How to Play Slot Machines
Do you remember the first time you entered a casino as a beginner slots player? I know I do. What I remember most is being extremely confused. It was so dark, yet with so many lights. And
My intent is to be genuinely helpful to slots players. While I think I still have a long way yet to go, I also believe I have been somewhat of service so far.
But, perhaps you are only just beginning your slots journey. What have I done for you to ease your way into becoming a healthy, happy slots enthusiast? So, this blog is for you, the beginner slots player, to, well, help.
Throughout this blog article, I’ll be referencing other articles I’ve written on various aspects of slot machine casino gambling. These articles are freely available to all.
This article has the following sections:
- Introduction to Learn How to Play Slot Machines
- Entering a Casino for the First Time
- My Initial Gambling Rules
- The Changing State of Gambling, in Brief
- Beginning Your Slots Journey
- The Golden Rule
- Journey into the Unknown
- Summary of Learn How to Play Slot Machines
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Entering a Casino for the First Time
My first experience at slot machine gambling was in 2003 at a small tribal casino (Kewadin Casino) in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I was taking a long drive back to graduate school in Iowa after visiting family in the lower peninsula and had found a hotel at which to spend the night.
A casino was located just down the highway from that hotel. I wasn’t aware of the casino being there until the hotel provided $20 worth of tokens to play at it.
I remember feeling a little nervous about entering a casino for the first time in my life. I mean, what would my family of non-gamblers think? But, I gathered up my courage and went on in.
I found it to be a highly distracting place: loud, lots of flashing lights, and smoke. This was a time when smoking was more fashionable than it is today, so there was a great deal of cigarette and cigar smoke in the air. This is still true today in some states, such as Nevada, although ventilation has gotten a whole lot better.
I distinctly remember rapidly spending the $20 worth of tokens on slots. Plus, another $50 besides which I could ill afford to lose. At the time I was a poor graduate student on a research stipend working a side job as a temporary instructor of college physics. I’d just spent my food money for the trip home.
Did I win anything that first time at a casino? No, I don’t think so. Why don’t I know if I had won or not? Frankly, how would I have known if I had? If I did, it wasn’t enough to grab my attention.
Maybe a few numbers changed on the player’s console, and the slot machine made an unusual sound. So? What of it? From my perspective, it was doing that every time I made a bet anyway.
I left the casino after having spent $50 I could barely afford to lose. As I continued home on that long road trip, I started thinking about gambling with slot machines. Since then, I’ve more-or-less never really stopped doing so.
After a few months of dwelling on that first experience, I happened to be visiting the Omaha Zoo just over the western border of Iowa in Nebraska. There, I saw a casino on the river. Hint: it was a riverboat casino.
With those months of thinking figuratively behind me, I’d concluded from my first visit that I needed a rule for how much I should allow myself to spend whenever, or if ever, I entered another casino.
The careful rule I came up with was this: “Take a fixed amount into the casino, say $25, and spend only that plus whatever you make from it.”
With this simple rule and $25 in hand, I entered this second casino at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday … and left almost 12 hours later at 1 a.m. Yes, that’s right, 12 hours. Why? Because I’d carefully followed my rule.
My error was that I hadn’t been prepared for success. This has continued to plague me, by the way. The error which my simple rule didn’t account for was this: Almost immediately after entering this second casino, I won $500 on a 25-cent slot machine.
Doing so left me feeling quite emotional, which inclined me to try to stick firmly to the rule – which I proceeded to do. As the afternoon and evening passed into the early morning, I continued to win additional small, nontaxable jackpots.
Eventually, I spent my $25 along with what I’d won with it. And so, this was my second experience at a casino. I’d gone from slots gambling for 10 minutes to a marathon 12-hour session.
I did try to find a hotel that morning, instead of driving home at such a late hour (and coming as close as I’ve ever gotten to hitting a deer on the highway), but the nearby hotel wouldn’t accept a credit card – only cash.
The hotel staff insinuated that people would provide a credit card to the hotel upon arrival, but afterward max out their credit limit at the casino. At check-out, they wouldn’t be able to pay their hotel bill the following morning. That shocked me.
My point here isn’t about my not being able to get a hotel room, but that this was my first real clue that gambling was … complicated. It consisted of more than just the act of making a bet by pushing a button.
It exists in a unique environment where loud sounds, flashing lights, second-hand smoke, and even gambling abuses can occur. How fascinating!
My Initial Gambling Rules
After these first two casino gambling experiences, I spent more and more time thinking about them without much progress in learning how to win. I wasn’t yet thinking about how to win, however. Rather, I was mostly thinking about the potential dangers of what I was getting myself into.
Eventually, I made a decision to keep trying to figure out this whole slots gambling thing. I wasn’t expecting to win any significant amount of money, not ever. But, I was hoping not to lose a significant amount of money.
At the time, for me, my primary motivation was wanting to develop better control over my emotions while gambling at a casino. When there, I was feeling overwhelmed by my strong emotions. I didn’t like feeling ruled, at times almost controlled, by my emotions.
If my reaction to these strong emotions was a personal weakness, I knew I wouldn’t just find myself exposing this behavior at a casino. I could potentially be surprised by it at any other time. For example, while living my life or when working professionally. I felt I needed to understand and, if I could, address it.
So, with this reasoning in mind for proceeding with gaining additional slot machine gambling experiences, I took a long look around where I lived for any nearby casinos within driving distance. As it happened, there was a nice casino relatively nearby.
This local casino (Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa) had table games, floors of slot machines, a high limit slot room, and horse racing. And, oh, the splendor of the buffet!
To all my senses, it was simply delightful. So, with that limited assessment of a gambling establishment, about every month or more I’d take about $25 from my monthly stipend to go there with the full expectation of gambling it all away on slot machines.
But, would I…? For what happened next, you’ll need to take a look at another article called How to Win at Slots at Older Casinos Built Before 2012. But, that’s my story. Instead, let’s talk about your story.
The Changing State of Gambling, in Brief
Legal large-scale gambling in the U.S. started in Nevada in 1931. There was Las Vegas, of course, but also Reno, Lake Tahoe, and others. It basically stayed there until legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1978.
Legalized gambling in Atlantic City provided casinos convenient to gamblers on the east coast. And, this balance of gambling between Nevada and Atlantic City continued until around the end of the 1980s. At that point, everything started changing more and more rapidly.
Basically, in 1988 tribal casinos became permitted by federal law. Although, tribes did need to negotiate state-tribal compacts with the state their reservations were located within. These negotiations typically took years.
Another substantial change happened in the early 1990s when riverboat casinos became legal in several midwestern states. Originally, state law required these casinos to travel on water, or at least unmoor from a dock, before any gambling could occur.
In the mid-90s, online gambling started up outside of the U.S. This got out of control fast, until various legal restrictions began protecting players. For a while, this protection was to block online gambling in the continental U.S.
By doing so, the U.S. Senate was not just protecting players, but also land-based casinos hurt by online gambling from outside the U.S. Not long after, Canada did much the same. Besides tribal gaming, this was the limit of federal laws restricting gambling in the U.S. until the banning and recent un-banning of sports betting at the federal level.
What all this means is simple. Gambling has become prevalent in the U.S., especially the most popular type of gambling there is: slot machine casino gambling.
There is another side of the coin, as it were, to all this growth and expansion of gambling. All through these changes to the gaming industry in the U.S. and abroad, the technology of gambling was also growing and expanding.
For example, as you might imagine, the impact of microchips and the internet was profound to slots. For a succinct article capturing these near-constant technological developments of slots machines, see my article on it called The Ultimate Guide to Slot Machine History.
My point of view is that slot machine casino gambling has changed a lot in the last few decades. Further, I believe that these changes will keep on happening. Knowing what has happened in the past will help us understand the future.
Some of the biggest changes occurring right now are related to slot machines no longer being fully random. Frankly, there are degrees of randomness. In the past, most casinos controlled the odds of winning on a slot machine by having slots mechanics physically adjust the odds on a regular schedule perhaps 2 weeks long.
Nowadays, at casinos built or heavily renovated since 2012, this is automated. Doing so both reduced the casino labor force and provided a near real-time understanding of the performance of the casino for its operator.
And therein lies the secret to winning at slot machine casino gambling. But, all that is a bit much for the beginner slots player. What you need to know is, the randomness of slot machines isn’t always fully random. There are patterns to this randomness and, if you know to look for them, you can find them.
Beginning Your Slots Journey
Maybe you’ve yet to visit a casino. Maybe you have visited a casino and wondered what the heck just happened. You might even have gone many times, but want to restart your slots journey for one of several reasons.
If you’re just started on your slots journey, you may not know how much playing slots has changed so much in the last few years. That’s fine, as more than a few regular slots players haven’t kept up with all the changes of late. Or, rather, what the changes mean.
So, let us begin your journey together. Your first step? Well, it’s probably not visiting a casino. Your first step is getting online. Most people have several casinos near them. In Iowa, for instance, every resident has at least one casino within an hour drive.
So, what about you? How many casinos are near you? Well, I shouldn’t explain how to use Google, but here’s a hint: Type “casinos near me” in Google. Doing so will show a map with all the casinos in your area. Cool, huh?
What you want to do is visit their websites. See what they have to offer that you might like. You’re likely not entirely focused on gambling. For instance, you’ll probably want a nice meal occasionally. So, look at what nearby casinos have to offer which might interest you.
That’s about all the preparation you’ll need to start, other than the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule
There is a danger to gambling for the first time. I’m not a medical professional, so I cannot explain this danger as well as I would like. But this is the danger: You don’t know how you will involuntarily react to gambling until you do it the first time.
It’s kind of like that first alcoholic drink. With it, some people immediately realize they are an alcoholic. It can ruin lives, and doing something about it successfully will be a life-long endeavor.
I don’t mean to scare you. Not at all. Many people find recreational gambling to be quite entertaining. But, others find out they are compulsive gamblers. This can be hard on everyone. So, I have a few things to share about it.
First, please understand that casino’s reprimand employees, or fire them, if they tell a casino patron they are spending too much money and should go home. That’s just the sad truth. On the other hand, advertisements all over casinos explain how to get help.
Second, I don’t encourage non-gamblers to gamble. I assume anyone who finds me is deliberately looking for information on slots gambling. But, if you decide you want to gamble, then I take it as my responsibility to explain how to do it.
Third, there truly is a Golden Rule. Here it is: Don’t spend any money at a casino which you cannot afford to comfortably lose. That means you’re spending disposable income, which is money left over after all your bills are paid along with an additional amount put into your savings account of choice.
Journey into the Unknown
I suppose we should also discuss how a slot machine operates. Most newcomers sit down at a slot machine, put some money in, and start pushing some buttons. But, what do the buttons do?
There are several physical components to slot machines, including various interfaces with the player. I’ve already written an article about the common elements of a slot machine called How Slot Machines Work from a Player’s Perspective.
That article, or at least the schematic of a slot machine found in it, should go a long way toward taking the mystery out of how all the buttons, etc., work on a slot machine.
Another thing you’ll want to do is get a player’s club card from the casino. At its simplest, this is like your grocery card. In exchange for your contact information, you can earn points by spending money on gambling. They’ll also make some interesting offers.
You’ll get free stuff from the casino, most likely starting when you sign up. Sometimes, in the long term, it’s often the only way gamblers make a profit. Here’s another article with my explanation about these casino rewards clubs called Seven Advantages of Players Clubs for Playing Slots.
So, let’s recap what I’ve pulled together for you to start at slots:
- Go to the websites of casinos near you to understand their differences relative to your wants and needs.
- Check to make sure you have some amount of disposable income if you want to play slots.
- Visit your casino of choice and get a player’s club card at the front counter or kiosk.
- Pick a slot machine, make a bet, and see what happens next.
So, what does happen next? One example would be what happened to me, as explained. Or, something similar. If I had one wish for you, it would be this. I hope you don’t win.
That’s probably shocking, but it really is for the best. If you win big at your first visit to a casino, it sets an unrealistic expectation you might take years to recover from … if ever. I hope you win big on your second visit to a casino. That’s what happened to me.
Once you’ve visited the casino a few times, maybe you’ll want to know more about why casinos are the way they are. If so, I have plenty of articles about them. But, they may be too soon. When you’re ready, they’ll be waiting here for you.
I hope you have a good time at the casino playing slots. As I’m always saying: Have fun, be safe, and make good choices.
Summary of Learn How to Play Slot Machines
Too often a beginner slots player gets lost. So much is happening at once in a casino! Lights! Sounds! Smoke! There really is a lot going on for beginners. And, unfortunately, a casino doesn’t help. After all, it isn’t in their best interest to help.
Savvy slots enthusiasts understand what they are doing. They are all self-taught. Well, it’s time to fix that. With this primer, a beginner slots player doesn’t start from zero.
Why? Because I’ve explained the basics. When you’re ready for more information on playing and winning at slots, it’ll be here for you. Best of luck and let me know if you have any questions!
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