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A Guide to Playing Slots in Las Vegas

With more than 70 casinos, it’s no surprise that Las Vegas is the slot machine capital of the world. What might catch visitors off guard is that you don’t have to be in a casino on the Las Vegas Strip to find a one-armed bandit. There are slot machines everywhere!

Hotels, motels, and bars have slot machines, and while there are hundreds of varieties, video poker is the favorite type of slot gaming found in bars.

You can play slots in drugs stores, restaurants, and grocery stores.

You can even find slots in laundromats and gas stations, where entrepreneurs have cordoned-off sections of their convenience stores to offer a quiet place to fill up your car and empty your pocketbook during the same trip.

Playing a slot machine doesn’t take much skill. Just choose an interesting game and put your money in the bill validator. Of course, if you want to take advantage of a few tricks, make sure you follow our advice for squeezing the most from your gambling dollar.

The Growth of Slot Machines

Slots today are much more sophisticated than they were in previous decades. The first reel-style slot machine, invented by Charles Fey in 1895, featured 3 individual reels with symbols like horseshoes and clovers. A jackpot was triggered when the player hit a Liberty Bell on each reel.

Fey’s machines were quite popular and were soon found in saloons across the San Francisco Bay Area. He originally split revenues with the bar owners, but after one of his machines was stolen, and similar machines hit the market, Fey switched to renting or selling his machines.

Slot manufacturers like Mills, Jennings, Pace, and Watling came and went over the next 60 years. During that time the machines were found in bars and roadhouses across the United States. Similar machines were also popular in Great Britain and Germany.

In the US, most states eventually outlawed open-gambling, but the slots were tolerated in many locations until the late 1930s when Nevada was the only remaining state with legalized gaming.

Although machine styles and designs changed, the overall operation and mechanics of the slots did not.

A single cherry symbol usually paid 2 coins, while 2 cherry symbols paid 5 coins. An orange on all 3 reels usually paid 10 coins, while plums or bells paid as high as 18 coins. A jackpot was 150 coins, meaning a nickel machine paid a total jackpot of $7.50.

The machine automatically dropped 20 coins, and the remaining $6.50 was paid by an attendant.

Big Berthas Slot Machine
In the 1960s, Bally Manufacturing built huge, 6-foot tall machines called Big Berthas that sat near the entrance of casinos in Reno and Las Vegas.

The monster machines drew crowds, but Bally had an even more important change that revolutionized slots. Previous machines had used metal tubes and slides to make payoffs that ranged from 2 to 20 coins.

Bally’s new Money Honey machines changed all that, with sleek designed fronts that opened on a hinge and gave slot attendants the ability to fill an electro-mechanical hopper with coins.

The new process allowed players to hit larger payouts and be paid automatically as the hopper spun and dispensed jackpots, counting the payout as it went.

Just 15 years later, the gaming industry introduced computer-run machines to their customers. The new machines used computer motherboards and removable chips to change game parameters. The machines used now employ random number generators to ensure safety and fair payouts for huge jackpots that have reached more than $20 million.

The machines most popular in the early days of Las Vegas had 3 reels and symbols like cherries, plums, oranges, and bells. A standard slot had 20 symbols per reel, so the odds of hitting the jackpot were 8000 to 1.

Today, machines can have nearly unlimited combinations. In fact, the largest group jackpot is offered by IGT on their Megabucks machines.

Those machines have virtual reels with 368 possible stops. Each virtual reel has one jackpot symbol. 368 x 368 x 368 gives the player one chance in 49,836,032 spins to hit the jackpot. Yes, the odds are high, but so are the jackpots, often over $20 million.

Unfortunately, nearly every large group (or linked machine) jackpot has a payoff made over 25 years. What that means is that if the jackpot is $1 million, you get a check for $40,000 the day you hit the big one. Then, you get a check in the mail for the same amount annually for 24 years.

Today’s Slots in Las Vegas

Yes, there are hundreds of different slots to play in Nevada. Theme machines range from game shows like “Let’s Make a Deal” to movie favorites like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters (old and new), Star Trek, Batman, and even My Cousin Vinny.

If you don’t find your favorite show, you can try the standard Blazing Sevens, or one of the dozens of different styles and designs offered at each casino.

In fact, once you fly into Las Vegas, you don’t even have to leave the airport to get your money in action. There are slot machines at the airport! Play away, and don’t worry, the payouts and house edge aren’t much different from location to location.

Just keep in mind that if you hit the jackpot, you’ll have to wait a while to get paid. Make sure you don’t miss your flight!

When Las Vegas was just a dusty train stop in the desert, downtown saloons had a few machines that were played as a novelty. In the 1960’s, Sin City’s largest casinos offered dozens of table games like blackjack and craps with no more than 200 slot machines. The income from slot machines was about 10% of the daily win. Even keno made more money than the slots.

Today, slot income is closer to 75% at most casinos, far outpacing table games, poker, and keno combined.

Why? Because they are interactive and entertaining. They have morphed into independent games that players can get lost in while playing.

Still, no matter what you may have heard, there are no special systems or strategies for slot machines. But, there are ways to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

As mentioned before, slot machines are computer-programmed and run according to the game chip. However, there are some things you should keep in mind when you play.

To start with, the so-called penny slots may only take 1 cent per line to play, but you’ll be forced to bet on several paylines each spin. Some machines have 45 lines, so playing just 1-cent on each is nearly a half-dollar per spin. Make sure you read the rules (found on the menu or rules page on the touch screen) first.

Also, penny slots have the highest casino win percentage of all slot machines in Las Vegas, with a payback of only about 89%. For the most part, the higher the denomination, the higher the payback, so nickel slots pay better than penny slots, etc.

You’ll also want to make sure you play enough coins or lines to trigger any bonuses that are offered. If it takes 5 credits or lines to get a bonus and you play only 4, you’ll miss out on the best part of your machine.

Another general rule of thumb is that the higher the jackpot offered, the longer the odds are of hitting it. For instance, video poker machines pay 4,000 credits for a royal flush. The odds of hitting that royal are about 45,000 to 1. A quarter video poker machine costs 5 credits ($1.25 per spin) to qualify for a $1,000 payout.

If you are playing a standard slot machine with a similar cost and jackpot, you can expect the odds of hitting the big payoff to be very similar. If the machine offers a $25,000 jackpot, the odds are much higher.

Being more precise is impossible because each game type has its own set of rules, payouts, and percentages. Just know that the higher the jackpot, the higher the odds against you.

Slot Machine Selection

Each casino in Las Vegas has a general mix of machine type, denominations, and jackpots. Generally speaking, the larger the casino, the more slot machines you’ll find. The MGM on The Strip offers 5,000 hotel rooms and almost as many slot machines. There are nearly 125,000 slots in Clark County, most of those in Las Vegas.

Of those machines, nearly 20,000 are video poker machines. If that’s what you are looking for, you’ll find plenty of them in bars and at clubs in the Downtown area.

Video poker is also very popular at clubs off Vegas Blvd., which are sometimes referred to as local’s clubs. They cater to local players and have more multi-denomination games and more nickel video poker.

You’ll have to check each club for flush/full house payoffs to compare to Strip clubs, but comp dollars earned at certain clubs such as South Point and the Orleans can be very high. They will also have a better selection of older poker and keno machines.

Casinos on The Strip rotate new machines in quickly and have great selections, but payouts aren’t likely to be any better than smaller casinos. They will also have more quarter and dollar machines. And, comp dollars earned may be similar, but the higher room rates and restaurant costs mean you’ll have to earn more to get similar values.

Another thing to keep in mind about earning comps is that there are several casino groups, such as Boyd Gaming (Orleans, Gold Coast, California Club and others), MGM Resorts, Stations Casinos, and Caesars Entertainment which includes Harrah’s properties.

You can use the same player’s club card, earn points at any of their properties, and stay at any property. That way you can choose how many points you want to use for your room.

Making sure you use your player’s club card is important, but so is finding the machines you want at the limit or denomination you are comfortable playing.

Don’t fall into the trap of settling for a casino or casino group’s machines because you already have a relationship with that property.

Instead, be willing to investigate several casinos and choose the one that meets your desires, your pocketbook, and your comfort level. Then, find out what benefits their specific player’s club offers and play the machines your really want to play.

That way, you can balance the specifics of the casino and their machines. In the end, you will likely make your decision based on machine selection and the luck you have on those machines.

Sure, it’s gambling, but it’s also entertainment. The more you enjoy a machine or property, the better time you’ll have, win or lose. Choose wisely, and you’ll always feel like a winner!