Slot machine games are governed by chance. What began as mechanical contraptions in the 1900s quickly evolved into electro-mechanical devices, before transforming into digital, computerised games. Today's slot machine games are sophisticated consoles with amazing in-game technology. Players are treated to an audio-visual extravaganza of symbols, features, bonus rounds, and other in-game elements. First it was one arm bandits, comprised of levers, pins, cogs, springs, cylinders, drums, and stops. These gradually transformed into digital slots with no mechanical parts.
Given where we are at today, it's no longer necessary to understand the most effective video slots playing techniques for mechanical slots. Our energy should be focused on digital slots games available at online casinos, and land-based casinos. Despite their housing units, the slots that you see at Vegas casinos like the Mirage, MGM Grand, Caesars, the Bellagio, Wynn, The Stratosphere, Paris, and New York New York, et al are actually all digital slots games. There are computer consoles with RNGs (random number generators) governed by algorithms which randomise the outcomes of every single slot machine spin.
Today, we're going to take a look at ways to play slots effectively. Since we are dealing with computer slots games, our focus needs to be on the RTPs (Return to Player Percentage), volatility, reels, symbols, jackpot potential, bonus rounds & free spins, gamble features, minimum/maximum bets, levels of play, autoplay functionality, and pay tables to name but a few. Our analysis draws a distinction between winning slots tips, and ways to play slots effectively. Since slots are games of chance, there is no way to guarantee winnings. We can guarantee a better approach to playing slots and enhance your enjoyment of slots.
RTP is an acronym for Return to Player. Every online casino game has a theoretical RTP. The higher the RTP, the better for the player. It is important to stress that RTPs are theoretical concepts. They are determined over millions of outcomes. In order to generate an RTP for a slot machine game, at least 1 million spins are typically required. This number is thrown about so casually, that we fail to appreciate just how big it really is.
Consider this: If you were to spin a slot machine game 100 times a minute, the total spins per hour would be 6,000. If you played for 24-hours straight, that would be 144,000 spins. You would have to play that same slot machine game for almost 7 days, for 24 hours a day to reach the coveted million spin mark. Since very few of us actually do this, hardly anyone comes close to the requirement for a theoretical return to player percentage.
RTPs are invariably less than 100% since the casino always makes money from slots games. Expect a good RTP to fall in the range of 96% – 99%. Mediocre RTPs are typically 94% – 96%, and poor RTPs are less than 94% on slot machine games. As a rule, expect classic slots, non-progressive jackpot slots, and minimal-feature slots to have higher RTPs. In order for a slot machine game to offer a large variety of features and functions, it needs to sacrifice RTP. The less ostentatious a slot machine game is, the higher the RTP.
Volatility gets a lot of attention in the slots world, particularly among aficionados. Think of volatility as the level of risk involved in every spin, and how much you expect to win while you playing slots. High volatility slots are characterised by infrequent big wins and long periods of no wins. Low volatility slots are associated with frequent small wins. Your choice of slot machine game must factor in the degree of volatility you are comfortable with.
Low volatility slots are associated with lower attendant risk. Expect smaller payouts more frequently. These games tend to keep players glued to their screen, because you are often rewarded, albeit in small doses, for your game play. Big wins are certainly possible with low volatility slot games, but not to the same degree as you would expect from the high volatility slots. At this point, it's worth discussing volatility versus variance. The two terms are often used interchangeably, and that's because they essentially refer to the same thing.
High volatility slots are associated with higher attendant levels of risk. If you are a cautious player, avoid high volatility slots. You can lose your bankroll quickly with these types of slot machine games, but when you do land a payout it generally tends to be bigger and more substantial than low volatility slots payouts. Expect long periods of dry spells with the occasional big win thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of examples of high volatility slots out there, including Raging Rhino, Immortal Romance, Medusa, Genie Jackpots Megaways, Jammin’ Jars, Joker Troupe, Book of Ra, and Dead or Alive.
Reels & Symbols
Many of us are well familiar with reels and symbols on slot machine games. But did you know that with greater numbers of reels, and symbols, you lower your chances of winning? The formula for determining your winning potential is fairly straightforward. The probability is determined by the number of symbols and the number of reels. If we take a standard 3 reel slot with 6 symbols on each reel, the total number of possible combinations is 6×6×6 = 216. This is fairly meaningless in practical terms. However, the odds of winning with a certain combination are calculated as follows:
(Winning Combinations) X (Number of Possible Combinations)
Here's where things get a little trickier. The low-paying symbols are more abundant in number, therefore there is a greater likelihood of winning a low payout. The high-paying symbols are rarer, and that's why the number of possible combinations is lower. It also explains why the payouts are bigger when they do hit. The mathematics gets complicated, very quickly, since you dealing with probability analysis. Suffice it to say, the rarer the winning combinations, the less likely you are to hit them. If we are playing a three reel slot with 20 symbols per reel, then the number of possible combinations is 20 x 20 x 20 = 8000. Slot machine odds are calculated by dividing the Number of Winning Combinations by the Number of Possible Combinations.
There is an entirely unique set of slots known as Megaways™. This slot variant doesn't have paylines; it features an in-game mechanic that continually adjusts the number of symbols per reel between 2-7 with at least 6 reels in play. Therefore, you could theoretically have 7 symbols per reel in play. This would translate into 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 = 117,649 ways to win. Several popular Megaways slots are available, including Gorilla Gold, White Rabbit, Bonanza, Ted, 5 Lions, Tiki Totems and many others. Megaways Slots were created by BTG in 2015. Big Time Gaming has since licensed out Megways™ to all other gaming manufacturers such as blueprint, Microgaming, Playtech, NetEnt, and others.
When you're learning how to play slots effectively, you may be tempted to try progressive jackpot slots. Indeed, these slot machine games are loaded with winning potential, but your chances of winning are slim. Players often wonder why Jackpot slots are associated with lower RTPs. The reason for this is the jackpot itself. Progressive jackpot games take a percentage of every real money wager and add it to the jackpot prize pool. Many slots are often connected in the progressive jackpot network, allowing players from different casinos and geographic regions to compete for the prize pool. The RTPs on progressive jackpot games are lower than they are on non-Jackpot slots. There are stand-alone progressive jackpots on single machines, with jackpots typically hovering around $10,000/£10,000/€10,000 or less. There are local progressive jackpots with prizes in the range of £100,000/€100,000/$100,000 – $1 million/£1 million/€1 million. And then there are the wide area progressive jackpot games with jackpot payouts in the region of $1 million/€1 million/£1 million – $10 million/€10 million/£10 million +.
If you're thinking of playing the big jackpot slots games, always place maximum bets. You certainly don't want to land a mega-money jackpot only to find that you didn't play the right size bet. With that said, an efficient slots playing strategy requires you to set a budget and stick to it, understand the paytable, and play a jackpot slot with the highest possible RTP. Expect variance to be higher with jackpot slots games. The reason that these games are so popular with players is the amount of money you stand to win. But don't be fooled– they have a high house edge and the RTP is usually much lower than you would prefer. You will also be throwing down a lot more money in pursuit of the jackpot which means volatility is high too.
Bonus Rounds & Free Spins
Bonus rounds are offered to players during the course of the game. These are exciting additions to enhance your gameplay. While bonus rounds certainly ramp up the entertainment value of the slot machine game, they also eat into the RTP. That means that slots with lots of bonus rounds will have a lower return to player percentage. There are many examples of in-game bonus rounds such as Pick’em Features, Spin the Wheel Bonuses, Mini Games, Free Spins, Re-Spins, Pick Me, Instant Wins, Pathway Games, Extra Wilds, and more.
These bonus rounds are typically triggered when you land a certain combination of symbols. For example, when you hit at least 3X Scatter symbols, you will usually trigger Free Spins. The quality of bonus rounds, free spins, and other entertaining in-game features hinges upon 3 critical elements:
- The Entertainment Value – if the slot machine game is lots of fun to play, you should have no hesitation about playing slots with bonus rounds and free spins.
- The RTP – higher RTPs are preferred over lower RTPs for obvious reasons.
- Volatility – a.k.a. hit frequency, or variance. The higher the volatility, the less likely you are to win. Pick a game with volatility that you are comfortable with.
Here's a topic that gets very little attention in the slots world. Most slot experts will focus on RTP, variance, and progressive jackpots, but gamble features are equally important. What's a gamble feature? Well, if you win a prize on a slot machine game, you may be offered the option to gamble your winnings. If you correctly pick the colour of the card – red or black – you may be able to double your winnings. This process can repeat several times before you return to the main game. Sometimes, the gamble feature will pay even more if you choose the correct suit of your card – diamonds, clubs, hearts, or spades. Of course, every time you gamble, you giving the advantage back to the house, especially with the 25% gamble option with suits. It's your call whether you wish to gamble, but if you're lucky by nature, this is an exciting prospect. If you choose not to gamble your winnings, you will be returned to the main game. You can then cash out whatever is listed in your game balance. Play responsibly at all times.
Bets & Levels of Play
Your bet size is determined by your bankroll, and your risk tolerance. If you are risk averse, you will typically wager smaller amounts less frequently. If you are a risk taker, you are more likely to place bigger bets and play for longer. Either way, it's important to perform a rudimentary budget calculation upfront. If you have £500 and the slot machine game allows coin values from £0.01 – £1 per spin, you have plenty of leeway to choose your coin size and your bet level.
If you played at one penny a pop, you would have 50,000 spins, with very low attendant wins. Most slots games require you to play at least a certain number of Paylines, so it's unlikely that you would spin a slot machine game for a penny at a time. If you play £1 per spin, then you have 500 spins with your bankroll. The levels of play can do one of two things – they can ramp up your winnings, or they can deplete your bankroll quickly. Slot machine games typically have bet levels ranging from 1 – 10. The higher you go, the more you wager per spin. It's always advisable to carefully check your bets and your levels when playing slot machine games.
In order to play slots effectively, you may find yourself enjoying autoplay functionality. This feature is available on most every slot machine game that you can find. The feature is represented by the circular arrows button alongside the spin button. When you click autoplay, or auto spin, the reels will automatically spin a set number of times from 10 – 1000+. Autoplay functionality is unique in that it automatically spins the reels for you, while you are not physically present at the computer, or slots terminal.
Autoplay allows you to customise your gaming according to expectations. You can stop autoplay at any time by clicking on the autoplay button. Otherwise, you can set loss limits, win limits, or other criteria to automatically stop this function. Before you initiate autoplay, be sure that you are playing your preferred slot machine game at the bet level you are comfortable with, and with the appropriate number of paylines in play. When everything is set up according to your preferences, click autoplay and the computer will take care of the spins for you.
Last, but certainly not least are the pay tables. These are the Codex of every single slot machine game that you play. The pay table reflects how much you can win when the right combinations of symbols lineup on the reels. Pay tables can easily be referenced by clicking on the ‘Info’ button or the ‘?’ symbol on the slot machine game in question. If you carefully read all the terms and conditions of play, you'll notice information about wilds, expanding wilds, exploding wilds, scatters, bonus rounds, free spins, multipliers, and jackpot options if applicable. The pay table is the only resource you need to consult when you are looking for reliable information on winning combinations, RTPs, game rules, and betting possibilities.
Now that you know how to play slots effectively, you can put all of this information to the test with demo slots games at your favourite online casino. It's always a good idea to test the waters before you deposit and play for real money. If this is your first time playing slots, be sure to grab a generous match deposit, no deposit, or free spins slots offer. It will certainly help you to boost your bankroll in anticipation of real money profits.