Can You Play Slots for a Living?

Businessman pointing at a row of slot machines
You can find stories about people gambling for a living. Many people play poker for a living, and it’s easy to see why.

Poker doesn’t have a built-in house edge; it has a seat charge in the form of a rake. Poker players aren’t trying to win the house money, they compete for other players’ money. This is different than most other forms of gambling.

You can also read about blackjack players that have learned how to count cards or find sloppy dealers. Some of these players are able to play blackjack for a living. Some sports bettors are also able to make enough money to gamble for a living.

What Casino Games Can You Play for a Living?

It is rare to find people who can gamble for a living who play casino games. Bob Dancer claims that he was able to play video poker for a living several years back.

However, even if his claim is true, many things have changed since then. It’s harder to find full-pay video poker machines and casinos pay lower comp rates for video poker play.

I’m just guessing, but I believe that Dancer has probably made much more money from writing books than actually playing video poker.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that and I’m not trying to say that he didn’t make money playing. But I don’t know if anyone is making a living playing video poker today. It’s possible, but if there are players doing it, there aren’t very many.

A few authors claim to make money playing craps using dice control. This has always struck me as a way to sell books and training courses. But, just like Dancer’s claim with video poker, I suppose a few people can use dice control.

Games like real money slots, roulette, baccarat, and other table games don’t have stories about gamblers playing them for a living. Does the lack of stories mean that these games are impossible to beat?

Slots are the most popular form of gambling in casinos. People love to play slots. This brings me to the reason for this article. Can you play slots for a living?

The Hard Truth

Before you continue, consider exactly what making a living means. Some people live on $25,000 a year, while others seem to need $50,000 or $100,000 a year. Many factors come into play when determining how much someone needs to live.

Some of the factors include:

  • Where you live
  • How many people that you have to support, like a spouse and children
  • Lifestyle expenses
  • How much debt you have

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use $52,000 a year as the threshold for making a living. This works out to $1,000 a week. You can use any number that you want, but most people can survive on this amount.

Another issue that must be considered when you think about playing slots for a living is the lack of benefits. Professional gamblers have to find health care and they don’t get paid time off. Health care is a serious expense for many people and it is risky to not have some type of coverage.

Many young people don’t worry about the lack of health care coverage, but as you get older it often becomes a real concern. If you have to pay for health insurance it can take a big chunk out of your income. Keep this in mind when you determine how much you need to make to play slots for a living.

The hard truth is playing slots for a living is almost impossible. You need to already be wealthy and have enough money that you can afford to lose in the long run. It’s much more likely that you’re going to lose $1,000 a week than win it playing slots.

While most slots players lose in the long run, it’s not 100% impossible to play slots for a living. But such a small percentage of players make money that the truth is that you should probably forget the idea.

How Do Slot Machines Pay Players?

Slot machines are designed to guarantee, or lock in, a long-term profit for the casino.

Each machine is programmed to pay back a certain percentage of every dollar wagered and keep the rest for the casino. These numbers are called different names, but I call them payback percentage and the house edge.

A slot machine’s payback percentage is the amount of all bets returned to the player through wins on the machine. Let’s say that a slot machine has a 95% payback percentage. This means that on average it gives back $95 out of every $100 wagered to the player.

If you consider this from the other angle you get the house edge. When the slot machine pays back $95 out of $100, it keeps the other $5 for profit. In other words, a machine that pays back $95 out of every $100 wagered has a 5% house edge.

When you add the house edge percentage and the payback percentage together, they always equal 100%. This means that if you know one number you can subtract it from 100 to get the other number.

How to Use Payback Percentage and the House Edge

You can use these numbers to predict how much you should win or lose over a set period of time. You will also need to know how much you bet per hour.

Remember, the house edge is in the casino’s favor. If you can’t figure out how to overcome the edge, you’re going to lose in the long run.

Most slot machines have a payback percentage between 90 and 98%. This means the house edge is between 2 and 10%. So, on average, you will lose between 2% and 10% of every dollar you run through the machine.

Here’s an example:

  • You play on a slot machine that has a 98% payback percentage, which means it has a 2% house edge. Your bet size is $2 per spin and you make 400 spins per hour. You can figure out what you can expect to lose on average per hour by using this formula.
  • Amount bet per spin times spins per hour times the house edge.
  • $2 X 400 X 2% = $16

This means that if you play for 10 hours your expected loss is $160. You simply multiply the expected hourly loss times the number of hours you plan to play and you get the average expected loss.

How Do Casinos Maintain a House Edge?

Slots are run by computers, which use a program based on math. These programs, unless the programmers made a mistake, make sure that the underlying math principles always come true. It might take millions of spins, but the program guarantees that the machine produces a profit for the casino.

The house edge and payback percentage are long-term things. This means that these percentages are realized over a long period of time.

Row of slot machines at Creek Entertainment Gretna
In the short term, the house edge and payback percentages vary, sometimes a great deal. But eventually the short term variance evens out and produces the correct results.

How can you overcome the built-in house edge? Most players can’t, and this is why it’s almost impossible to play slots for a living.

You can still want to try to play slots for a living. Just keep in mind that even if you use every trick and strategy in your power, you still might lose money in the long run.

Finding the Pay Back Percentage of Slots

You just learned about payback percentage and the house edge and how these things guarantee the casino a profit. So the next question is how do you find out the house edge and payback for slot machines?

Most casino games are designed in a way that it’s fairly easy to determine the house edge and payback percentage. You can easily find the numbers with a quick internet search. But slots are different.

The programs that run the machines have a lot of variables. You would need to access the program itself to determine the house edge and payback percentage.

Another problem is that some machines offer different payback percentages from the manufacturer. This allows each casino to order their machines with the percentage they want.

If you want to have the best chance to play slots for a living, you need to find the machines that offer the lowest house edge. These machines have the highest payback percentage, so you have less to overcome.

The following sections include everything I know that can help you improve your chances of winning. Four of them are strategies that you can put into action yourself, and the other one is based on hope. Sadly, hope isn’t much of a strategy, but it fits in perfectly with how most people gamble. They put their money out and hope to win.

Online Bonuses

Online casinos often offer bonuses for slots players when they make a deposit. You can get 100% or more of your deposit matched with bonus money you can use to play slots. This sounds like a great way to overcome the house edge, and if the money was free it would be.

On the surface, bonus money looks like it’s free; but it is not that simple. When you read the fine print associated with the bonus you learn that the casino isn’t giving you free money.

Every online slots bonus comes with rules and regulations about how you can use it. This can include what you have to do before you can cash out your money and if you get to keep any bonus amount afterward.

The terms vary from online casino to online casino, so it’s important to read them before you make your deposit. Some bonuses are deducted from your balance when you make a withdrawal request, while others can be cashed out eventually.

When you accept an online slots bonus you have to meet certain requirements. These are usually called play-through requirements.

What Are Casino Bonus Play-Through Requirements?

A play-through requirement is the number of wagers you have to make to clear the bonus. The requirement is usually shown as a multiple, like 25X or 50X. This means you have to make wagers totaling 25 times or 50 times the bonus, and sometimes the deposit amount.

Here’s an example:

  • You sign up at an online casino that offers a 100% sign-up bonus on deposits up to $250. You make a $250 deposit and get a $250 bonus. This gives you a total bankroll of $500. The terms and conditions state that you have to play the deposit and bonus amount 50 times before cashing out.
  • The total of the bonus and your deposit is $500. You can multiply this by 50 to find the total amount you have to bet. 50 X $500 = $25,000, so you have to make $25,000 worth of bets before cashing out. The best can be any size as long as the total amount reaches the limit.

Casino Bonuses and the House Edge

You can use a trick at this point to get an idea of the possibility of clearing the bonus and having money left over. Simply multiply the total amount you have to wager times the house edge to find the expected loss.

Using this example, if you play on a slot machine with a 5% house edge, your expected loss is $1,250. This means that you are usually going to run out of money before you clear the bonus. The only ways to change this are to play on a machine with a lower house edge or find bonuses that have lower play-through requirements.

You also need to understand the difference between cashable bonuses and the ones that are deducted from your balance. A bonus that can’t be cashed out when you meet the playing requirements makes it unlikely you can beat the house edge.

Slot machines at Victoryland Casino

Here’s an example if you play a slot machine with a 2% house edge, using the same bonus numbers in the last example.

$25,000 X 2% = $500. This means that your expected loss is the same as your total bankroll of $500. Let’s say you get lucky and don’t lose all $500. The odds of you having more than your deposit of $250 left after clearing the bonus is slim.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t use online slots bonuses? Not necessarily.

You should defiantly use online slots bonuses if you want to play slots. Even a bonus that’s not cashable gives you extra money to gamble with. It also gives you extra chances to hit a big jackpot, which is the only way most slots players have of getting ahead.

Slots Tournaments

Slots tournaments aren’t run at all casinos, but some casinos run them from time to time. A few casinos run them on a regular basis. A slots tournament offers a minimum amount of play for a set entry fee and awards prizes to the top finishers.

Some casinos offer slots tournaments as a reward for a set amount of play and/or connected to their slots club program. If you can earn a free entry into a slots tournament, anything you win helps overcome the house edge on your normal slots play.

When you’re looking for a slots tournament that has an entry fee, try to find one that has a guaranteed prize pool. If you find tournaments that don’t get enough entrants to cover the prize pool you can play with an edge.

This will not greatly improve your chances of finishing in the money. However, when the entry fees don’t cover the prize pool it’s profitable to play.

Here’s an example:

  • The casino offers a slots tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of $1,000. The entry fee is $10 and they only get 80 people to sign up. If you divide the prize pool by the number of entrants you get the average value of playing.
  • In this case, the average is $12.50. Any time the average return for playing is higher than the entry fee you’re playing with an edge.

You still have to be a top finisher to win some money. But if you play in enough of these types of situations you come out ahead eventually.

Playing Slots for Comps and Promotions

Every time you play slots you should be earning comps. Sign up for the slots club at your local casino and look for online casinos that have a rewards program.

Casinos don’t give back enough in comps to overcome the normal house edge. Still, every penny you get back in comps helps lower your cost to play.

You can improve your chances of winning a great deal by combining online slots bonuses with decent comps programs.

Casinos also run promotions from time to time. Check your local paper or the website of the casino where you’re planning to play. Promotions and coupons are a great way to offset the built-in house edge of slot machines.

Getting Lucky

The only way most people can play slots for a living is by getting lucky. If you’re lucky enough to hit a big jackpot and are smart with the money, you can afford to play slots full-time.

The only slot machines I play are the ones that offer either a progressive jackpot or a top jackpot prize of $100,000 or higher. I know I can’t overcome the long-term house edge without a big win. So, I don’t waste my time on machines that can’t make a big deposit into my bank.

Getting lucky isn’t a strategy. But you can put yourself in a position where you have the chance to be lucky. If you want to play slots for a living focus on slots with big jackpot possibilities.

Progressive Jackpots

There is only one way to truly play slots with an edge over the house. You have to play a progressive jackpot slot machine where the top prize overcomes the edge.

The problem with this is the same as I discussed earlier. If you don’t know the house edge you can’t determine how high the progressive jackpot has to climb before it makes the play profitable.

I recommend sticking with slots that have high jackpots. It’s the only way you have a chance to win enough that you can play slots for a living.

If you don’t know the house edge, simply play the slots that have the highest jackpots. Most casinos, both online and off, have at least one slots game with a jackpot of over $1,000,000.

If you can’t find one with a jackpot of over $1 million, look for the highest one you can find. A $500,000 jackpot win might not set you up financially for life, but it’s enough to help out quite a bit.


Slots are one of the most popular gambling options across the world. These machines are a fun way to pass the time and offer the chance at a huge payday. Unfortunately, slots are not a great option for full-time employment for most people.

To learn more about slots and other games, check out these casino blogs.

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