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Slot Machine Strategy Guide

Slot Machine Strategy GuideYou’ll find plenty of awful slot machine strategy advice on the Internet. Over the years, we’ve seen it all. There are electronic gadgets you can buy that promise to trick slot machines into paying out. Endless reams of paper have been wasted printing books that promise can’t-lose slot machine tactics.

It’s all garbage. Let us make one thing clear from the beginning – nothing on this page (or anywhere else online) will make you a consistent winner at the slot machines. That sort of advice doesn’t exist. That’s because slot machines are designed to return less money than they take in. In other words, they guarantee a profit, and nothing you can do as a player affects that design in any meaningful way. Good slot machine strategy focuses on two things – increasing your chances of winning and helping you save money you might otherwise lose.

This page was conceived as the ultimate online resource for no-nonsense slot machine strategy tips. Included here are:

  • Common-sense responses to common misconceptions about slots,
  • A detailed guide to the basics of money management for slot players
  • A section recommending other games that might be of interest to people who are drawn to slot machines.

We believe that if you spend a half hour or so reading a few thousand words we’ve put together on the subject, you’ll walk away a more confident and informed slot gambler.

An Unfortunate Truth about Slot Machines

We have lots of good things to say about slots. We like all the visual effects – it’s more entertaining than watching a ball bounce around a spinning wheel. We like the variety of games. We like the variety of wager sizes available. Truth is, we could wax poetic about the charms of the humble slot machine for thousands of words, but that wouldn’t get us anywhere in terms of game strategy.

There’s one thing we don’t like about slot machines that we wanted to get out in the open right away. The worst thing about slot machines, from the perspective of a player interested in strategy. You can never know the house edge for a particular slot machine. In fact, it’s the only casino game we can think of for which you can’t come up with anything like a house edge.

Why is that?
It has to do with the design of modern slot machines. Because slots depend on a random number generator and a potentially-infinite number of virtual reel positions, we don’t know the likelihood of spinning the different symbols that lead to payouts.

Think of a video poker game. Video poker is an easy to game to calculate a house edge for, since we know the likelihood of different hands appearing. We know that because the winning hands are based on poker hand rankings. That means that we can look at a video poker game’s pay table, use the information we already know about the odds of drawing different hands, and come up with the casino’s built-in edge. We can actually do this for any game. A roulette wheel has 38 positions where the ball might end up. We can figure out the odds of any single number (or feature of a number) coming up, because we know the overall odds of any number appearing.

Without information about a slot machine’s house edge, things like bankroll management and game strategy get tricky. Slot machine strategy is thus more of an art than a science. Have no fear, though – it’s an art that we’ve studied and participated in for decades.

Bankroll Management Tips for Slots Players

Let’s start with some thoughts on how slot players can better manage their money.

Create a win and loss limit.

This tip will save you a lot of time. You don’t have to work out a budget. You don’t have to figure out a unit bet size. You don’t need to do any math. So long as you create a limit for winnings and a limit for losses, then quit playing as soon as you reach one of them, you can cross bankroll management off your to-do list. Slot players have an easy time of keeping track of wins and losses. You can track your play through your slot club card. (We discuss joining the slot club a few paragraphs down.) You can also track your play simply by how much money you have in the machine.

When we go to the casino to play slots, we figure out how much money we can handle losing, then we divide that by the number of hours we hope to gamble. Take a look at an example. Let’s say you plan to gamble for ten hours over the course of a weekend trip to your nearby casino. You’ve done your personal budget for the month and you’re bringing $1,000 with you to burn at the slot machines. In order to have enough cash to play for ten hours, you can’t afford to lose more than $100 an hour. That means if you hit $100 in losses for a given hour, take a break until the next hour starts.

As for win limits, that’s more of a personal thing. For some, if they head to the casino with $1,000, as in the above example, they’d start to get nervous if they doubled it, winning another $1,000. But up to that point, they’d probably keep playing. Maybe you’re more conservative than that. It doesn’t matter where you set the win limit, so long as you have a point where you agree to walk away. Creating a win limit will keep you from turning a big win into a loss.

It can be tough to stick to win and loss limits. The desire to keep gambling, or to gamble and make up for losses, can be a powerful thing. If it helps, you can recruit a friend to help you stick to your win and loss limit commitments. You could also set yourself an alarm every 45 minutes to gauge how you’re doing and remind yourself of your limits. The point isn’t to nag you about your finances, but to keep gambling entertaining, and to prevent a budget disaster.

Play the lowest-denomination machine that interests you

This trick is designed to help you extend your bankroll. We’ve noticed that newcomers to casino and especially to slot gambling often have no idea how to pick a machine. They gravitate towards $1 slots, because that’s a nice round number they can understand. However, not many people walk into a slot session ready to play at $1-per-credit games, and a lot of these players watch their bankrolls evaporate. So how do you know what denomination to play?

We recommend that you look at all the available denominations, then pick the cheapest one that still piques your interest. Obviously, penny slots offer you the least risk, but that’s because they offer the least in terms of rewards. You’re not going to get rich playing penny slots, but you’re probably not going to go broke either. High-dollar slots work just the opposite – you stand to win more large prizes, and you’re going to play more side games and other features, but you’re likely to lose a lot of money in a short period of time.

Picking a denomination is all about finding your comfort zone. Maybe you hate losing money, and you want to play slots just for a diversion. Penny slots may be perfect for you, in that case. If you have a sizable amount of money to blow on slots and you want the latest and greatest in slot entertainment, a high-denomination game is probably just right.

Join the slot club

You should always join the slots club, player’s club, rewards club, loyalty club, or any other club that a casino is offering. It won’t cost you anything, it’s easy to use (you just swipe it in the slot you want to play before you start), and it’s literally the only way that a casino can track and reward slot players. If the casino can’t track your play, you can’t earn free stuff. Believe it or not, those free adult beverages you’re earning are shaving a tiny fraction off the casino’s edge. That means joining the slot club is good for your bottom line, not just your taste buds.

For starters, you can exchange casino club card points for cash at most casinos, but only once you’ve accrued a certain number of points. Most clubs offer $20 per 2,000 points or something like that. Those points really add up, and if you’re playing high-dollar games or making large per-spin bets, you’ll be surprised how much free cash you can earn. And cash is the easiest prize to redeem – accepted everywhere, recognized by all.
Of course, you could also use those casino slot club card points to get free food and drinks. Don’t look down your nose at these offers – the exchange rate is usually way more friendly than the exchange-for-cash rate, so you can get a lot of goodies for very little betting. Take note that only some casinos will let you use club points to buy booze – casinos like to hand out drinks of their own accord. Heck, even just having the card will often get you a percent-off discount at a casino restaurant or bar.

The last reason you should join the slot club – you’ll start getting coupons and other offers in the mail in exchange for your membership. These emails and letters will include coupons for cheap stays, free meals, or even free betting cash, depending on “how loyal you are,” read: how much money you handed over on your last trip. Using these casinos is another way to cut into the casino’s edge. You’re not going to stuff your bank account taking advantage of casino club promotions, but it’s better than going in with nothing.

Basic Slot Machine Strategy Tips

We’ve distilled the best slot machine strategy advice available online into the following three basic tips. Follow these tips, along with the bankroll management tips in the above section, and you’ll be putting yourself in the best position to lose less often and hold onto a bit more of your cash.

Always “bet max.”

Slot machines allow players to choose how much they wager per-spin. Not only can you choose your denomination, you can also choose how many units of that denomination to wager on each spin of the reels. In exchange for your larger bet, you get access to larger prizes and more valuable bonus rounds and side games. For example, a game with thirty pay lines may only pay its max prizes and give access to its most valuable jackpots for players who wager one credit on all thirty lines.

Obviously, the smart money says you should place a maximum wager on every spin.

If you land a combination of symbols that leads to a big jackpot, but you’ve only bet a single pay line, or maybe two pay lines, you’re going to never stop kicking yourself. Since slot machines are totally random, there’s no way to know when you’re more or less likely to land those combinations. Therefore, you should always bet the maximum amount, on every spin.

There’s a codicil to this tip – this means you have to pick a machine that you can afford to play at a max bet for the entirety of your session. Understand that slot machines spit out tons of decisions per hour. If you’re playing a fast game, you may see 600 decisions per hour of play. If your bet max rate is $1.50 per spin, you’re looking at a much different outlay than if you’re playing on a $0.25 machine, where the per-spin rate would be $7.50 per spin. It’s important to work out the size of a max bet on every machine before you play, since you should never be betting anything smaller than the maximum number of credits.

The simplest games give you the best odds.

Decide what sort of slots player you are:

  • Either you’re looking for the best possible odds
  • The best possible entertainment

If you’re into slots for entertainment, you better have a big bankroll. The games with the most entertainment value (audio clips, video clips, bonus games, progressive jackpots, etc.) are also the ones with the longest odds, and to make things worse, they also tend to have high per-spin costs.

If you’re the type of slots players that’s looking to save money and get every cent you can out of the casino, you should stick to the simplest slots you can find. Skip any game with a bonus round. Stick to games with just one or three pay lines. Find the classic-style slots on the floor and plant yourself there. Whatever you do, make sure you’re playing a game that other people might describe as “boring.” So long as you aren’t having too much fun, you’re probably getting a good deal from an odds perspective.

Avoid progressive slots.

Progressive slots attract bettors with promises of life-changing payouts in the millions of dollars. The largest single jackpot in the history of Las Vegas came on a slot machine – a jackpot in the neighborhood of $36 million on a Megabucks progressive machine. Unfortunately, these progressive prizes also draw in gamblers who have no business playing long-odds contests with huge risk, like progressive games. If you’re looking to make your bankroll last as long as possible, never place a single bet on any progressive machine. These games cost a lot to run – a piece of each wager is added to the progressive jackpot, which means the games are altered so that they’re a bit less advantageous for the player. Casino operators have to take the cost of the progressive jackpot from somewhere – surprise, surprise, it comes out of the gambler’s end.

Four Alternative Casino Games for Slot Fans to Try

As we said at the top of this page, slot machines are awful games, in at least one important way. You can’t work out the house edge. It’s impossible. That means that on some level slot machine strategy is a fool’s errand. If you’re sick of losing to the house over and over on the same old slot machines, consider one of these four casino classics:

Video Poker
1

Video Poker

Why video poker? For starters, a video poker game looks and acts just like a slot machine. It’s a machine, usually kept near the slot machines, and you sit in front of it and interact with it just like a slot. The biggest difference is the game itself. Rather than spinning and hoping for random luck, you’re making choices about which cards to hold, to give yourself a better chance of forming a high-value poker hand.

We think slot gamers are naturally predisposed to becoming video poker fanatics, and not just because the two games have some passing physical similarities. We’ve already talked about how slot machines max out at a house edge of about 95% – these are usually the most boring games on the floor, with the least replay value and very little in the way of options. Every other slot has a house edge lower than that. Some states allow the casino an edge of up to 25% – a ridiculous number that would make a slot the worst gamble in the casino by far. Slot gamers will be pleased to find out that many video poker machines carry a house edge of 98-99%.
Video poker rewards player skill. You can actually practice the game, and learn to follow basic strategy, and you’ll perform better, lose less money, and put yourself in a better position to win jackpots. In that respect, it’s totally distinct from slot machines. If you find yourself losing too often on slots, craving a bigger challenge, or wanting to use your skill to win more, consider a switch to video poker.

Mini-baccarat
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Mini-baccarat

Mini-baccarat is an American game, in every sense. It was invented at American casinos as a way for the everyday gambler to play the game of the ultra-rich at a much lower price and in a casual atmosphere. Since traditional European baccarat is meant to be played by the super-wealthy, there’s a strict dress code, and most gamblers in today’s Las Vegas wouldn’t make it through the VIP door. Mini-baccarat is a great game for slot players to try, because it’s just as democratic as the humble slot, but it offers a step up in class. If you’ve always wanted to try traditional table gaming but never had the guts, we’re here to tell you that mini-baccarat is the game for you.

Mini-baccarat is cheaper than slots, but it still moves at a quick pace. Mini-baccarat is simple, a bit more complex than slot machines, but easy enough to learn in a few minutes. That’s because the game offers just three bets. As an added bonus, two of those three bets offer really short odds. The house edge on these bets? 1.06% on the banker bet, 1.24% on the player bet, and 14.44% on the tie bet. If you stick to bets on the banker only, you’re playing one of the best games in the house in terms of the casino’s edge. At a normal pace of 120 hands per hour, and $10 per wager, you’re looking at an expected hourly loss of $12.

Roulette
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Roulette

For slots players looking to break into table gaming for the first time, roulette should be very appealing. Roulette is a visual game, just like slot machines. It’s a social game, which slot machines can be if you’re sitting at a bust enough bank of games. Roulette isn’t complicated – you can learn the game in a few minutes of observation and trial betting. Also, just like slot machines, roulette gives you a wide variety of ways in.
You can stick to minimum bets on even-money propositions, which give you the best possible odds against the casino. Or you can take big risks on single-number bets, risking large amounts of money for a 35:1 payout. Roulette may not be the first game slot players think of when they go to try out something new – but it should be. Every casino hosts multiple roulette games, electronic roulette, mini-roulette, and other variations. It’s an ideal game for people used to the variety and visual interest of the slots.

Craps
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Craps

Okay, so this may be a bit of a stretch. We think we can justify advising slot lovers to give craps a try mainly by pointing out that craps moves at a quick pace, like slot machines. We also think slots players will like the drama of a craps game, how the crowd backs the shooter, how everyone’s bets live and die with one another.

Craps is an old-fashioned game, far removed from the beeps and whistles of modern slot machines, but we think a match between slot fans and the craps table is appropriate. After all, at one time craps was the new game on the block that everyone was obsessed with. And in case you think of craps as a long-odds proposition, understand that lots of bets on the craps board give the house an edge lower even than video poker.

Conclusion

Slots are the great casino mainstay. Gamblers all over the world gravitate towards slot machines, at a greater rate than any other game on the floor. Slot machines are the backbone of the gambling business, often keeping casino operators in the black single-handedly.

We’ve gone over all the ways that slot machines can be dangerous. But remember, all slots aren’t created equal. Some slot games offer theoretical return percentages that aren’t that far off from other floor games. At the end of the day, slots aren’t the best gamble – that’s why you so rarely see hardcore advantage gamblers pulling slot levers. But that doesn’t take away from their entertainment value at all.

We’ve called slot machines “the most adaptable and varied game on the casino floor” on another page, and we stand by that. Slots are now a legitimate casino classic, not all that different from a game of blackjack, a poker tournament, or a round at the roulette wheel. They’re underappreciated entertainment gadgets that most gamblers (if they were honest) absolutely love to play. We hope that our page has taught you something, prepared you for your next casino trip, and smashed a few stereotypes you held about the games.

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