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What Are Slot Machines and How Do They Work?

A slot machine is a gambling game with spinning reels. Those reels have symbols on them, which land randomly after you place a bet and spin the reels. If these symbols line up, you win prizes based on which symbols fall on that “payline”.

These games have been around since the late 19th century, but they’ve done nothing but grow in popularity since then. They were originally mechanical devices that relied on springs and gears to spin the reels. Modern slot machines use a computer program called a random number generator to determine which symbols land where.

A random number generator is a computer program that cycles through thousands of numbers per second. When you hit the spin button, the program stops wherever it’s at. These numbers correspond to stops and symbols on the reels.

To learn more about common myths you might run into, you can refer to our guide to common slot machine myths.

Early Slot Machines

Early slot machines had math that was easily understood. You might have 3 reels with 10 symbols on each of them. The odds of getting any particular symbol were equal—1/10. If you wanted to calculate the odds of getting a particular combination of symbols on a line, you just multiplied 1/10 X 1/10 X 1/10, for a result of 1/1000.

You could then compare the prize for lining those symbols up with the chances of hitting the combination to figure out the payback percentage for the machine. If a casino offered a 998 to 1 payout on a bet that had a 1/1000 chance of winning, that casino would have a small edge. Over time, they’d show a profit.

Modern Slot Machines

Modern slots are harder to calculate, because the symbols and reels are programmed into the computer. This makes the games more flexible in a lot of ways. They’re not limited by the size of the reels, for example.

Vintage mechanical slot machines could only have so many symbols on a reel before the game became literally and physically too large to be practical. But a game that’s powered by a computer might have 20 symbols per reel.

The other advantage for manufacturers is that they can adjust the odds of a particular symbol coming up. Some symbols might turn up once every 10 spins; others might only come up once every 20 or 30 spins. This enables the manufacturers and the casinos to offer larger jackpots and still maintain their profitability.

Slots games are available in multiple denominations and have multiple features available. You can play for pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars. You can play games with 5 reels and 25 paylines. Scatter symbols, wild symbols, bonus games, and progressive jackpots all add spice and variety to these games.

It’s little wonder that an estimated 70% to 80% of most United States casinos’ revenue stems directly from these slot machines.

You can find a complete history of slot machines on this page.

Below you can also visit our page that has our complete list of slot games and free playable versions of those games as well.

Online slot machines

Online slot machines work just like their land-based counterparts. All the action is handled virtually, though, through your computer and the Internet. But the random number generators work exactly the same.

In fact, most casino software providers make online slot machines that rival their land-based counterparts in terms of graphics, gameplay, and sound effects. You might find fewer licensed properties at some online casinos, but you’ll also find an astounding variety of original games to choose from.

Online slots offer 2 distinct advantages over their land-based counterparts, too:

  • Free play options.

  • Higher payback percentages.