Strategy & Tips for Playing Slot Machines

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Is it possible to improve your chances of a winning session whilst playing online slots?

Slot machines are the most popular games in both land-based and online casinos, but that doesn’t mean that they pay out the largest amounts of money to players. In fact, quite the opposite is true, as slot machines have some of the lowest Return to Player (RTP) percentages of any game you are likely to find within a casino.

That said, every slot is different – some have higher RTP figures than others and variance and volatility can vary dramatically from one game to the next. Variance can make a massive difference to the RTP of one individual session, and games with progressive jackpots can dramatically affect the amount of playtime you are likely to receive as well.

Inspecting the RTP of different slots should be a key part of your strategy when deciding which games to play online. If you blindly bet the same amount on a high variance machine as you would on a lower variance one, you are sure to go bust much faster whilst playing the high variance slot.

We’re going to start by exploring some of the best strategies and tips regarding RTP because games with a higher percentage are sure to pay you more over the long term. Do not think that RTP is the only thing to consider though – Bankroll management is another of the few areas you have any control over when playing slots, so should also factor into your overall strategy considerably.

You’ll need to understand volatility and variance before you can make informed decisions regarding bankroll management though, so where do you start? This article is possibly the best place to begin, as it deals more with the longer-term strategy needed to tackle games with different RTP’s. We also recommend you check out the following related articles when you are done reading here, to get the full picture of what it takes to truly improve your chances of winning whilst playing online slots:

  • How to Win at Slots: Is there A Secret Method?
  • Slots Bankroll Management and Strategies
  • Loose Slot Machines & The Meaning of High / Low Variance Slots

These are due to be published here soon, so check back shortly if you can’t see the links yet!

Strategy & Tips Regarding Return to Player (RTP) Percentages

Most jurisdictions now require game designers to publish the RTP of their slot machines somewhere that is easy for players to find. In land-based games, you will probably see the RTP of the game listed on the loading screen alongside other important details such as the developer and publisher of the game, but do look out for the age-old trick of printing this essential information in very small print – especially if the number is nothing to be proud of!

Slot Game RTP Percentahes

Many online casinos now publish a list of the expected RTP and actual RTP of all of their games on a single page, whilst others will have an information page dedicated to each game where all the key details will be displayed instead. Again, this is a legal requirement under many licensing regimes now, so it will definitely be visible somewhere – if you can’t find it, contact live chat and ask them why not!

Ways that RTP Percentages are Calculated

The RTP of a game is calculated by adding up the probability of every single possible outcome that is possible not just from different permutations of reel combinations, but from the bonus games and any additional features such as pick-me bonuses, prize pots, and things like that as well.

Just like with sports betting, a certain percentage of RTP is left on the table as profit for the casino, and some slot machines allow the operator to select just how large this slice will be. This means that the same game at one casino could pay out far less than what appears to be the identical game running at a different casino – no, it wasn’t just in your head after all!

You can sometimes tell if a game is running in a lower RTP mode because the payouts will be lower than you are used to when playing the game elsewhere, but often the difference will be much more subtle – the reel strips will be altered in such a way as to make the change invisible to the player. All the winning combinations will pay the same as they would when the game is running in a higher RTP mode, but the wins will simply occur less often.

When discussing table games, the term “house edge” is often used to describe the percentage of each bet that the casino will ultimately end up keeping as a result of your wagers. RTP is simply looking at this from the opposite direction – a game with a 97% RTP has a 3% house edge. This is an easy way of understanding the term and makes it simple to understand why some operators will choose to run their games in lower RTP configurations.

Expected vs Actual RTP – What is the Difference?

The expected RTP of a game is the figure given by the slot’s developer or manufacturer, as described in the previous paragraph. An expected RTP tells you what the result of one spin of every possible outcome adds up to, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how a specific game or cabinet has performed whilst being used by players of the casino.

This is where actual RTP comes in – when a new slot is first released you will usually find that this number will vary wildly from day to day and from the stated expected RTP. As the slot ages and more spins are performed, however, the expected and actual RTP figures will eventually converge and become very similar to one another.

Many casinos now allow you to see your personal RTP for each different game too, providing a third RTP number for you to compare with the previous two. If you have a very high personal RTP for a specific game relative to it’s expected RTP then it is likely you will have very fond memories of the game paying you handsomely during previous sessions. Maybe now is the time to leave that slot alone?

On the other hand, if you have a very low personal RTP on a specific game, then by keeping playing you can increase the chances of your number eventually lining up with the expected and actual results experienced by other players. Some games are just a lost cause though – you can end up losing so much money that digging yourself out of the hole will take just as much if not even more money than you have already spent. Sometimes it is even better just to put these numbers out of your head completely and just try and enjoy spinning, as there is never any guarantee that your personal results will always level out with everybody else’s!

Beware Lower Than Expected RTPs in Land-Based Casinos

Whilst it is certainly important to check the RTP of an online slot before beginning to play, it is even more important to be cautious when finding the “same” game in a land-based casino that you normally enjoy playing online. The versions of some slots found on the casino floor can have dramatically lower RTP percentages than the same games that are found online, but you will often notice this immediately because of reduced payouts for combinations you are familiar with.

On the casino floor, pretty much anything goes – RTP’s as low as 75% are allowed in Las Vegas, for example, and whilst it would be rare to find a game with anything so horribly low, it is completely legal.

Fruit machine and AWP type games tend to use a fixed portion of the take rather than a calculated RTP, as this represents lower risks and guaranteed profits for the operator. You might win thousands of times your stake whilst playing a high variance slot machine, finishing up with a session RTP of hundreds or even thousands of per cent.

Bars and pubs can’t afford to take the risk of this happening with their machines, so will instead opt to take a fixed 20% (for example) of every dollar inserted into a particular machine, with the remainder going into the prize fund.

Average RTP Figures for Popular Online Slot Providers

High variance games from several popular online providers can have RTP figures as low as 90% (Playtech), 94% (NetEnt), and 92% (Microgaming). Bear in mind that progressive jackpot games can lower this figure by as much as another 7-10%, due to the contribution to the jackpot pool!

Whilst some developers can be greedy and not have much of a difference between the RTP of their low and high variance games, the majority can be trusted to offer a significantly higher RTP for their lower variance games. NetEnt for example publishes a game titled Bloodsucker’s which is notorious for being included on excluded games list for bonus play due to its very high RTP of 98%.

Playtech offer a game titled Goblins Cave which is extremely low various but also has a mind-blowing RTP of 99.32%! Completing the list of direct comparisons, most of Microgaming’s low variance games are in the 96% range, and whilst a few percentage points may not sound like much, it makes a world of difference In the world of casino gaming.

Other Quick Tips, Tricks & Strategies

  • #1. When going on a trip to a gambling resort such as Sun City, Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the last thing you want to do is gamble away all the money you were planning to use to do other things, such as see the sights, eat nice meals, and generally just do activities outside the casinos.

Sure, for some, leaving the hotel and casino complex might sound like an insane idea – especially those that have booked all-inclusive. The concierge at every major Vegas hotel will be happy to arrange any service you require – and that includes some you might prefer to whisper – just remember to tip generously!

Plan your spending, set a gambling budget per night, and maybe even decide how much you want to put through those addictive slot machines too – remember, the casinos are making almost 90% of their profits from electronic gaming machines, and whilst some of that is down to the reduced number of personnel required to run these services, it is in large part due to the high RTP and the fact that many players will simply keep on spinning until all of their money is gone. Outsmart the casinos by making a plan, and sticking to it.

  • #2. If point #1 all sounds like a very difficult responsibility to maintain over a week of excess in a town like Atlantic City, use prepaid Visa cards or alternative debit/credit cards to simplify the whole procedure. Don’t carry large amounts of cash around with you in any gambling town, as pickpocketing Is rife and tourists are always seen as easy targets.
  • #3. The online equivalent to points #1 and #2 is to make use of the responsible gaming functionality now built into almost every online casino, which allows you to set limits for the amount of time you are allowed to play, how much you can deposit each day, week, or month, and enforce a mandatory time-out if you think you need it.

Show your significant other where these features are located and have no doubt, they will use them if you are not listening to their repeated requests for you to clean the house, make tea for the kids, or join them in the bedroom. Trust me – you’ll thank them later. If this is the kind of thing that is happening regularly though, it is probably time to reconsider the amount of time and money you are spending playing online slots.

Remember that slots release dopamine and endorphins into the brain which can make us act out of character in much the same way as some narcotics, and a short break is often all that is required to begin to see things more clearly once again. If this doesn’t sound like it matches up with your experiences then you may well be playing too much.

  • #4. Be careful with denominations, max bet buttons, and other unfairly simple ways of blowing huge chunks of your bankroll in a freakishly short amount of time. I’ve personally hit “max bet” before and bet £18.00 instead of £1.80, winning nothing… I’ve made the same mistake on another occasion and accidentally bet £3.60 instead of £0.09p and won over 3,000x my stake (yes… I’m still wondering if it was a dream, too….).

Those mistakes are never likely to happen again, as the Max Bet button no longer automatically spins the wheels at most online casinos nowadays. The land-based casino industry still seems a little desperate to get every possible penny out of their patrons as they can though, sadly – a friend rang me in tears back in 2019 when she realized she had been betting R10 “coins” instead of dimes on the machines in Vegas.

I’ve no idea why she had her entire gambling budget loaded into the machine at once (See point #2 above), but the R50 free chip and room upgrade offered by the casino in question didn’t go nearly far enough towards restoring her faith in humanity. Something tells me neither she nor her partner will be visiting Vegas again any time soon.

  • #5. Keep it slow and steady – us players in the UK have no choice in this matter when playing online nowadays, with the quick spin options now removed from all of our games. Citizens of other countries may not be so “lucky” though, and once again the land-based industry still allows you to stop the reels immediately after hitting the spin button, allowing you to blaze through a terrifying amount of cash in a very short time.

Stick to spinning the reels and enjoying seeing your results come in – there’s no benefit to this from a results standpoint (see the myths section below), but your bankroll will certainly thank you for it.

The Myths & Fables of Playing Slot Machines

Why do casino games attract so many crazy stories regarding them? I believe it’s because gamblers tend to be a superstitious bunch, but you’d think that many of the “tall tales” from back in the day would have been long forgotten by now. And yet, you still hear players at blackjack tables complaining of other players messing up the shoe, crowds gathered around a roulette wheel examining “hot” and “cold” numbers or stating that the next spin “HAS” to be red because the previous six were all black, and other such nonsense.

Well, these myths exist in the realm of slots too, and trust me – it won’t take you much searching of internet forums to find those who are absolutely convinced that some of the following myths and fables are as “trustworthy” as a newly discovered third book of the bible.

So, without further ado, let’s wrap up our tips and tricks for playing slots with a few things you absolutely should not do, believe, or consider – and if you don’t believe me, be sure to send me an e-mail as I have a few e-bay listings for 100% pure legless reptile oil I just know you will be dying to take off my hands. It’s too good to miss!

Higher Bets Have a Higher Chance of Winning

Possibly, a remnant misunderstanding caused by those last few machines in Vegas that only pay out full jackpots if you bet all three credits rather than just the one, or Video Poker machines that require you to play all five coins to receive the full jackpot for a royal flush. It’s also true that some (scummy) progressive jackpot machines require you to bet a specified minimum to be eligible for a shot at the jackpot – even though you are still contributing towards it with every spin anyway.

Other than these unique situations, however, there is never any reason to bet more than you can afford in the hope of gaining a higher RTP or possibility of winning – the only reason your winnings are higher is that your stake was higher, and slots work by paying you as a multiple of your stake.  Higher bets at Blackjack and Roulette don’t suddenly acquire higher odds just because you chose to take a bigger risk – the maths doesn’t work that way.

Betting on One Pay Line – Or A Very Low Number of Them – Will Increase Your RTP

This is a great example of the worst kind of myth of all – one that isn’t just false, but wholly incorrect, too. The RTP of the slot was worked out based on all pay lines being played, so if you are not playing all the pay lines, you will likely miss out on a fraction of the available RTP that you would have received had you been playing all the lines.

Sure, there may be a few fringe cases where a handful of the millions of symbol permutations result in a slightly higher return as a percentage of your stake if you happened to play only lines one to six, but in the absolute majority of scenarios there is no advantage to playing just one pay line – even in the one, single case I can think of where a possible advantage can be achieved (Microgaming’s Thunderstruck, where a line of five wilds returns 30,000x your stake *if* it lands on pay line one during the feature), a player who decided to test the theory had to leave his machine running over 40,000,000 spins before a single occurrence of this extremely unlikely event popped out – it’s almost impossible to catch five wilds on a line in regular play, never mind during the feature, on just one of the nine possible pay lines. The mathematicians among you have probably already realized that even at 1c bets, that’s R400,000 to land a payout of just R300. Ouch.

Some Slots are “Hotter” than Others

Whether in a land-based casino with rows of the same game, or when talking about refreshing your page to grab a new session, this is utter nonsense. Every spin on a true slot machine is an independent random event, and it doesn’t matter if three jackpots have spun in during the past half an hour, there is still just as good – or as poor – a chance of another one rolling into view during the next spin.

Random number generators used by slot machines do not get hot, or cold for that matter – they just spit out pseudo-random numbers. Unless the game has been programmed badly or there is a flaw in the number generation algorithm, you may as well do a rain dance using wooden claves as you walk under a series of ladders, stopping to pick up a penny from the floor as you go and throw salt over your shoulder on your way to buy a black cat on Friday the 13th. The result of the next spin will still be the same.

I guess it should be mentioned that certain other types of gambling machines CAN become hot or cold according to how much money they have collected that day – fruit machines, amusements with prizes and the like, but slot machines based on RTP/house edge mathematics? Not a chance.

Conclusion

Find a machine with a high RTP – no matter how high it is, a 98% RTP game will still collect R2 of every R100 you wager if you play it for long enough. If the RTP figure was calculated based on one million spins, that doesn’t mean you will be exactly R20,000 down at the end of playing one million spins yourself. If it did, that would make for one boring slot machine.

You might find yourself R500 up after just five spins, and if you do, the best tip or strategy anyone with experience of slots can give you is to walk away there and then – you’ve just hugely beaten the odds, the machine is not “hot”, and whilst more wins could be coming, they are equally likely to not be – collect your winnings, and walk away.

Machines with five features and a progressive jackpot may seem attractive, but a proportion of every spin you make is going towards funding that progressive prize pool. Another portion is tied up in every one of those bonus rounds, too. Let’s say they are worth 5% each, plus a 7% contribution to the progressive fund. You are now effectively playing a slot machine with an RTP of around 68%. Thought Nevada was bad with its 75% lower bound? Such a game wouldn’t even be illegal here, as it’s the TOTAL RTP that matters to the Gaming Control Board. Maybe just one or two features is best, after all.

And as for the progressive, well…. If you’re the kind of person who believes “it could be me” and buys National Lottery tickets week after week then sure, progressives are probably your thing too. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – you may as well take every dollar you donate to the progressive jackpot fund and buy an extra lottery ticket with it because as awful as lottery odds are, they still suck far less than many progressive slots.

Understand the rules of the slots you play. Read the pay tables, however dull you find them, just in case you spot something you don’t like. Get out whilst you are ahead if the money you have won is going to be really useful to you, but if you are enjoying yourself and your initial deposit was just entertainment money anyway then why not keep playing? It doesn’t matter if you lose it all, and if you do well, there’s always next time!

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