Real Money Online Slots
It never occurred to us that anyone would want to play slots for anything other than real money unless there were some potential for a free prize of some kind. And indeed, some online slot machines do offer free games with free prizes-these are more like tournaments and/or sweepstakes in terms of how the prizes are awarded, though. Most free slots games are just an exercise in building up a bankroll of money that you can't spend anywhere… except on more free games at that website.
This page look at real money slot machine games in particular. We start with some recommended places to play for real money. That's followed by a look at the difference between real money slot machine games and free slot machine games, information about the various types of slot machines being manufactured and played, and a look at the various offerings from the most popular online casino software companies.
Free Slots Versus Real Money Slots
One would be justified in asking how a free slots site makes any money at all. The answer can be summed up with a single word:
No matter what kind of free slot machine game you're playing, the reason it's profitable for the website owner or the app designer is that they're able to sell advertising. In some cases, this advertising might be for online casinos offering real money slots. In fact, that might be the most effective advertising model of all. Where could you find a more targeted audience?
But even sites which aren't advertising online casinos are usually advertising something, often on a per impression basis. And usually the products that are being advertised on such sites are at least tangentially related to casino games and/or slot machines. They'll also often trigger interest-based advertising.
Here's an example.
We logged into a site today which offered free, no download slots. The advertising was in the form of a 160X600 banner to the right of the game. The first ad we saw was related to big and tall mens' clothing. That's clearly based on our Web surfing history, not our interest in slots games.
There was also an advertisement at the top of the page for Pepsi. We ordered a Pepsi product with our pizza last night for supper, so that was possibly related to our Web surfing habits too.Suspicions about this were confirmed when we opened another game and that ad was replaced with an ad for the pizza restaurant we ordered from last night.
Which type of site is more profitable for the Website owner, though?.
Our guess is that the online casinos who accept real money slots play are far and away more profitable than the sites just running advertising. There's just too much evidence to suggest that the average value of an online gambler is in the $1,000+ range. You have to run a lot of per impression ads for Pepsi before you start to get into that kind of money.
Pros & Cons of Real Money Slots Machines
Should you play slots online for real money or just stick with the just-fun games?
That's a question you'll have to answer for yourself. But we can offer an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of play.
This assumes, of course, that you can exercise the discipline necessary to avoid switching to real money when the option is offered. And that you can exercise the discipline to avoid buying the products being shilled in the on-page advertising.
The above advantage is also the biggest disadvantage of these free money games though.
You'll find some exceptions to this actually, but your chances of winning any kind of real cash at one of those games is so small as to be practically impossible anyway.
We know a couple of people who seem almost addicted to these kinds of games, though. We're not sure what the appeal is. Once you understand how these games work on the back end, all the sights and sounds on the screen become even more meaningless. And how the thought of winning fake money on an entirely random outcome gets anyone excited is beyond us.
Of course, real money slot machine games are far from the most optimal gambling experience you can find, either. The house edge on such games are usually 5% or more-sometimes much more. We've read about slot machines at the airport in Las Vegas with a house edge of 15% to 25%. You'll face better odds playing the lottery.
When you compare that kind of high house edge with the edge of a game like blackjack, which can be considerably lower than 1%, it seems as if there's no reason to ever put any money into a slot machine game. But the reality is that slot machine games offer some perks over other casino games with better odds.
The biggest of these perks is the possibility of winning a large jackpot with a single small bet. If you're playing blackjack, for example, most of the time you'll win even money. If you split and double down, you might win four times to eight times your initial bet. If you're playing roulette, the best you can hope for is a 35 to 1 payout.
That's the kind of payoff that a lot of people find valuable even when the odds of it happening are so small as to be practically non-existent. We've known people who told us that just fantasizing about what they'd do with a million dollars made a dollar bet on a Mega Millions game worth the money, even though the odds of winning such a game are lower than the odds of being struck by lightning.
Type of Slot Machine Games
You can find multiple ways of categorizing slot machine games. The following three are the most common.
One way to categorize slot machine games is by looking at how many reels and paylines the games have. You'll usually only find one of two set-ups when it comes to the number of reels.
There are exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of slot machine games fall into one of those two categories. (And in case you're a total neophyte, the "reels" are what spin in the game. The symbols are on the spinning reels. Without reels, you have no slot machine game at all, because spinning reels are what make a slot machine game a slot machine game.)
3 reel slots are the traditional older games that have been around since the turn of the last century. Even though many of them look exactly the same as their mechanical cousins, modern 3 reel slot machines operate in the same way as video slots. Outcomes are determined by a miniature computer called a random number generator (RNG). The reels are just for show.
Antique 3 reel slot machines (if they're old enough) still contain mechanical moving parts as their reels. These reels are actual metal strips with images painted on them, and they literally do spin until they randomly stop-it's a matter of springs and electric machinery, unaided by a computer.
5 reel slots, on the other hand, usually resemble 3 reel slots in only the most superficial of ways. The reels are obviously just computer-generated animation. Yeah, they still spin, but they're not actual strips of metal at all. All modern 5 reel slot machine games also use a random number generator to determine their results.
But when you start talking about paylines, you get a lot more variation. Many 3 reel slots only have a single payline-horizontally across the middle. If symbols match across that payline, you win. If not, you don't. That's pretty simple.
But modern video slot machine games also have multiple paylines in a bewildering array of patterns. But you have to place a bet for every payline you want to activate. These games offer a help screen which draws the paylines for you, and if you get matches on any of those paylines, you win a payout.
You can find games with 3 paylines, 5 paylines, 25 paylines, and 50 paylines. Some modern games even eliminate paylines entirely, so that any matching symbol from left to right generates a payout regardless of where it would fall on a payline. These machines are called 243 ways slot machines, and they're becoming increasingly popular over time, especially in Australia.
7 reel slots are also available, but they're still unusual. We've never played one, although we've seen pictures. We're not sure if 7 reel slots are ever going to catch on or not. Time will tell.
Slot machines can also be categorized according to what kinds of jackpots they offer. Generally speaking, there are two categories related to jackpots.
Flat top slots are games which have a flat amount as the top jackpot. For example, if you come across a game which offers a maximum prize of 1,000 coins, you're looking at a flat top game.
On the other hand, progressive slots are games which have jackpots that increase every time a player makes a wager and spins the reels. These jackpots usually grow very large over time. Some of the more famous progressive jackpot slots, like Mega Millions, can offer jackpots of $10 million+.
Progressive slots can be further sub-divided according to how many machines feed into the jackpot. Some progressive slots are standalone jackpots. Only play on that specific game increases the size of the top prize.
Other progressive slots are networked within a casino or a section of a casino. You might find a bank of 9 or 12 games that all share a single progressive jackpot, and play on any of those machines increases the size of the top prize.
But the biggest progressive slots are networked across multiple machines in multiple casinos. These are the games with the huge prizes of $1 million or more. Anyone playing on any of these games is adding to the size of that top jackpot.
Of course, the odds of winning a progressive jackpot go down the larger the number of machines which are networked is. In fact, the odds on progressive jackpot slots are always lower than you'll find on flat top slots, because these games build jackpots by taking a tiny percentage of every wager and using it to "fuel" that progressive jackpot.
For example, you might be looking at playing a Wheel of Fortune slot machine game with a flat top jackpot. But elsewhere in the casino you might find another Wheel of Fortune game that's networked into the big jackpot network, and it might have a top prize of $15 million.
Your odds of winning that huge progressive jackpot are similar to the odds of winning the lottery. But you pay a price-a tax almost-in terms of how much you're expected to lose on each spin. The payout for the flat top game might be 94%, while the payout on the progressive game might be 91%. But what's worse is that the 91% includes the possibility of hitting that progressive jackpot.
And guess what.
You're probably not ever going to hit that progressive jackpot.
In terms of slot machine strategy, you have few decisions to make, but one of those decisions is what kind of game you're going to play. Our advice is to stick with games which have flat top jackpots rather than hitting the progressives. Unless you're just really determined to try to win a single life-changing jackpot, the flat top machines are going to provide you with more entertainment for your money.
Another way is to look at what denominations the games accept. You can find slot machines in the following denominations:
- Penny slots
- Nickel slots
- Dime slots
- Quarter slots
- Dollar slots
- Five dollar slots
That's not the upper limit, either. You can find slot machine games where you can play for $100 per spin.
But some of those names are misnomers, too. Just because a slot machine game is a so-called "penny slot" doesn't mean that most people are playing for a penny a spin. Theoretically you COULD play such a game for a penny per spin, but you'd only be activating a single payline. You'd also be losing your chance at the top jackpot and sometimes the bonus game.
In fact, most penny slots today offer the option of betting on dozens of paylines, and they also offer you the chance to wager multiple pennies per payline. It's not uncommon for a game to have 25 or 50 paylines. It's also not unusual to be able to wager up to 5 units per spin per line. You could easily be wagering $2.50 per spin on a so-called penny slot machine.
You're better off playing a game with fewer paylines for a higher denomination. Here's why:
Higher denomination games offer a better payback percentage. If you're not familiar with that term, it simply means the mathematical average of how much gets paid out in winnings over time. It's the other side of the house edge.
For example, if a slot machine game has a 96% payout percentage, you will, if you play long enough, win 96 cents for every dollar you risk. Another way to look at it is that your average loss per dollar will be 4 cents. In the short run, your results will differ dramatically. But in the long run, your actual results will start to resemble your mathematically expected results.
It's important to understand this, because in the long run, slots are a losing proposition. That doesn't mean you shouldn't play. It means that you should be aware of the odds and the potential costs of playing.
We like to think of it in terms of how much money you're going to lose on average per hour. That's easily calculated-you just multiply the average number of bets per hour by the size of each bet. Then you multiply that by the house edge, and you wind up with your expected hourly loss rate.
An average slot machine player makes 600 bets per hour. If you're playing for $1 per spin and expecting to lose 4% of each wager, you're looking at $600 X 4%, or $24 in hourly expected loss.
This relates to our previous discussion in a significant way. Suppose you have 2 slot machines to choose from. One is a penny slots game with a maximum wager per spin of $5. (Lots of paylines.) The other is a $5 slots game with a single payline, so you can only wager $5 per spin.
There's no way to know what the difference is in the payout percentages for these two games, but it's common for penny slots to offer much lower payout percentages.
Suppose the difference between the two games is just 4%.
Would you rather bet $600 per hour and lose 4% of your money on average or 8% of your money on average?
That's the difference between losing $24 per hour and $48 per hour.
Look at it this way. Since slot machines are entertainment, you should want to keep your expenses as low as possible while still getting the same thrill from playing. You'd do the same thing if you were buying a ticket to a movie or a theme park, wouldn't you? We don't anyone who pays full price for tickets to Six Flags.
Online Casino Slot Software
A huge variety of companies build the software which powers online casinos. Since this page focuses almost exclusively on real money slots you can play online, we've devoted a good bit of space below to which software packages offer what kind of slot machine experiences. Only a handful of these companies have any relationships with the companies who manufacture slot machine games for land-based casino. Where that applies, we've noted it in the appropriate section below.
Amaya might be one of the biggest online gaming companies in the world. They're best known as the company which acquired both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker for $5 billion+. But they don't just run online poker rooms-their software powers a wide variety of gaming activities, including slot machines.
Many of Amaya's slot machine games are based on popular intellectual property licenses. This makes them more like a land-based slot machine game designer than many online casino software companies. Examples of properties they create slot machine games for include the characters from DC Comics, like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. But they also own the rights to slot machine versions of video games like Call of Duty.
Fans of Australian style slots will be happy to know that Amaya powered casinos also offer online versions of some of the more popular Aristocrat brand slots. They also offer a variety of games which are original and unique, including games based on classic literature (like Beowulf) and games which evoke traditional gambling themes (like Bars & Bells).
Boss Media, along with Microgaming and Playtech, is one of the oldest providers of online casino software on the Internet. They launched in 1996, so they have 20 years experience in the business. But they haven't achieved or maintained as great a reputation as either of their 2 other big name competitors.
We mentioned on our page about blackjack that they offer some of the best odds on blackjack anywhere on the Internet, but Boss Media's selection of slot machine games is a little lackluster. You might consider it comparable to the slot machine game selection at Realtime Gaming.
A look at the names of the Boss Media slots tells you a lot about where they're coming from as a company. Some of them include:
- Aladdin's Lamp
- Break the Bank
- Irish Magic
- Lost City
You'll notice that many of these seem to feature traditional themes of treasure and money without a lot of licensed games. Sometimes the lack of licensed games means that a casino game provider has done some work in terms of creating unique possibilities for their players, but in this case, it jus means that most of their casino games are bland and run of the mill.
Boss Media, like Playtech and Microgaming, does not accept real money players from the United States.
One of our favorite slot machine games of all time is a Cryptologic game-it's called Triple Olives. We like how they took a common slot machine motif-fruit-and then turned it on its ear by featuring a fruit that is never used in slot machine games.
But that's not the most exciting game they offer. They're also known for having licenses for comic book characters like Wonder Woman and the Fantastic Four. They also feature slot machine versions of Jenga and Bejeweled. Original games like Doctor Love and Samba Nights round out their selections.
Cryptologic is far from ubiquitous. Only a handful of casinos now use their software. But the ones that do are above-board. They do not accept real money players from the United States.
Microgaming is famous for being the first online casino software in existence. Their software powered the first online casino that was launched in 1994. They're also famous for having one of the largest selections of online slot machine games in the industry. But mostly they're famous for their network of progressive slot machine jackpots. In fact, as of 2015, the company has paid out over $100 million in progressive slot machine jackpots.
Unfortunately for players from the United States, real money play is prohibited by the software company. In fact, they use IP detection to block players anywhere within the United States from even accessing their games. But players in other countries, especially jackpot hunters, love the variety of progressive jackpots available there.
Microgaming offers almost 400 different slot machine games. For years, Major Millions was the most famous of these, as it offered huge jackpots comparable to what you'd find in Vegas on the Megabucks machines in Las Vegas. Its popularity has since been eclipsed by a similar-but-newer game called Mega Moolah. Their other progressive slots include games like Cash Splash and Lotsaloot.
Other popular slot machine games from Microgaming include some of their licensed games. If you know much about the online casino industry, you'll understand that many software providers don't offer licensed games at all. There's a simple reason for that too-licenses cost money. Microgaming has money to spend, though, and their licensed properties include Hitman and Lara Croft, both of which are based on the popular video game characters. They also own licenses to movie related properties like Lord of the Rings and Batman.
Microgaming's slots have a distinctive cartoon-ish style. They're video slots in the truest sense of the word. They're no longer the most modern and distinctive looking games online, but they're still a lot of fun.
Playtech, like Microgaming, is one of the oldest companies on the Internet offering slot machine games. It's surprising how different the look and feel for the games is between these 2 companies, though. Most of the players we know prefer the Mictrogaming slots, but Playtech fans are vehement that their favorite games from their favorite company are better.
Playtech offers a smaller selection of games than Microgaming, but many of their games are more distinctive than Microgaming's, which admittedly often look almost the same only with slightly different reel symbols. They don't offer progressive jackpots quite as large as those at Microgaming, either, but they do have a healthy selection of progressive games to choose from. Some of the jackpots they have available are impressive, too. When we checked some of the tickers today while researching this page, we found games like Jackpot Giant with jackpots over $6 million and Gladiator with a jackpot of over $1.6 million.
One of the high points of Playtech's selection of games is the Marvel "Power" games. These include multiple jackpots of varying levels. Some of them are relatively easy to hit, like the "Extra Power" jackpot, which is only $1800 or so as we write this. But the Marvel "Super Power" jackpot is a more respectable (and harder to hit) $40,000 or so.
Other fun titles from Playtech include SafeCracker, Spamalot Holy Grail, and Spamalot Slightly Less. You'll probably notice that several of these titles also represent licenses from other properties. Marvel Comics is an especially good license for Playtech, since their movies are now some of the most popular box office draws in the world.
Like Microgaming, Playtech casinos don't allow players for real money from the United States.
Realtime Gaming might be considered one of the "low-rent" online casino software providers. Their software is notably less expensive for an Internet casino to license or lease, but it also provides games which are a little bit less exciting and fancy, graphics-wise. We like the RTG games because of their unusual themes, though. We also like their availability to United States based real money players.
One of our favorite slot machine games from Realtime Gaming is called It's Good to Be Bad. The gimmick to this game is that every time you have a "naked pull" (a spin where you win nothing), the meter goes up. When you get enough losing spins in a row, you win a special jackpot.
Another favorite is called Mid Life Crisis. It's a 5 reel video slot with lots of paylines, but all of the reel symbols represent a man's mid-life crisis. Some examples include a sports car, Viagra, and young women. A similar game, called Shopping Spree, is aimed more at women slots players. It's not as interesting as Mid-Life Crisis, but the gameplay is almost identical. The reel symbols include things like jewelry and fur coats.
RTG has a selection of progressive jackpots, too, but it's a pretty lackluster list of games. And not all RTG casinos offer their progressives. One of the more notable progressive jackpots from Realtime Gaming is called Aztec's Millions, which, at the time of this writing, tops $1.6 million. The aforementioned Shopping Spree game comes in 2 versions, both of which offer a progressive jackpot, too.
RTG casinos, for the most part, welcome real money players from the United States. Some of the casinos leasing their software might have policies related to real money players from the USA, but that's not a decision made at the software provider level as it is with Playtech and Microgaming.
WagerWorks is the online arm of IGT (International Game Technology). Any real slots aficionado will recognize their name, as they're the largest manufacturer and designers of slot machines in the world. IGT acquired WagerWorks in 2005 and began expanding their online presence at that time.
What this means for players is that a lot of their favorite slot machines, which were previously only available at land-based casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno, and other casino destinations, gradually started becoming available online. This means some of the biggest names in the casino slot machine game industry-games like Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly, and Elvis are just a few of the slots available via Wager Works.
Here's the sad part, though:
Because of the draconian anti-gambling laws in the United States, WagerWorks, like many other online gambling software providers, doesn't accept players from the United States. So if you're one of the many gamblers in the USA who like to play Wheel of Fortune slots for real money, you're still going to need to find a land-based casino at which to play.
WagerWorks offers a quality product, though. Maybe someday the rules will change for United States gamblers.
Real Money Slots Strategy Advice
Since slot machines are entirely random, no amount of strategy advice can really change your luck. You insert your money, you press the button or pull the lever, and you take your chances, right?
Not so fast.
You do have some decisions to make before you ever insert any money into a machine. And those decisions can affect the likelihood of your chances of winning.
We've touched on some of those points earlier on this page. We already explained why the frugal gamblers should avoid progressive slots if she wants to maximize her odds. We also discussed why playing more traditional 3 reel slots with a single payline usually offers better odds.
One piece of advice we haven't mentioned yet is that you should play the lowest-denomination slot machine game that appeals to you. Even though the payback percentages on the higher denomination machines are higher, they're not high enough to compensate for the additional cost of playing for higher stakes.
Let's suppose you're playing on a game where you're betting 25 cents per spin, but the payback percentage is only 91%. Assuming 600 spins per hour, you're putting $150 per hour into action, and you can expect to lose 9% of that, or $13.50 per hour.
Then you switch to another game where you're betting a dollar per spin, but the payback percentage is 95%. You're now putting $600 per hour into action, but you're still going to lose 5% of that, or $30 per hour.Even though the payback percentage is significantly higher on the higher denomination machine, you still come out way ahead playing the lower stakes machine.
You might think that looking at average losses per hour is the wrong way to approach slot machine games. And you might have a point there, too. But from a long term perspective, reducing your hourly expected loss is the most effective way to improve your odds of winning and minimizing your losses over time.
If you stay focused on that, you'll be a more successful slot machine player than most.
The other piece of advice that we always offer slots players is to consider video poker. The payback percentages are much better, the games are similar, and you enjoy the ability to make decisions on every round of play which actually might have an effect on your outcome.
Slot Machine Apps for Mobile Devices
Many people are enjoying playing slot machine games on their mobile devices these days. Many of these apps are freebies—they're just a vehicle for advertising for the app designer. If you like playing slots for free, and if you don't mind being exposed to the advertising, then these are a legitimate way to enjoy playing slots online via your cell phone or tablet.
Another option is to play for real money. You'll run into two different options when playing slot machines for real money via a wireless device. One is to download a casino app. That's probably the best way to go about this if you have the memory to do so. The games are more robust and look better. Even the sound effects are better. And you'll have more games to choose from.
Casinos also offer no download, mobile friendly versions of their games. But these are usually stripped down. They offer a limited number of these games, and since you're running the game over your Internet browser, the graphics capabilities and sound effects are less robust than if you download the apps.
Both options are worth looking into, but we recommend that serious mobile slots players look into downloading an app.
Slots for real money online are easy to find, but a lot of the online casino software providers who create these games don't accept real money players from the United States. Players from the USA are left with a choice of free play games, which seem (at least to us) to be missing the point. After all, gambling is about risking money and having a chance of winning money.
Different types of slot machine games offer different odds of winning. The most effective way to get the most gambling for your dollar when gambling on real money slots is to stick with low denominations, avoid progressive games, and stick with traditional 3 reel games. If you keep those pieces of advice in mind, you'll lose less money than most AND you'll have a better chance of walking away a winner.
Check out our comprehensive slots guide for even more information on these popular casino games.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: February 2016
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