Slot machine, fruit machine, slot, poker machine or pokies: there are lots of different terms for the most popular gambling machine in casinos. The classical name “one-armed bandit” derives from the fact that this casino gambling machine was originally operated by a lever on its side (the arm) and its ability to leave the gamer penniless (bandit). Lots of machines still have a legacy lever on the side but can also be activated by pressing a hard starter button or a touchscreen on its face.
Besides the lever or button there are either 3 or 5 reels with symbols on them and a slot to insert coins, cash or – in newer machines – a paper ticket with a barcode. The classical slots used to offer players only 3 reels with fruit symbols and one payline in the middle, whereas the more advanced 5-reeled slots with their modern computer technology have a great number of paylines up to an amount of 1024. The symbols are usually brightly colored and easily recognizable, such as images of fruits, numerals or letters, or simple shapes such as bells, diamonds, or hearts; newer video slot machines are often themed and display animated characters of cartoons, fantasy movies, or TV-shows e.g.
The object of the game is to win money from the machine by matching symbols, either on mechanical spinning reels or on simulated reels shown on a video screen. The slot pays off in cash or other value like free games if you have achieved certain combinations of symbols on your activated paylines once the machine has stopped. Depending on the placed wager, the paytable of the game and the combination of symbols on the paylines, winnings can go up to fair amounts. The game’s paytable is either printed on the slot machine itself (real life slots) or can be viewed by clicking on View Pays or Paytable (online slots). It shows players all the bonuses and special features of that particular game.
Slot Game History
The first slot machine was invented by Charles Fey in 1887. It was a one-of-its-kind mechanical gambling machine with only 3 reels and 5 basic symbols: diamonds, spades, hearts, horseshoes and the Liberty Bell. In fact the Liberty Bell gave this slot its name. Winnings used to go up to only very small amounts or used to be just candy based prizes. Those machines which paid out only in fruit flavored gum were famous for their fruit themed symbols on their reels which are still common nowadays. One can say that the classical early slots were more of an entertainment than a money machine.
4 years later a new and different slot machine was introduced by Sittman & Pitt, which became the predecessor of today’s slots. It consisted of 5 drums and fifty cards and was based on the poker theme: the aim was to match the symbols on the reels in a way that the winning line of the machine would show a strong poker hand. This subject earned it the name Poker Machine. In fact the card set was always missing the Jack of Hearts and the Ten of Spades, in order to make it difficult for players to achieve a Royal Flush. Winnings used to be paid in form of cigars, drinks or any other gifts from the venue.
Gambling on slot machines finally became more popular at the beginning of the 20th century, when Herbert Mills invented another slot machine called Operator Bell. Only shortly after its introduction it was being installed in most cigar stores, salons and bowling centers.
It took another 30 years though until the first ever electromechanical slot was developed by Bally Technologies Inc. For the first time the so called Money Honey was able to offer automatic payouts, improved game play and multi-coin bets which meant higher payouts.
When microchip technology became popular in the 1980’s it had a big influence on the slot machines insofar as the first video slot came to life in 1979, the so called Fortune Coin, invented by Walt Fraley. Its patent was then bought by IGT, the famous slot manufacturer, and the machine became a big hit and made slots popular everywhere.
But it was not until the 90’s that multi-line machines were introduced to the world of gambling. One of their big advantages was that they had more than one winning line, which made it easier for players to achieve combinations of symbols. It was just a question of time until gambling would go online and when it happened, software developers and casinos seized their chance and transformed the thought of slot gambling into virtual casino games. These online slots are more colourful, visionary, thrilling and fun than ever and offer players plenty of rewards and bonuses. Online slots are enjoyed by millions of people and are nowadays one of the main sources of income for online casinos.
How to play slots
Depending on whether slots are played at land based or online casinos, there are different ways how to get started and how to play, nevertheless the purpose and the concept of the game are the same.
In general a particular slot machine has to be selected first, according to popularity, payouts, jackpots, methods or one’s likes of the theme. Then the actual machine or its virtual equivalent has to be activated by either putting coins of accepted currency into the machine’s slot, or by waggering money online by clicking on the according button. Most slot machines have a currency acceptor which allows you to slide in bills as well which are converted into credits. Afterwards the lever of the slot can be pulled down or the spin button can be clicked in order to make the slot’s reels start spinning. Once they have come to a halt, the combination of symbols on the winning lines are analysed by the slot and players are rewared accordingly.
Winnings are usually added to the credit meter and can be cashed out by hitting the button marked “Cash Out”. Modern land based slots print out a bar-coded ticket which can be redeemed for cash while a few older machines still let coins drop into a tray. Online slot winnings are added to your online account of the casino.
1. Online Slots
The bigger the choice, the harder it is to choose: out there on the internet there are hundreds of online casinos offering thousands of different slot machines all based on different themes – starting from classical 3-reeled slots to multi-line video slots with 5 spinning reels and several winning lines.
Once you’ve registered with an online casino and have chosen a particular slot machine you can get started by placing wagers using your mouse. Below the reels of the slot machine you will find a wagering platform allowing you to change the settings for the game. Settings include the number of active winning lines, the number of coins placed on each single activated payline and the coins’ value. Afterwards you must click on the “Spin button” in order to make the reels start spinning. Once the reels have come to a stop, you receive a winning according to the amount of your wager and the paytable of the slot machine.
In order to understand slots in all their detail it is important to be familiar with the following terms:
- Wild Symbols: Every slot has a ‘Wild Symbol’, which can vary from slot to slot and is found at the paytable of the machine. It’s like a wild card in poker or a joker in other card games. This symbol can replace any other symbol in order to create winning combos and therefore increases your chance of winning.
- Scatter Symbols: The ‘Scatter Symbol’ is a special symbol that can lead to larger payouts. Its icon is usually closely related to the theme of the online slot. What makes the ‘Scatter Symbol’ special is that it needs not appear in an active payline in order to yield results. That is also why it’s called ‘Scatter Symbol’; it cannot be replaced by the ‘Wild Symbol’. Often these symbols pay out directly when at least three of them appear anywhere on the reels. The more ‘Scatter Symbols’ the larger the payout. It is also important to know that they multiply the total bet not just the line bet, which makes it valuable to play all paylines in online slots that have large scatter payouts. Exact information about the ‘Scatter Symbol’ can be found on the payout table. ‘Scatter Symbols’ can also trigger bonus games, which offer additional opportunities for winning. The rules for bonus games can vary from game to game and should be read carefully before playing.
- Jackpots: A ‘Jackpot’ is the biggest winning that can be made at a slot machine and is triggered by a particular combination of the highest paying symbols. There are also so called ‘Progressive Jackpots’ which can be triggered through bonus rounds only; certain slot machines are connected virtually throughout all online casinos and whenever a bet is placed on this specific slot its jackpot increases. ‘Progressive Jackpots’can go up to millions. Two of the most popular ‘Progressive Slots’ with ‘Progressive Jackpots’ are Major Millions and The Mega Moolah, powered by Microgaming.
2. Land-based Slots
Playing slots in real-life casinos isn’t anything like playing online. Walking into a casino is like an adventure trip for all your senses. The noises, colours, lights and opportunities leave you overwhelmed and excited. Although the choice of land-based slots isn’t comparable to the variety you find online, there are various types of slot machines, catering for the taste of everyone.
Before sitting down at a slot machine you first have to decide what coin size you’d like to play. Signs indicating the coin size of the respective slots help you find the right corner for your play. As a next step you have to decide what kind of slot you want to play. The most common ones are 3 Reel Classics, 5 Reels, Video Slots, Bonus Slots, Multi Spin Slots and Progressive Slots:
- 3 Reel Classics are the simplest type with three individual reels with different symbols on them. These machines usually accept one to three coins per spin. The higher the amount of inserted coins, the more the payout in case of a winning combo. Inserting the maximum amount of coins will always award you a better prize in relation to one or three coins.
- Similar to the 3 Reel Classics are the 5 Reel Slots. With five individual reels these slots offer more possible winning combinations. As these machines accept up to five coins, with each coin activating a different payline, a maximum of five paylines can be played – three lines across plus two diagonal lines.
- Video Slots count as land-based slots although they don’t have actual reels. The reels, of which there can be up to nine depending on the machine, are imitated by a computer-style screen. As paylines also run in zig-zags across the reels, the amount of paylines can go up to 50 in one single spin. Although it can be very tempting to activate a large amount of paylines, it can also get very expensive especially when playing a high coin size.
- Bonus Slots are machines with bonus symbols on their reels in addition to the usual symbols. Free bonus spins can be won by reaching a certain amount of bonus symbols in a single payline. The more bonus symbols you manage to combine in one line, the more free bonus spins you receive. The bonus spins are then played out automatically by the machine and might award you with great payouts when receiving a winning combo.
- Multi Spin Slots have a multitude of separate reels running in sets. One coin usually activates one set of reels. These slots are similar to the classical ones but offer you more action on more reels in one single spin.
- Progressive Slots can hold very big jackpots which are growing steadily. Each inserted coin counts towards the progressive jackpot until it is won. The rules and the paytable of these machines have to be studied well though as you might be required to bet the maximum amount in order to be able to release the jackpot.
In order to start playing a slot machine money needs to be inserted into the cash slot. $1 bills are rarely accepted, usually the machines take $5, $10 and $20 bills. After having inserted the money, you must choose a coin size. The coin size will reveal how many credits you have to play, as it is the ‘currency rate’ that will transform your money into an respective amount of credits.
Before the machine can start spinning you have to bet your credits by pushing the correspondent button. The ‘Bet One' button will use one credit and activate one single payline for example. The ‘Bet 5’, ‘Bet 10’, ‘Bet Max’ butttons work accordingly. The buttons can be pressed several times until the desired amount is reached. After having placed your wager you need to press the ‘Spin’ button in order make the reels start spinning.
If you need any information on the game simply press the ‘Help’ button which will display the rules of the game or gives you the option to call an attendant for assistance. The so called ‘Pay Table’ button gives you all necessary information about all possible winning combinations with their respective payouts and information about bonus spins, if applicable.
When playing slots in a real casino, certain rules should be payed attention to:
- Clicking rapidly on the buttons should be avoided at any time as it can be very noisy and have a disturbing effect on other players as well as cause the buttons to wear of quickly.
- Usually players are asked to play on one slot machine at the same time only, unless the casino is not crowded or there are no other players in a waiting line.
- Watching other players while they are playing is only allowed if playing on a slot machine yourself.
- When achieving a big win or the jackpot, you should leave some tip for the attendant getting out your payout.
- A leaning chair on a slot machine usually indicates that someone is using this slot and had to leave for a few minutes. Before taking a seat at a slot machine you should make sure it’s not occupied by someone else.
Slot machines have different payout percentages also called Return to Player Percentages (RTP) which describe what percentage of money gets paid out compared to what is being wagered. The RTP varies depending on the laws and regulations of the state you’re in. The percentage is also based on the denomination of the slot and the casino destination. The more active and popular a casino and slot machine, the higher the slot payouts. Usually percentages range between 80% and 98%. A payout percentage of 87% ,for example, would pay out $87 to players for every $100 wagered. Playing a slot machine with a high payout percentage obviously increases your odds of winning. Unfortunately casinos don’t give away any information about payout percentages of their slot machines but if you’re lucky you can find some information online or in special magazines which is given away by insiders.
Gaming tips and bankroll management
Even those who try hard to develop a strategy for playing slots will understand at some point that slots are merely games of luck. It is impossible to predict or control the reels and their outcome. In order to have a good time and enjoy your gambling experience it is important to approach the game with the right attitude and set yourself limits concerning your bankroll:
- Look out for slots with low jackpots: in fact the big jackpots are hardly hit and chances are low you’re the lucky one. Slot machines with lower jackpots pay out more often and are more rewarding in the long run.
- Always know when to quit: a loosing streak does not necessarily have to end just because you keep on playing. When you’ve reached your set limit, either stop playing or change the machine.
- Quit when you’re winning: challenging your luck too much might make you loose your winnings. A winning streak does not keep on going endlessly.
- Place the maximum wager: certain bonuses and jackpots can only be won if you’ve placed the maximum bet. It would be a shame hitting the right symbols and not having placed the right bet.