For the more than 100 casinos scattered across Las Vegas, slot machines are the lifeblood that keeps this entire town afloat.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) reported the Silver State’s casino industry collectively earned nearly $12 billion from gamblers last year alone. And of that staggering amount, $3.3 billion was generated by the penny slots, those low-denomination machines favored by gamblers spanning the spectrum from college kids to senior citizens.
The slots have been a staple of the Sin City gambling scene since the 1930s, when folks first started making the trek to a dusty outpost in the Mojave Desert to chase life-changing jackpots.
The locals who live in Las Vegas year-round also gravitate toward the one-armed bandits, hoping to put their insider knowledge to use by putting themselves in a better position to win.
The concept of slot machine strategy can be a bit murky, as players don’t really have any ability to influence the outcome. With that said, you can learn a lot from local slot enthusiasts who have been around the block a time or two.
If you want to play slots like the locals do next time you visit Las Vegas, look no further. The following list offers up five secrets about slot machine gameplay that only locals know about.
1 – The Boulder Strip is for Slot Spinning Specialists
The Boulder Strip is a stretch along the Boulder Highway (along with the nearby suburb of Henderson) where 13 “local’s casinos” can be found.
Casinos on the Boulder Strip
- Green Valley Ranch Resort and Spa
- Sunset Station
- Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall
- Boulder Station
- Fiesta Henderson
- Arizona Charlie’s Boulder
- Jokers Wild Casino
- Montelago at Lake Las Vegas
- Eldorado Casino
- Hacienda Hotel and Casino
- Eastside Cannery Hotel and Casino
- Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino
- Club Fortune Casino
These smaller, more intimate gambling halls offer a distinct old-school Vegas vibe that local residents seem to love. Instead of corporate ownership trying to nickel and dime guests at every turn, casinos on the Boulder Strip take pride in taking care of their regular customers. Comps flow more freely here, the cocktail servers remember your name, and of course, the slot machines are among the “loosest” in town.
By making sure to order an inventory of slot machine games that are programmed to pay out at a higher frequency, Boulder Strip casinos ensure that their players experience winning moments more often. Payback percentage simply describes the player’s expected return on a particular make, model, or game type, and when you’re playing on the Strip proper, you can expect to find rates in the 88% to 92% range.
That means, for every $100 wagered over the long run, these machines will pay back between $88 and $92 on average.
So says the NGCB anyway, as the regulatory agency runs annual slot machine surveys in various regions of Las Vegas. Per the latest survey data, the Boulder Strip is the best place to play almost every variety of slot machine under the sun.
Las Vegas Slot Machine Survey (Average Payback Percentage by Coin Denomination and Region)
|1¢ Slot Machines|
|N. Las Vegas||90.88%|
|5¢ Slot Machines|
|N. Las Vegas||95.29%|
|25¢ Slot Machines|
|N. Las Vegas||96.41%|
|$1 Slot Machines|
|N. Las Vegas||95.39%|
|$1 Megabucks Machines|
|N. Las Vegas||88.52%|
|All Slot Machines|
|N. Las Vegas||93.53%|
Las Vegas locals love value above all else, and as the numbers above make crystal clear, you simply can’t beat the value found along the Boulder Strip.
2 – Slots in Off-Strip Casinos All Over Town Outclass the Strip
While the slots on the Boulder Strip are clearly the best in town, venturing out anywhere other than Las Vegas Boulevard is a great way to boost your bottom line.
Whether it’s Downtown Las Vegas, or just across I-15 at the Palms or Gold Coast, playing slots in any off-Strip casino will almost always provide a more player-friendly experience.
Once again, you can use the annual NGCB slot survey to see what locals have known in their bones forever.
Top 20 Casinos in Las Vegas Offering the Best Slot Payback Percentages
|RANK||CASINO||AVG. PAYBACK PERCENTAGE|
|4||Slots a Fun||92.63%|
|12||Fiesta – Rancho||92.53%|
|13||Arizona Charlie’s (E)||92.51%|
If you notice, only three venues on the list are situated on The Strip—Circus Circus, Slots a Fun, and the Sahara (recently rebranded from the old SLS).
On the other hand, five casinos in the Downtown district on Fremont Street made the cut, while the rest can be found on the Boulder Strip or far from Las Vegas Boulevard. If getting the most bang for your bankroll buck is the goal, bringing your business anywhere but the Strip is your best bet.
3 – Corporate Casinos Don’t Have Time to Micromanage Slot Payback and Placement
Back in the day, slots players suspected that casino managers carefully arranged their venue’s machines to achieve certain objectives.
On a busy weekend, for example, the casino might move its lowest paying machines near the front entrance. Conversely, they’d stash their highest paying games in secluded areas where guests seldom ventured.
In doing so, a shrewd casino manager could easily ensure a steady stream of slot revenue simply by “rigging” the deck. Sure, the lower paying machines might still dispense a jackpot or two, but those losses would be more than made up for by crowds of tourists happily playing the worst slots in the house.
These days, however, locals know that the sheer abundance of slot machines found in a modern casino resort makes such micromanagement next to impossible.
Off-Strip casinos always seem have looser slots than their counterparts on the Strip, and that’s why. It’s not that the managers are moving the best machines around to trick players, they’re just ordering more of the higher paying models and letting nature take its course.
4 – You Don’t Have to Wonder When the Last Major Progressive Jackpot Was Paid Out
Spend enough time in Las Vegas casino slot parlors and you’ll inevitably hear players asking aloud about the last time a huge jackpot score was hit.
Part of the allure for slot enthusiasts who enjoy the major wide area progressive jackpot games, such as Megabucks and Wheel of Fortune, is wondering when and where the latest instant millionaire was minted.
In 2019, all you have to do is check up on the handy Jackpot Tracker page hosted by Las Vegas Online. This invaluable resource contains a running database of the biggest progressive jackpot networks in town.
When you pull up the Jackpot Tracker, you’ll instantly learn that Megabucks—the largest progressive slot jackpot in the world with a $10 million seed amount—was won on April 14 of 2019 at the Sunset Station Casino. That lucky winner pocketed a whopping $13,154,723. At the moment, Megabucks is offering a jackpot of $10,689,666.
5 – Playing Slots at the Venetian or Bellagio Is Almost as Bad as Burning Money on the Airport Machines
The only airport in America with slot machines running on the concourse is McCarran International in Las Vegas.
Local slot fans and tourists alike know better though, as the airport slots are notorious for offering the worst payback percentage in town at a dreadful 85.02%.
But locals in the know can tell you that the beautiful Bellagio and Venetian casinos on the Strip are nearly as bad for your bottom line. The average slot payback rate at Bellagio is only 87.42%, while the Venetian is even worse at 86.66%.
Appearances can definitely be deceiving, so even though these two monuments to excess are among the fanciest in all of Las Vegas, they’re the worst places to play slots anywhere but the airport.
Playing slot machines in Las Vegas is a special treat everybody should enjoy at least once in their lives. You might not hit a big winner, and indeed, the odds ensure you’ll likely lose your stake. Nonetheless, there’s no other casino game that allows anybody off the street to turn a few bucks into retirement money, which is what makes the slots so much fun for locals and tourists alike. Now that you’ve read this guide to playing slots like a Las Vegas local, you’ll be ready to give yourself the best possible chance to beat the odds and walk away a winner.