For years, you’d see the same statistic quoted repeatedly in articles on the internet about slot machines:
70% of the casino’s revenue comes from the slot machines.
But recently, I read a book called Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, and according to that well-researched volume, that 70% number has increased to well north of 80% now.
I’m not surprised. Not only are slot machines incredibly popular, but the amount of research that goes into keeping players spending time on these machines is impressive. Companies like IGT spend an ungodly amount of money studying what happens to the time on machine numbers when they make changes to various machines.
Casinos and casino managers know a lot more about the slot machines than they’re letting on. A lot of these slot machine secrets are facts you might not even think about.
I’ve included the ten most important slot machine secrets the casino would prefer you not know in this blog post.
1- The Odds of Winning at Slot Machines, in the Long Run, Are Tiny
Casino games measure their odds with a long-term average number called the house edge. The other side of the house edge coin is the payback percentage for a gambling machine. Both these numbers are long-term, statistical predictions.
Here’s what that means to the gambler:
The more bets, the closer you get to the long term. And the closer you get to the long-term in actual play, the closer your results get to the statistical expectation.
Most casino games have a house edge of between 1% and 5%, making their payback percentage between 95% and 99%.
Slot machines, on the other hand, have a payback percentage (usually) of around 92% in major casino destinations where there’s a lot of competition. That’s a house edge of 8%.
In destinations where there isn’t a lot of competition, the payback percentage can be as low as 75%, making the house edge a whopping 25%.
What does that mean?
It means that in the long run, the casino expects you to lose the house edge for every bet you make (on average).
If the house edge is 8%, the casino expects you to lose $8 for every $100 you wager.
If the house edge is 25%, the casino expects you to lose $25 for every $100 you wager.
You have no real idea what the payback percentage on a specific slot machine is, either. More about that later.
2- The More Exciting the Game Is, the Worse the Payback Percentage Is
Slot machines used to be a simple affair. You put your money in, you spun the reels, and if three symbols lined up across the center, you won some money.
Newer slot machines, though, have multiple reels and multiple paylines. They also have wild symbols, scatter symbols, and bonus games.
All those additional features come with a cost — in the form of a higher house edge and a lower payback percentage.
Want to find the highest payback percentage in the casino?
Find the simplest, most basic slot machine game — one with a lever, mechanical-looking reels, and a single payline. It’s not exciting, but it’s probably got the highest payback percentage in the place.
The reasons behind this are simple enough. Every one of those additional features costs money, so they take that out in the form of having a lower payback percentage.
3- There Is NO Way to Get an Edge Over the House When Playing Slots
One of the worst (but most entertaining books) I’ve ever read was John Patrick’s Slots. In it, he explains the basics of money management. Then he provides the reader with multiple betting systems which are supposed to help you win more often.
A lot of slot machine advice runs in this direction — money management plus winning and losing streaks.
The first concept he covers is the idea of a stop loss limit and a win goal. The idea is that you set an arbitrary percentage of your bankroll as a stop loss limit and another arbitrary percentage as a win goal. When you either lose your stop loss limit or win your win goal, you quit playing.
For example, if you have a budget of $200 for your playing session, you might set a stop loss limit of $40 and a win goal of $40. If at any time you get down to $160 in credits, you quit. If at any time you get up to $240 or more in credits, you quit.
This, of course, has nothing to do with your actual odds of winning. The reality of the math behind the game is that you don’t really have multiple sessions. You have one long lifetime session. And those results are going to come close to the mathematical expectation for the game you’re playing.
The next concept he explained was the idea of naked pulls. A “naked pull” is a spin on a slot machine game that resulted in no winnings. He had an arbitrary number of naked pulls that you were supposed to look for —4 or 5— after which, you should leave that game and move on to another.
Of course, this feeds into the myth that games get “hot” or “cold.”
The point to take away from this is that you can’t change the fundamental math behind the game by quitting at certain points. Starting a new session doesn’t change things mathematically.
When you’re playing slot machines, the house ALWAYS has a mathematical edge.
4- Slot Machine Play Happens Way Faster Than Most Players Think
The way a casino determines how much they expect to win on a gambling game is by multiplying the amount of money you wager by the house edge. That’s your expected loss. They like to think of this in terms of how much money you’re losing per hour, too.
On a game like blackjack, you might make 70 wagers per hour at $10 apiece. That’s $700 in action per hour. With a house edge of 1%, you’re expected to lose $7 per hour.
The easiest way for a casino to increase its winnings is by increasing the number of bets you’re making per hour.
And slot machines are fast-paced games.
The average slot machine player makes 600 spins per hour. Fast players might average 900 spins per hour. (I went to a casino with a recovering meth addict once. I’ve never seen anyone push a button on a slot machine so fast.)
Most people aren’t betting a penny per spin, either — even on a penny game. They’re usually betting at least a dollar per spin.
So, they’re putting $600 to $900 into action per hour.
That’s about the same as the theoretical blackjack player in the example earlier, but let’s think about this:
The house edge on that slot machine is at least 7% — maybe less, but probably more.
So, 7% of $600 is an hourly loss of $42, and $42 is a lot more than $7, right?
5- Slot Machines Don’t Really Get Hot or Cold
Most people don’t understand how slot machines work. They don’t cheat because they don’t have to. They also don’t get hot or cold.
What does that mean, though?
A hot slot machine is one that’s paying out more than usual over a period of time. A cold slot machine is one that’s paying out less than usual over a period of time.
And this happens, but only in retrospect.
You can’t predict when a winning or losing streak is going to begin or end.
But that’s the theory behind most people’s slot machine strategies. You bet more when the machine is hot, or you bet less when the machine is hot because it’s bound to get cold soon. Or vice versa.
Neither approach works, though.
Every spin of the reels is an independent event. The random number generator — the computer program that determines the outcome of every spin — doesn’t remember what happened on the previous spin.
Believing that a winning streak or a losing streak is due or overdue is an example of The Gambler’s Fallacy.
6- Progressive Slot Machines Offer Lousy Odds
A progressive slot machine game is one with a jackpot that increases gradually over time. It takes a small percentage of every bet you make to feed this big jackpot.
You can find multiple kinds of progressive slots in a casino. Some of them are standalone games. Everything wagered in that machine increases the jackpot on that machine only. Some of them are local area network games. Everything wagered on machines in that network in a single casino increase the jackpot for all those games.
The most popular kinds of progressive slot machines, though, are wide area progressives. These are slot machines which are networked together across dozens and maybe hundreds of casinos. The jackpot on these games can get as high as the jackpots in the lottery.
The most famous and biggest of the wide area progressive jackpots is the Megabucks network. This jackpot starts at $10 million, but it’s gotten much higher than that on occasion. You have to play $3 per spin to play any of these games.
But when you take 1% or 2% of each wager to fuel a jackpot, that decreases the payback percentage significantly.
7- The Slots Club’s Not as Good a Deal as You Might Think
Almost every slot machine advice article you read — in fact, practically every gambling advice article you read, suggests that joining the slots club is the smartest thing a gambler can do.
I believed this for a long time, too, but I’ve changed my perspective in recent years.
Here’s what happens when you join the slots club:
The casino tracks your play on these games, and they provide you with free stuff based on how much action you’re bringing the casino. They don’t care if you win or lose. They care how much you play.
That’s because the casino understands that the more time you spend on the slot machines, the more money you’re going to lose.
But that’s not the only thing the casino is going to do with your slots club information.
They’re also going to save your address, your email address, and your phone number. And they will mail you and email you incessant advertisements.
I know some people think they’re immune to advertising, but let me ask you a question:
Winston tastes good, like a cigarette _________?
Most of you know the answer to this, even though the advertising campaign that used this slogan ended years ago.
If you allow a casino to advertise to you, then you will almost certainly gamble more.
That’s not a terrible thing.
But don’t think that joining the slots club has no cost.
It does, in the form of increased gambling because of increased advertising.
8- Video Poker Machines Are a Way Better Deal — And They’re NOT the Same Thing
Video poker machines provide you with a way to gamble on a machine and use some decision-making while you’re at it. You get five cards, then you get to decide how many of them to keep and replace. If you make good decisions, the house edge is low — like 1% or less, depending on the game.
Slot machines are also entirely random. There’s no skill to it.
Those are two big differences. No skill and a higher payback percentage.
But what video poker machines lose is the glitz and glamour of the big fancy slot machines. You have to decide what you want.
Are you looking for a dazzling sensory experience?
High limit slot machines with video screens might be have a higher house edge, but they also provide unparalleled entertainment.
9- Online Slots Are More Like Land-Based Slots Than Other Casino Games
Online slot machines are basically just video slot machines played over a computer on the internet. The random number generators work exactly the same. The payback percentages are similar.
The land-based slot machine games look like they have mechanical pieces and parts, but those are just for show. They still use a random number generator to determine their results. Even the traditional land-based slot machine games work just like online slot machines behind the scenes.
There are a couple of differences to think about, though, depending where you live. In the United States, most online gambling is illegal. A handful of states offer legal online casinos, but the rest have a patchwork of ill-defined laws related to gambling on the web.
This means that you’re probably gambling somewhere offshore. The machinery still works the same. The slot machines are fair, if you consider slot machines fair in the first place.
The difference is that you have to deal with offshore companies which might have delays in their payouts of winnings. You also have to find deposit and withdrawal options that work from your area.
10- Slots Are the Only Game in the Casino Where You Don’t Know the Odds
In every casino game besides slots, you have all the information you need to calculate the house edge for the game. You know how likely it is you’ll win. You also know how much money you’ll win if you win. Those are the two factors you need to calculate the house edge.
You only get half that information with a slot machine. You know how much you get paid off if you win, but it’s impossible to determine the odds of winning. The odds of getting a specific symbol on a reel is determined by the random number generator.
Some of these symbols show up 1/10 of the time, some 1/12, of the time, and some only 1/24 of the time. You could theoretically clock how often these symbols show up over hundreds or thousands of spins and estimate the probability.
But most people aren’t going to do that.
And even if you do it on one machine, the machine next to it might be programmed entirely differently.
I like slot machines, but I don’t like how mysterious the math behind these games is.
Slot machines are a mixed bag. Players who love them, LOVE them. But they have a lot of drawbacks some players aren’t aware of.
I don’t think anyone should advise people to NOT play slots.
My advice, though, is to make yourself aware of what you’re getting into when you do play.