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How to Play Video Slots for Real Money
Nothing dominates the online casino industry quite like video slots. Having replaced most of the old-school hand-crank mechanical slot machines that once crowded casino floors, video slot machines have cracked the industry wide open and led to a full-on slot renaissance.
Whereas slots were once considered the casino’s monotonous cousin compared to more exciting card and dice games, video slots have captured the imagination of a generation raised on video games.
Video slots have expanded the gameplay and immersive qualities of slot machines, adding bonus games, side bets, lush graphics, animations, storylines, themes, and tie-ins with popular intellectual properties like the band Guns N’ Roses or the film The Wizard of Oz.
A Quick History of Video Slots
Video slots grew from the popular mechanical slot machine, first invented in New York in 1891 as a pub/saloon game. The first machine had five reels and bore playing card symbols, entitling players to prizes like free drinks and cigars for various winning poker hands produced by the random results of the spin.
With many high poker hands possible, this early slot machine featured many “paylines,” even with two cards removed from the “deck” because each of the five reels fitted ten symbols for 50 total. With that many paylines, it was hard to develop this game of chance into a profitable casino game.
That changed in a few short years, when in 1895 Charles Fey invented the first three-reel slot machine called the “Liberty Bell” in California. Slot machines then became popular in both casinos and pubs. The first “fruit machine”--the real forerunner of the games we call classic slots today--came along to compete with the Liberty Bell in 1907.
In 1963, Bally Manufacturing did away with the hand-crank lever by developing Money Honey, the first electromechanical slot machine that could pay out larger winnings automatically, without the aid of an attendant.
The first video slots made their debuts in California in 1976, resembling arcade games and designed with technology created by Fortune Coin Co, who would soon be purchased by gaming giant IGT. The Nevada State Gaming Commission quickly approved it, and the first video slot machines took their place on Las Vegas casino floors.
The advent of the new online casinos in 1994 took video slots to the next level, with the first online video slots developed by famous software company Microgaming.
Still, table games ruled the roost in most land-based casinos, that is, until the invention of second-screen bonuses. These side games unlocked the massive gameplay potential of slots outside of watching reels spin. Video slots surged in popularity, becoming the biggest revenue driver on the casino floor and attracting the kinds of bonuses and perks casinos used to only offer for table game players.
In 2012, online and land-based video slots netted casinos a whopping £5 billion in revenue in the UK alone. There is surprisingly big money to be found in online slots.
How to Play Video Slots: What You Need to Know
Due to the power of computer software, video slots have come a long way from a hand-cranked lever and a few spinning wheels. They have evolved in both gameplay and complexity. In fact, if you don’t understand the landscape of video slots, it can be easy to get lost.
Here are some of the basics you need to understand in order to get the most enjoyment out of video slots and to avoid the common mistakes made by slots rookies.
RNG is short for “random number generator,” the class of software that makes online and video gambling possible.
RNG software does just what it sounds like it does—creates a randomised numerical outcome. Computer software can then interpret that numerical result to trigger a certain graphical result.
This probably goes without saying, but when you press the button on a video slot machine, no actual reels are spinning. The ‘reel movement’ is just a graphical animation to add fun and immersive engagement to the gameplay. Which symbol displays on which reel is determined by a cue from the programming of the RNG software.
Further, the software can be calibrated so that it produces winning results (“paylines”) at a set frequency, which allows the designer to hard-code the RTP (“return to player”) and the house edge.
By all means enjoy the graphics, the theme, and the bonus games, but bear in mind that you are just betting on the outcome of the RNG software. The rest is just bells and whistles.
The basic unit of betting on a video slot machine is a “coin.” Early mechanical slot machines required you to insert actual coins, some of which might contribute to a progressive jackpot that was automatically released upon a win.
However, video slots players may preload a slot machine with a set amount of money they want to bet. For players at online casinos, their only option is to use a digital payment method to fund an online account and then use that balance to place bets.
Once this balance is loaded, players may choose how many “coins” to bet on a spin, and the online bankroll is debited.
How much a coin is worth depends on the game. “Penny slots” might literally only debit a penny for each coin bet. Higher-stakes slots might debit £5 per coin or even more.
Most spins require a bet of at least one coin, but you can also bet multiple coins, up to the “max bet.”
Reels are the strips of symbols that spin when a slot game is played. Depending on how they come to rest, they may or may not line up to a winning combination, called a “payline.”
The earliest casino slots, like the Liberty Bell or the Fruit Machine, had three reels. Modern video slots usually have five reels, but you can find three-reel video slots as well, and these are the best loved among those who used to enjoy the classic one-armed bandit with the physical pull-down lever. Obviously, in the modern 3-reel slots, the mechanical side has disappeared and the RNGs have come in, a bit of a disappointment to many of us who adored that old-school experience!
Symbols and Characters
The images found on the reels, which line up to form paylines, are called “symbols” or “characters.” Usually they follow in step with the theme of the video slot machine—fruits, leprechauns, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, pirate swag, Batman -- a myriad of options!
Each game has its own rules for what combinations of symbols constitute a payline. Multi paylines are also possible for some really big payouts.
A payline is what slot players crave with every spin—a winning combination of symbols that occur when the spin comes to rest (as determined by RNG software, of course).
Classic slot machines had only one payline or maybe a handful of paylines, meaning a win was very uncommon. Modern video slots, however, tend to have multiple paylines, sometimes as many as twenty or more. Take, for example, the 40-line Pink Panther video slot--that’s a really modern twist on an old cartoon favourite character! Of course, the music and graphics are enormous fun here. Many other new slots are also movie-themed, and some of these are video slots too.
Generally speaking, the more paylines a slot game has, the more likely a player is to catch one and win. The catch is that the payouts tend to be smaller. If your goal is to come out a little bit ahead, or at least play for as long as possible and not strike it rich, multiple paylines are the way to go.
Note that you need to bet on a specific payline to win money on the spin if that payline arrives, and you can bet on multiple paylines in one spin. The best chance to win a spin is to bet on as many paylines as possible -- but that’s a good way to deplete your bankroll quickly, and you may not even catch a payline every time.
Of course, although gameplay is now mostly RNG-driven as we described earlier, it doesn’t mean you cannot have some influence. Some players are still firm believers in winning tactics for online slots.
Bonus rounds add extra excitement to slot gameplay. They are a big reason why video slots took off in the public imagination in a way that the less adventurous classic slot gameplay never did.
Bonus rounds can be triggered randomly between spins and give players gameplay options other than pushing buttons and watching reels spin. Some bonus rounds resemble board games, word searches, hand-eye-coordination games, spinning wheels, and more. Like modern video games, they often attach a cinematic element related to the theme of the machine.
Bonus rounds give players the opportunity to win extra coins, get free spins, multiply their winnings, and have other enhancements of their gameplay.
A scatter symbol is a type of bonus symbol that might appear on the reel of various video slot games. It might be in the wrong position to create a payline, but the scatter feature allows it to “scatter” to the right position and still constitute a payline. Scatter symbols are almost always good news because they may help you score a payline where none existed before.
Cascading reels are another bonus feature of many slot games. When a cascade is triggered, random symbols fall from the top of the reels and take the place of other symbols, and may help to create a payline. Multiple cascades could trigger multiple paylines from one spin, significantly multiplying your winnings or chance to win.
Tips for Winning at Video Slots
Based on RNG software, it is nearly impossible to slug video slots in your favour. People come back to them for their immersive gameplay, not the potential to make a profit from sustained gameplay, although those specifically seeking out progressive slots may have a different view.
If you want to win at video slots, here are some tips to consider ...
Look at the Return to Player
“Return to Player” (RTP) is a percentage inverse of the “house edge.” The “house edge” is the percentage of each bet that the casino is likely to pocket as profit over the course of all spins. Conversely, the more times you spin a slot game, the more your bankroll is likely to resemble the RTP.
For example, if a slot game has an RTP of 95%, for every £100 you bet, you are likely to net £95. This isn’t “winning,” of course, but that’s how a “house edge” works.
Slot games tend to have unfavourable RTP compared to other casino games. Whereas other games can have 98% or 99% RTP, slots tend to have RTP of 97% or worse, sometimes as low as 85% or even less.
Considering how many spins it can take to luck into a payline, bankroll management is essential to maximising your enjoyment and chances of coming out ahead. Consider how fast you spend your coins and how long you want your playing session to last. If you spend 350 coins an hour and you wish to game for an hour, win or lose, you want to come to the session with a bankroll big enough for 350 coins.
Free Spin Bonuses
Online casinos often offer “free spin” bonuses to entice new members or launch new games. These free spins can help offset an unfavourable house edge. Remember, the more spins you make, the better your chances of hitting a payline and winning big. If you want to maximise your gameplay and chances to win, look for casinos offering free spin bonuses and take advantage of them.
Many video slots have a big, enticing “MAX BET” button, encouraging you to go big or go home. The “max bet” of a machine is the most coins you are allowed to bet on an individual spin, for the best chances of the biggest win.
If you’re the kind of player who likes to put everything on the line, or it’s your last spin of the session and you won’t miss the money, by all means max out. However, this is generally not the best strategy to come out ahead. It usually takes many spins to come out a winner or at least approach the RTP percentage. Frequent uses of the MAX BET are a great way to run out of money before you are ready to leave the casino.
Where to Play Video Slots
Video slots can be played at just about any casino, whether it be online or land-based. In land-based casinos, video slots resemble arcade games, allowing casino guests to pick their favourite mode of gameplay and themes for a chance to win big. Casinos might feature standalone, local, or wide-area-network progressive jackpots as well.
Every slot game at an online casino is a video slot, and the offerings tend to be varied. An online casino that brags a selection of 500 titles probably has something like 450 video slot titles, including three-reel, five-reel, multi-payline, single-payline, and wide-area-network progressive slots.
Some online casinos affiliated with a land-based casino are innovating in the arena of “remote-operated live slots.” These are the slots equivalent of the ever-popular ‘live-dealer’ games offered to online table games players.
The casinos offering live slots sequester several video slot machines in a secure room with cameras pointing at them. Players can remotely trigger a spin from the online casino website or app, and watch the results by streaming video, bringing more of the casino feel to at-home gameplay.
Video slots have so completely revolutionised the casino industry, it’s hard to imagine a time before their blinking lights and chimes colored the glitzy casino atmosphere.
Don’t expect them to go away anytime soon. In fact, considering the growing user base of online casinos and insatiable appetite for new games and graphics, expect many of the innovations in online casino technology to squarely target video slots. The slots themes are also expanding, with many sports-themed video slots also emerging to add to the immersive experience.