Slot machines have changed dramatically in the last century plus since their invention. They began as a fairly simple amusement device found in bars, liquor stores and cigar shops. The first machines even required payouts from a store employee though automatic payouts were one of the first innovations to come on line. Slot machines became popular during the early 20th century and started to become a legitimate industry onto themselves when the state of Nevada legalized gambling in 1931.

Since then they’ve moved from random locations nationwide and are now found primarily in land-based casinos in Nevada and elsewhere. There are a few other places you’ll find them in Nevada–grocery stores, airports and your local 7-11 store–but the corporate casino industry is trying to grind these third parties out of business. Other innovations have been technological in nature. Video screens are now commonplace, big progressive jackpots are very popular and the latest trend is ‘themed’ games built around a licenced movie or TV show property. The newest slot machines bear little resemblance to their forerunners and are more of a hybrid multimedia amusement device.

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People gamble for different reasons and that’s why you’ll find a variety of games at every land-based or online casino. Some players enjoy the modern ‘entertainment component’ and don’t worry as much about payout percentage and other factors. These players are a casino’s favorite and they’ll have no problem finding games that entertain and engage them. Other players are more discerning about their gambling and primarily concern themselves with getting the best chance possible to turn a profit or hit a jackpot. Casinos accommodate these players but they don’t make things as easy as they do for their more recreational counterparts.

No matter your game, if you’re looking to ‘give yourself the best of it’ you’ll have to do some work. Sports bettors have to ‘shop points’ and look for the best prices. Blackjack players have to hone their skills and find games with the best rules for their purposes. Slot machine players also have to do some work–not every casino and every game provides the same chance of winning. This is made even more difficult since it’s not possible to calculate the return percentage of a specific slot machine. For that reason, you have to use a bit of ‘detective work’ to find the most generous slot machine payouts.


The title of this section requires a bit of explanation. You shouldn’t play the slots (or any other casino game) if you don’t enjoy them. But there’s a distinction between entertainment and ‘excitement’. Simply put, the more ‘bells and whistles’ in your gambling experience the less likely you are to be maximizing your potential ‘return on investment’. If you’re playing at a land-based casino–particularly in a competitive market like Southern Nevada–you can look around and get a good feel for the ‘generosity’ of the slot machine you’re playing. The bigger, newer and/or flashier the casino the more likely that the slot machines don’t pay at a particularly high percentage. Everything you see around you has to be paid for and that invariably comes at the gambler’s expense. That’s why Las Vegas residents and experienced gamblers gravitate away from the big properties on ‘The Strip’ and look for locals casinos on Boulder Highway, downtown and elsewhere. These casinos don’t have volcanoes and light shows to bring in customers–they have to rely on high payout percentages to give gambling savvy customers a reason to venture away from the main tourist area.

This ‘bells and whistles’ concept also extends to the machine itself. If you’re playing a game based on a movie or TV show, the rights owner is getting a royalty. That’s coming at the player’s expense. In most cases, these games are also on a different ‘split’ between the casino and slots manufacturer. The more money that goes into their ‘pie’ the less there is for the player. The more entertainment features like video screens, bonus rounds, etc. are a similar concept. At the other end of the spectrum, the fewer ‘frills’ on a slot machine the more likely it is to offer a higher than average pay schedule.