Can You Really Beat a Slot Machine?

Slot Machine on Right Thinking Man on Left

Sometimes, as a gambling writer, I come across questions that reveal some huge misunderstanding or misconception. These are the types of questions that I like because they’re instant opportunities for education.

For example, if a person asks me, “Should I use the Martingale system on craps or blackjack?” I take that as an opportunity to pick apart the Martingale system.

I got just such a question the other day. A friend of a friend messaged me on social media to ask me “Can you really beat a slot machine?” Here’s my short and frustrating answer – yes and no.

In some ways, and in the right context, you can beat a slot machine. But in bigger and more meaningful ways, slots cannot be beaten.

Some of this depends on your definition of the word “beat.” You can beat a slot machine in the short-term- if I win a $50 jackpot after only spending $5 on the machine, I’ve just officially beat the heck out of that slot.

However, you can’t beat a slot machine in the sense that you’re playing with a guaranteed expectation of profit. There’s no strategy, technique, technology, or superstition that will help you consistently beat a slot and make money.

This post will explain in as much detail as possible the different meanings and interpretations of the phrase “beating a slot machine.” I’ll cover the ways in which you may be able to beat the slots and discuss the reasons why slot machines are ultimately unbeatable.

Beating a Slot Machine in the Short Term

If your definition of beating a slot is simply getting more money out of it than you put in, you’re most likely to beat slots in the extreme short-term.

Imagine you’re betting $3 a spin on a progressive jackpot slot machine, hoping for a $1 million jackpot. Over the course of an hour, you’re risking something like $1,500 depending on the speed of the game.

Considering the odds against winning a typical progressive jackpot – in the neighborhood of 50 million to one – it should seem risky to put up $1,500 an hour to chase it. Let’s say you get 500 spins in over the course of that one hour of play – that puts you one hour into the 11 straight years of pulls you’d need on average to claim that progressive jackpot.

(By the way, you’d need to place $504 million in bets over that period of time, so you’d better start saving now.)

On the other hand, a player lucky enough to win that progressive top prize after a single $3 pull has, technically, beat that slot machine to a bloody pulp. That would represent a 333,000x return on investment, and would also be one of the luckiest things that ever happened. It’s possible – just very unlikely.

You can scale those amounts back to get a more realistic sense of how to beat a slot machine in the short term.

Let’s say you find a penny slot machine that you enjoy for $1 per spin. The game’s top prize is 10,000 credits or $100 at a penny per credit. If you were to hit that top prize before your 100th spin, you’d have technically beat the machine.

The trick to beating a slot in the short term is to quit playing. Using our penny slot example, winning that $100 payout after twenty spins would mean a net profit of $80. If you then used up those $80 with 80 more spins, you’d have completely wiped away your short-term return.

The goal of a slot machine, and the goal of the casino and every employee inside it, is to keep bettors gambling past their profitable point, should they even reach it.

Beating a Slot Machine with Slot Rewards

You can use slot rewards to beat slots.

Most slot players don’t even think about how they can turn their loyalty points into a way to beat slot machines.

Casinos offer rewards to slot players in the form of things like loyalty points, slot rewards, VIP points, or whatever else they may call them. The idea is simple – encourage slots fans to play more spins by rewarding them for their play.

Though most of these systems are point-based, requiring users to keep track and exchange their points for specific rewards, you’ll occasionally find outliers that do things differently. I know of a few US casinos that offer cash-back to big-time slots players, meaning those players can earn back some of their slot losses in the form of cash.

Whatever the system in use, you can use these rewards to play slots for free. Obviously, any cash you win on free spins is a knock against the casino’s edge against you as a slots player.

Casino Floor With Slot Machines

In a sense, playing free spins, or using loyalty or reward points to get free slots play, means beating the slot machine and the casino at the same time.

I’ll use a popular slot rewards club as an example. Caesars Rewards Slots+ is the slot-specific reward program in place at most Caesars properties in the US. This system is advanced in that players can manage their rewards and promotions from the slot machine itself instead of having to visit a kiosk or special desk or something.

Players at the entry-level of Caesars Rewards Slots+ earn 1 Reward Credit for every $5 played on a slot machine. Some games payout at lower rates, others at higher ones. Caesars has marked each game with an indication of its reward payout rate. The exchange rate at the entry-level isn’t great – you get $1 in free play for every 200 Reward Credits, meaning you earn $1 of free play for every $1,000 you bet on slot games.

The exchange rate improves the higher you move in the system’s hierarchy, though the exchange rate doesn’t get that much better. At the high-end, you can earn $1 of free play for every $900 of slot bets.

How can you use free slot play to beat the slot machines?

Since each buck in free slots play was earned with money you’ve already spent, any prizes you win improves the value of your entire bankroll.

Think of it this way – if you spent $1,000 to earn $1 in free play, then won a $10,000 jackpot with that $1 in free spins, you just turned that $1,000 loss into a profitable session.

Obviously, real-world examples won’t usually be that extreme, but the point remains the same. Leverage your casino play into free money that makes your budget potentially worth even more.

Why You Can’t Beat the Slots

You can start to understand why slots are unbeatable – and why RTP for land-based slot machines is a bad way to determine a slot’s relative expense – by flipping a coin ten times.

Obviously, the odds of a coin landing heads and landing tails are the same. There are only two options, and even if a coin did manage to land on its thin edge, you’d simply ignore that result and re-flip the coin.

However, if you flip a coin ten times, how likely are you to get an equal number of heads and tails results? Would you be surprised to find out that there’s a 97% chance of that not happening? In fact, in any 32 sets of ten coin-flips, you’ll likely only land exactly 5 tails and exactly 5 heads results at one time.

Heads should win 50% of the time, and so should tails. So, what’s going on here?

You’re seeing volatility in action. The more coin flips you observe, the closer each side of the coin gets to a 50%-win rate. But over the short-term, that win-rate can fluctuate really wildly.

Slot machines are extremely volatile games – that means their short-term results are unpredictable. Some machines are more volatile than others, and this has to do with the size of the game’s jackpot, the size of its other prizes, and the mathematics behind the frequency of wins.

You can influence your ability to beat a slot machine only by your choice of game. Slots with smaller payouts tend to reward players more frequently, though in smaller amounts. Slots with massive payouts tend to hand out fewer and less-frequent rewards, though when players do win, the prizes are larger. You can tailor the “beat ability” of slot machines by choosing to play those with more or less volatility.

What you can’t do is consistently beat a slot machine or any other game based entirely on luck.

In Summary

I’ve covered the basic ways that players can beat slots – not in the ways that some people think, but they’re still available.

I’ve also covered the reasons why real money slots are essentially unbeatable.

Remember that slots players tend to have one or two big winning sessions for every two or three dozen losing sessions. That’s baked into the mathematics of the game.

Expecting anything more than that is setting yourself up for disappointment.