While they are traditionally among the simplest of casino games, slot machines have evolved to become highly immersive, sophisticated, and entertaining games. By understanding how they work, how to select the best games (or machines) and applying simple strategies, you can spin and have a higher chance of winning while you’re at it.
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How do slots machines work?
Simple 3-reel slot machines have given way to their digital counterparts, where the possibilities are seemingly endless. 5, 6 and even 7 reels, along with special features, dynamic symbols, multiple paylines and phenomenal themes provide players with many options and opportunities.
Understanding how they work – the mechanics, types, symbols and winning combinations – is the first step towards slots betting success.
Traditional slot machines have 3 (and sometimes 5) reels, each with multiple symbols, also referred to as ‘stops’. Reels generally contain between 10 and 32 symbols, with their own respective meaning, value, and payout. The reels spin independently and the goal is to match up symbols of the same or similar variety.
At its core, slots are a game of chance. Slot machines are controlled by a physical spinning mechanism, gears, and a simple braking system. Online slots are controlled by an algorithm that sets the speed (and braking) of the reels. In much the same way as a random number generator works, slots have little to do with skill and much to do with basic logic, insight, and persistence.
Types of slot machines
Besides the classic 3 or 5-reel machines, slots come in a variety of different types. As opposed to just having a single straight-line winning combination, some slots have multiple paylines that work in different configurations and directions.
By becoming digital, video slots allowed gameplay to expand beyond physical limitations, with more reels, more symbols, and bonus features/rounds. More recently, 3D slots incorporate interactive elements, animations and dynamic symbols that can change position, as well as game-within-a-game sequences.
Perhaps most distinctive, progressive slots’ potential winnings accumulate with each player until someone wins the jackpot. This means that the likelihood of winning is less but with a far greater reward should it occur.
The icons or pictures on each ‘stop’ represents a symbol, with each having a distinctive meaning and value, specifically in combination with the same or complementary symbols. Generally, numbered ‘stops’ are lower value, while higher value symbols are represented by forms or characters that are unique to the game in question.
For example, Thunderstruck’s highest value symbol is the image of the Norse god, Thor. It is important to know what each of the symbols means in relation to the specific game you choose to play.
Online or digital slots usually have a wild symbol, which allows you to substitute it for any other symbol in your combination to create the best possible outcome. Scatters are another unique symbol whereby if a certain number of them are present on the reels, it unlocks a prize or a bonus round.
While traditional machines exhibit a single payline – usually a straight horizontal line of the same symbols – modern slots offer greater redemption and more opportunities to win.
They boast multiple paylines in different configurations and directions, including diagonal and ‘zig-zag’ patterns. Also, certain symbols are complementary and work together to deliver high-value combinations.
For example, ‘5 of a kind’ anywhere on the reels in Thunderstruck produces a 500x your total bet in winnings. Scatters (the same symbol anywhere on the board) usually unlocks free spins or a bonus round where winnings can be multiplied.
Furthermore, by replacing any other icon on the board to create a winning combination, the wild symbol offers even more opportunities for success.
How to win at slots machines
Once the basic premise of slot games is understood, specifically in relation to one’s own disposition and competencies, a specific game type and game can be chosen, as well as selecting a specific machine in a brick-and-mortar casino.
A simple strategy, money management and the ability to remain consistent and persistent can all be used in combination to achieve your best chance of slots betting success.
Select the correct slots game
The first, and possibly the most important factor is to select the correct slot game – this refers to the game type as well as the game itself. Generally, it is better to choose a slot that has multiple paylines and, ultimately, more ways to win. However, multi-payline slots tend to have a greater number of reels and symbols, which means that it is harder to achieve high-value winning combinations.
If you want to win more frequently (but smaller amounts), it is best to choose a non-progressive slot. However, if you’d prefer to take greater risks but reap larger rewards, jackpot slots are recommended. When selecting a specific game, certain criteria should be noted (as outlined below).
Select the Correct Machine (if physical)
If playing in a physical casino, the choice of the individual machine may also be a determining factor. This is due to the concept of ‘loose slots’, whereby some machines return bigger winnings or on a more frequent basis than others.
Such machines can be identified through visual inspection, by asking other players (or employees of the casino) or by playing multiple machines to determine which ones produce returns most often. These machines are also often located in high traffic areas of the casino, so it is important to be mindful of layouts and placements.
Select a strategy
Due to their simplicity, there aren’t many strict strategies that can be applied to slots, as opposed to more complex games, such as blackjack or poker. However, some guidelines can certainly be followed. First of all, the highest RTP (return to player) slots should be identified, which will be discussed in more detail below.
Some players may choose to always ‘bet max’ to achieve bigger wins more quickly. In fact, some games’ progressive or jackpot features can only be activated and won when betting the maximum amount. Slots, such as Mega Joker, produce elevated RTPs when larger amounts are wagered.
On the other hand, some players may choose the lowest denomination machines (betting the minimum) in order to extend gameplay and improve their odds over time – this is the long and slow approach.
It is also advisable to join a slots club or loyalty program to meet like-minded individuals, improve your slots knowledge and to take advantage of exclusive bonuses and promotions. Furthermore, specific strategies regarding money management should be applied.
Manage your money (while being persistent)
With slots, it is imperative to establish a money management strategy beforehand, with clear loss and win limits. Creating a loss limit allows one to not fall down the ‘rabbit hole’ of persistent play in the hopes of recovering losses, while a win limit allows one to walk away with a profit (without risking losing it all).
In conjunction with that (and a seemingly contradictory concept), it is important to remain consistent and persistent while playing. Betting small amounts on the same machine over a long period of time (but still within your loss limit) allows the odds to tip in your favor and for you to statistically improve your chances of winning.
Best Online Slots
In line with some of the criteria outlined above, and according to popular opinion, some superb online slots options are;
Game 1: Mega Moolah (biggest jackpot)
Mega Moolah is known to have some of the biggest online jackpots of all time. In fact, a staggering $20,062,600 was won in 2015 on a mere 25 cent wager!
Produced by Microgaming, this 5-reel, 25-payline progressive slot is based on a wild Africa theme, with kudu, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and elephants as high-value symbols. The lion represents the game’s wild feature, substituting any other character on the reels to create additional paylines.
Any combination that includes the wild symbol pays out a 2x multiplier. More than one lion across the reels results in an instant cash prize, which is the base game’s largest potential return. The monkey is the scatter symbol, with 3 or more across the reels giving you access to the game’s free spins bonus round.
All wins during this period are paid out with a 3x multiplier, so you could win up to 225,000 coins in this round alone.
Furthermore, a bonus game is triggered at random, which leads to a ‘wheel of fortune-style’ round. Players can choose between a Mini, Minor, Major or Mega jackpot, the last of which – also being the game’s namesake – boasts the biggest prize of them all. It is here that the progressive jackpot is won.
Game 2: Mega Joker (highest RTP)
At 99%, Mega Joker is generally considered the highest RTP online slots game. However, it should be noted that betting with just one coin produces an underwhelming 77% RTP, while ‘betting max’ (10 coins) elevates the RTP to up to 99%, which is more than any other online slot.
This NetEnt game is a 3-reel, 5-payline progressive slot based on a ‘traditional’ fruity theme. Matching up lemons, cherries, grapes, bells and watermelons allows you to ‘win big’, while matching up 3 jokers entitles you to the grand jackpot prize.
While there are no bonus rounds per say, there is a bonus-type feature that is triggered by wins. Here players have the option to collect their returns or relocate their winnings to the ‘supermeter’. Bets of 20, 40, 100 or 200 coins per spin can be made but with big rewards should you win.
Due to the fact that the game only has 3 reels, your chances are greatly improved and it is relatively easy to ‘rack up’ a few wins and/or recoup any potential losses. Furthermore, by applying a ‘max bet’ strategy, Mega Joker has some of the best odds (and highest RTP) of any online slot game.
Game 3: Thunderstruck (best gameplay)
While the subject of gameplay, entertainment and rewarding features is somewhat debatable, Thunderstruck is a popular game that has consistently had favorable reviews over the years.
Produced by Microgaming, this 5-reel, 9-payline video slot is based on the Norse god of thunder.
Its high-value symbols include Thor’s hammer, horn, fist, a lightning bolt, and a thunderstruck castle. Matching up four of Thor’s symbols results in players being rewarded with 2 000 coins, while achieving five symbols results in a staggering 10 000-coin payout.
When 3 or more of the game’s scatter symbol, the rams, are present across the reels, 15 free spins are activated in a special bonus round. All wins during this period are paid out with a 3x multiplier, so you could win up to 30 000 coins in this round alone.
Thor himself acts as the game’s wild symbol, who can be substituted for all other characters (besides the rams). Any winning combination that includes the ‘God of Thunder’ will be doubled.
While the graphics are somewhat outdated, Thunderstruck is still visually appealing and well themed. Its easy-to-follow rules, gratifying gameplay and plethora of pleasing features make it one of the most popular and highly rated games of all time. Furthermore, its sequel, Thunderstruck 2, offer similar gameplay but with greatly improved graphics.
How to choose the best slots machines
While selecting the best slot machines to play depends somewhat on your individual preferences, certain universal criteria can be used to gauge the quality of the game and your chance of winning.
Its usability and ease of understanding, along with special value-added features, the game’s coin size (input) and limitations, as well as its RTP and other considerations can go a long way in guiding you in your game choice.
Usability and Ease
Some slots are easier than others. Games like Fruity Slots and variations of 3 or 5-reel slots are relatively simple and easy to understand. However, slots like Super Seven have 7 reels, dozens of symbols and many unique features and bonus rounds.
While this offers many opportunities, it is vital that players know what each symbol represents, understands their implications and what winning combinations they’re looking out for.
Optimal coin sizes and your approach to the game should also be recognized. Furthermore, the usability of the game and its rewards should be noted, such as whether potential returns are worth the time (and money) invested.
Features (e.g. bonus rounds, wilds, etc)
As described above, games’ special features should also be taken into consideration. On a basic level, the number of reels, betways and paylines (single or multi-paylines) should be noted.
Wild symbols offer more chances for winning combinations, scatters offer free spins, while these, and other symbols, lead to rounds where potential returns are multiplied by 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x or more… Some games even offer game-within-a-game bonus rounds.
For example; in Mega Moolah, a bonus round is triggered at random, which leads to a ‘wheel of fortune-style’ game where players can choose between jackpot options, the riskiest of which can lead to the game’s highest return.
Other special features include, cascading reels, expanding wilds, sticky wilds and retriggering (just to name a few).
Depending on your strategy, games’ coin sizes could be a determining factor. If you choose a ‘max bet’ progressive slots strategy, you’ll want to play with large coin sizes or betting amounts. If you want to extend your gameplay (and ultimately your odds over time), you would seek out slot machines that accept small coin sizes or low denominations.
For example; Thunderstruck is best played with its minimum coin size of 0.01, while the highest coin size it accepts is only 2. Conversely, Mega Joker is best played with its largest denomination, 10 coins. Sometimes your coin size strategy may even come down to your budget on a particular day.
RTP is arguably one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a slot machine. RTP, or return to player, is a term which refers to the percentage of all wagers that a particular game returns. This involves the volume won, as well as the frequencies of winning, as an average percentage.
Most casino games have a less than 100% RTP to give the house a slight advantage in order to still be profitable while giving gamblers a fair chance to win.
Most slot games boast an RTP between 85% and 99%. Of course, gamblers would want to play games with the highest returns possible, so this needs to be considered in conjunction with a host of other factors. It is also worth noting that certain games, such as Mega Moolah, may have a lower RTP (88%), but reap much greater rewards should you win.
Other considerations (e.g. promotions)
Slot games may also be chosen according to other criteria. Perhaps a game is highly entertaining, boasts stunning graphics, gratifying gameplay and/or phenomenal theming. Another common reason is that casinos offer bonuses and promotions on certain games, such as free spins or credits.
Now you can Spin with different perspective
Now that you understand a little bit more about how slot machines work per say, how to win at them, as well as how to choose them and what the examples of some popular choices are, you can try your hand at this classic casino game. Your spinning experience is going to be much more different.