When you’re playing the slots, there’s nothing you can do to change the payback percentage. You win when you get lucky, and you lose when you don’t.
It’s all a matter of chance. There are no blackjack- or video poker-like strategies that can cut into the house’s mathematical edge.

However, there are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of getting what you want out of a game, whether that’s the best chance at a big payoff or the best chance to extend your bankroll while waiting for the big hit.

Here are 10 slot machine tips for getting the most out of your playing time:

1. For extended play, look for fewer paylines

2. If a chance at big wins are what you’re after, look for free spin bonuses

3. Check to see if there are incentives to bet bigger

4. If you’re going to play progressive slots, make sure you’re eligible for the jackpots

5. Take tips on hot games with a grain of salt

6. If taxes are a concern, watch the pay tables

7. In pick’em bonuses, results of one bonus don’t give you any clue as to what to choose next time

8. Stay focused. Even on a no-strategy game like slots, mistakes can be costly

9. When you have free play, consider having a go at video poker

10. Don’t overbet your bankroll to chase a higher payback percentage

1. For extended play, look for fewer paylines

Nearly all video and online slot players cover all the paylines. On many newer games,  you don’t even have an option of playing fewer lines.
The largest share of players bets one coin per line. On a 1-cent slot with 50 paylines, they bet 50 cents per spin. They’d bet 30 cents for 30 lines or 40 cents for 40 lines.

For a player on a budget, that makes a big difference. If you’re betting 50 cents, then $20 guarantees you 40 spins, while betting 30 cents makes it 66 spins with 20 cents left toward the next spin. Per 1,000 spins – between an hour and two depending on your speed of play – you wager $500 with 50 lines and $300 with 30 lines. 

Payback percentages are not dependent on the number of paylines, so if you’re on a budget, you have a better chance of staying in action longer if you play games with fewer lines. Maybe you’ll even stay in action long enough for a big win to come your way.

2. If a chance at big wins are what you’re after, look for free spin bonuses

The converse is also true. Pick’em bonuses usually serve to extend play rather than result in big wins.
In the early days of video slots, when the most common coin denomination was 5 cents, pick’em bonuses were the primary prizes. Everybody won something in the pick’ems, and while the big prizes were nice wins, they weren’t thousands of times your bet.

Once 1-cent slots rose to popularity, game makers needed to enable bigger bonuses. A 200-coin bonus that was worth $10 on a nickel slot was only $2 on a penny slot. 
Free spin bonuses add volatility. You might go through a free spin bonus without winning any credits, but the tradeoff is that you sometimes will have wins big enough to make a 1-cent player feel as if the prize is worthwhile.

Some slots, both online and offline, muddle the picture by having both free spin and pick’em bonuses, but by and large, if the main bonus is free spins, the game is more volatile than if the main bonus is a pick’em.

3. Check to see if there are incentives to bet bigger

On three-reel slots, payback percentages are higher with bigger bets because there is a disproportionate jump in the top jackpot if you bet the max.
That’s usually not true on video slots, but it’s worth reading the welcome screen and the pay table to see if there is any such incentive.

One recent twist has come on IGT’s new Fortune Link slots. In one configuration, the welcome screen tells you it takes six special symbols to reach the Fortune bonus if your coin denomination is 1 cent or 2 cent, but only five at 5 or 10 cents and four at $1 or $2.

That leaves a decision. If you’re usually a 1-cent player who bets five coins per payline, it could benefit you to choose a 5-cent denomination and play one coin per line instead. The total bet is the same, but you get a faster route to the bonus by choosing the higher denomination.
You can only spot such opportunities if you read the welcome screen and pay table or help menu before you start betting.

4. If you’re going to play progressive slots, make sure you’re eligible for the jackpots

On many video and online slots, you’re eligible for progressive jackpots through wagers of any size. That’s especially true of slots with mystery jackpots, where you can win a jackpot even on a losing spin.

However, three-reel slots usually require maximum-coin wagers to be eligible for progressives. And some video slots require a side bet to pay for your progressive chance. Often, there will be a separate button for the progressive bet.

Because some of the game’s payback is through the jackpots, progressive slots usually pay less than non-progressives on non-jackpot spins. Don’t settle for a lower paying game. Make sure you make the bets necessary to be eligible for the jackpots. If you can’t afford those bets, choose a non-progressive game.

5. Take tips on hot games with a grain of salt

Regardless of whether the tip comes from a friend who has a favorite online game or a slot attendant at an offline casino, they don’t really know if a game is high paying.
All games have hot streaks and cold streaks. Your advisers are well-intentioned, but all they know is that a game HAS been hot, not whether it will continue to pay at a high rate.
When a friend, a slot attendant or anyone else tips you off on a hot machine, smile, thank them, then play the games you like.

6. If taxes are a concern, watch the pay tables

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service requires casinos to have you sign a form W2-G before you’re paid on any jackpot of $1,200 or more. The IRS considers any gambling winnings as taxable income, and it’s up to you to report, but at the $1,200 level the casino must make sure the win is reported.

One classic example is the longtime Bally three-reel slot favorite Blazing 7s. On dollar slots with a three-coin maximum bet, the progressive jackpot for three blazing 7s starts building at $1,000.

If one machine shows a jackpot of $1,127 and the machine next to it shows $1,205, a win at the lower jackpot will not require automatic reporting while the bigger jackpot will. In that case, many players will choose to play for the smaller pot.

7. In pick’em bonuses, results of one bonus don’t give you any clue as to what to choose next time

Imagine a simple bonus round in which you pick A, B or C. The first time you play, the smallest bonus is under B. It can be tempting to choose B the next time, under the theory that it’s more likely to have a bigger payoff the next time.
That’s not the way it works. The distribution of bonuses is random, and any size payoff can be in any position regardless of past results.
A real-world example: A man wrote to say he’d seen a woman playing Jackpot Party pick save her bonus round by picking a hat among five party favors after she’d picked party-ending “Pooper.”

The hat revealed a “Party Saver,” and she went back to the bonus round. The man next to her told her, “Whatever you do, next time up, don’t pick the hat. That Saver rotates around.”
Where was the Saver the next time? Under the hat. Any result can be in any location any time you go to the bonus.

8. Stay focused. Even on a no-strategy game like slots, mistakes can be costly

On video slots in which you can choose the number of paylines you play, don’t just automatically assume the player before you was betting all the paylines. A reader wrote to say she put her money in a video slot, pushed a button to bet and line up five oranges across the bottom. 
Her payback? Zero. 

It seems the previous player had been betting only one line, and this woman’s first wager just repeated that bet. Make sure you select the number of lines you want

9. When you have free play, consider having a go at video poker

If your goal is just to play the games you like, then by all means, use free play at your usual slot machines.
But there are times when players like to use their free play for going-home money. One player even wrote to say he saved free play until he had $100, then played it through once to see how much he could cash out.

He wondered what would give him the best chance of taking the most cash home. Video poker games usually have higher payback percentages than slot machines and more frequent winners.

A low volatility game such as Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker, which pay 2-for-1 on common two pair hands, won’t give you huge wins unless you catch lightning in a bottle with a royal flush. But they give you a good shot at taking a large portion of that $100 home.

10. Don’t overbet your bankroll to chase a higher payback percentage

It’s true that slot machines at higher coin denominations have higher payback percentages. Dollar games pay more than 25-cent games, which pay more than 5-cent games, which pay more than 1-cent games.
However, betting bigger puts more money at risk. Average losses are bigger on higher denomination machines despite the payback percentage difference.

If you bet 50 cents per spin for 1,000 spins on a 1-cent slot that pays 87 percent, you risk $500 and have an average loss of $65. If you bet the max $3 per spin on a $1 slot that pays 95 percent, you risk $15,000 and have an average loss of $750.
If you can afford to chase higher payback percentages, great. Players of modest means need to proceed with caution.

About the Author
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With digital marketing strategies in his blood, Louis Wheeler has traveled around the world, exploring gambling cultures and gaining experience in casino games from 2003. If you are in a casino anywhere around the planet, you may find him right next to you, playing blackjack, roulette or texas hold'em.