How to Play Slots for Beginners | Slot Machine Basics

Online slots and in-person slot machines are the most iconic casino games in the world. Players who are not interested in the more strategic table games like blackjack or poker tend to gravitate to the lights. sounds, and the simplicity of slot games.

This beginner’s guide to slots will help you understand how slot machines work, including their history, the mechanics behind the game, and the slot terminology that can help you better understand this signature casino game.

How to Play Slots for Beginners _ Slot Machine Basics

The Origins of the Slot Machine

Slot machines are what give casinos around the world their signature sounds: levers being pulled, reels spinning, icons flashing, and prizes being won across the aisle.

Slots are more than just a popular diversion; they are the casino experience distilled down into its simplest form. The opportunity to change your life with one spin of the wheel is the type of gambling that draws so many people to casinos in the first place.

But, what’s the history behind slot machines and how did we get to online slots which are so popular today?

The first slot machine appeared in a gambling house in New York in 1891. A total of 50 icons based on familiar faces from the game of poker spun across five (5) reels. Gamblers pulled the lever and hoped to get a good poker hand, with prizes chosen based on the preference of the gambling establishment.

It cost a nickel to play. If you got a pair of Queens, you could get a free drink. If you got a full house, you could get cigars and a round of drinks for the house. It all depended on the proprietor’s preferences.

Later the same decade, it was decided that poker was too complicated of a gaming mechanism to produce the desired effect since the machines wouldn’t become truly profitable until its fully automated. No technology existed at the time to make this a reality given the numerous combinations possible in the game of poker.

This is where Charles Fey and the “Liberty Bell” came in. He reduced the spinning wheels to three (3) and cut down on the possible symbols to the four (4) suits of the playing cards (diamonds, hearts, spades, clubs) and the symbol of a Liberty Bell. The slot machine itself could recognize and calculate a win based on the symbol sequence.

By the early 1900s, bell slot machines were spreading across the country in barbershops, cigar stores, bowling alleys, saloons, and more. Even brothels made use of them to keep their patrons busy in case the employees were … occupied.

Later, the symbols were replaced with patriotic icons; later still, a variation called the Operator’s Bell was invented with a gum vending machine attached to it.

This feature is how fruit became part of the slot machine iconography: lemon, cherry, plum, and orange chewing gum. A picture of a stick of gum became the origin of the BAR symbol in the modern slot machine.

When the big companies (Jennings, Watling, Caille, etc.) started capitalizing on these slot machines, they kept the symbols and lost the chewing gum.

Food prizes were often used as incentives to avoid the gambling laws of some states at that time, but even these were eventually ruled (in State v. Ellis) to be subject to the same laws.

The Modern Slot Machine

Bally Manufacturing developed the first electronic slot machine in 1963. The machine, called Money Honey, was the first to offer gamblers the ability to win prizes too large to be contained in the machine.

As this model grew in popularity, the lever that you pull to spin the reels became an aesthetic choice rather than an actual mechanical function of the machine.

In 1976, the Fortune Coin Company introduced the first video slot machine in California. Soon after that, International Gaming Technology purchased the game technology and began placing the machines in casinos across the country.

Additional screens and improved visual displays came naturally over the next few decades until the slot machine became what it is today.

How To Win at Slots

You may be hoping for some secret strategies to beating slot machines, but the results are completely random and unaffected by anything you can change. Since nothing you do can change the outcome, how do you give yourself a better chance?

Only by understanding what you’re looking for when you choose your machine can you affect your slot machine experience at all.

Before playing a slot machine, ask yourself, “Do I want a higher chance of winning or a bigger possible jackpot?”

The only thing you can control in slots is which machine you play. Different machines — it varies among casinos and manufacturers — have a higher or lower chance of paying out. The higher the chance of a payout, the lower the payout will be.

Those looking for the largest possible jackpots should seek out progressive slot machines. This means that every bet placed on a network of linked machines contributes a small amount to a “global” pot that could be won by a lucky spin. When people win a progressive jackpot, it often makes the news.

Global pots are literal in the case of online slot machines, which operate on the same rules but are linked with many more players around the world; this makes them much more lucrative.

Again, however, you need to decide what’s more important to you based on your preferences and means. Mega Fortune, for instance, is a popular online progressive jackpot slot machine. Its pots are enormous (millions of dollars) but are awarded only rarely. By contrast, Fruit Mania awards its much smaller jackpot every four days, on average.

Choosing the right slot machine for you is the closest thing to “strategy” in slots, and that’s what gives the house its edge. The probability will always be on their side.

Basic Terms of Play in Slots

In the absence of concrete winning slots strategies, you need to be as knowledgeable as possible about the machines and all the terms associated with them. This is so you know what to expect and how to choose the right machine for you.


The bonus is one of the most distinguishing features among different slot machines. It’s one of the only factors that can be used to concretely choose between games.

When you get the right number of bonus symbols, you enter a bonus round, which is a series of free spins with new winning conditions. There may be multipliers, bonus prizes, or an increased number of a certain symbol.

Sometimes, a bonus round on an electronic slot machine is its own game. Icons may appear on the screen for you to match at random or select for your random prize of credits or cash.

Whether you’re playing on an online slot machine or in person, bonus rounds are the most exciting element of play for gamblers, since they’ve already won and are simply competing against chance for additional prizes.


This refers to a group of machines in a circle (you may remember them featured prominently in the 1996 gambling film, Hard Eight). These could be separate machines, or they could be linked to a progressive jackpot.

Free Spin

A free spin is a feature of many slot machines that awards the player a bonus spin of no additional charge after hitting the right number of specific symbols. Usually, the more symbols you have, the more spins you get.

During a free spin round, many machines offer additional prizes, including more spins and other goodies. Depending on the machine, all kinds of features could trigger during a free spin. You just have to experiment to find out what they are.

Hand Pay

Hand pay is a term used to describe winnings that are greater than a physical slot machine’s carrying capacity. An attendant or exchanger has to pay your winnings by hand, either in person or at the cage.


The payline is a literal line that passes through the symbols on the screen of your machine. It indicates which rows produce a winning combination when the symbols are matched. This is significant to understand because it tells you what you’re looking for when you spin (though you can’t control the outcome, it’s more fun to understand what you’re looking at).

Traditionally, a mechanical slot machine has 9 paylines for the rows, columns, and diagonals of the icons. However, modern video slot machines have lines of all shapes, from columns to triangles, and there could be dozens of payline possibilities.

The payline pattern is the first thing you should look at when you sit down to play a slot machine. You don’t want to spin a hand you think is perfect, only to find out that it’s not one of this machine’s particular paylines.


Variance is also called “volatility” in some gambling guides, and it’s an important term to understand (we’ve already talked about it a little, without using the term).

Variance refers to what we talked about earlier with the difference between each slot machine’s rate of payout and the amount of the payout. If a slot machine has what’s called “high-volatility” or “high variance,” it means that a winning pull is rarer but the value of the win is higher. This is vice versa for low variance machines.

Researching which machines have high or low variance is one of the few things you can do to affect the outcome of your gambling session. Depending on your experience level and bank account, you may prefer to go low or high.

We recommend that novices seek out low variance machines, those that payout frequently even though the pay is smaller. This is because, as we said, there’s no strategy to use to win a big jackpot on a high variance machine — most people who try for those have a ton of money to spend and a lot of time on their machine of choice.

If you’re keeping it casual on a vacation or a one-night stop in Atlantic City, you may want to shoot for the big jackpot — it’s random, but it offers a much larger payout.

However, if you’re looking for a slow and methodical game to kill time, low variance machines will probably be more enjoyable for you and less of a strain on your bank account.

If your funds are limited, you can gamble for longer on low variance machines, which is a great way to get experience for beginners.

Wild Symbols

Wild symbols will be different depending on which game you’re playing. Sometimes, they only appear in certain columns and can appear at any time in the place of anything except a jackpot icon. When you hit a wild, it’s up to the specific machine what happens next!

Mechanical Slots Terms

In addition to these functional terms, it might help to know some mechanical definitions so you’re more familiar with the machines themselves.


The candle is a light that flashes from the top of the slot machine when the operator is needed, either because the machine needs change or has a mechanical issue.


The hopper is a container under the machine that pays out coins to the gambler. If the amount you’ve won is too large, the payout may be redirected to a “drop box.”

Credit Meter

This shows up on the screen to tell you how many credits you have remaining.


This is the area where you exchange your chips or credits for cash from an attendant, so named because of its shape due to security precautions.


Tilt is an old term that refers to mechanical failures. Most people probably associate it more with pinball, where the idea of “tilt” is more literal. On a slot machine, it used to refer to circuit failure.

Now, anything that goes wrong with a slot machine that requires assistance, such as a faulty door switch or motor failure, is still referred to as a “tilt” even though the term no longer has any literal meaning.

What are Online Slots?

Online slots are the digital version of traditional slot machines and they are one of the most popular online casino games for players and virtual casinos.

Online slots try to mimic the game experience that you would have if you were playing a physical slot machine at a land-based casino, but they do have some unique gameplay that you won’t find at your favorite Atlantic City casino.

For example, many NJ online slots offer free play modes that will allow players to test or demo the game before playing for real money. This is unique to online slots and is a way for players to get a feel for the gameplay before gambling.

Additionally, online slots have much more interactivity than a land-based slot game. You’ll see more engaging visuals and dynamic bonus rounds that are much easier accomplished on a computer or mobile device than a physical slot game.

Online slots are extremely popular because they provide a convenient and easy way for people to gamble online. Instead of learning the strategy behind blackjack or poker, you can simply press a button and let lady luck handle the rest.

Slots Takeaway

Slots are the most popular and lucrative gambling machines for casinos, both in-person and online. They are also the most fun for many gamblers since they’re simple to play and require no strategy.

Despite this fact, many varying factors among different machines and casinos could affect the outcome of your game. That’s why it’s important to use this guide as a starting point for your understanding of slot machines and how you can make your investment count.

It may be luck, but there’s nothing quite like the thrill of hitting the jackpot. Just remember to always gamble within your financial means. Even if you win nothing, it could still be hours of fun.