Slot machines are not games of strategy. With the exception of a tiny minority of skill-based games, slots are games of pure chance with results driven by random number generators.
Nothing you do can change a slot's payback percentage. That's as true with online slots as it has been for generations in live casinos.
Nevertheless, some players like to use strategic approaches to slot play. Rather than increasing the frequency of wins or big wins, strategies target finding high-paying slot machines or managing your money to maximize your chances at wins while minimizing losses.
Let's check out some of the strategies slot players try:
Strategy 1: Bet the Max
For decades, this was the standard advice for slot players, but it doesn't apply to online slots or video slots in live casinos.
Three-reel slots with one payline and a two- or three-coin maximum wager typically have a disproportionate jump in the top jackpot when you bet the max. For example, a jackpot might be 1,000 coins with a one-coin bet, 2,000 for two coins, then jump not to 3,000 but to 5,000 with a maximum three-coin wager.
Because of that, such machines yield a higher payback percentage with a maximum bet.
Online slots and video slots don't have three-coin maximum bets. They are usually played for lower coin denominations such as pennies or two cents instead of the 25 cents or $1 most popular in three-reel games. Slots online or on video also have many more paylines, with 30, 40 or more being common. Some come in no line but 243 ways to win varieties.
Maximum bets on these games aren't three coins, but hundreds of coins.
Not only that but the disproportionate jump in the top jackpot isn't designed into most online or video games.
The payback percentage advantage to maximum wagers doesn't apply online or on video, leaving bet the max as a strategy for old-style three-reel games.
Strategy 2: Bet enough to Activate all Game Features
This means wagering one coin per line in most online and video slots. That activates all paylines so you won't miss out on winners on an inactive line. You can bet more than one coin per line, and that's fine as long as you can comfortably afford the wagers. But you don't have to bet more to maximize payback percentage.
Some games have features that require bets of more than one coin per line. Some progressive slots require an extra bet for jackpot eligibility. If you will play such a game, make a progressive bet. Choose a different game if you don't want to bet enough for the progressive. You won't get all a game has to offer if you don't activate all the features.
Strategy 3: Scout the Machines
Online, this applies mainly to progressive slots. Check the progressive games you like periodically to get a sense of the rollover value where the top jackpot starts building after a winner. Also, determine how big the jackpots get before there's a winner.
There will be a lot of variation in jackpot size at the top. If the rollover value is $1,000, you might see the meter get to $1,200, $1,500, or even $2,000 or more before there's a winner. You might also see an occasional winner at barely more than $1,000.
Ignore the low jackpots and pick a value near the middle of the range of winners. Then play only when the jackpot nears that amount.
The system won't increase your frequency of jackpot wins. The odds of winning are the same no matter how long it's been since a jackpot has hit. However, because you're playing only for bigger pots, the average size of your jackpot will be bigger than the overall average. That means your overall payback percentage will be higher than average.
In live casinos, some players scout machines by checking meters to see the cashout totals for the previous player. Some scouts play only machines that have paid a lot under the assumption it's a hot machine. Other avoid those that have paid out, assuming it's due for a cold streak.
Neither assumption is a clue as to what the game will do next. Results are random and the odds are the same after a cold streak as after a hot streak.
Strategy 4: Hit and Run
Sometimes, players claim to notice a pattern where machines pay a lot early in a session, then go cold.
They try to take advantage by playing a small, set number of spins, then moving on to another game.
How many spins? Some recommend as few as five, a rapid-fire method that has you on the move to search for a fast-starter. Others suggest 10, 25 or even 50 spins.
This system comes under the heading of "no real harm." With random results, a big payoff is no more likely to come in the first few, or few dozen spins, than it is after 100 or more. All machines have cold streak, sometimes at the beginning of play and sometimes later.
But if you find it fun to try a lot of different game in hopes of find one with an early payoff, you neither increase nor decrease the odds against you.
Strategy 5: Prime the Pump
This system makes the opposite assumption of hit and run. It suggests a slot has to warm up before it's ready to pay off.
Prime the pump players start with minimum bets, then increase at regular intervals. You might start with the minimum bet to cover all lines, then increase to two coins per line after 15 spins, then three coins per line after another 15 spins.
A couple of warnings need to be issued. With random results, there is no real tendency for a game to pay more later than earlier, nor is there a tendency to pay more earlier than later.
Strategy 6: Climb the Steps
Step systems work on the same assumption as prime the pump. Step players want to see that a machine is paying off before they make larger bets.
One aggressive step system suggests making minimum bets until you have a winning spin, then increasing the wager. If you win again, increase the bet. Keep increasing as long as you are winning, but after any loss, drop back to the minimum bet.
The idea is to catch a hot streak and make your largest bets when the game is paying frequently.
Players can define "winning spin" as they see fit, but with multiline online and video slots, many spins pay less than the bet. Don't increase your bet after you're paid 12 credits on a 40-credit bet, for example. Wait for a win that returns more credits than you wager.
The same caveats apply as in prime the pump. Results are random with no real pattern of wins and losses. There is no tendency for a hot machine to stay hot. And never make bets too large for your comfort zone.
Strategy 7: Fool the Ring
A reader suggested this one. She believed casinos want to reward their biggest players, so she always started a session making bets at the top end of her range to tell the random number generator she was a big player.
If she got a big win on a top-end bet, great. If not, she played 10 spins, then dropped to wagers in her comfort zone and hoped the RNG would reward her as a big player.
The problem is, the RNG doesn't know how much you bet. It generates numbers in the same proportions regardless of whether you're betting 40 or 400 credits.
None of these systems can affect the random numbers being generated. But for those who like systematic play, as long as the methods don't cause you to overbet, they can be fun to try.