Heading to a casino to play some slot machines can be a great way to relax, celebrate, enjoy some time with friends, and take in some entertainment away from home for a bit of relaxation. Slot games also offer a chance at taking home a few extra bucks in your pocket as well.

But how do these games work and what can a new player expect when taking a seat at a machine or perhaps playing a slot online or in a social media environment. These games are more than just a few reels with a spin button.

There’s a lot that goes into these casino offerings that have become the most popular gambling options in a casino. They’ve also become extremely popular in real-money online gaming as well as a free-play reel-spinning option as a social game to pass some time on a mobile phone or tablet.

Keep reading to learn more on how things games work and how to have some fun – hopefully with some winning results.

Inside a Slot Machine

Whether at a live casino or online, modern slots are advanced computing devices. No longer do machines make use of a handle to spin real mechanical reels (hence the old name, “one-armed bandits). Today’s slots are computerized devices making use of complex software, high-end graphics and sound systems, and much more.

Today’s games might have more in common with your home computer or video game system than early slot games. Wins are no longer dependent on those reels really at all. They may line up and display certain graphics and icons, but how a player fares is determined by a random number generator (RNG) programmed into the computer’s software.

This guarantees a completely random outcome and is made possible via slot machine algorithms within the game’s programming that are based on digital simulations. Payouts are simply based on the inner workings of the game running millions of simulations per second to reach a random result.

For more information, read the article: Are Slot Machines Trustworthy

A slot’s results on every spin of the reels are completely random outcomes and the idea of a “cold” or “hot” machine isn’t a reality. Some may pay out more but this is more of an act of randomness. The idea that a machine is “due” to pay out is also a myth.

That doesn’t mean a casino can’t manipulate a slot machine at least when it comes to payouts. A casino can determine how much of the coin-in (credits used to play on a machine) is paid back out to players.

The inside of a slot machine
The inside of a slot machine

This is known as the payout percentage and the higher that is the better it is for players. The more money paid out the more opportunities for a player to win (more on that subject below).

How Slot Machines Pay Out

Winning is certainly a big part of playing a slot machine – at least that’s the goal. So how does a slot machine payout work? The first thing to know is that each machine has a limit. Some may be penny machines while others start at a nickel, quarter, or dollar.

That is just the minimum coin-in to spin the reels. However, players usually will want more than one active “pay line” on each machine. The pay lines determine whether a player is a winner, depending on how the icons on the spinning reels align.

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Most games today feature video reels and those whirl around and then come to a stop. Different icons or graphics “determine” which prize a player wins (remember, the RNG actually determines each spin). Modern slots allow players to play numerous paylines, which may feature several horizontal lines as well as some running vertically, diagonally, and numerous other directions.

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These additional pay lines offer players more chances to win on each spin of the reels. This adds to the fun and keeps players winning at least sporadically as they play on one of these casino games.

Players who line certain icons up just right can also earn additional chances to win through such popular extras as bonus games and free spins. Bonus Games often involve additional graphics, sounds, and player selections to determine larger prizes. These often payout out some form of jackpot as well, usually noted using words like:

  • Mini Jackpot/Award

  • Minor Jackpot/Award

  • Major Jackpot/Award

Hitting some of these can add some extra excitement to a slot session. If you’re lucky enough to find a nice payout, that score can make for a nice winning session.

Free Spins are also a great way to accrue extra winnings as you spin away without touching your current credit balance. These can also win players other extras on the game that can add to their winnings, such as additional Bonus Games.

Along with these traditional payouts, players can win smaller amounts on each spin. These more marginal wins at least offer you some sort of payout to keep your bankroll lasting longer. That then allows you to play longer and hopefully land a larger win.

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What Determines the Amount Paid Out on a Slot?

Those new to the world of slot machines may notice a table on the game screen, or somewhere on the game itself when taking a seat. The table features several rows of columns, offering information on what to look for when playing.

The rows start with smaller payouts at the bottom and work up to the larger payouts toward the top. The jackpot-level payouts are located at the very top of the table, as the odds of hitting a jackpot are the smallest, but they come with the biggest prize.

The columns in the pay table represent the payouts based on the number of credits, or coin-in, that a player pays per line. There are usually five columns, but there may be as few as three depending on the machine.

Players can play the minimum credits per line, but may also want to pay more per line. The more credits per line you wager, the higher payouts you can win on each spin of the reels. Many experts recommend playing the “max bet” if at all possible.

This strategy allows players to win more throughout their sessions at the slots when they do hit some nice spins. Additionally, some games pay out considerably more at higher wins for some of the upper levels on the pay table.

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It’s important to note that despite all the bells, whistles, and payout structures, the slots software and RNG (random number generator) still randomly determine the actual prize a player will win. The digital aspects of the game may mimic mechanical reels and movements, but the computer inside is the brains behind the operation.

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When playing a slot it’s important to remember:

  • RNG (random number generator) – determines the result of a spin

  • Pay lines – display visually the result of a “spin” as determined by the RNG

  • Payout percentage – the amount of coin-in that a property pays out to players

  • Pay table – shows how a slot pays out when certain symbols appear in certain combinations

Slot Machine Types

Those gamers heading to a casino to play some slots will usually find a wide variety of games to check out. There is something to suit every mood or taste. Here’s a look at some of the machine types a player might find in a casino.

Traditional-Style Slots

When it comes to slot machines, many players may think of classic games featuring 7s, fruits, playing cards and suits, horseshoes, and other icons. These original devices featured real mechanical spinning reels and didn’t offer the numerous payout lines available today. They lacked the modern “bells and whistles” seen on many of today’s video-based slots.

While slots may have changed, many players still enjoy these types of games and manufacturers still work to give these traditional games a modern twist. Many games still feature some of these traditional setups but also feature multiple payout lines, Bonus Games, and other modern additions to the games.

Modern Slot Machines

Those thinking of old-school mechanical reel slots may be surprised when heading to the gaming floor at a modern casino. Today’s games use plenty of technology to entertain slot players. These involve highly innovative design, sound, video, and other digital aspects one might expect at a movie theater rather than a casino.

Speaking of movies, many slot manufacturers have also added elements from popular films, TV shows, musicians, and much more. That often includes videos that appear on screen while playing. There's a good chance some of your favorite rock bands or musicians have their own slot machines.

From Ozzy Osbourne to KISS and Michale Jackon and Dolly Parton, artists across the musical spectrum have lent their names and songs to casino games. On the TV and movie side, look for every major pop culture title from Ghosterbusters, Goonies, and Jurassic Park to Sex and the City, Baywatch, and Star Trek. Developers are going out of their way to appeal to all types of players with their favorite song, artists, storylines, and characters.

Slot manufacturers continue to raise the bar each year with many offering new features and innovations every year. Online and social gaming slot developers also continue to offer creative options for players looking to play at home on their computers, mobile phones, or tablet devices. Slots have certainly come a long way.

Progressive Jackpots

Modern slot machines also allow players to play for truly remarkable jackpots through the use of progressive slots. These are games that are linked via computer technology to others within a certain state or region.

A portion of all coin-in is funneled to progressive jackpot payouts. With so many players a part of the jackpot pool, these can build to millions of dollars. Players have regularly been paid out in seven figures and these massive jackpots regularly produce some major headlines.

The largest progressive jackpot payout came in 2003 at the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas. A lucky player from Los Angeles hit it huge on a Megabucks for $39 million on a $100 wager. Progressive slots offer players a chance to play for real life-changing money.

Obviously, not every player jumping in a progressive slot is going to hit it big. However, most of these games also have differing levels of jackpots. A player may be rewarded with a smaller jackpot that pays out considerably as well, but maybe in five or six figures instead of seven or eight. Progressives offer you a nice slot experience and plenty of opportunities to dream of really hitting it big.

Other Slot Options

Beyond these slots, there are a few others players might consider. Video poker often referred to as “poker slots,” is often found in the slot machine area of a casino as well.

This is a fixed-odds game based on a five-card draw poker game. Instead of fruits, 7s, and other icons, players use playing cards to work toward a win. Players are dealt five cards and decide which they want to keep and which they want to discard and draw.

There are various versions of these games including Jacks of Better, Deuces Wild, and others. Unlike traditional slots, however, there can be some real skill to video poker. Players who can learn and incorporate basic strategy for these games can trim the odds and in some cases (which may require rewards comps earned along the way), flip the odds in their favor.

One interesting game that also is similar to slots are the Fortune Cup and Sigma Derby horse racing games. These allow for some group dynamics as players crowd around the game and make their selections. Each selection even comes with differing odds as seen in a real horse race.

You can then cheer as your horse races around the track. Konami's live mechanical Fortune Cup adds some nice realism. This can be a fun addition to that next casino slot machine outing. A nice slot jackpot followed by a horse racing quinella could make for a perfect weekend.

Check out this article on the types of slot machines.

Slot Payout Percentages

As noted above, payout percentages are the amount of money that goes into a machine that a casino then pays out to players. Many online resources are available for finding which properties offer the highest payout percentages, especially in casino hotspots like Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

This allows a gambler to determine what properties would be better to visit with the best chance at seeing some of those credits a machine pay off in the form of a nice win. Not every session at a slot machine can be a winner, but higher payout percentages offer you a chance to hopefully some of that return back to your credit balance, hopefully with some excellent returns along the way.

Percentages can top 90 percent in some properties with some of those numbers even climbing above 95 percent. These are nice figures in a slot player’s favor, considering the house always has an edge when it comes to these casino games.

Beyond payout percentages for casinos, some slots also pay out a larger percentage of dollars put in the machines than others. This can often be found online and finding a few of your favorites among the better-paying machines may be a good idea for the next time you head out to a casino.

Another idea to keep in mind is that machines with higher limits tend to pay out more than those with smaller buy-ins. If you have a budget you could play nickel- or quarter-slots rather than penny machines.

Along with offering higher payout percentages, you’ll also earn more along the way on these higher denomination machines when you do hit a nice winning streak.

Slot Credits, Coin-in, and Balances

At one time, slot players could be seen carrying around buckets full of coins. These were filled with coins or metal slot tokens that players used to play in their favorite machines. There was an actual “slot” that a player would input the coin or token into, thus the name “slot machine.”

The days of needing a bucket full of coins have been gone for many years, save for a few classic slot machine offerings one might see at downtown Las Vegas casinos such as The Plaza and D Las Vegas.

Instead, players can now slide cash directly into a machine with the stakes of their choice. You will then find that amount showing up in the “balance” area of the screen and often in another area of the slot near the “spin” button.

The display may also show the number of credits you have in the machine based on the money you’re inserted into the game. For example, $100 put into the machine at a $1 machine means you have 100 credits available to bet.

If you put $100 into a quarter machine, you’ll have 400 credits to get. Players can usually bet between one and five credits on each spin. Again, consult the pay table on the machine to see what the payouts are for various coin-in levels.

Once you’re ready to move on to another machine or take a break for a while, simply press the “cash out” button on the machine or the screen to retrieve your cash. Don’t look for real money to come from the machine, however. Slots now print out vouchers that can be inserted like cash at another machine.

This will transfer the remainder of your balance to the next slot you choose to play. If you’d rather have cash, you can take this to the cashier (also known as the cage) to exchange it for real money. Most casinos also have kiosks where you can input the voucher to receive cash as well.

Online and social gaming slot players will find a similar setup. However, depositing money usually involves going through a signup process and using a major credit card, ACH bank transfer, ewallet, or some other safe deposit method.

Once that’s complete, you should then be able to begin playing at whatever stakes level you choose. Like brick-and-mortar casinos, online gaming companies also offer a wide variety of games (many times even more than live casinos) and stakes.

These online casinos make it easy to move from one slot to another. A player’s balance will automatically move between games and players can also cash out at any point. Many online slot operators will transfer a withdrawal directly to your bank account or via your preferred deposit option.

While free-money social gaming slots don’t usually pay out real money, there may be prizes, badges, elevated tiers, extra points, and other elements that players can win along the way on their slot journey that make it a fun experience..

Slot Rewards and Players Clubs

When heading to a casino, a wise move is to join the players club first. These clubs are free and you’ll earn rewards points as you play. Simply insert your player’s card every time you sit down and play. Rewards points can earn a player:

  • free play

  • restaurant and hotel comps

  • other prizes

Some properties also offer regular special giveaways for club members. Often, simply signing up for a player’s card also earns a player some free play and maybe even a meal or free drink.

Online players may also earn rewards as they play as well. Many online casinos also offer bonus offers for players making their first deposit. These can be as much as 100 percent of your deposit and sometimes even more. Players' rewards and bonuses are worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are some slots more likely to pay out than others?

The idea of “hot” and “cold” machines is a myth. Modern slot machines make use of RNGs (random number generators), algorithms, and high-tech software to determine winners. Each spin of the reels is completely random.

Are there any ways a player can get better chances to win?

Check out a property’s payout percentages. The higher the percentage, the more the casino pays back to players. You can also check these out for individual games as well.

Players who can afford to play at higher levels will also find that these games tend to pay out a higher percentage of coin-in back to players as well.

It’s important to remember to only play an amount that you can comfortably afford to lose without affecting your regular budget. Slots are meant as entertainment and should be seen as a way to have fun.

What determines if a player wins on a slot machine?

Older slot machines used mechanical reels and if certain symbols lined up on these reels then a player could win a certain amount. However, most modern slots are completely computer-based. These games feature video reels with numerous possible combinations to win.

However, an actual spin is determined by a random number generator (RNG) within the game’s computer system. The video reels simply offer a video representation of what the RNG instantaneously determines when a player hits the “spin” button. An RNG guarantees players a completely random gaming experience.

What are progressive slots?

These are the games you may see paying out massive six- and seven-figure jackpots. The reason these payouts get so large is that these games are connected to other machines within a wide area across multiple jurisdictions.

A certain amount is taken out of each spin and pooled together with funds from all the other games on the network. These can create huge prize pools that are paid out to jackpot winners. The odds are huge to hit this type of prize. However, smaller jackpots from this prize pool are possible as well.

Sean Chaffin
Sean Chaffin

Sean Chaffin is a longtime freelance writer, editor, and former high school journalism teacher. He has covered the poker and gaming industry for many years.