Slots FAQ

No game on the casino floor holds the same grip on the general populace. Slots take up the majority of the casino floor, they make tons of noise, and they're designed to draw you in. They also rank among the easiest games to learn and play, offering the kind of mindless entertainment that we all crave after a tough week.

We get lots of questions about slot machines, no doubt because they're so popular. We decided to gather the twelve most common slot machine questions on one page and answer them once and for all. If you're a newcomer to slot machines, or an old hand with some long-standing questions about the game, we expect you'll find an answer below.

Slots FAQ: Answers

Are slot machines really random?

Both online and land-based casinos operate slot machines that depend on a random number generator, or RNG, to ensure randomness. An RNG is a computer program that does nothing but spit out a steady stream of random numbers within a given range. Each of those random numbers is connected to a game symbol. The RNG's random number selection leads to the collection of symbols you see on the screen. If enough of those symbols appear in the right combination, you win a prize.

Slot machines are tested to ensure randomness. Gaming regulatory bodies inspect machines on a regular basis. In short, if you're playing at a legitimate casino, online or land-based, you're not going to find a non-random slot machine. Understand that casinos make the most money on truly random games, ones that can't be manipulated through player skill. Slots are designed to pay out less money than they take in – they don't have to be rigged to be profitable.

Can casinos change the payouts on slot machines?

There's a question hiding behind this question – most people who ask this want to know if casino operators can change a machine's payout while it is being played. The implication is that once a machine pays out a decent jackpot, the casino's operator will flip a switch and the machine will "go cold" and stop winning. The answer here is simple – no, casinos don't alter the way a machine behaves based on its recent performance.

Some slot machines are designed so that casino operators can alter their theoretical payout percentage, but it doesn't work anything like what you think. Before a game's payout percentage is tweaked, the game has to be turned off, a mechanic has to mess around on the inside of the game, and then it has to be turned back on. Casinos aren't changing machine payouts on the fly, or in a sneaky way.

What's the difference between a Class II & III slots?

In some states, Class II slot machines are legal, while Class III machines aren't. One example would be Texas – you can't operate a Class III slot machine, though tribal groups are authorized to host Class II games. So what's the difference? The main thing that separates the two is the way winnings are determined. For legal reasons, Class II machines must be connected to a central computer system which determines wins and losses. Class III slots are like traditional machines you see in the casinos of Las Vegas. These games are played independently of a centralized system. Generally, Class II machines must be based on the rules of bingo – you'll often see a bingo card on the game's pay table, and you may even have two spins instead of the traditional one spin found on Class III games.

Is there a secret to winning slot machine jackpots?

The answer depends on what exactly you're asking.

If you're asking "Is there anything that I need to do in order to win a jackpot?" then the answer is yes. You have to bet max. We have yet to find a slot machine, online or at a brick and mortar casino, that will pay a jackpot without a maximum bet. You have to place a "max bet" in order to qualify for any slot's jackpot payouts. That usually means wagering a credit on the maximum number of pay lines, though some machines also require a specific bet size in order to place a maximum wager. The only "secret" to winning a slot machine jackpot is to make sure and make yourself eligible for it, by placing a maximum-sized bet on each spin.

If your question is: "Is there anything I can do or a way I can behave in order to be more likely to win jackpots?" the answer is no. No amount of bet-sizing, no electronic gadgets, no special consideration at all will make it more or less likely that you win a big payout from a slot machine.

Is there a better time of day to play slot machines?

The answer to this question is really just an extension of the answer to the question above it. There is no good or bad time of day to play a slot machine. Casinos don't make slots any more loose or tight because of the time displayed on the clock.

Then again, maybe yo're not asking about the game's odds. In that case, we think the right time of day to play slots is a totally subjective thing. It depends on if you like playing around other people, or if you prefer to avoid the crowds and have a bank of machines to yourself. We've noticed that most slot machine banks are pretty dead during the middle of the day. Early in the morning, you'll find hardcore slot gamers and loners who aren't all that interested in conversation. Later in the day and at night, you'll find a more social game, though you may have to fight for a seat at certain busy casinos.

How much do slot machines cost to play?

The answer here is: "it depends." One of the beautiful things about slot machines is that they're endlessly-adaptable. Casinos have long offered slots that accept a range of wagers. The venerable "penny slot" is still very much alive and well. Meanwhile, at the other extreme, you can still find slot machines in some casino VIP department. We've heard of games that cost in the thousands of dollars per spin.

Let's look at a real-world example of how much a slot machine costs to play. Imagine you're playing on a machine at $0.25 per spin. You've looked up the game, and found that it has a theoretical payback percentage of 98%. If you're moving at a gentle pace of 300 spins per hour, you're spending $75 per hour on the game. Based on that 98% payback percentage, you stand to get back $67.65 per hour in wins. You should expect to lose about $7.65 for every hour of play.

How do I find out what a slot's return is?

This can be a little tricky, and the answer depends on whether you're planning to play slots online or at a land-based casino.

If you're going to play an online slot, you can usually put the game's name in a Web search and find the information the new-fashioned way. Some online slot manufacturers list this information right in the game's menu, as part of the pay table or instructions. Still other manufacturers maintain a list of games and payback percentages on their website. We regret to report that, in some cases, you won't be able to find any legitimate payback percentage data at all.

Land-based casinos are a bit different. Some casino manufacturers will publish this information somewhere in the game's menu, like with online slots. Some casinos will post this information on a placard above or near the game or bank of games in question. Still other slots may require a quick Web search or a visit to the manufacturer's website. If all else fails, ask a casino employee. If the information is available, we're sure they'll work to find it for you.

How do I pick a slot machine to play?

That depends on why you want to play a slot machine:

  • If you're looking for cheap entertainment, you should find a game that allows a cheap max bet. If you're looking for something a bit more expensive, you're still in luck, because as the cost-per-spin increases, so does the game's payback percentage.
  • If you're looking to win a huge jackpot, and you don't mind chasing that jackpot with a decent-sized investment, concentrate on progressive games and games with lots of bonus rounds. The trade-off? These games have much lower payback percentages, to offset the cost of their larger payouts.
  • If you're looking to have a good time and expense isn't an issue, look for the latest licensed slots. These games are based on the plots and characters of popular movies, TV shows, and video games, and feature audio and video clips, bonus rounds, and other fun extras.

What does the word "volatility" mean?

The word "volatility" in gambling refers to how much you win and how often you win during a given gambling session. When it comes to slot machines, we say that a machine has "low volatility" if it pays out small prizes relatively-frequently. We say that a machine has "high volatility" if it pays out rare but large jackpots and payouts. Those small bankroll-sustaining wins on low volatility machines are rarely if ever complimented by a huge win, while those big wins on highly-volatile games are rarely complimented by regular sustaining wins.

What is a slot machine tournament?

Slot machine tournaments are events where slot players come together to play a given machine for a specific period of time. The goal is to rack up as many wins and as many credits as you can during your specified play time. Players often compete in waves, so that everyone is playing on the same game with basically the same rules and odds. At the end of the tournament, prizes are awarded to a specific number of players, based on their performance. Online slot tournaments work similarly, except obviously there's no need to play in groups, since online (virtual) slot machines are always open.

Is there any strategy to playing slot machines?

We think you can apply strategy to just about everything, slot machines included. Can players use some special skill or training to outsmart a slot machine and change the machine's payback percentage or RNG? No, of course not. But slot machine players can and do use things like bankroll management to make their play more enjoyable, more affordable, and more organized. We recommend that slot players create and stick to a budget, that they quit if they get frustrated or upset, and that they join and use the casino's slot or loyalty club. Those pieces of strategic advice are worth their weight in gold if you find yourself burning out or blowing your bankroll on slot machines.

How big are slot machine jackpots?

The largest slot machine jackpot in history was worth $39.7 million. This prize was claimed in (where else?) Las Vegas, off a $100 bet on a Megabucks machine. The gentleman who claimed the prize said it was the only slot machine he played that session, having stuck the bill in the slot as a lark.

Does every slot machine promise payouts like this? No way. Lots of inexpensive slot machines have top prizes in the thousands of credits. We've even seen some expensive slot machines (with a high per-spin cost) paying out prizes in the tens of thousands of credits. If you're looking for a specific size or type of payout, you should study the machine's pay table, figure out how to win it, then put yourself in position to win it with every spin.


Slot machines have been a part of the American gambling landscape since the 19th century. They're still the most popular and most profitable games in any casino, anywhere in the world. But with that popularity comes myth, suspicion, and rumor. The goal of this page is to dispel some long-standing myths about the slot machine, and to prepare newcomers to slot gambling to confidently step up to a slot machine for the first time. We hope we've cleared up any questions you have about the world's favorite way to gamble.

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