Want some advice about slot machines from a gambling veteran?
That’s what this post offers.
I visited my first casino in 1996, and I’ve been involved in the online gambling industry since 2003.
I’ve read dozens of books and won and lost fortunes playing casino games.
And here’s what I’ve learned about playing slot machines that you might find useful. Some of the advice on this page might surprise, you, too, but I’ve done my best to be since, authentic, and factual.
1- Play Table Games Instead of Slot Machines
Slot machines are the most popular games in any casino. I’ve seen estimates that they account for 80% of a casino’s earnings. (This varies by casino, of course.)
This doesn’t mean you should play slot machines, though.
One of the reasons the slots account for so much of the casinos’ earnings is how profitable they are for the casino. And a game that’s profitable for a casino is a game that costs a player a lot of money.
The casino’s edge over the player can be measured as a percentage called the house edge. The higher this percentage is, the worse the game is for the player.
This means that for every $100 you bet on a slot machine, you’ll lose an average of $10 – that’s a long-term average based on the difference between the payouts and the probability of winning them.
Even the worst table games, like American roulette, for example, have a house edge of less than half that. In some cases, the house edge for table games is 1/10 of the house edge for slot machines.
2- Understand How Your Hourly Loss Rate Works
If you know what the average loss is when you’re playing a casino game, you can measure it against other casino games to see which ones offer you the most entertainment for your money.
The formula for calculating this hourly loss rate is to multiply your average wager by the number of wagers you make per hour. This gives you the hourly amount of action you’re bringing the casino.
An average slot machine player makes 600 spins per hour. I’ve seen gamblers who play faster than that – I’ve clocked people making 900 spins per hour. I play slowly, so I probably clock closer to 400 spins per hour.
If you know how much you’re betting per spin, it becomes a multiplication problem.
If you’re playing a dollar machine where you have a maximum bet of 3 coins, you’re betting $3 per spin.
The average player is betting $1800 per hour that way.
If you estimate that the house edge on the slot machine is 10%, your average hourly loss rate should come close to $180 per hour.
3- Let That Hourly Loss Rate Sink In
If you think a little harder about #2, you’ll start to see why playing slot machines is probably a bad idea.
What are you willing to spend for other forms of entertainment?
I’m willing to pay $10 for a movie ticket. That’s 2 hours of entertainment at a rate of $5 per hour.
Are slot machines really more entertaining than a movie?
I might even be willing to spend $100 on a ticket to a concert that might last 2 hours. That’s $50 per hour.
That’s still far less than what we’re talking about losing on a slot machine game.
Anytime you’re dealing with something random, variance indicates that in the short-term, statistically odd results are almost guaranteed.
You won’t lose $180 in an hour at the slot machine, usually.
You might lose $90 one hour and $270 the next hour.
Or you might win $180 one hour and lose $360 the next hour.
It won’t always add up this way; I’m just using those 2-hour increments because they’re easy.
The point is that in the long run, slot machines are the most expensive way to gamble.
4- Consider Video Poker if You Hate Table Games
One of the things I hate about slot machines is my inability to know the odds of the game I’m playing. Since I don’t know the odds of getting a specific symbol, I can’t calculate the house edge. It could be 5%, 10%, or 15%.
In fact, I could play at 3 different machines that are identical in every respect except for their house edge. They could even be right next to each other.
Video poker machines, on the other hand, use the same probabilities you’d find if you were using a real deck of cards. Since we know the probability of getting a royal flush, a straight, or a full house, we can calculate the house edge for a video poker game.
It’s not something you can sit down and work out with a pencil and paper, though. Luckily, you don’t have to. Just use a search engine and type in the name of the game you’re playing along with the expression “pay tables.”
You’ll find multiple sites with reliable information about the payback percentage for various video poker pay tables.
Most video poker games have a house edge of 5% or less.
In fact, with just a little effort, you can find real money video poker games with a house edge of less than 1%.
5- Seriously, Though… Play Table Games Instead
I’ve already explained how you have 3 factors that determine your average hourly loss:
- The size of your bets
- The number of bets you place per hour
- The house edge
I’ve also explained how the house edge for video poker is less than the house edge for slot machines.
But the number of bets you place per hour is also a huge, important factor to consider.
An average video poker player also makes 600 bets per hour.
If you’re playing for $5 per hand, you’re putting $3000 per hour into action.
If you’re playing for $1.25 per hand, you’re putting $750 per hour into action.
Even if you stick with video poker games with a 1% house edge, you’re losing an average of between $7.50 and $30 per hour.
That’s a lot better than the $180 you’d be losing on a slot machine game, but consider this:
If you play real money blackjack, you can play a game where you might place 100 bets of $5 per hour, for $500 in total action.
Master basic strategy, and the house edge for blackjack is only 0.5%.
This means your average hourly loss rate is $2.50.
That’s cheaper entertainment than going to a movie.
6- Don’t Get Roped into the Slots Club Thinking It’s the No-Brainer Thing to Do
You’ll find plenty of well-intentioned gambling writers who suggest you should ALWAYS join the slots club at the casino.
The idea behind the slots club is that you get an average of about 0.2% of your average wagers back in the form of rebates and comps.
That average slot machine player putting $1800 per hour into action would get back $3.60 per hour in rebates just for joining the slot machine players club.
That seems like a no-brainer, but think about what the casino gets in exchange for this rebate.
They get your name, phone number, email address, and mailing address. They also get to track how much money you wager and on which games you wager it.
In other words, they get so much information they can use to market to you that it’s not even funny.
That might or might not seem like a fair trade to you.
But don’t just join the slots club because everyone says that’s the thing to do.
It’s more complicated than that.
7- At Least Do Something to Make Your Slot Machine Play More Interesting
I think slot machines are mind-numbingly boring. When I play, and I DO play occasionally, I have to do things to make it more interesting for me.
One of the techniques I use to make it more interesting is to track how many spins I make. I also use a timer to see how much time has elapsed.
With that information, I can calculate how many spins I make per hour on average.
I can also take the amount I lose during a session and divide it by the number of spins I’ve made to see how much I’ve lost (or won) on average per spin.
With that information, I can come up with a ballpark house edge for the game.
Of course, this information is speculative and short-term and probably inaccurate because of variance.
But it makes me more mindful, slows down my game-play, and makes the slot machine game more interesting.
Another trick I sometimes use is to follow some kind of slot machine system, even though I know that in the long run slot machine systems don’t work.
I know they won’t help me win, but they are a fun way to debunk the money management proponents out there.
If you want to play slot machines, that’s okay.
But do yourself a favor and at least be an educated slot machine player.
This means understanding how much money you’re going to lose in the long run playing slots as contrasted with the amount of money you’d lose playing games where the odds are better.