Slot Machine FAQ – Part 3 of 4

This set of slot machine questions discuss basics terms like “bankroll”, “slot candle”, and “networked slots”. I also discuss why larger coin denominations mean better odds for players, while providing a general guideline for how much you should tip the nearby casino personnel in slots row.

The slots questions today include information for trivia buffs on the biggest prize amounts in the history of casino gambling. I also wanted to discuss the basics of RNGs. In what’s going to be a recurring theme, I’ll discuss the payback percentage and the strategy behind playing the max coins on a machine.

This last set of questions covers everything from the early days of Bally slots to the latest news on progressive jackpots. If you’re wanting to learn about latest development in online gaming, server based slots, I’ll be discussing that technology in the near future.

This FAQ page answers the following questions:

You can view other slot questions and answers in Part 1Part 2Part 4

Slot Machine Questions Answered

What is a bankroll?

A bankroll is the amount of money you’re willing to gamble and lose when playing at the casino. This should be significantly less than your income or your bank account. Don’t dip into the money for monthly bills like car payments, house payments, insurance, utilities, or groceries. A slot machine bankroll should come from your disposable income, and it should not represent the full amount of your disposable income. A bankroll should be the amount you can comfortably afford to lose, while wagering enough to make the game interesting. Once you start playing, don’t wager more than 5% of your bankroll on any spin, hand, or roll of the dice.

Why do people say playing at high denomination slot machines is better?

Playing at high limit slot machines is better only if you can afford to lose what you wager. If so, then the payout percentages are higher at the top end denominations. Since casinos have a house edge, they want to encourage gamblers to wager as much as possible. They provide incentives for high rollers and disincentives for low rollers. So if you see two machines which are identical in every way, but they have two different maximum denominations, you can expect to get better odds on the one with the highest max bet. 

Does the zig zag method help a gambler win at slots?

Slots gamblers want to find a machine with reel symbols where the best symbols are almost lined up, but they aren’t. The patterns they’re looking for is the “v” shape, the “^” shape, the “X”, or some type of diagonal pattern. All these losing reel alignments tell the gambler that the reel symbols are starting to line up, so you should be playing on that machine.

The zig zag method doesn’t work, though. All slot machines in the year are electronic, so they use a random number generator to determine a random outcome. The zig-zag method was used by gamblers on mechanical slot machines–not the current ones. Finding those patterns gives you no advantage whatsoever in the current industry.

What is a “slot candle”?

The slot candle is the light located on the top of the machine. The slot candle usually gives coin denominations. Red is a nickel machine and yellow is a quarter machine, while blue is a dollar machine. Make sure this is the case in your particular casino before you just assume.

What is the proper tip for a slots attendant?

The proper amount is 0.5% to 1% of your winnings on a jackpot. If you win a thousand dollars, a proper tip would be $5 or $10. Some players prefer to offer a higher gratuity, but the amount really depends on what service they performed and how quickly they performed it. Some attendants pay out larger amounts with hundred dollar bills, except for the last $100, which is paid with $20. In these cases, they are hoping you tip them the $20. If that’s too much for your tastes, keep $5 and $10 on your person for these occasions.

Are players allowed to play two machines at once?

If enough machines are open that a player can play two machines, nothing says they can’t do it. You might find a sign asking players to avoid playing two machines when the casino is busy. Of course, I don’t understand why players feel the need to play two machines at once. If the odds were in their favor, I could see this attitude. Playing two slot machines at once only means you’re going to run out of money twice as fast, if the probabilities play out the way they should.

What is your best advice for slot machine players?

Play for entertainment and stay within your bankroll. Slot machines are the most popular form of gambling in the casino. In fact, slots account for about 70% of the revenues of land-based casinos. Slot machine players need to understand that insiders don’t try to get rich off slots, because the odds are heavily in the favor of casinos. Play for fun and play within your means. Your definition of “bankroll” should be an amount you can comfortably lose.

What are networked slots?

Networked slots are for progressive slot machines. Imagine a large network of slot machines connected to each other like computers on the Internet are. Each time someone spins and doesn’t hit the progressive anywhere on this network, the jackpot increases. Networked slots therefore all feed into a progressive jackpot, increasing the size of the prize much faster than they would if it was just one machine per jackpot.

What’s the biggest jackpot ever won on a slot machine?

The record remains $39,700,000 won by a software engineer at the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas back in 2003. Megabucks is the game most associated with huge progressive jackpots. At one time, the Megabucks slot machine had the Top 9 jackpots of all time, while Money Vault Millionaires held the 10th spot. If you want to make the Top 10, it’s probably best to put your money in MegaBucks slot machines.

What is a random number generator?

A random number generator or “RNG” is an electronic device used to determine the outcome in electronic gambling. The RNG comes up with thousands of combinations per second. When you hit the “Spin” button, whatever the last result was gets spit out. This is truly random, not some giant list of results with some pattern you can predict.

Should I pay max coins on slot machines always?

If you play a progressive slot machine, always pay max coins. If you play machines with multiple paylines, most of the time you should play the max coin amount. If you play slots where the 5-coin payout is proportionately higher, then you should pay out max coins. In all of these situations, the maximum coin amount triggers the top prize. Some flat-top machines don’t increase the top jackpot, so these wouldn’t require max coins. Since most electronic slots these days have multiple coin options, if you don’t like making the max bet, drop down to a lower coin denomination.

Settle a bet between my friend and me: is playing progressive slots any different than playing the lottery?

The payback percentage is much better on slot machines (85% to 95%) than they are on lotteries (about 60%). Progressive slots have a lotto-sized jackpot, so it’s natural to equate the two games together. If you play the right machine, you can win hundreds of thousands–maybe millions–of dollars playing progressive slots. The state lottery and multi-state lotto games offer hundreds of thousands, millions, ten of millions, and even hundreds of millions of dollars. These last two jackpot sizes explain a lot. Top lotteries pay out much more than top progressive jackpots. The record amount for lotteries is over $300,000,000, while the record amount for slots is about $10,000,000 or so. The bigger the jackpot in gambling, the lower the payout percentage or higher the house edge is. Of course, state governments set the house edge on lottery gaming. It’s at a level so bad that any casino offering those odds would be shut down and its executives possibly sent to jail.

If I won free play money from a land-based casino though a points promotion, what is this worth? 

First, this isn’t the same as freeplay online casino promotions. This is money won through a slots club promotion, usually. In this case, it depends on what machines you’re allowed to play. If you must play on a promotional machine, the payouts are set low enough you might only win 10% or 20% of the price amount. If the casino gives you access to any machine on the floor, head to the video poker machines, where the payout for full pay is over 99% (at which point the value of a $100 bonus would be $99+). If you must remain on slots row, find a flat-top machine with a lower jackpot prize and wish for luck. This jackpot is the one you’re most likely to hit, while it’s also likely to pay out the highest percentage–in many cases, around 95%.

Which slot expert offers the best advice for beating the casinos?

None of them offer good advice, if they tell you their system can teach you how to beat the casinos at slots. Any so-called expert who claims he or she has a system to beat casinos is making an absurd claim. These people shouldn’t be trusted. In 99% of the cases, these people know better and are lying to try to sell you something. Don’t believe 100% moneyback guaranteed offers, because these are easy to offer and hard to collect. Con men can claim you didn’t follow their system 100%, so you didn’t follow your part of the bargain. Claims are easy to make. Testimonials can be faked. Avoid all this stuff.

How long has Bally been making slot machines?

Bally, originally known for its “Ballyhoo” pinball machines, started making slot machines as early as the late 1930’s in Chicago, Illinois.

If a slot machine is random, then how can they be set to a certain payback percentage? 

This concept is no different than the payback percentage in roulette, for instance. If you have 38 numbers in American roulette, then the odds of any 1 number hitting is 37:1 or 1-in-38. This determines the payback percentage, though the results are still random. A slot machine works the same way. It’s programmed for certain combinations to appear a certain number of times, which determines probability. One this is done, the game remains random, but is played with certain odds. In roulette or slot machines or any other casino game, the short term results may deviate from the expectation. Over a long term (like a billion spins), the payback percentage and odds are going to look similar.

Do the odds of reel symbols get weighted in slots?

Yes. Certain symbols have less chance of turning up than others, but how this is done is different than classic mechanical slots. On a 5-reel machine, the random number generator selects a different number for each reel. These five numbers are matched against symbols. Some symbols are going to correspond to more numbers. When this is done for all five reels, you get the symbol alignment.

Is there any reason to purchase one of these e-book slot systems?

No, those are a waste of money. If you’re looking for the best chance to beat the casino, slot machines aren’t your game. No strategy exists in slots. You make a bet and hit a button, so no betting system is going to improve your odds.

Online players should familiarize themselves with cloud-based slot machines, because it’s only going to become a bigger part of the experience as time goes by. Meanwhile, I hope I can disabuse players of some of their more superstitious notions about current and past slot machines.