10 Ways to Pick a Great Slot Game, Part 1

The slot floor of a modern casino can be a confusing place. Hundreds of different machines greet the players. Bright colors, mindless electronic tunes and flashing lights assault the senses. There’s lots of info to sort out: different paytables and payoff percentages; straight payoffs and progressive slot systems; win-a-car prizes or options to take the money and run. The choices are endless. Just making a decision about which machine to play can be daunting.

When it comes to online slots, it’s not that much easier. The home page of an online casino offers may options for slot players—video poker, progressive slots, traditional slots, skill games and more. You’re confronted with dozens of slot games with appealing graphics, catchy names and promises of big wins. How can you figure out which game to play and which one gives you the best chance to win?

Here are 10 points that may help you decide what games to play, either online or inside a casino. This week’s installment includes the first five questions, with the final five being published in next week’s edition of iGamingPlayer.com.

  1. Can I really play to win at slots?

Yes. Slot machines are set to pay back a certain percentage. In New Jersey, by law, slot machines must pay back 83 percent of the money played, either in a live casinos or online. In Nevada, where online slots aren’t legal, it’s 75 percent at all the state casinos. Most major properties in each jurisdiction, and clearly most online casinos in New Jersey, pay much more than that. But even at 75 percent, a player can hit a lucky streak and go home a winner. Sure, most players may win nothing, but somebody’s got to get lucky. And information can lead to luck.

The key to beating slot games is to quit while you’re ahead. The term “money management” is sometimes overused in the gambling world, but it applies here. Set a reasonable win goal. If you have a budget of $100, don’t try to double your money. The chance of that happening is remote. Quit when you get $25 ahead. Go enjoy the show. Get a meal. Watch the other players. And when you get home, you can say you beat the casino.

It’s even easier to take a break online. Distract yourself. Go make a sandwich. Take the dog for a walk. Take your winnings to the local watering hole and celebrate with friends. There’s no long drive home to contemplate what could have been.

  1. How many coins should I play? Won’t my money last longer if I play one coin at a time?

Yes, your money will last longer, but by playing only one coin, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage and giving up the chance to hit a big jackpot, which usually pays a bonus for playing the maximum amount of coins. Or you’re not activating all the lines on a multi-line game, therefore excluding yourself from the chance to hit more frequent jackpots.

Always play maximum coin. If you can’t afford maximum coin at the $1 machines, drop down to the 25-cent machines. Penny games will stretch out your money, but the payback percentage is lower on penny games than any other games in the casino, either online or live. But whatever you do, don’t miss out on the chance to win the big or frequent prizes.

  1. How can I tell which machines pay the most?

Most state gambling regulators publish only the top-line paybacks to the players. New Jersey at one time published the payback percentage of slot machines in each casino separated by denomination, and also gave the overall slot payback. That practice was discontinued several years ago, so you don’t really know which games or denominations pay the most. Right before this practice was halted, the Borgata in Atlantic City consistently paid back more than other casinos, but only by a few tenths of a percent. They averaged somewhere around 92.5 percent while others were around 92.2 percent—not a big difference.

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In both land-based casinos and online casinos, you can’t tell which machines pay more than others just by looking at them. It takes study and intuition. First decide on your gambling budget. To play $1 machines, you should have at least $200 to $300. If you have less than $100 head for the quarters. Or even the pennies.

Inside a land-based casino, there are other steps you can take. Walk around, check out the action. If you see lots of action from one section of games, try there. It’s similar to a craps player gravitating to a game that has lots of action and cheering people.

Play the machines at the end of the aisles or near banks of other slot machines. Sources say slot execs place higher-paying slots in locations that are visible to other players, to lure players to lower-paying slot machines.

Avoids machine surrounding the table games. Table players may get up to stretch and drop a few coins in a nearby machine. Casino executives don’t want those table players to get lucky and continue to play the slots instead of the table games, so they put the tightest machines around the tables.

Likewise, avoid machines near the showroom or food outlets, where people wait in line. Since these players drop a few spare coins into the machines with no expectations of winning, there’s no reason the casino will put loose machines in those locations.

Of course, none of that helps for online slots. Here’s a couple of tips:

  • Most online casinos in New Jersey have a social casino attached. These social casinos give you a small stake to start, and you’re always just playing for fun. But the games are usually the same as the real money casino. Try them out, see what you like, then move on to the real-money variety. Some online casinos allow you to play the games in a free-to-play mode, another good option.
  • Try the three-pull rule: Put the maximum number of coins in the game three times. If you hit a small jackpot, keep playing. If you don’t, move on. You’ll know when you’re getting comfortable and things are flowing.
  • If you’re an inveterate casino slot player, look for the same games online. That way, you’re already familiar with the game play, and most likely, the online version will pay back a higher percentage since the casino doesn’t need a slot floor, slot employees or any of the overhead associated with a live casino. They’ll pass some of those savings onto the player.
  1. Can my casino change the payback on a slot machine whenever it wants?

The answer is a qualified “yes.” When casinos buy a slot machine, they’ll tell the slot manufacturer to deliver it already programmed to pay back a certain percentage. That percentage must be submitted to and approved by the gaming regulators in that jurisdiction. Unless there’s a major change in the slot marketing policy of a casino, that percentage will not change. The same is true of online slots. The payback percentage is programmed in, and can’t change without regulatory approvals.

If your casino does decide to change the payback percentage—usually to increase the payoff, rather than decrease it—it again must be approved by regulators. This involves much paperwork and red tape; it’s a difficult process that’s often more trouble than it’s worth.

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  1. Is it better to play a machine with a progressive jackpot or one that has lower paybacks?

It depends upon your objective.

If you want go for the life-changing jackpot—something that will allow you to tell your boss is where he can stick your job—a slot machine with a big progressive jackpot will give you a thrill.

Just remember, the chances of hitting that jackpot are small, to say the least, but it’s exciting to dream about.

If you want a chance to win a little more money than you invested, concentrate on machines that offer lower but more frequent payouts. The way to determine which machines fall into this category is to read the paytable of the games that interest you. Check for multiple payout combinations, and you’re probably in the ballpark.

In some cases, you can ask the help function of an online casino about the payoffs. The more volatile machines pay back higher jackpots, but you can go long stretches without winning anything. Those with lower payouts give you a little back over time and extend your playing time.

Read the FAQs to see if you can determine which machines are best for you.

Next week, we’ll examine players clubs (and why you should always join), video poker as a choice for skilled players, what happens if you win one of the life-changing jackpots, and other issues.

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