Machines are nice because you don’t have to interact with anyone (unless you want to), and the minimum bet is lower than tables. There are three main types of machines: video poker, slots, and keno. Although the odds (with the exception of Video Poker) are worse than table games, you’re able to slow roll and bet small/infrequently to get free drinks.
Advantages of Machines
Lower minimum bets
Machines have lower minimums than table games, which means that you can bet less per wager. Whereas $5 is the cheapest bet you’ll be able to make at a table, you can bet as low as 1¢ per spin on machines. My recommended Video Poker bet is $1.25 per hand, and my recommended Slot bet is 40¢-80¢ per spin. Don’t be fooled, though, as the rate of play is much faster on machines, so you may end up wagering just as much.
You choose the pace
At machines, you’re in complete control of your speed of play; if you really wanted to, you could sit at a machine and make one spin per hour, or one spin per second (like I’ve been known to do when I’m drunk and/or on tilt). This is especially useful when you employ the practice I call “slow rolling“ — betting infrequently (mainly when a cocktail waitress is nearby) to get very inexpensive drinks.
Come and go
Because your play on machines does not affect anyone else’s outcomes, there’s no table etiquette that dictates how long you should stay at a machine. You can post up for hours (I kid you not, I’ve seen people at the same machine the next day before), or try one spin and leave. Sometimes I enjoy taking advantage of this and bouncing from machine to machine after one or two spins. This lends itself well to smaller bankrolls or killing time, as well as enabling fun games among friends like casino golf.
See points as you earn
Although you shouldn’t be too concerned with earning points, machines enable you to see how many you’re earning as you play. This can be helpful when you are trying to hit a certain amount for a promotion or giveaway.
Many of my friends feel that machines are more approachable for new players since they don’t have to worry about interacting with anyone else or inadvertently violating table etiquette. While this may hold true, I firmly believe that table games can be just as accessible and fun, and will show you how on Viva Las Value.
Disadvantages of Machines
Machines are solitary, so it can be harder to talk to people (which could also be an advantage depending on your mood/introversion). While there are some chatty slot players, many prefer to be left alone; it’s kind of like having neighbors on an airplane — use your judgment, but don’t keep talking if they’re not responding enthusiastically.
Even as an introvert, I enjoy interacting with people at casinos. I’ve met some of the biggest characters and created some of my most cherished memories at tables. From my Singaporean businessman friend, the countless fascinating conversations I’ve had, to a 3am Fireball table shot, there’s something to be said for the power of befriending other people who are in Vegas to have a good time. Bartop Video Poker can help offset some of this, but there’s a certain magic at table games.
Higher rate of play
Unless you’ve got the patience of Gandhi, you will be making a lot of bets; the average gambler places 20-30 bets per minute at a machine. While 50¢ bets may seem small, they add up quickly at that rate; I’ve burned through a $20 in under 5 minutes on a machine more times than I care to admit (my intoxication and/or tilt may have also been a factor, so don’t let this scare you off).
The tradeoff for more approachable games is lower odds. Video Poker has excellent odds with proper strategy, but Slots and Keno are some of the worst bets you can make in the casino in terms of long-term payout. The longer you play Slots, the more the lower payout (85%-95%) creeps up on you. With the higher rate of play, this can quickly burn through your bankroll, especially at higher denominations.
For the most part, machines are pretty straightforward. The only confusing part of machines is that they convert your cash into credits based on the denomination (often abbreviated denom) of the machine.
The most common denominations are 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, $1, $2, $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100.
These denominations are also referred to by their corresponding currency, so you will often hear them called a penny machine (1¢ credits), quarter machine (25¢ credits), dollar machine ($1 credits), and so forth.
If you put a $20 bill into a penny machine, you would get 2000 credits (or 400 in a nickel machine, 80 in a quarter machine, or 20 in a dollar machine).
These credits correspond with the bet buttons beneath the screen. So if the buttons give you options to “BET 40/80/120/160/200 CREDITS” on a penny machine, you’d be betting 40/80/120/160/200 pennies.
However, if you were on a dime machine, your 40 credit bet would be $4. This is why it’s essential to check the denomination before making your first bet — the last thing you want is to accidentally bet your entire bankroll on one or two spins! (You may laugh, but both myself and a friend have accidentally blown a $20 in one ill-fated spin on a $5 machine).
The denomination will be clearly posted on the screen, as long as you know to look for it. It is often on the bottom or in a corner, though it varies by game. If you’re looking for a penny game, keep your eyes peeled for “1¢=1 credit”, 1¢ in a circle or box, or any other indication. (Note: some machines are multi-denomination and you can change the denomination by tapping on this box).
When you insert your cash, the machine will display it in credits. Older machines would only display credits, but newer machines tend to display both, or at least give you the option to switch views. To see if your machine does this, touch the box where your credits are displayed. This is also a good time to double check that you are at the correct denomination.
As you play, all of your wins will be displayed in credits. So remember to adjust your excitement accordingly; if you win 100,000 credits on a penny machine, you should definitely celebrate your $1000, but you probably shouldn’t call and tell your boss to kiss your ass.
Buying In and Cashing Out
Buying in and cashing out is pretty simple on machines.
You will initially buy into machines with cash, but when you collect your winnings, you will receive a TITO (ticket in, ticket out) voucher. This is a white paper about the size of a dollar that has a barcode and the value on it. It will work like cash at other machines (it can’t be used at table games or bars, though). To buy into a machine, you can insert any combination of cash and/or TITO vouchers into the glowing green slot.
To cash out, you can bring your TITO to one of the Redemption Machines/Bill Breakers located throughout the casino floor. They look like an ATM (and often have criminally overpriced ATM functionality), and have two glowing slots for you to insert your vouchers. You can insert multiple TITOs into the machine before cashing out, which will save you time and prevent you from having a pocket full of small change. When you’re doing loading your TITOs, tap the screen and it’ll give you cash.
You can also bring your TITOs to the cashier, and they will cash them out for you. When cashing out with a cashier, they may ask how you’d like your money, but even if they don’t, you can always ask. “Large” means the biggest possible dollar. You can request $50s, otherwise they will usually default to $20s or $100s.
TITOs are only valid at the casino they are printed from, and expire anywhere from 30-180 days after the date of issue, so make sure to cash them out before going home.
General Steps for Gambling on a Machine
- Ensure machine is your desired denomination
- Insert players card
- Insert cash or TITO
- Select wager, press spin/draw
- Repeat bet as many times as you’d like
- Enjoy free drinks
- Cash out by selecting COLLECT or CASH OUT
- Remove your players card
- Remove your freshly printed TITO
- Move to a new machine or cash out TITO
Watch the denomination!
Double check and (and triple check) that you are playing the correct denomination, especially as a beginner. Nothing will turn you off from gambling faster than losing a ton of your bankroll at once without meaning to. One of my birthday trips, we met up with a friend who reluctantly agreed to give gambling a try with a $20 bankroll. She accidentally put it in a $5 machine, bet 4 credits (thinking it was only 4 cents) and was furious when she couldn’t spin again. Don’t be like Nina and blow your whole bankroll at once!
Break down bills
Especially when you’re new to gambling, I recommend breaking down your machine bankroll into $5 bills and inserting those into machines. This way, even if you do make a mistake, the most you’ll be out is $5. I also find that smaller bills helps me control my drunken slot play better, as reaching into my wallet for another bill is a lot more effort than mashing BET MAX until $100 magically turns into $000.
Learn Video Poker strategy
Video Poker is the only machine game that you can play with a strategy; I recommend the Wizard of Odds’ simple strategy as a starting point. Taking the time to learn this simple, intuitive strategy will increase your returns more than almost anything else you can do.
Play Bartop Video Poker
If you’re serious about maximizing your free drink value, this is the way to go. Drinks are comped at most bars (except for the Wynn/Encore) as long as you’re gambling and friendly to the bartender, so smile, make eye contact with the bartender, pop a $20 in and your first drink is free. Some bars have began instituting a ticket or light system for subsequent drinks, but the bartender will explain it to you. If you enjoy bellying up to the bar, you may as well get free drinks out of it!
If you want the cheapest drink possible, slow rolling is the way to go. Locate a cocktail waitress and see what direction she’s going. Sit down at a machine near where she’s heading, pop in your players card and some cash, and when you hear the siren call of “drinks… cocktaiiilllssss?” turn around and make eye contact. As she walks over to you, hit the minimum bet button so she sees that you’re gambling, and place your order. After she leaves, chill out and bet as much or as little as you’d like until she comes back. Take your drink, tip, and enjoy! This strategy can work well for road drinks (and I’d know… I have a personal policy to never walk the Strip without a drink in hand), but it also works well for longer drinking sessions.
If you’re looking for a steady stream of cheap alcohol, you can use this same strategy, but throw in a little extra cash and charm. A generous $5 tip on the first drink will ensure that the cocktail waitress makes frequent stops, and $1 for each subsequent drink will keep them coming. In the meantime, you can check your phone, talk with friends, or people watch (my personal favorite).
Save slots for when you’re drunk
Since slots require no strategy and are programmed to be visually and aurally stimulating (not that oral, you pervert!), there’s no better way to end a long night/morning of drinking. The bright lights, ringing bells, and crazy sound effects are well worth the cost of entertainment, and you even have the chance to win big. Some personal favorites at this point in the night are Buffalo Grand (because of the vibrating seat), the reel slots that have 3D effects (because lights and colors!), and Britney Spears (because of the soundtrack. Yes, Britney Spears… you heard me right, I’m just comfortable with my masculinity.)
Check out my sister post on table games to see how they compare to machines.
Then, once you’ve got the differences down, head over to my overview of casino games to pick the game(s) you want to try!