How to Play a Slot Machine


One-arm bandits take up most of the floor space in any Las Vegas casino. They are the least staff intensive and the most profitable for the house. You can take your pick from penny slots to the high-limit $100 slots. Nickel, quarter, and dollar slots dominate the floor, and you can bet anywhere from 1 coin to 20 coins per pull. Of course, I use the term “pull” rather loosely, as many slot machines no longer have arms to pull, but have buttons instead, which makes the game go faster.

The draw for many of these machines is the bright lights and noises, gimmicks, and name recognition. Wheel of Fortune is one of the hot properties in any casino, but you can also find The Addams Family, Monopoly, Austin Powers, I Dream of Jeannie and just about any other pop culture icon on slot machines.

You can also play video poker, bingo, and keno. There are games with bells and whistles, spinning wheels, mystery bonuses, and big progressive payoffs. The key to playing anywhere is to get a player’s card, so your cash “deposits” can be converted into points and redeemed at your convenience for house credit, food credit, or room credit. When you get hungry, you can cash in points for a buffet meal, or, if you are a big spender, a room for the night.

In Las Vegas, slot machines are guaranteed to pay out at least 75 percent over the course of the life of the machine. Many payback percentages are set higher than this and casinos will normally advertise a higher rate overall or on specific machines. Typically the machines are calibrated at the factory, although casinos are allowed to replace chips, as long as the odds remain above the legal limit.

Goal: Bet the right number of coins (within your budget!) to get the maximum bonuses and payouts. Some machines only let you play bonus rounds if you play the maximum number of lines. Your best bet on an unfamiliar slot game is to read the machine and the payouts. Normally there is a maximum number of lines and a maximum number of coins to bet. In nickel slots, you can typically play nine lines and up to 15 coins. If you play all nine lines with one nickel, that equals 45¢. But to play nine lines with fifteen nickels would be $6.75. That’s a lot of nickels per pull and can add up quickly if you continue to play. The payoff may not be so great and you may be better off playing a $1 machine.

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Play: Put your money in, push the button (or pull the lever). It’s as easy as that.

Win: Wins are random. They can come at any time, even back-to-back, but there is no rhyme or reason. A machine does not remember what it did last time, much like the roulette wheel. The machine will always tell you when you do win. It will show you how much credit (money in the machine) you have  and the win for that pull. It will automatically put the win money onto your credit. Some machines have bonuses for which you get additional free spins or bonus games. These can devour your attention for hours and you can get hooked on trying to achieve the bonuses and blow a wad of cash, so be careful.

Website: Mastering the Slots with Ted Knuden is a well-developed site with great factual information and resources (like which Las Vegas casinos have the best slot odds).

Book: The Slot Machine Answer Book: How They Work, How They’ve Changed and How to Overcome the House Advantage by John Growchowski is a popular choice. This highly rated book can inform, enlighten and dispel some of the myths of the slot industry.

>>Find more information on gambling in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Victoria Belanger