Slot machines are the most popular gaming method in land-based and online casinos. Even with stakes a small fraction of those at table games the fast play and beefy house edge enable slot machines to account for more than two-thirds of the average casino’s revenue.
Classic slot machines are three reels with a single payline but those basic models have been mostly shuffled to the nostalgia bin in favour of entertainment-driven video slots games with a variety of themes and bonus rounds and free spins – all of which are determined by random number generators programmed into the game.
Some slots players prefer games with a high hit frequency while others want high volatility with the promise of big prizes. Still others chase after progressive jackpots built on the lost coins of previous punters.
The History Of Slots
In America they are called one-armed bandits (because in their original incarnations the machines were built with a lever on the side to activate the game play). In England they are called fruit machines (because the early slot machines of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company featured cherry and melon and lemon symbols on the reels and often dispensed food prizes as a way to skirt anti-gambling laws). In Australia they are called pokies (shorthand for poker machines).
They are all slot machines and they trace their origin back to 1880s America when Charles Fey, a San Francisco mechanic, began tinkering with a gaming machine in hopes of having it deliver an automatic payout. There were nascent machine games appearing at the time, most notably a game with five spinning drums featuring 50 card faces. A nickel in a slot and a pull on a lever set the drums turning until they stopped with a poker hand. The game was popular but featured no direct payout.
Fey devised a machine based on symbols instead of cards and used three drums instead of five. The simpler mechanism enabled him to create a reliable automatic payout mechanism. Fey called his machine the Liberty Bell (one of the five symbols was the iconic American Liberty Bell and three produced the game’s top win of 50 cents for one nickel). The Liberty Bell was an immediate success and spawned the mechanical gaming device industry. The simplicity that made Fey’s machine work also made it easy to copy. Slot machines spread rapidly and legislators worked overtime to pass laws against them across the United States, including in Fey’s native California.
Even as slot machines became tightly regulated across the world technology kept making the games more exciting. In 1963 Bally released Money Honey, the first fully electromechanical slot machine capable of spilling 500 coins conspicuously into metal hoppers on the casino floor at one time. The electronic games also sent side levers the way of tonsils and the appendix – still seen on the organism but rendered useless by evolution. In the 1970s the first video slot machines were introduced and in 1996 Reel ‘Em became the first game to offer a “second screen” bonus round.
How To Play Slots
A slot machine is readied for play by inserting a coin, folding money or barcoded card to credit an account linked to the machine. The player can then use that machine until the amount in “the bank” can no longer cover the minimum bet or the player “cashes out” and the balance in the bank is returned. The press of a button in a land-based casino or the click of a mouse on a computer or a tap on the screen of a mobile device starts the reels spinning. The outcome of the game is pre-determined and the results could just flash on the screen – the reels spinning and stopping is all a show to amp up the momentary drama.
The combinations needed to win a bet and the payouts of the denominations are displayed on a paytable printed on the machine in land-based gaming rooms and on separate screens in video slots games. Slot machine odds are some of the only odds in a casino that are not quantifiable and in fact are not transparent to the player. In a land-based casino identical machines side by side can be set for different payout rates. One thing is certain concerning odds at slot machines – they carry a heavy advantage for the house. The easier the game is to understand, the worse the odds for the player. And there is nothing easier is a casino than to press a button on a slot machine.
The classic slot machine game features three reels with a single payline across the centre. Any symbol that is not on the centre line is non-scoring. Some three-reel slot machines feature paylines on all three rows. When video slot machines became popular the number of paylines increased to include diagonals and then symbols in adjacent rows on the grid in a zigzag pattern to create 9, 15, 25, 40 and 50 paylines from a single spin. Some video slots games dispense with the standard grid altogether and created 243 different ways to win based on adjacent symbols.
Most video slots game offers special symbols that “trigger” game action. These can be “wilds” that are symbols that can represent any other symbol to create more winning combinations or “scatters” that are special symbols that can award extra play to the gamer in the form of free spins. These bonus rounds come bundled in packages where the amount is often determined by how much is wagered. Sometimes the free spins rounds can be “re-triggered” and the number of free games building a player’s bank can grow exponentially.
Entertainment-driven video slots games feature bonus rounds to win extra coins. The bonus round takes the player to a new screen for side games to increase wins. Often these bonus rounds and free spins offer multipliers that are applied to the initial stake to return larger wins. Many slots games feature tie-ins to popular television shows and movies and popular culture to amp up the entertainment angle. There can be an exhausting array of themes to choose from in selecting a slots game.
Some slots feature progressive jackpots. On these machines a fraction of each coin played goes to a communal pot of money. Jackpots can be tied to a single game or linked to other machines on the gaming floor or the online casino. Some games have more than one progressive jackpot up for grabs among players. When the candle (the light on top of the slot machine cabinet) ignites and bells go off a progressive jackpot has been liquidated.
Software developers have infused the traditional machine with new ideas. Instead of winning combinations always scoring from left to right, some games offer wins from right to left as well. Rather than spinning reels, some games employ exploding symbols where new symbols fill the grid by dropping down from the top of the screen. Some allow you to “nudge” symbols into adjoining rows to create winning combinations. Some games allow a winner to double or quadruple the bounty by betting on the colour of a drawn card or its suit.
Tips & Advice For Playing Slot Machines
Slot machines offer the opportunity to wager a little or a little more or a lot on each spin. If you bet only one coin you will typically receive some of the worst odds in a casino – the house edge can exceed 10%. The more you bet on each spin the better your chances are to win, although a slot machine will never return as much money to players as table games. Also on progressive jackpot slot machines you usually have to make the maximum wager to be eligible to win that jackpot.
Slots players are always on the lookout for “loose machines” – machines that deliver a larger return to the players. Theories as to where they may be abound – near the entrance (casinos want new arrivals to see winning machines), at the end of aisles (to bring players into the aisle where tight machines await in the middle), near the coin redemption booth (to make punters anxious to go back out and gamble), away from the buffet and show lines (people are just going to pour spare change into them so why waste a payout), and more. Some of these theories may have had a shred of validity years ago when casinos had a few hundred machines but in today’s gaming world most slots directors do not have the time or staff to micro-manage facilities with thousands of machines.
Casino studies have shown that patrons cannot tell the difference in a machine’s volatility when the payout rates are changed. The principles of hit frequency have migrated to the online world where data from hundreds of plays can be assembled and volatility rates tracked. Experienced players can usually discern from a game’s features and paytable (games with limited bonus rounds and lower maximum payouts will typically deliver more wins) whether it will deliver a high or low rate of return and tailor their game choices to personal preferences.