Is It Better to Stop the Reels on a Slot Machine?

Thinking Man on Left With a Closeup of a Slot Machine on Right

We get a lot of emails about this. I also get my fair share of questions from slot machine players in casinos. Is it better to stop the reels on a slot machine or let them spin for the full length of time?

As usual, I think there are lots of answers to this question, and that each person’s answer is likely to be a little different, with different reasons for why they like to stop or not stop the reels. It’s better to stop the reels on a slot machine if it’s more fun for you that way, or if you feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck.

It’s not better to stop the reels on a slot if you’re trying to control your spins-per-hour or if stopping the reels makes you enjoy the game less.

This post will tackle the question of “to stop or not to stop” once and for all.

What Does Stopping the Reels Mean?

Slot machines have come a long way from the 3-reel single pay line mechanical games of the American frontier.

Today, you’ve got skill-based slots that reward players for something other than spinning reels of symbols. Some games, like GameCo’s Danger Arena, remove the slot machine element altogether in favor of what is essentially an action game played for real money.

That game is an extreme example of the growing popularity of skill slots.

It’s extremely common for both online and land-based slot games to offer players the option of stopping the reels as they spin. Some games let you stop each reel individually; some will stop them all at the same time.

The idea behind letting players stop the reels on their own is to encourage players to line up their own combinations. On the back-end, stopping the reels from spinning speeds up gameplay. A typical spinning reel slot game may produce 600 outcomes an hour – adding a skill stop element increases that speed dramatically, with some reel-stop players doubling or tripling that figure.

In my opinion, it’s impossible for the average person to be so mechanically and visually inclined as to be able to see a winning combination and stop the reels in time to line that combo up on a winning line. There may be some small number of people who’ve trained themselves to do this, but the average slots player is not up to the task.

Researching for this post, I came across one (just one) slot machine review that mentioned that you could break the skill element and produce a positive expectation. The game was Blood Life by IGT, and the reels moved just slowly enough that players found they could pretty consistently hit a payout.

That game has since been modified and, for the most part, removed from play. That tells you all you need to know about your likelihood of skill-stopping the reels on a modern slot profitably.

Below, I’ve broken down the “when to stop the reels” question into three categories – situations where you should always stop the reels, ones where you might want to stop the reels, and situations where you should definitely let the reels keep spinning.

Situations Where it’s Always Better to Stop the Reels

If you find a slot machine where the symbols move slowly enough for you to be able to skillfully line up winning combinations consistently, you should always stop those reels when you think it’ll be profitable.

I remember years ago playing a Super Nintendo game with a spinning reel reward system, I think it was Super Mario World. If you concentrated, or held up a straight edge to the screen, you could pretty consistently pick your combination, maybe 80% of the time. If you could find a slot in a casino where you can line up wins with that much regularity, I say go for it.

The problem is I don’t think such a game exists. Designers know that players will use every trick in the book to line up those wining symbol combinations, and they use various tricks to outwit them. For the most part, the reels move too fast to allow any real edge.

Closeup of Slot Progressive Slots

Here’s another reason why you might always want to stop the reels – maybe that’s your favorite part of playing slots. I know slots players who prefer games with skill elements, and their money spends just as good as anyone else’s. Skill games are popular because they’re fun, they offer some reprieve from the monotony of slot play, and they appeal to a generation of gamblers raised on video games.

If stopping a slot’s reels from spinning improves the entertainment value of your bankroll, I say you should go for it.

Situations Where it Might be Better to Stop the Reels

It’s not difficult to imagine situations in the casino where you might want to stop the reels, or you might not. It’s heavily dependent on context for me and most of the slots players I know.

The first time I play a new slot machine game that offers me the choice of stopping the reels, I’m very likely to stop the reels a few times just to test out the game. I’m always looking for that slot machine with a beatable spin stop system.

Slot games with skill-based features that actually reward skilled stopping are a definite situation where you’ll want to use any skills you have in this area. Then again, you might enjoy a slot game that includes a skill element that you’re not very good at.

In that case, you can still enjoy that game without taking full advantage of these skill elements. In the vast majority of US slots, these skill-based parts of games are side games only, not part of the main game.

I can also imagine a slot player in a time crunch wanting to stop the reels to play more spins per hour. People who only have a limited time to play, or people who are doing the typical “put my last $100 in a slot and see what happens” thing, are likely to stop a game’s reels as fast as possible just to get through to the end of their playtime as quickly as possible.

I don’t necessarily recommend playing a slot machine lightning fast, but I can see why a player might sometimes need to do that.

Situations Where it Is Better to Let the Reels Spin

The most obvious reason a person should avoid stopping the reels at all is when budget is a big deal. Let’s take a look at how the math adds up and you can see the reason why.

At 600 outcomes an hour, a slot player betting $1 per spin on a game with a 90% payback percentage is going to lose about $60 an hour. Doubling that by stopping the reels as quickly as possible means losses of  $120 an hour. How many of us gambling on a budget can afford to lose $120 an hour? There have been times where my entire bankroll was $100 or less.

Another reason to avoid stopping the reels is that stopping them doesn’t mean you’ll win more. This is especially true for gamblers that consider a game’s odds its most important feature.

For the most part, modern slots with skill-stop options don’t reward that skill enough to make a significant difference in odds. Advantage gamblers aren’t really big fans of skill-based slots, since the modern versions of those games generally have really bad theoretical return-to-player figures to accommodate the skill elements.

Row of Skill Based Slot Machines

A final reason you might consider letting the reels spin – if that leads to more entertainment value for you. Remember that gambling in a casino is a form of entertainment, no different from playing miniature golf or buying a raffle ticket at church. You shouldn’t go into a slot session expecting to win money. You should, however, expect to have a good time.

If stopping a game’s reels from spinning reduces your enjoyment of slots play, by all means, let them spin.

Our Final Thoughts on Stopping the Reels

Sometimes it’s better to stop the reels on a real money slot machine. For example, if you find a game where you can consistently line up winning combinations, you should go ahead and do it.

Sometimes you have to decide in the spur of the moment whether or not you’re going to stop the reels. For example, if you’ve never played a particular slot before and you want to test your skills. Under these conditions, you might want to go for it, or you might not.

Honestly, in most situations, you should never stop the reels. Budget-minded players who want to keep their spins-per-hour down are encouraged to let the reels spin as long as they can.