Slot Machine Strategy: The Ultimate Guide

Slot machine strategy might initially seem like an oxymoron. After all, slot machines are not games of skill.

But if you think of the word “strategy” more accurately, you’ll see that it’s not an oxymoron at all. When I search The Oxford Dictionary for the definition, I get the following result:

A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how you can start thinking about a slot machine strategy. The first step is deciding what your overall aim, or goal, is.

1- Consider Your Goals and Customize Your Slot Machine Strategy Accordingly

It’s not really my place to tell you what your goals should be.

But I have an opinion.

Your goal when gambling at a casino ought to be to maximize the amount of entertainment you get for your money.

This involves some thought on your part.

What do you find entertaining?

If you enjoy games of strategy and skill where you get to socialize with other players, slot machines are probably the wrong game to play. You’re probably better off at the blackjack or poker tables.

On the other hand, if you prefer being left alone and just waiting for fortune to smile on you, slot machines might be the perfect option.

If you enjoy lots of small wins and want to lose as little money as possible while you play, traditional 3-reel slots are probably the right choice.

On the other hand, if your goal is to shoot for a huge, life-changing jackpot, progressive slot machines offer the kind of big prize that will excite you.

I’ll talk more about how to choose the right slot machine in the next section.

But for now, know this:

Having a strategy starts with having a goal. Think about what your goals are when you’re gambling at a casino.

Then make decisions accordingly.

2- The Correct Strategy for Choosing a Slot Machine to Play

You can find plenty of advice about which slot machines offer the highest payback percentages. That is, indeed, one factor you can use to choose a slot machine.

But it’s not the only factor.

Remember, this is about entertainment. The odds are stacked against you. In fact, no matter how high the payback percentage is, as long as it’s under 100%, you’ll eventually lose all your money if you keep playing.

That’s how the house edge works.

It eats away at your bankroll, little by little until it’s all gone.

The only difference is how long it takes. That might or might not matter to you.

If your goal is simply to get the most time in front of the machine while losing as little as money as possible, you should consider the payback percentage, though.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of payback percentage:

It’s a percentage that predicts how much money the slot machine will pay you back in winnings on average on each spin over time.

For example, if we say that a slot machine has a payback percentage of 96%, we expect that game to pay back 96 cents for every dollar you bet on it.

But that’s a long-term expectation. In the short run, on any individual spin, or even a dozen or a hundred spins, you can easily come out ahead of that expectation. It’s an average.

One of the problems with slot machines as contrasted with other gambling games is that the payback percentage and house edge are a mystery. You know how much each combination pays out, but you don’t know the probability of getting any of those combinations.

You need both pieces of data to be able to estimate the payback percentage.

Michael Bluejay has an excellent page on the subject of playing slot machines. He explains how to find the best payback percentages as follows:

Avoid progressive jackpots. These are slot machine games where the jackpot rises continually while you’re playing. The probability of hitting that progressive jackpot is usually astronomical. The payback percentage on progressive jackpot slot machines is always lower.

Choose the games with the smallest jackpots. These games have the best payback percentages.

Play slot machine games with as high a denomination as you can afford. Generally speaking, the higher the denomination, the better the payback percentage. A penny slot machine might only have a payback percentage of 88%, but a nickel version of the same machine probably has a 92% payback percentage. A dollar slot might have a payback percentage of 94%.

Try to play slots in Nevada, and avoid the slots in Atlantic City. Most casinos don’t offer specific information about their games’ payback percentages. But you can find information about the average payback percentages for various regions. It won’t take long to realize that slot machines in Nevada offer better odds than slot machines in New Jersey.

3- Online Slot Machines Generally Offer a Better Payback Percentage than Traditional Land-Based Games

This is an observation based on anecdotal evidence and my own experience. Since online casinos are extremely competitive and have no overhead to speak of–at least when compared to a land-based casino–they offer better odds.

My guess is that the payback percentage for an average online slot machine is 2% better than the comparable game at a land-based casino. Depending on where you’re playing, it might be significantly more than that.

For example, the payback percentages for the slot machines at the airport in Las Vegas are notoriously low. Any casino offers a significantly better game, but online casinos offer a magnitude of difference.

Also, when you play at an online casino, you’ll get a signup bonus that increases the amount of time you get to play. This usually comes in the form of a deposit match of a certain percentage with a certain maximum.

For example, you might find an online casino offering a deposit bonus of 100% up to $300. This means that when you deposit $300, you get $300 in bonus chips with which to play slots there.

You have to wager that money a certain number of times before cashing out, but if you’re interested in slots merely for their entertainment value–which is the right attitude, by the way–these extra funds are going to help you get more entertainment for your dollar.

4- Slot Machine Strategy Advice That’s Safe to Ignore

You’ll find all kinds of ludicrous advice about winning at slot machines that you can safely ignore. Some of this advice might even sound reasonable at first, but upon closer examination, it falls apart.

Here’s one example:

You’ll find certain proponents of a betting strategy called the “zig-zag” strategy. The premise is that you find slot machines that have near misses showing on the reels. The theory is that such games are about to pay off.

The reality is that these games are powered by a random number generator. That’s a computer program that cycles through thousands of numbers per second. Each of those numbers corresponds to a certain reel position.

When you hit the “spin” button or pull the lever on the machine, the RNG stops at whatever number it’s on during that nanosecond. The symbols on the reels are just for show.

Here’s another example:

You’ll find some people who claim that the casinos put the machines with the best payback percentages on the ends of the rows. The idea is that these games will pay off more often and attract players to the other slot machines.

This idea might have had some truth to it at some point in the past, but it’s not true today. Only the casino manager knows which machines are placed where. But they’re not using some kind of exploitable scheme to place those games.

You’ll find people who think that slot machines get hot or cold, too. That’s a confirmation bias issue.

Yes, any time you deal with something random like a slot machine, you’ll see winning streaks and losing streaks. But those are only visible in retrospect. You can’t predict how long such a streak will last.

There are no easy ways to get better odds on a slot machine.

And there are no ways to guarantee yourself a winning record on the one-armed bandits, either.

5- The Pros and Cons of Bankroll Management as a Slot Machine Strategy

One of the most popular approaches to winning at slot machines is “bankroll management”. The idea is that you’ll set win goals and stop loss limits to improve your chances of winning.

Here’s how that works:

You have $1000 in your bankroll. You decide to set a win goal of 20%, and a stop loss limit of 20%.

When and if you have $1200, you quit playing.

When and if you have $800, you quit playing.

The idea is to limit your losses and walk away a winner if you get lucky.

The obvious pro to this approach is that it prevents you from wasting your entire gambling bankroll on a single session. On the other hand, if you’re willing to lose $200 and no more, that’s your effective bankroll for the session. The other $800 isn’t relevant. You might as well not count it as part of your bankroll.

The obvious con to this approach is that it doesn’t change the odds of winning or losing. The payback percentage for the slot machine remains the same. You might occasionally have winning sessions. You’ll certainly have losing sessions.

But over time, regardless of any short-term bankroll management systems you use, your eventual cumulative results will almost certainly look like the theoretical results.

The only way to win forever is to get lucky once and never play again.

6- Consider Alternatives Like Video Poker, but Stay Far Away from Video Blackjack

Video poker has numerous advantages over slot machines. For one thing, you get to make decisions which affect your outcome. A good video poker player might be able to increase the payback percentage to a game to 99% or higher with the right pay table. A bad video poker player might only achieve 95% or so on the same game.

I like games where the decisions I make have a real effect on my outcomes. I think you will too.

Another big advantage is that video poker games in general offer a higher payback percentage. The worst video poker games have a payback percentage around 95%–as long as you can play with something similar to optimal strategy.

On the other hand, slot machines tend to max out at about 95%.

My main gripe with slot machines is that the payback percentage is unknown. Since you don’t know the probability of winning, you don’t know what kind of odds you’re actually facing. In fact, 2 identical slot machines with all the same symbols might be programmed to have dramatically different payback percentages.

No other game in the casino keeps the math behind the game so opaque.

Video poker, though, uses the same probabilities as a deck of cards. Since we know what the probability of getting a specific hand is, we can estimate the payback percentage for the game.

Video blackjack, on the other hand, is just like table blackjack–with one major exception. A natural total of 21 at a traditional blackjack table pays off at 3 to 2. Most video blackjack games only offer even money on a blackjack.

I recommend staying far away from video blackjack, but video poker is great.

7- Joining the Slots Club and Playing with Your Card Inserted Is ALWAYS a Sound Slot Machine Strategy

Casinos want to incentivize your slot machine play. That’s why they have a slots club. The card tracks your action in the machines so that they know how much to give you in comps–free stuff that rewards gamblers.

Playing with the card inserted does nothing to decrease your probability of winning.

That’s one of the biggest myths in the casino.

Instead, you get between 0.1% and 0.3% of your action back in free stuff. This might include meals, show tickets, or lodging.

You should never play slot machines without joining the slots club 1st and then inserting the card into the machine before you play.

Conclusion

Yes, slot machine strategy is a real thing, but it’s not what you think. It has more to do with knowing what your goals are as they relate to gambling and how best to achieve them.

Contrast this with “blackjack strategy” for example, which focuses on making the right decision in every situation.

Common slot machine strategies include bankroll management and finding the best payback percentages. But the reality is that slot machines can’t be beat in the long run.

As long as you understand and accept that, you can play slot machines to your heart’s content.

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