In Nevada alone, casino slot revenues were a staggering $6.8 billion dollars in 2009. That’s 60% of the state’s entire gaming revenue. Casinos the world over report similar numbers, making it clear that slot machines are the most popular gambling game around. Why are slots so universally loved? It may have something to do with how easy they are to play. Anyone can learn slots in just a couple minutes, and most who learn end up loving them. Perhaps the appeal is due to the beauty of the machines themselves. Both online slot machines and casino slots are feats of engineering, which is awesome for those of us who like to study specs. Or maybe people love slot machines simply for the gambling experience. The suspense you feel while spinning the reels is entirely unlike the drawn-out nature of most table games; it’s a mixture of tension, suspense, and intense excitement that you just can’t get playing blackjack or poker.

If any of this sounds attractive to you, giving online slot machines or casino slots a try may be worthwhile. Especially now with online slot machines, it’s never been easier to jump into action. You just need to know a few simple rules before you make the dive.

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How to Play Slot Machines

Since you found this page, I’m going to assume you’ve seen a slot machine before. You may not know how slot machines work, though, and that’s okay – we’ll cover everything you need to know in this section.

Every slot machine has a few basic components. They are:

  • Reels: the spinning discs with symbols printed on them. The game of slots is based around spinning and reading symbols on the reels, so these are important to know about.
  • Symbols:the graphics printed on the reels. The goal of slots is to line these symbols up in particular combinations. Different combinations have different payouts, and some have no payouts at all.
  • Pay table:the chart printed on a slot machine (or for online slot machines, on the “pay table” screen). This chart lists symbol combinations and their corresponding payouts. It’s a good idea to look at the pay table before you start playing, so that you know which combinations to look out for.
  • Paylines: the sequences of positions on the reels that allow you to make winning combinations. Most slots have one payline right across the middle of the reels, for example; line up a winning sequence of symbols in the middle positions, and you hit a prize. Some online slot machines have ten or more paylines, which means more positions from which you can win.
  • Spin button/lever: the control you hit to set the reels in motion. Most modern slot machines have both a button and a lever, so you can pick whichever you prefer. Online slot machines are obviously limited to buttons.

Once you’re familiar with these parts of a slot machine, you’re basically ready to play. Most of the skill involved in playing slots is in knowing how to read symbol combinations and how to work a machine. To get started at a particular slot machine, the first step is to purchase spins. At a casino slot machine you just insert a bill into the cash slot. At an online slot machine, you deposit cash into your casino account using a credit card, debit card, or other funding source.

Once you have credits, a round of slots goes like this:

  • Select the number of paylines to play and the credits to play per payline. Playing multiple paylines increases your chances of hitting a winning combination for any given spin. Playing multiple credits per payline multiplies your wins by the number of credits you bet (e.g. 5 credits per payline multiplies your wins by 5).
  • Press the spin button or pull the machine’s lever.
  • Once the reels stop spinning, the machine will indicate whether or not you won.
  • Collect any winnings and spin again.

How Slot Machines Work

Knowing how to play slots is one thing, but knowing how they really work is another. Playing is simple: you just click (or push) and spin. But behind the scenes, there’s a whole lot of complexity that keeps the games running smoothly.

Classic casino slot machines are the most primitive type, and for the most part work exactly as you might guess. They usually consist of three gear-like reels, each with ten or so symbols printed on them. When you spin the reels, each stop (symbol) on the reels has an equal probability of showing up on a payline. Everything is mechanical, and there is no computerized symbol weighting at all.

This means there are comparatively fewer winning combinations on a classic casino slot machine than on newer online slot machines. Because of this, classic machines tend to pay out much smaller jackpots than modern machines.

In the mid eighties, mechanical slot machines got a makeover. Manufacturers began producing machines with computer-controlled virtual reels, rather than mechanical stop mechanisms with one-to-one symbol correspondence. Most of the slot machines you find in a casino today have virtual reels working behind the scenes. Of course, all online slot machines operate by the virtual reel principle.

Virtual reels allow casinos to weight a machine’s symbols differently. So a Bar could have a 2/32 probability of showing up, a Cherry could have a 8/32 probability of showing up, and so on. This means that casinos can offer higher payouts for symbols with a lower probability of showing up. Most jackpot slot machines have heavily skewed symbol distributions on their virtual reels.

Playing Free & Real Money Slots At Home

Thanks to the Internet, slots are more accessible than ever. Most people don’t realize that there are hundreds of online casinos out there offering thousands of online slot machines between them. This makes traveling to a casino redundant, unless you’re after the social experience. If you would like to play socially online, check out list of Facebook slot machines. They also have a Facebook page for blackjack, craps and roulette.

What’s more, real money online slots usually have much better payout percentages than casino slot machines (not sure what a payout percentage is, check out our slot terms page.). The average online casino’s slot payouts hover around 95-96%, which means that 96 cents of every dollar wagered ends up back in players’ pockets over the longhaul. Contrast that to Vegas, where the average slot machine pays out 85-87%. Long story short, you can play longer and win more playing slots for cash online.

Though online slots are undeniably convenient, sometimes it’s great to be able to play a physical machine. Believe it or not, you don’t need to leave your home to do so. It’s becoming increasingly popular for people to outfit dens and game rooms with refurbished slot machines. So if you’re after the complete sensory experience of a real casino slot machine, consider purchasing a refurbished slot game.

Surely it must be expensive to buy a physical slot machine, right? Not necessarily. You won’t pay any more for a slot machine than you would on a TV or home theater system. Depending on make and model, a mint-condition slot machine will run you about $600 to $2000 dollars. This could actually save you money in the long run, if you play a lot of slots.

Online Slots vs. Casino Slots

Is it better to play slots online or at a casino? There’s no hard and fast answer to this question. It’s largely a matter of personal preference, as the online slots experience is completely different from the casino experience in many ways.

Online slot machines are great because they are:

  • Convenient. Online casinos are open 24/7, so you aren’t limited to specific hours of play. You can play in your pajamas, from the beach, or while doing laundry – the options are endless.
  • Cheap. We’ve already seen that online slot machines pay out more on average than casino slot machines. That means savings for you in the long run, which will keep you in play much longer. You’ll also save wads of cash in gas, travel, and accommodation expenses once you start playing online slots.
  • Abundant.Every online casino offers hundreds of different slot machines, while most brick-and-mortar casinos only have space for 10-20. You can also play 3D slots like At the Movies, Paco and the Popping peppers , A Night in Paris and Ned and His Friends. If you’re after variety and novelty, online slot machines are undoubtedly the best choice for you.

On the other hand, casino slot machines have their own upsides. They are:

  • Classic. Casinos are rife with cultural significance, especially in the West. It’s a rite of passage to play at a live casino, and doing so is always a great experience.
  • An experience. If you just want to play slots, you might be better off sticking to online slot machines. But if you’re after a weekend of entertainment, going to a casino may be a better bet. When you play casino slots, you also get access to a casino’s shows, events, and table games. This could make for more fun if you’re gambling with a partner or your family.
  • Communal. Casino gambling is all about the atmosphere. The sharp sounds of coins clashing, the pleasant flashing of various lights, and the feeling of communal tension and release are all things you won’t get online. A big reason casinos are fun is because you’re there gambling with other people; it’s a shared experience, even if you never talk to anyone. If you’re after this sort of implicit comradery, casino slot machines are far better than online slot machines. 


University of Nevada Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research. Nevada Gaming Revenue: Long-Term Trends. 2009.