Slot machine games aren’t complicated. You insert your money, you press a button, you watch the reels spin, and you find out whether or not you’ve won.
But if you’ve never played slot machines before, and you want to give them a try, here’s a step by step guide to getting started the smart way.
1. Put together a bankroll.
You can’t play slot machines without money unless you’re playing the free games available online. I recommend avoiding those. Gambling without putting money on the line is like drinking decaffeinated coffee—it misses the entire point.
The good news for slots players is that games are available for everyone, no matter how low their income might be. You can play for as little as a penny per spin if you find the right machine. Of course, if you’re well-off, playing at those stakes might be as pointless as playing for free.
What I suggest you remember about a gambling bankroll is that it’s money set aside specifically for the purposes of gambling. In other words, you don’t gamble with money you need for other things like rent, utilities, or groceries. This money should be considered entertainment money, just like the money you might spend on a movie ticket or a paperback novel.
2. Find a casino with slots.
Most casinos have slot machines. In fact, slot machines make up 80% of the gambling revenue in most American casinos these days. They’re just as popular in Australia, but less so in some countries in Europe, where table games are more popular.
In the United States, almost everyone lives driving distance from a casino with slot machines. But you can also find online casinos with slots games who will take your action. Traveling to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or Reno is a time-honored tradition, too.
When choosing a casino at which to play, you should compare what amenities that company offers its clients. If you’re single-minded and only interested in playing slots, you might be best served by playing at an Internet casino. On the other hand, if you like certain amenities like show tickets or certain kinds of restaurants, spend a little time comparing what the various land-based casinos have to offer.
3. Join the players club.
You should also spend some time on the casinos’ websites reading about what they offer their players’ club members. These loyalty programs are also sometimes called “slots clubs”, but you definitely want to take advantage of these programs.
Most of them work in a similar way. You get a plastic card the approximate shape and size of a credit card. You insert that into the slot machines while you play. The card tracks how much you wager per hour while you’re sitting in front of the machine.
The casino uses that information to provide you with perks in the form of rebates on your play. This is based on how much you bet, NOT on how much you win or lose. The casino knows that in the long run, the more time and more money players spend on their machines, the more profits they’ll make. Short term wins and losses don’t matter so much.
Besides cash rebates, players’ club members also earn perks like free room stays, airfare, meals, and entertainment.
And regardless of what some of the sillier so-called “experts” on the Internet might tell you, the odds of winning and losing are the same regardless of whether or not you’re playing with the card inserted.
So always join the club and play with the card inserted. The only downside is the increased amount of communication from the casino, which is a small price to pay for getting free stuff.
4. Choose a game.
Different gamblers have different temperaments, and your choice of game should be based on an understanding of your temperament. Of course, you also need to take into account the size of your bankroll. If you’re only able to take $100 to the casino with you, then you might opt to play penny or nickel slots.
What do I mean?
There’s one type of personality that’s more interested in going after a big jackpot, even if it means having a lower chance of going home a winner. This is the type of personality that enjoys playing the lottery.
If this describes you, look for progressive jackpot games. These are the games with the tickers that show a constantly-rising jackpot amount. The tickers are located above the machines.
On the other hand, you might prefer less volatility and a higher hit rate on your game. Maybe you’re satisfied with a smaller top payout and a better chance to win. If this describes you, then flat-top machines are probably the right choice.
A flat-top game is one with a jackpot of a flat amount. It’s the opposite of a progressive jackpot game.
And if you’re the type that just plain wants to get the best odds, you should stick with the plainest and most basic games you can find. Look for games with 3 reels, not 5, and look for games with a single payline.
Better yet, consider video poker or maybe try learning some of the table games with the better rules, like blackjack.
5. Insert your money.
Modern gambling machines don’t use coins any more. They use bill changers. These accept dollar bills in various denominations, but they also usually accept the paper tickets that the games pay your winnings in.
This ticket in/ticket out system is a relatively new development in the casino world. Until a few years ago, these games paid out in coins, regardless of what denomination you were playing for. In fact, land-based casinos had plastic buckets all over the slots room so that you could transport your winnings to the cashier area.
Now you will hear the sound effects of coins landing in a hopper, but you’ll just get a slip of paper. This is a sneaky way for the casinos to scale up their earnings, slightly, too.
A certain percentage of players won’t bother cashing in tickets if they’re of a certain amount or lower. In that case, the casino just gets to keep the money. This is a tiny amount per player, on average, but when you multiply it by the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of gamblers a casino might serve in the course of 24 hours, it can be a significant amount.
Based on your bankroll, you’ll want to choose a game that you can enjoy for a while. If you only have $50, the $5 games are probably not going to provide you much entertainment. An average player makes 600 spins per hour, so that’s $3000 in action at a $5 game. If the house edge is 5%–which is typical of a good casino—you’re looking at losing $150 per hour. So your $50 will be lucky if it lasts 20 minutes.
Most gamblers want to spend more time playing than that.
6. Spin the reels.
Most gambling machines these days have multiple paylines in a variety of patterns. Most gambling experts will tell you to always bet the maximum amount, which means activating all the possible paylines. This advice is true for some games, but not all of them.
In fact, you should be cautious about following this advice. A penny or a nickel machine can allow you to bet between 1 and 5 coins per spin per line. If you’re playing a game with 50 lines, this means you might be playing a penny machine for $2.50 per spin. You’d probably be better off playing a high denomination machine and placing a lower bet.
Not all games limit their top payouts to players who’ve made the maximum bet, either. Learn how to read the pay tables, and pay attention to the payouts based on how many coins you’re playing. If the jackpot is disproportionally large when you’re placing the max bet, then yes, you should make the max bet.
But this isn’t true of all machines. You should understand the difference and act accordingly.
7. Collect your winnings.
Let’s face it. Most of the time you won’t have any winnings to collect. These games, like all other casino games, have an unassailable mathematical edge in favor of the house. That’s just how they’re programmed.
If you play enough, and if you occasionally quit when you’re ahead, you’ll certainly walk away a winner some of the time. But over the life of your gambling career, you’ll eventually wind up a net loser. And you’ll almost certainly experience more losing sessions than winning sessions.
That’s because the game is programmed to pay out less than it takes in over the long run. The amount it’s programmed to pay out is called the payback percentage. That number is always less than 100%.
The machine doesn’t know if you’ve been winning or losing, by the way. It just has its payouts programmed in such a way that over a long enough time frame, the casino will win a percentage of each bet that’s put in compared to how much it pays out.
For example, if a jackpot is 1000 coins, your odds of winning that jackpot might be 1100 to 1. That’s how the casino makes its money—by manipulating the payout amounts compared to the odds of winning.
This is why some players are able to walk away a winner while the casino is still practically guaranteed a long term profit.
8. Consider trying video poker.
Video poker can be considered a thinking man’s gambling machine. Unlike the other gambling machines on the floor, video poker has transparent odds. If you learn a few things about the game, you can tell what the payback percentage is for such game by just glancing at the pay table.
The other nice thing about this game is that you have the opportunity to make decisions which affect your outcomes. Some players like to have a certain degree of agency when the gamble. Blackjack is another example of a game where your decisions affect how well you do.
Finally, video poker offers higher payback percentages than slot machines almost every time. Even the worst payback tables for video poker games usually offer a better payback percentage than your video poker games.
9. Evaluate whether or not you got your money’s worth.
Some players love playing these games. You might or might not. Even if you do enjoy them, you might decide that you didn’t get as much entertainment out of your experience as you would have hoped.
I like to compare the enjoyment I get from gambling with other types of entertainment and their costs. For example, I can spend $15 on a movie ticket and know that I’m getting $7.50 worth of entertainment per hour.
I can also spend $8 on a paperback novel and get maybe 4 to 8 hours of entertainment for $2 per hour.
But slots’ cost per hour varies. You can estimate what this cost might be in the long run, but in the short run, you want to make sure this kind of gambling is entertaining enough to do again.
For the most part, you can calculate your expected hourly loss by making a few assumptions. Let’s say you’re playing for $1 per spin, and you’re facing a 5% house edge. If you make 600 spins per hour, you’re putting $600 per hour into action. 5% of that is $30 per hour, which is a pricey bit of entertainment.
On the other hand, if you get lucky early on, you might find yourself winning in the short run. I’d be surprised if you walked away a winner and felt like you didn’t get your money’s worth.
10. Get help if you become addicted.
If you know anything about behavioral psychology, you’ve probably heard of BF Skinner. He designed an experiment where animals could get food by pushing a lever on a box.
Here’s what he learned:
Animals were MORE motivated to pull that lever when they got food sporadically. You would think that if they knew they were going to get rewarded every time they pulled the lever, they would be more motivated, but the opposite was the case.
Humans are animals.
Slot machines are Skinner machines.
Sporadic rewards work on your brain chemistry to get you motivated to continue to play. With some people, this motivation borders on obsession.
These people are called gambling addicts.
If you EVER suspect that you might fall into this category, get help immediately. Gambling addiction is a real mental illness that can have devastating effects on your life.
Slot machines are especially good at getting gamblers addicted.
Slot machines aren’t hard to learn how to play. If you follow the step by step instructions in this post to the letter, you’ll have a good time, and you’ll probably learn a lot about what kind of gambler you are.