Slots Basics


One of the favorite casino games for gambling novices, slots likely owe their popularity to their apparent simplicity – you pull a lever or push a button and then patiently wait to see whether or not you have won. However, despite their appeal to newcomers, slot machines have their fair share of myths surrounding them, many of which can cause players to lose money. While anyone can play slots, it pays to know a little bit about the game before getting started.

How to Play

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A slot machine will pay out when the correct symbols all meet the payline.

Playing slots is simple, earning them their title as the world’s most popular casino game – it’s much less intimidating to push a button or pull a lever than to interact with dealers or other players. Playing slots is a solo endeavor. The most common forms of slots are quarter and dollar reel-spinning games and penny and nickel video games. Despite their differences, the manner in which you play reel-spinning games and video slots is relatively similar:

  • Slide your money into the currency acceptor or, if you are playing online, make your payment.
  • The equivalent number of credits will then be displayed on a meter or screen.
  • If you are playing a reel-spinning game, push the button marked “bet” until you have reached the number of credits you wish to play. Or, if you so choose, you can hit the button marked “play max credits,” which will instruct the slot machine to play the maximum number of coins allowed on that machine. Then, pull the lever or hit the “spin reels” button and await your fate.
  • If you are playing video slots, all you need to do is push a button indicating the number of paylines that you wish to activate and a second button indicating the number of credits you want to wager per line. You can either select a new betting combination each round or select the repeat the bet/spin again option, which will allow you to continue to play with the same betting combination each round.

How to Win

The manner in which you can win when playing slots depends on whether you are playing a reel-spinning game or a video slot machine.

Reel-Spinning Slots

  • Most reel-spinning machines have a single payout line, although some will have as many as three or five. It is the symbols that stop on the payout lines after you pull the lever that determine whether or not you will win.
  • Common symbols that you will see in reel-spinning slots include: bars, double bars, triple bars, cherries and sevens. The payout you receive based on the positioning of each of these symbols will depend on the machine you are using. Some stops on the reel will be blanks, and they do not give any payout.
  • Keep in mind that large jackpots are generally only paid out if you are playing the maximum coins
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Video slot machines use buttons to spin instead of physical levers.

Video Slot Machine

  • Video slots are modeled after reel-spinning slots and generally have a representation of five reels on the screen.
  • In addition to having paylines that run straight across, video slot machines also have paylines that take the form of Vs, upside-down Vs and zig zags. Most video slots machines have at least five paylines, but for some, the number of paylines can be as many as 100.
  • In addition to normal payouts, video slot machines often include scatter pays. In these situations, designated symbols may trigger a payout even if they are not on the same payline on the screen.
  • Bonus events may also occur when playing video slots. A bonus event can take many forms – everything from free spins to the presentation of a second bonus screen. When presented with a bonus screen, players have the opportunity to play an additional game that may issue a payout.
  • When you hit a winning combination while playing a video slot machine, your winnings are added to the credit meter. When you cash out, your credits  can then be redeemed for money.

How Slot Machines Work

Unlike card games such as Texas Hold ‘em and blackjack, slots are not played with a dealer or opponents – it’s you versus the machine. This means that it’s especially important that you understand how slots work so that you do not fall prey to myths and misconceptions about effective ways to play. It all comes down to the random number generator:

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Slot machines wins are dictated by random number generators.

  • Often referred to as the “brains of the slot machine,” random number generators are microprocessors similar to those found in computers. The device randomly generates numbers to correspond to the symbols on the slot machine. It is the RNG that governs winning combinations.
  • Every possible combination of symbols is assigned a number. Whenever you pull a lever or push a button indicating that the reels should spin, the RNG receives a signal and sets a number that controls the combination on which the reels will stop spinning.
  • While you don’t need to understand the intricacies of the algorithms that random number generators use, it’s important to note that the numbers chosen by the RNG are, in fact, random. This means that the odds of hitting a particular combination are the same on every single pull. In other words, there’s no foolproof way to guarantee that you will win big on a slot machine.

Myths vs. Facts

Whether by word of mouth or through the movies, there are plenty of myths that have been circulated about slots machine strategies over the decades:

  • Myth: Machines that have been played for a long time without paying out will boost your chances of a large payout.
  • Fact: Because random number generators are used, machines are never “due” for a payout. Playing through a long losing streak will not make you more or less likely to win.
  • Myth: You should change machines after winning a jackpot.
  • Fact: Again, because of the use of random number generators, the odds of you winning a jackpot are always the same, no matter which machines you are using. Your odds of winning on the next pull are the same as they were on the previous one.

Slots have remained popular because they are such a fun and easy game to play. Once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll be able to enjoy playing slots both in casinos and online.