it. The odds are against you to begin with.
And no silly system of stopping and starting based on your previous results or your gut feeling about the next spin is going to change the fundamental math behind the probability of the game.
And you definitely can’t plan on winning big if you need big money to take care of some kind of emergency. Don’t forget that you’re having to risk money of your own to try to win big.
If you need big money for an emergency, you’re better off not risking that money at an online casino.
Instead, find a relative who’ll loan you the money. Or talk to a friend about it. Or take a second job. Sell something at the pawn shop.
Gambling your money to take care of an emergency bill is a terrible idea, because you’re probably NOT going to win.
5- DO Take that Trip to Las Vegas
Don’t get so involved in your online gambling hobby that you skip a trip to Las Vegas—or any other gambling destination, for that matter. I’m a big fan of gambling on the internet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy gambling in a real casino.
You can find so many things to do besides just play slot machines in Las Vegas, too. They have several cool museums, and they also have a staggering amount of shopping available at the multiple shopping malls in the city.
They’re also the entertainment capital of the world. It doesn’t matter what kind of entertainment you prefer, either—you can find it in Las Vegas. Sure, you’ve got some of the greatest singers in the world playing Las Vegas.
But you can also see world-class magicians and stand-up comics, too. The celebrity impersonators in Las Vegas are 2nd to none, too.
The dining and restaurant scene in Las Vegas will also blow your mind. You might have the impression that it’s all about cheap buffets and cheaper hot dogs and breakfasts. Both of those kinds of dining exist and are popular in Sin City, but this oasis in the desert has so much more to offer.
Some of the best restaurants in the United States are in Las Vegas.
If you like to gamble, don’t limit yourself to just internet gambling. Take that trip to Las Vegas and enjoy what the city has to offer.
6- DON’T Get Too Excited about the Deposit Bonus that the Casinos Offer Slots Players
Most people who gamble online have experienced the thrill of getting an online casino bonus. Most of the time, this bonus consists of free money that matches the amount you deposit at a certain percentage.
Here’s an example:
You sign up at an online casino that offers you up to $200 in bonus money as a 200% match of your deposit. This means that whatever you deposit, you get a bonus of 200% of that amount.
Deposit $25, and you get a $50 bonus. Deposit $50, and you get a $100 bonus. Deposit $100, and you get a $200 bonus.
Since it’s “up to $200,” that’s the biggest bonus you can get, even if you make a bigger deposit like $200 or $300.
It sounds like something for nothing, and in a sense, it is.
But you can’t just cash that money out at will. The casinos are wise to that trick. They attach wagering requirements to these kinds of offers.
Here’s how that works:
You deposit $100 and get a $200 bonus, so you have $300 in your account to play with.
But the casino requires a 35X playthrough requirement before you can cash ou.
This means you must make 35 X $300 in wagers before being allowed to withdraw any money. That’s $10,500 in wagering before you can cash out.
If you’re wagering $1.25 per spin, that’s 8400 spins on a slot machine game. If you’re wagering $5 per spin, it’s only 2100 spins.
But you can also estimate the amount you’re expected to lose, mathematically, on average on that kind of wagering. You just multiply the house edge by the amount wagered.
Most slot machine games have a house edge of at least 7%. That’s the amount the casino expects to win. (The flip side of that is the payback percentage, which is the amount the casino expects to pay back to the gambler over time—in this example, it would be 93%.)
7% of $10,500 is $735.
If you start with $300, and you have mathematically expected losses of $735, the casino comes out ahead in the long run.
Some slots players will get lucky and hit a big jackpot early in their play, but most of the recipients of a special offer like this are still going to lose money in the long run.
There’s not anything wrong with that, by the way. Everyone knows that casinos are in business to make money.
It only becomes a problem when you think you’re going to make easy money from such a deal.
That’s NOT how an online casino bonus works.
7- DO Play the Free Games
I was talking with my friend Trevor this morning about this, and we had a big laugh. He’s recently been playing poker freerolls at a local bar called John’s Tavern.
We were discussing the virtues of freeroll poker, and the downsides of it. Trevor seems to really enjoy these free poker games, but I like to play poker for money.
Then we started talking about free slot machine games.
Trevor is a big fan of the slot machine games at the Winstar Casino, and I can promise you that none of those games are free.
He mentioned that his girlfriend, Lorrie, though, LOVES to play free slots on her computer.
I don’t see the appeal, but I know this:
If you want to get the most action for your money, you’ll spend some of your time playing free slot machine games. After all, you don’t have to risk any money to play these games.
Trevor and I also talked about how some sites with free slot machine games give you points for playing. They then offer a weekly or monthly prize depending on your points.
If you’re going to play the free slots, I’d prefer you play one like this, but I can think of at least one other legitimate, worthwhile use of a free slot machine game:
You can try the slot machine games at a specific casino or using a specific software and decide whether you enjoy the games at that property or not.
It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re going to enjoy the experience at a casino before depositing real money there.
8- DON’T Spend a Lot of Money on Progressive Slot Machines
Progressive slot machines are some of the worst games in the casino. They present an interesting dichotomy, though:
The higher the jackpot grows, the higher the payback percentage becomes. This also lowers the house edge.
But they’re still one of the worst bets in the casino, and here’s why:
When you only have a 1 in a million probability of hitting a jackpot, expected value and payback percentage become meaningless.
Yes, the progressive jackpot continues to grow as you play. That’s one of the charms of this kind of game.
But guess where the money comes from to fuel that ever-growing jackpot?
If you said it comes directly from the payback percentage, give yourself a gold star.
Progressive slot machines have a higher house edge just because of the progressive jackpot.
And also, even when the jackpot is big enough that the game becomes a positive expectation game, it’s practically meaningless because of the low probability that you’ll ever hit that jackpot.
Is it okay to occasionally take a shot at a progressive jackpot? Sure.
But spending inordinate amounts of time playing progressive slots just means you’re going to lose your money faster than you expected.
9- DO Budget Your Money Appropriately
You could include this “do” in any gambling article, but it’s especially important to remember if you’re a slot machine player.
That’s because machine gambling is more addictive than other kinds of gambling.
I’ve seen video poker called the “crack” of casino gambling, but I don’t think that’s exclusive to video poker at all. Any gambling machine shortens the time between stimulus and response, which fires off the endorphins that make gambling so addictive.
So be sure that if you’re going to gamble on slot machines, you set a budget for it beforehand.
Then stick with your budget.
If you’re unable to stick with your gambling budget, especially when it comes to slot machines, you might be one of those gamblers who should forego slot machines altogether.
10- DON’T Gamble It All Back Every Time
I’m not a fan of stop loss limits or win goals, but I also know gamblers who gamble back everything they’ve won every time they’ve been to the casino. You know the type. They sit down at a slot machine game, and they win $1000 early in the evening.
But then they lose it all back, along with their original stake, before leaving the casino.
One potential use for a win goal or a stop loss limit is to ensure that at least some of the time—even if it’s only 20% of the time—you get to leave the casino a winner.
Quitting while you’re ahead is tough, though, because you’re probably always wondering at what point you should quit. How far ahead do you have to be for it to be smart to quit while you’re ahead?
The truth is, that when you’re playing a negative expectation game like a slot machine, quitting while you’re ahead is ALWAYS a good idea—even if you’re only a little bit ahead.
I know of one strategy that makes sense to me. Sit down and play the slot machines. When you get a big win early on, cash out, and set aside your original stake. Don’t touch it.
Now you’re “playing with the house’s money.”
(That’s not actually true, but it’s a valid perspective for our purposes. Once you’ve won, that money’s yours.)
You should also take half your winnings and put that in your pocket.
Now you can continue to play, and you’re guaranteed a profit equal to half that amount you won early on.
You can continue to do that as you play. Every time you’re ahead by $200, cash out, set aside $100, then play the remaining $100.
It doesn’t have to be $100. The amount is up to you.
The trick is to just get out while you’re ahead. How you do that is up to you.
Since slot machines are the most profitable game for the casino, you might be wise to avoid those games altogether. After all, if the game is that profitable for the casino, it’s certain to be costly for the gamblers.
But where’s the fun in that?
You can have a lot of fun playing the slot machines if you can learn how to do so mindfully and responsibly.
The tips I’ve offered in this little blog post are far from the last word on the subject of slot machine strategy, but they’re as good a start as any.
If you’re going to play slot machines, budget your money and be willing to quit while you’re ahead. This might mean setting up arbitrary win goals and loss limits.
Just don’t gamble any money you can’t afford to lose. This is important when you’re gambling with a positive expectation, but it’s even more important when you’re gambling with a negative expectation.