A Brief History of Slot Machines
Slot machine history shows us that the oldest known example of the slot machine, as we know it today, was made by Charles Fey at the turn of the 20th century. This machine, called the Liberty Bell, improved on an earlier design that used five drums with card faces drawn on them to simulate the drawing of a poker hand. There were different prizes that corresponded with drawing poker hands of different value, and because the machine had no payout mechanism, these prizes were given to players by the establishment in which the machine was installed.
The Liberty Bell machine, however, changed the layout from 5 drums with 10 icons each to 3 reels with 5 icons each. This simplified the design of the machines significantly, making the Liberty Bell easier to manufacture and allowing for an automatic payout system. In fact, many of the design elements of the Liberty Bell, such as the 3-reel design and the use of fruit icons—have stood the test of time and can still be found in some of the best Canadian casinos today.
How Do Slot Machines Work?
As we touched on earlier, all slot games, (mechanical or otherwise) share the same basic gameplay process. That means you should already have a pretty good idea of how to play casino slots if you have already played at a machine before. But just as a refresher, here is the general sequence of a game of slots:
- The player puts credits into the slot game, either physically or electronically.
- The player selects a bet amount and pulls the lever or presses the ‘Spin’ button.
- The slot machine spins the reels until they come to a stop.
- The slot machine checks the symbols that land on the paylines and pay out winnings to the player if certain combinations are found.
Types of Slot Games
While the basic gameplay of all slot games is generally the same, the mechanisms behind it have changed significantly over the decades as technology continues to improve and slots game developers continue to innovate in their designs. So to properly explain how slot games work, we’ve outlined four types of slot games that you will see in a money casino online or offline.
Mechanical slots are the oldest form of slot games that we know of, and are so named as the gameplay is handled by physical moving parts. Fully mechanical slots games run on spring-loaded components, which are activated with a complete pull of the lever. This sets the reels in motion and activates a mechanical clock that keeps the reels spinning for a random amount of time before they are slowed down to a halt. Later machines would make use of electric power (but not electronics) to spin and slow the reels with motors and brakes, as well as add lights for a bit more appeal.
Video slots are also called digital slots and are the next step in the evolution of the slot machine, and drop the gears and clockwork of their predecessors in favour of circuit boards and electronics. As such, the physical reels have been replaced with screens that simulate spinning reels with animations.
Instead of a mechanical clock, the randomness of video slots is achieved with a random number generator or RNG. This is essentially a few lines of code programmed into the machine’s microprocessor to cycle through a set of numbers at random, determining the outcomes of the spinning reels based on the result of the RNG.
This switch to electronic operation has allowed slot games to incorporate additional layers of gameplay on top of the typical reel-spinning action, such as payout multipliers, free spins, or even entirely separate bonus reels when you complete certain actions in the game.
Online slots represent the cutting edge of slot games as we know them, taking all of the innovations accumulated in the space over the decades and taking them a step further. As the name suggests, online slots are housed completely in software instead of a physical machine. Being freed from the shackles of a physical medium means that slot game developers can do just about whatever they want with their games in terms of graphics, sounds, and gameplay.
Another key benefit of the software-based approach is that slot games could now be played on much more than those big, bulky machines you see in land-based casinos. As online slots are, well, online, all you need to play them is a decent Internet connection and any device that can run a modern web browser. So if you are looking to play at a casino on your mobile phone, desktop computer, a laptop, or even a tablet device, you can easily play the latest online slots games.
Slot Game Mechanics
Now that we have a solid understanding of the core systems behind slot games, the next step is to learn some of the gameplay mechanics that developers have introduced into their spins on the slot game formula.
The payline refers to a row of icons on the slot reels that are checked by the machine to determine if the player has won and what payout they should receive.
Traditionally, slot machines only had one payline, which is the middle row of icons on all of the reels. But as slot machine designs became more complex over time, the payline systems also followed suit. As an example, our typical three-reel slot machine would have up to 5 paylines—one for each of the three rows of icons per reel and two for each diagonal going across the reels.
Now, these paylines didn’t necessarily need to be straight lines across the reels. Again owing to the wholly digital nature of online slots, slot game developers could have the game check for paylines that most inexperienced players don’t even know are there, zig-zagging across the reels in various patterns.
But as with most casino games, there is a bit of a catch. Especially in 5-reel games (which makes up most of the slots games you can play today), the slot game will actually lock out certain paylines or reels depending on how much you bet on a spin. As you can probably tell, this mechanic is meant to encourage players to bet higher on their spins in an attempt to chase higher payouts, while also increasing the casino’s earnings just a bit more.
We mentioned earlier that the slot game pays out different amounts based on what symbols land on the paylines. And to know exactly how much to payout, the game references an internal pay table, which is a list of all of the combinations of symbols that the game counts as a win, as well as their corresponding payout values. On physical machines, the pay tables are typically printed out on a conspicuous area on the front of the machine, while the pay tables are usually found in the help menu on online slots apps instead.
Return to Player Rate (RTP)
To maximise your earning potential when playing slots, it’s important to check the pay tables and see which ones generally payout the most on average. This is typically quantified by something called the Return to Player rate, or RTP rate.
The RTP can be thought of as a slot machine’s version of the house edge in other casino games—specifically, it is the average percentage of the player’s wagers that are paid back out to the player as winnings. So for an example slot game that has an RTP of 90% and has had $1000 wagered on it, the game is programmed to pay out $900 in player winnings, with the remaining $100 going to the game’s developer and/or the casino that hosted it.
Now, there are two details about the RTP that you should be aware of before going off hunting for a 99% RTP slot game to play on. The first is that the RTP is a long-term average, which means that the number is the result of simulating the slot game over thousands or even millions of attempts. This, of course, shouldn’t be too surprising; as the end result of any roulette spin is either a win or a loss, there is no way for you to actually get 99% of your wager back. This also means that your play session could very well end in you leaving with a profit, burning through your entire bankroll, or somewhere in between.
The second thing you should be aware of is that most slot game developers don’t actually publish the RTP values of their games. This, of course, gives the developer the advantage as players are made unaware of how much the game is going to pay out. Knowing this, many of the RTP numbers you'll find on most slot game reviews were computed by third-party analysts who have performed the simulations necessary to get a relatively accurate final figure.
Arguably one of the most popular mechanics of modern games is the chance to land the full value of a progressive jackpot slot game payout. This jackpot, as its name suggests, increases its value progressively from a portion of the money earned from all of the other slot games that share the same jackpot pool.
One can think of it almost like a lottery for slot games—which, in many cases, it is. For one, progressive jackpots winnings can balloon to astronomical amounts at times. Just as an example, the Guinness Book of World Records lists the highest slot game payout at nearly 25 million Canadian dollars. The most interesting detail about this is that there have since been higher reported progressive slot payouts, except that they didn’t qualify for the records as the winners chose to stay anonymous.
And of course, with every high jackpot is attached an equally low chance of actually winning. So while the allure of landing that progressive jackpot is nice, we strongly recommend that you avoid spending too much money and effort on it if you’re trying to come out of the game with more money than you had when you started.
Tips for Playing Slots Games
Now that you’re all up to speed on what you can expect from online slots gameplay, we’ve shared a few tips to help you get the most enjoyment out of your gaming experience.
Before anything else, though, we do want to clarify that slot games have no winning strategy. If you ever encounter anyone on the internet that is preaching about this “secret technique” to win slots, they are either lying or selling you something, which is also probably a lie because there is no reliable way to earn a profit from slots for a variety of reasons we will get into later.
So here are some of our top tips for playing slot games, which apply the same way whether you’re playing in a land-based or an online casino.
Don’t fall for slot game superstitions
One of the most interesting aspects of slot games is the incredible amount of superstition that surrounds them. Now, holding certain beliefs or traditions around the game is by no means a bad thing; if anything, superstition is a valuable addition to the gaming culture and adds to the experience a bit more than you might think.
However, we do advise that you avoid taking these superstitions to heart, especially if your goal is to try to make a profit from your play session. One widely-held belief among slot machine players is that certain machines are “tighter” (have a lower payout chance) or “looser” (have a higher payout chance), and that these machines are placed by casinos in specific locations. While this sounds absurd by most accounts (which it is), there are actually some shreds of truth in this belief.
In particular, the idea that some machines are more or less likely to pay out is actually partly true; this is the RTP or return to player rate that we explained earlier in this article. But there are, of course, catches; one of which is that copies of the same slot machine from the same developer generally share the same RTP, even if those machines are located in entirely different casinos.
Avoid free slots games
Believe it or not, there are actually some slots games out there that offer free spins no deposit in Canada. And when we tell you to avoid them, it’s not because they are necessarily bad, but because they don’t pay out anything.
For some players, being able to neither lose nor gain money from playing slots can be a good thing, especially if their reason for playing is to simply watch some reels spin. But if you’re reading this guide, chances are you’re here to play for real money, and more importantly, win real money. And for that reason, we find it difficult to recommend free online slots games to our players, even if they are generally still slots games.
Take advantage of casino bonuses
If you’ve ever played at a land-based casino, chances are you’ve heard of the casino comps system. Comps are, simply put, the rewards you can redeem from a casino’s loyalty program. Depending on how many loyalty points you can rack up, the rewards you can redeem can range from simple things like extra chips and discounts on certain products to tickets to events and even hotel stays.
While the comps system is most common in land-based casinos, online casino operators have begun to implement similar loyalty systems, but are mostly restricted to digital goods on account of the fact that the casino runs completely online.
That being said, online casinos do offer something that their physical counterparts don’t - the casino welcome bonuses. Ranging from no deposit bonuses all the way to a casino match bonus on your initial deposits, we strongly recommend that any online casino player seek out these bonuses to get the most out of their online gaming experience.
Recognise good slot game developers
In many product markets, we're all quite familiar with the idea that there are certain competitors in that space that have a higher standard of quality over the rest. Some people, for example, will swear by electronics made by Apple or Samsung as their products are better than the competition in various ways.
In the same way, there are some casino game developers that raise the bar for the online casino experience, whether it is achieved through innovative gameplay, cutting edge graphics, or entertaining themes. Here are some slots you should look out for:
Microgaming slots games are mainly produced out of their head office in the Isle of Man. This developer rose to prominence as the developer of the very first online casino game – which just so happened to be a slot game.
International Game Technologies Slots
More commonly referred to as IGT slot games, this company is one of the most popular manufacturers of physical slot machines. Their forays into digital slots are not to be ignored, either. They have produced some of the most popular slot games online today.
Many of the earlier Playtech games were developed in Estonia. They have since grown to become one of the largest international slot developers in the market today. The company specialises in developing software for land based slot machines, as well as online versions of their games. Most well known for their slots, Playtech has since expanded their software portfolio into table games like poker and blackjack, as well as sports betting.
Read slot reviews
If you are a newer player, it might be difficult to find out whether a given online slot game is actually any good. Unless you just want to play free online slots, most online slot games are played with real money, meaning that (aside from bonuses) there is a bit of an upfront cost to playing an online slot game.
One of the ways you can get around this cost is with the help of third-party reviews. Whether it’s from other players or casino review sites like Inside Casino (that’s us!), reading other people’s reviews on an online casino or any specific casino game will give you a lot of useful information about them, from the quality of the game visuals to customer service and other important details without needing to pay or register to find out for yourself.
Speaking from our own experiences, dedicated Canadian online casino reviews in particular are more trustworthy when it comes to assessing the quality of a game or site as we have years of experience and knowledge of the online casino industry. And since we are third-party reviewers, we are completely independent from any biases in favour of certain casino operators or developers, meaning our reviews are honest, accurate, and fair.
Find and Play the Best Online Slots
As one of the few (if not only) casino games played at a machine and not a table, slot games have made a very smooth transition into the digital world when online casinos exploded in popularity. Taking a few cues from the video game industry, online slots feature some of the best visuals, sounds, and gameplay features out of all the games you can play in an online casino.
We hope that this guide into the wild world of online slots has helped you understand the many nuances of this deceptively simple game and that you can take these.