Slot machines are the dominant form of gambling in every gaming jurisdiction all over the world. The image of a slot machine, and the fruit and playing card symbols commonly used on slot machine reels, act as a stand-in for the concept of casino gambling in general. In short, slot machines are central to the gaming industry.

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This page is a complete guide to playing slots designed for people who have never played a slot game before. On this page, we’ll cover the definition of what a slot is and the basics of how to play, alongside coverage of slot machine odds and payouts. We’ll also link to individual slots games like Life of Brian.

What Is a Slot Machine?

Let’s start with a dictionary definition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a slot machine is any “coin-operated gaming machine that generates random combinations of symbols on a dial, certain combinations winning varying amounts of money for the player.” This is a tidy definition, a little bit wordy, but a good explanation of this style of casino game.

These games have different nicknames around the world. In England, they’re called fruit machines, owing to the fruit symbols found on most early slot-style games. In Scotland, they’re known as puggies, a local term for basically any mechanical device. Australians love to play their pokies (short for “poker machine”), and in frontier days the machines activated by a mechanical lever were sometimes called “one-armed bandits.”

Games of Chance

Slot machines are games of chance normally played with a standard layout. In land-based casinos, slots typically have a display screen, a chair or stool where the player sits and interacts with the screen, and a pay box that accepts and pays out winnings. The display of the game is generally standardized as well. On the screen, players will see a specific number of reels displaying different characters.

In days gone by, players pulled a physical lever to spin the game’s mechanical reels. These days, slots operate electronically, using complex computer brains to produce random numbers that determine combinations and winnings. Modern technology also means some games have sophisticated video and audio displays often featuring popular licensed characters from the movies, television, or video games. Stadium-style slots, with multiple seats for multiple players, are becoming popular around the world.

How to Play Slot Machines

The goal of slot play is to line up different combinations of symbols across the game’s different reels. Each game has a table of winning combinations, displayed prominently. Some of these combinations pay out small amounts of credits, others lead to bonus games or other special forms of slot play that tend to be more lucrative.

Different slot games have different numbers of reels and symbols. No matter the game, slots are known for the spinning reels, which display different symbols as the reels spin around. The invisible “lines” across the game’s reels that lead to winning combinations are known as pay lines, and slot games have different numbers of pay lines that players can activate with larger and larger bets.

You play a slot machine by adding money, selecting your bet size, then choosing the number of units to wager. This amount will vary widely from one machine to another. You can save yourself a little bit of math by choosing the “max bet” option. More on that option in the next section.

When you’re ready to begin play, press the “SPIN” button, usually prominently located on the machine’s case or display screen. The reels will spin, and your combinations will be instantly tallied by the machine, which will tell you whether you’ve won or not. If you’ve triggered a payout, you’ll see the machine tally up your win and add it to your credits. If you’ve triggered a bonus round or some other special feature, you’ll see the screen change and begin the next round. And, if you don’t win anything, you’ll have another opportunity to play right away.

How Much Do Slot Machines Cost to Play?

Slots come with a variety of bet sizes. Some games can be played for bets as little as $0.01 per spin. Known as penny slots, they’re the most affordable way to play, though your winnings are limited. Typically, slots come in the following denomination sizes:

—$0.01
—$0.05
—$0.10
—$0.25
—$0.50
—$1
—$5
—High-denomination slots

Those “high-denomination slots” are also known as high-roller machines, and they’re usually kept in their own area on the casino floor. It’s common to find slots in big gambling jurisdictions at $10, $25, $50, or $100 per spin.

Generally, the biggest prizes on slot games are only available for maximum bets, meaning wagers in the game’s highest denomination on the maximum number of pay lines. A slot may be listed as a penny slot, but if a max bet represents 100 units at a penny each, that’s $1 per spin. It’s considered good slot strategy to find a game that you can afford to play at the “max bet” level, since that leads to the game’s most valuable payouts and other prizes.

Slot Machine Odds

Like any game in the casino, slots are designed to win money for the house. Over time, even when players win jackpots, a slot machine’s programming ensures that the casino earns a profit, even if that profit seems slim. This is how all games in the casino work – they’re all designed to pay out enough in prizes to entice people to try their luck. Slot machines are no different.

The casino’s advantage on a given slot machine is usually represented in the form of a Return to Player percentage. This is a number between 0 and 100. That number indicates how much a slot will keep of all of the money paid into it over its lifetime. Typically, slot machines have a Return to Player percentage between 80 and 99%, though machines with an RTP below 80% aren’t unheard of.

The higher the denomination of a slot machine, the higher the game’s average RTP figure. On average, an American nickel slot in a brick & mortar casino has an RTP of 92.5%. At the other end of the spectrum, high-roller slots tend to offer RTP figures around 98%.

You can find out the average RTP figures for most slot games you’ll find in US casinos. In states where that information isn’t readily available, you can usually find average RTP figures listed by denomination or even by casino or city.

Slot Machine Features

It’s important to consider the financial aspect of any slot you choose – playing at the proper denomination keeps your budget tight and grants you more entertainment value for your bankroll.

Slots players often look for different in-game features when choosing which game to play. Below is a brief guide to each of the most popular special features found on casino slots games.

The Wild Symbol

A wild symbol is any slot machine symbol that appears on the reels and can substitute for other symbols in order to form a winning combination. Borrowed from casual card games, the notion of a wild symbol took off, and is now a big part of all modern slots.

The Scatter Symbol

A scatter symbol is any slot machine symbol that appears on the reels and triggers a special payout or bonus round automatically. Most games don’t require that scatter symbols appear on a specific reel or in a specific combination in order to earn a bonus. Scatter symbols are sometimes used to trigger jackpots, progressives, or other special features.

Bonus Games

A bonus game is any part of a slot machine that takes place outside the standard play of the game. Some bonus games are skill-based, requiring that players perform certain functions well to earn bigger bonuses. Others are little more than video screens that pay out random prizes.

Side Games

Side games are a sub-category of slot machine bonus game that pause the main action of slot play and begin an entirely different contest. Generally composed of skill-based games related to the theme of the main slot, they can pay out multipliers, bonus prizes, or lead to other game features.

Gamble Features

A gamble feature is a specific subset of side game allowing slots players to gamble a win in hopes of a larger payout. Usually a double-or-nothing “pick a card”-style contest, gamble features are popular among a certain subset of slots fans, though not all slots players are interested in them.

Progressive Jackpots

Progressive jackpots are slot payouts that grow over time. These games are generally linked in a network of games so that many players contribute to increasing the jackpot. Modern progressive networks have led to wins in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Not all progressive top prizes are that high – in fact, smaller but more achievable progressives are the preferred target of slots fans that love this type of game.

Conclusion

Slots are a form of entertainment. The existence of cash prizes and other rewards are a bonus. Ultimately, money spent playing a slot machine is the same as cash you’d spend on a movie ticket or a pass to a municipal zoo.

Slot machines and games similar to slots are by far the most popular casino games in the world. In America alone, more than a million slot and slot-style games are spread across almost all 50 states. Whether you call them pokies, fruit machines, or slots, these games of chance have a permanent spot in the gaming industry.