The Truth about Playing Slots
Playing real money slots, either in a casino or online, provides entertainment and enjoyment for many. It also offers the instant thrill and adrenaline rush from winning, and the chance of getting your hands on a life-changing sum of money.
Yet it’s important that slots players remain in control of their hobby, ensuring it remains just that, rather than an uncontrollable habit with potentially dangerous consequences.
We’ll tackle a number of areas including:
- The impact that a house edge can have on your short and long-term profits.
- Dealing with urban myths relating to playing slots online.
- Using the experiences of a former slots player to provide relatable insight.
- Proactive ways to ensure playing slots remains fun.
What a Slots Win Rate Really Means
All casinos incorporate a house edge into their games. This can go under different names too, such as a win rate or return to player (RTP) percentage. If you see us quoting a 97% win rate for example, you will instantly know that, for every dollar bet, you can expect to win back 97 cents. The remaining three cents go to the casino and are key to their long-term profitability and survival. Without this edge, they simply couldn’t guarantee being able to pay their employees, while software providers would be unable to invest in new technology and create new games.
Simulating the Effect a Win Rate has
Much of the fun when playing slots comes from anticipating whether the next spin will win or lose you money. This unpredictability is called the variance. It creates a real possibility of short-term profit for the player, whilst still virtually guaranteeing long-term profit for the casino. While these outcomes may appear contradictory at first, we have run simulations to help demonstrate how both can be possible.
On each individual simulation, the player starts with $1. There is the possibility of doubling the money to $2, losing it all, or somewhere in between. A random number generator is used to decide each individual outcome, as would happen when playing a slot machine.
The orange, light blue and dark blue lines illustrate what could happen if this scenario was played through repeatedly, without applying a house edge. The red, yellow and green lines show the impact of adding a house edge, so that the win rate is reduced to 97%.
What we see from the first chart, where the simulation is run through 100 times, is that the yellow and green lines both end in positive territory, despite having a 97% win rate. This indicates it is very possible for a player to end up in profit in the short-term.
In our second chart, the situation is extended until it has been repeated 1,000 times.
There is still no real discernible difference between the simulations where a house edge is and isn’t applied though. This further demonstrates how it is perfectly possible to play a variety of casino games for relatively long periods of time, whilst keeping your bankroll largely intact.
Finally, we have run through the same situation with 10,000 repetitions. By this stage, it is immediately clear which scenarios have the win rate set to 97% (the red, yellow and green lines), and which have had no house edge applied.
It may be that you’re wondering what the above charts really mean for you. For example, is there an optimal amount of time to play slots? The truth is there’s no hard and fast answer to such questions, particularly given these charts don’t replicate a specific slot machine’s expected payout. However, they still provide a clear demonstration that the longer you play any real money online slots, the more likely you are to eventually lose money.
The Myths of Playing Online Slots
If you feel in control when playing slots online, both mentally and financially, you shouldn’t be concerned. There are some fallacies associated with slots machines that can give the wrong impression though. We’ll look at a few of these ideas in turn, and explain whether there is any truth in them.
Martingale is arguably the best-known betting strategy of them all. It is most commonly associated with real money roulette or blackjack play, but could also be applied to slots in some form. Here, a player places an initial bet of, say, $1. If they win, they continue playing with the same stake. If they lose, the stake doubles. If they lose again, the stake would again be doubled, until eventually a bet wins. At first glance, this sounds like it has the potential to succeed, in the same way that throwing any fair coin will eventually come up heads.
The reality is that every player has a limited bankroll. While losing $1, $2 or even $4 can quickly be won back, the amounts can quickly escalate into the hundreds and beyond. As we’ve already shown when discussing win rate, simulations can be run to demonstrate what would happen over an extended period. Unfortunately, all end with an identical final outcome of the player going bust. This reality applies to other similar betting strategies too. Some have more success than others, but the fact remains that all will eventually fail in the long-term. After all, if they didn’t, we’d all be taking advantage of them, and casinos would struggle to survive.
If you’ve visited a casino, you’ll have occasionally seen unfortunate players putting significant amounts of money into a single slots machine, before eventually going away empty-handed. The theory here is that playing on the same machine directly afterwards can be a profitable strategy as it is now ‘due’ a big payout.
This can be a fun way of thinking. It possibly derives from watching coin pusher games, where you’re seeing the money literally moving closer and closer to the edge. In that case, the odds on a payout would actually increase marginally with each additional coin put into the machine. The feeling that a huge win is imminent can be magnified, particularly when playing for a progressive jackpot. Alas, the truth is that slots machines use random number generators (RNGs). This means that, quite simply, the odds of a payout on the next spin are completely unaffected by what has happened previously.
It’s understandable that some casino players have the perception of slots machines paying out more jackpots at night. After all, you’re more likely to see others hitting big jackpots as a night progresses.
In this case, the reality is that it only feels as though there are more big payouts later in the day, as real money casinos will generally become busier in the evening. As mentioned previously, slots are programmed with an RNG, so there is no way to predict the time or day of the next large jackpot win. Online slots are played internationally, across time zones, so the play is constant and the jackpot can be triggered at any time.
There are good and bad poker players, so why can’t the same principle apply to slots, where the better ones turn over a regular profit?
There are casino games which involve skill, and poker is certainly one of these. Conversely, slots is purely a game of chance. Yes, there are benefits to be gained from knowing the intricacies of the specific slot you’re playing, and we have a multitude of slots reviews on Casino.org available to help you with this. Knowing which slots games offer the most generous win rate to players can also be very helpful in extending the lifetime of a player’s bankroll. But the reality is that the profit or loss you accumulate when playing slots is determined by luck.
At times, it can certainly feel that your luck is in, when playing slots online. We’ve already demonstrated how it’s not inconceivable to overcome the house edge for short periods, despite playing in exactly the same way as you always have done.
There’s an element of truth here, in that certain slots games feel luckier than others. In fact, what could be happening is that you’ve moved to playing a game where the win rate is higher than average. Move between games and tweak your strategy if you find there’s more pleasure to be had from smaller, more frequent wins, rather than rarer, larger ones. All the casinos we feature have been thoroughly reviewed and rated. There will never be a case where a casino’s games are genuinely fixed against you. If you do start to harbor such feelings, there is no harm in switching to an alternative casino. But stepping away for a period to ensure you always play in the right frame of mind is crucial, if you want to play slots in the long-term.
Keeping your Online Slots hobby under control
Places like Las Vegas and Monte Carlo can provide wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Indeed, many players all over the world are able to feel the same excitement and adrenaline rush when playing live casinos online, in the comfort of their own homes.
There are times when it can feel as though a fun hobby is getting out of hand. Here, we’ll provide a few suggestions and ideas to help you proactively ensure you’re playing for the right reasons.
Make plans for after you play, to stop yourself exceeding time limits
Giving yourself a definitive end point can make a huge contribution to keeping your slots playing activities as the fun it was always meant to be. Plans for afterwards can be anything, from arranging a phone call or meal with friends, to going to the movies.
Set deposit limits and have a definite fund you won’t exceed
Putting aside a set fund, and not exceeding it, can play a part in ensuring you have time for all the other activities you also enjoy.
Don’t set financial targets to reach
Setting targets can result in the increasing urge for ‘one more spin’. Remember, there is no harm in dreaming of a big win, but the reality is very different.
Understand why you’re playing
Try to figure out what it is about playing slots that makes you keep returning for more. If you simply find it entertaining, consider whether free play may be a better option. If it is the lure of changing your life, understand the reality of that actually happening is minimal.
Play when you want to
Make sure that you’re only playing when you really want to. For example, if you find yourself opening your favorite casino’s app on your smartphone because you’re bored and couldn’t fight the urge, simply remove the app from your phone’s homepage.
Use the reality check and time-out tools available at online casino sites
Regulations have been tightened significantly in recent years, so use this to your benefit. Online casinos in certain countries are now obliged to tell you when you’ve been playing for a certain period. They also give you the option to limit your deposits, take brief time-outs and even self-exclude for longer periods. Take advantage of these options if you believe any would help you.
The Experience of a Slots Player
A big win is the dream for many slots players, and there’s little wrong with imagining what you’d do with a life-changing jackpot. However the reality can be very different. Jodie Nealley experienced the thrill of winning on slots, but unfortunately it didn’t end well.
Having recovered from her darkest hour, and now working as the Intervention and Recovery Support Coordinator at the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, she tells us her story and offers her own reality check.
Q&A with Jodie Nealley
How did you first start playing slots?
I have always liked the slots, but only played them a handful of times before I went to a conference in Reno. The hotel was also a casino, and I knew I would want to play the slots there.
What changed to take it from a hobby to a problem?
Gambling wasn’t even a hobby for me until that trip to Reno. It was there that I played the slots and won a fair amount of money, where it went from never playing to complete and total obsession. The tipping point from recreational gambler to full blown gambling disorder is invisible and unexpected. All I knew was the high I felt from playing those slots in Reno was unlike anything I had felt before and I didn’t want it to end.
What was the hook that kept making you want to play again?
The hook is the high – the escape into the cloud of pure pleasure and euphoria one can feel when watching the slot reels go round. I wanted to live in the moment of possibility – not before, not after, but during – because, as irrational as it was (as any thoughts when in the grip of an addiction are) – during those seconds when the reels went around it felt like anything was possible. It very quickly became less about winning and more about experiencing the high of that possibility.
What are the key things you can take from the experiences you went through?
I’ve learned that the moment the obsession to get back to that specific ‘winning’ slot machine in Reno took over my every waking thought, I was at risk. When the desire to gamble erodes your responsibilities, relationships and finances to the point of desperation, those are warning signs. The moment I left Reno with cash in my pocket and knew I wanted to go back was a sign of addiction. Unfortunately for me, it was a sign I chose to ignore.
From your experience speaking to others, what do you think are the first signs someone might have a problem?
I always ask if a person’s gambling is beginning to negatively affect their relationships, finances, mental health or responsibilities. For a recreational gambler, gambling is purely for fun. You have a budget and a time limit. You don’t put your winnings back in the machine and gambling isn’t your only hobby.
What would your advice be to someone thinking about playing slots for the first time?
To be mindful of how the rush of dopamine is affecting your judgement as you play. When you lose the money you began with, do you walk away or get more money to continue playing? If you do that, it is a risk factor and something to be aware of.
What would you say to those who believe they can 'beat the system'?
There’s no beating the system. A slot machine has a random number chip generator in it which operates the reels. There’s no luck, no superstition, no prayer that can affect that. A slot machine is a machine – like your refrigerator – it will not respond to you. It does not care about you.
Do you think people with a certain type of personality are more likely to see their slots playing get out of hand?
I have seen all types of people develop a gambling disorder and only play slots machines. Gambling disorder does not discriminate.
When playing, would you say it’s most important to stay on top of your emotions, bank roll or time? Or is there some other factor?
When playing, I think you need to be mindful of how the play is affecting your thoughts and your impulse control. Do you expect to lose, and when you do, walk away? If you expect to win, you are kidding yourself. So, mindfulness about everything – your emotions, spend, time spent and how that all factors into your self-stated expectations of what you’re doing, and the judgements you’re making.
The aim of our page is to help slots players realize that playing can be fun, but that the casino is highly likely to win in the long run. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Anything that hijacks your rational decision-making process can become a problem. Again, if one sets a budget and sticks to it, is aware of the time they are spending gambling and does not chase their losses, what can be a dangerous activity for some of us can remain a recreational outlet for others.
Slots Reality Check Learnings and Conclusions
Hopefully, by this stage, you’ve developed a good grasp of the truth surrounding real money slots. Here are some of the main learnings you can take forward to enhance your enjoyment of the game.
- There is nothing wrong with playing slots, as long as you enjoy doing so and remain firmly in control of your financial and emotional states.
- The house edge that applies to all online slots games means you will invariably lose money in the long-term, even when it’s feasible to end an individual session in profit.
- There is always the small possibility of winning a big jackpot, and employing strategies can be fun too. Turning over a regular, steady profit isn’t possible though.