Do you sometimes wonder what you’re doing wrong when you’re playing slot machines?
It’s only natural that you’d sometimes see other players winning jackpots and wonder what you’re doing wrong.
Are you picking the wrong machines every time?
Everyone can find slot machines that will let you win.
But winning isn’t everything, and this post explains exactly why.
Winning Jackpots Doesn’t Mean You’re a Net Winner
My goal when playing a slot machine is to win a jackpot. (The jackpot is the top prize on a machine.)
There’s a thrill involved in winning a big prize that doesn’t compare with what other lower-prize games offer. But I’m also keenly aware that I’m not a net winner.
Sure, I’ve hit a few large jackpots. But I’m absolutely certain that I’ve lost enough money both before and after those jackpots that I’m a net loser over time.
There’s not much you can do to avoid that fate, because that’s how slot machines work. They’re negative expectation games. If they weren’t, the casinos wouldn’t offer them. Casinos are in business to make money, and they do that by offering games where they have a mathematical edge over the player.
Confirmation bias often encourages players to think they’re winning more often than they thought. I can’t count how many people I’ve met who were absolutely convinced that they were “about even” over the course of their slot machine playing career.
In fact, if every player I knew were really “about even,” I’m convinced that the casinos wouldn’t still be in business.
But it’s also undeniable that some slot machines are looser than others. (A “loose” slot machine game is one which pays out more than a “tight” slot machine. It’s a vague word that can be evaluated in multiple ways, as I’ll explain in the next section.)
How to Find Loose Slot Machines Instead of Tight Ones
Generally, it’s almost impossible to choose with any degree of certainty a slot machine that’s going to be looser than another slot machine. This is because slot machines use random number generators (RNGs) to determine their results.
A random number generator is just a computer program that cycles through thousands of numbers per second. Each number corresponds to a symbol combination on the reels of the slot machine. The probabilities of the various combinations coming up are set by the designers of the games.
But this algorithm is invisible to the player. You don’t know if the probability of getting a cherry on a payline is 1/8, 1/32, or 1/64.
To make things even trickier, identical slot machines can be running different programs “under the hood.” That Monopoly slot machine you’re playing might have a payback percentage of 91%, while a seemingly-identical Monopoly slot machine next to it might be programmed with a payback percentage of 94%.
The payback percentage, by the way, is the amount of each bet that’s returned to the player as winnings in the long run – over thousands of spins. It’s a function of the prize amounts for each combination and the probabilities of winning those prizes.
If a jackpot is really large, it can make the payback percentage for a machine really high compared to other games where you might hit winning spins twice as often.
That’s because the payback percentage isn’t the only mathematical fact about a slot machine. Hit frequency is another way to measure how loose or tight a slot machine game is.
A game with a high hit frequency percentage is one that gives you winning combinations more often. This doesn’t mean it has a higher payback percentage, but you might feel like you’re winning more money more often.
While there are no hard and fast rules for choosing a looser slot machine, there are some general guidelines you can use for guidance.
Avoid Progressive Jackpot Machines
A slot machine with a progressive jackpot has a top prize that’s constantly growing. In the largest examples, like Mega Bucks, where the prize starts at $10 million and grows from there, your probability of winning is similar to your probability of winning the lottery.
But since the prize is so large, the overall payback percentage for the game might seem reasonably high.
For practical purposes, though, it’s not. For one thing, that jackpot is fed by a tiny percentage of each bet you make. This effectively lowers the payback percentage for the game.
More practically still, if you never realize the $10 million payout – which you probably won’t – you’ll see a lower actual payback percentage than the theoretical prediction.
Avoid Games with a Lot of Bells and Whistles
Slot machine games which have lots of bonus features like scatter symbols, wild symbols, and bonus games have lower payback percentages overall than simpler machines. All these bells and whistles cost the casino money, and they compensate by paying out less in prizes.
Think about it this way.
The amount of money the casino expects to win from you is based on how much time you spend on the machine spinning the reels. Every time you win a bonus game, you’re playing that bonus game instead of spinning the reels.
How do they pay for that?
They lower the expected return for your bets to compensate for the fewer bets per hour you’re placing.
Higher-Denomination Slots Can Have a Higher Payback Percentage
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a firm rule.
You shouldn’t play over your bankroll just because you think you’ll get a higher payback percentage on the $5 slots than you would on the dollar slots.
There are websites that have information about payback percentages for slot machines all over the country. A good example is the American Casino Guide.
The payback percentages they provide for Nevada are especially useful because they slice and dice that data in various ways – according to location AND denomination.
Here’s a look at what happens by denomination to the slot machine games on the Strip in Las Vegas.
- Penny slots average 90.82%
- Nickel slots average 91.88%
- Quarter slots average 89.98%
- Dollar slots average 92.63%
- Dollar slots (Megabucks) average 86.81%
Notice a couple of things.
Quarter slots actually have a lower payback percentage than nickel slots, although dollar slots have the best payback percentage listed.
And the Megabucks payback percentage is significantly lower than even the penny slots.
Calculating the Average Cost per Hour for Playing Slot Machines
One of my favorite exercises with any casino game is to calculate how much money the casino expects you to lose, mathematically, playing a specific game.
Since we have the information about the various slot machine games at the various denominations in Las Vegas, it’s easy to calculate how much you can expect to lose per hour at each denomination.
The formula is simplicity itself – it’s just the number of spins per hour, multiplied by the amount bet per spin on average, multiplied by the house edge. (The house edge is just the payback percentage subtracted from 100%.)
Most players play 600 spins per hour.
On most penny slot machines, you need to bet 25 paylines to cover all the possible paylines. This means you’re actually wagering 25 cents per spin. With 600 spins per hour, that’s $150 in hourly action.
The average house edge for the penny slots in Las Vegas is 9.18%.
That’s an expected loss per hour of $13.77.
You can find plenty of nickel machines where you can play for just five coins per spin, which means you can still put $150 per hour into action.
But the house edge on these games is a little better, at 8.12%.
That reduces your expected hourly loss to $12.18.
In that respect, playing nickel slots is actually easier on your bankroll than playing penny slots.
Quarter slots are a little tougher, though. For one thing, if you bet five coins on a quarter slot, you’re now putting $1.25 into action per spin. That’s $750/hour instead of $150/hour.
And since the house edge actually goes up, your expected hourly loss also goes up – to 10.02%.
That’s an expected hourly loss of $75.15.
With dollar slots, you’ll probably still play five coins per hand, but just to be conservative, we’ll call it three coins per spin. That’s $1,800 per hour in action. With a house edge of 7.37%, you’re looking at an expected hourly loss of a whopping $132.66.
Megabucks also requires a three-coin bet per spin. But the house edge for this game is 13.19%, so you’re looking at an average hourly loss of $237.42.
Where You Play Slot Machines Makes a Big Difference, Too
It used to be commonly believed that the looser slot machines were placed on the ends of the slot machine banks. The theory was that the frequent wins on these machines would be more likely to attract more players.
This was a myth (probably) when it was first promoted, but it’s certainly one of the many common slot machine myths now.
And that’s not what I meant when I said where you play slot machines makes a big difference, anyway.
I was talking about the location of the casino.
Different locations have slot machines with different payback percentages.
For example, just inside Las Vegas, you can compare the overall payback percentages in four different areas of Las Vegas. The best-paying location is listed first.
- Boulder Strip – 94.37%
- North Las Vegas – 93.56%
- Downtown – 92.78%
- The Strip – 92.00%
I should point out that these percentages include results from video poker and video keno, too. But a difference of 2.37% in return has a huge effect on your expected hourly loss when playing the slots.
These locations don’t tell the whole story, either, though. There are locals’ casinos in Las Vegas which have payback percentages higher than this. You can also find slot machines with far worse payback percentages in bars, convenience stores, and the airport.
But here’s the deal. ALL the games have a payback percentage of less than 100%.
This means that in the long run, you can’t win at slot machines unless you quit while you’re ahead. And usually this means really early in your slot machine playing career, too. The longer you play, the more likely it becomes that you’ll be a net loser.
The way the math behind casino games works, the more you play, the closer your actual results will come to the mathematically expected results.
If you’re lucky enough to win a big jackpot early in your slot machine playing career, it might be worth considering retiring a winner.
What Does This All Add Up To?
The casino cares more about your hourly expected loss than anything else. This means they can focus on how much time you spend playing on the machine. If they can increase that, they can increase their earnings. That’s two things they focus on.
- Expected hourly loss
- Time spent on machine
You have a lot more to think about as a player, though.
For example, do you want to go for the big jackpot?
It might be worth $237/hour for you to go after a $10 million jackpot, even if you’re probably not going to win it.
Or would you prefer to have frequent small wins, even if you’re losing money gradually?
Playing the lower-denomination games is probably the way to go. Stick with the penny and nickel slots, but lean toward the nickel slots. The payback percentage is better.
Just be careful to choose nickel slots where you’re not giving up large potential prizes when you decide to not bet on 25 paylines.
The truth is, anyone can find a slot machine that will let you win. In fact, you’ll win 300 or 400 times per hour on most slot machines. The problem is that the size of those wins is usually small enough that you’ll lose more on the 200 or 300 losing spins than you win.
This creates a net loss for you and a net win for the casino.
No, you’re not doing anything wrong when you’re choosing which slot machines to play. They all have a mathematical advantage for the house, and there’s little you can do to choose the winning games from the losing games.
In fact, they’re all losing games if you play them long enough.
That being said, you can do a few things to help you find slot machines that will let you win more often. You can avoid the fancy games with all the bells and whistles.
You can also find the casinos and the locations where the payback percentages are higher. Stay away from the bars, convenience stores, and airports – that’s where the worst slot machines are found.
As a final point, it’s worth noting that some of the slot machines you’ll find at our top-rated online casinos offer very attractive payback percentages.
How to Find Slot Machines That Will Let You WinDecember 31, 2018