The modern online slot is a natural evolution of the classic “one-armed bandit” fruit machine built more than a century ago. As physical slot machines grew out of that original format with a single payline across three reels, your typical casino now generally offers multitudes of video slots with five virtual wheels and dozens (or hundreds) of paylines.
Thanks to the advantages of the computer age, the online versions of these slot machines are even superior to their physical counterparts, allowing the incorporation of 3D graphics, complex bonus features, and advanced gameplay that can sometimes pay off with more than a thousand lines.
Online gaming offers many options for play, including simulations of casino table games, video poker, actual poker, and now sports betting, but above all of these, the markets are still thoroughly dominated by online slot machine activity.
It is possible that online casinos in Pennsylvania may wind up slightly less focused on slots compared to other regions, due to the specifics of the regulations imposed by the state gambling expansion. The tax rate on slot revenues has been set extremely high (54%), which may result in the operators having to host games with disappointingly low rates of return or offer less lucrative promotions in order to make the online casinos profitable.
Still, it is extremely likely that slots will be a significant area of online gaming in the Keystone State, so let’s take a look at the major questions that remain for the eager gambling public.
Who will offer online slots in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board set aside licenses for each brick-and-mortar casino operator, with any unpurchased license offered to qualified out-of-state operators. Application fees were $4 million each for licenses for online slots, table games, or poker, or a $10 million fee for a combination license for all three.
The current planned operators are as follows:
|Parx||GAN||August 15, 2018|
|Harrah’s||SG Digital (Probable)||August 15, 2018|
|Mount Airy||888 / The Stars Group||August 15, 2018|
|Penn National||IGT||September 12, 2018|
|SugarHouse||Rush Street Interactive||September 12, 2018|
|Valley Forge||IGT||October 3, 2018|
|Sands Bethlehem||TBD||October 3, 2018|
|Live! Hotel & Casino||TBD||October 31, 2018|
|Presque Isle Downs||BetAmerica/SBTech||October 31, 2018|
|Mohegan Sun Pocono||Unibet||November 28, 2018|
|Golden Nugget||SG Digital (Probable)||Still pending|
|MGM||GVC (Probable)||Still pending|
How do online slots work?
With any slot machine the general goal is to make one or many lines of matching symbol. Specific payouts are determined by the type and number of symbols matched, proportional to the amount bet.
Generally lines must be made starting from the far left going right, and most modern slots run five vertical reels of symbols spread across three or four active rows.
- Paylines are the possible matching routes that are eligible for a win. Many combinations of horizontal and diagonal paths are offered, with vertical paths rare.
- Wild symbols are allowed to be substituted for a match with any other symbol in a line.
- Scatter symbols (often represented as coins or jewels) can result in a win if a large enough number turn up regardless of where they appear on any lines. These will usually award a specific set prize and unlock free extra spins, or trigger a special “bonus round” mini-game with different gameplay.
Player options are usually limited to choosing how many credits to bet and sometimes how many pay lines they want active on each spin, which will determine the values for each win on the pay table. More complex choices and strategy are usually only possible for that occasional bonus round.
Every slot game offers a specific rate of winnings usually calculated as “return percentage” or RTP. This number refers to the amount of money that can be expected to be won compared to the amount bet, over a long enough period of time. For instance, if a game boasts an RTP of 96%, over the long-haul players will lose $4 per $100 wagered.
Many major software providers such as NetEnt offer games that have static RTPs that do not vary. Other key providers like IGT offer different tiers of returns on its slots, and Pennsylvania operators are more likely to opt for the lower tiers to compensate for the 54% tax rate on slots. However, even the worst online slots (Grand Monarch, Shark Bite) rarely drop below 92% RTP, which is still somewhat better than land-based casino slots, and there will always be a few rare games such as Blood Suckers and Jack Hammer in the 97-98% range.
A final aspect of a slot’s value is its volatility, which is a very important factor when choosing a game to play. High volatility games pay out very rarely, but when you win, the prize is usually huge. A low volatility game will pay out smaller prizes much more often, which is less thrilling but results in a more stable experience and allows a player to tend closer to the stated RTP without having to play for an extremely long time. Games like Dead or Alive and Wheel of Fortune: On Tour offer good RTP but are so volatile that short-term returns are very random, while Blood Suckers is a very reliable play with low volatility.
What are jackpot slots?
Online casinos may offer hundreds of standard slots, but there will also always be a handful of special jackpot games that hold the possibility of a giant win.
While a few unique games like Colossus Frac/Pot are considered jackpot games because of special bonus win conditions, most jackpot slots fall into the category of progressive games. In these, there is a special bonus prize that increases slightly in value every time someone plays without winning it.
This grand prize eventually grows gigantic, becoming a very appealing draw for the game. Note: Many of these slots offer a lower base RTP, but when the jackpot prize grows the return increases as well. These games also may tend toward slightly higher volatility, and of course, the factor of the mammoth payout is itself extremely volatile by nature.
Some progressive slots are stand-alone and generate their own jackpot, but at many online casinos there will also be a group of progressive slots that all share the same jackpot prize. Progressive jackpots may also be linked between the same game at different partnered casinos.
In neighboring New Jersey, some of the best stand-alone games include the extremely popular Divine Fortune, and the Tropicana/Virgin exclusive Wonderland. For linked games, Borgata’s Big Series (Luck o’ the Jackpot, Melon Madness, Loot’enkhamun, and Biker Pigs) is a standout value.
Field example: Divine Fortune
Divine Fortune is an extremely popular progressive slot machine with notable good value. This NetEnt game sports a theme based on ancient Greek mythology.
The slot has five reels with three rows and 20 paylines. Divine Fortune is available on many sites in other markets, and draws enough play that it awards massive jackpots much more frequently than most other progressive games.
The jackpot bonuses can be won with any bet, but bigger spins can result in better odds. Divine Fortune has multiple ways to earn extra spins, but the most important is the “Falling Wild” Pegasus symbols. These wilds stay on the reel, moving one spot down while you get an extra spin. If you are lucky enough to spin another wild on this space, it becomes a “Wild on Wild” in which the Pegasus is spread out across all three rows of that reel (at least three more spins with wilds remaining on the field).
This feature is pivotal, because it drastically increases your chances of collecting three of the scattered Bonus Coin symbols, which is the only way to unlock the game’s jackpot bonuses.
Triggering the bonus game allows you multiple spins to earn other prizes and additional coins. Completing one or two rows awards the static Minor or Major jackpot prizes, but filling all three rows results in the full Mega progressive jackpot.
How do online slot machines compare to other casino games?
Some but not all online casinos will also have online poker rooms and/or sports betting options, but one thing that can always be found will be at least a small assortment of table games and video poker.
Most commonly this will include a few varieties of blackjack and roulette, and occasionally other traditional casino staples such as craps or baccarat. On the video poker side one can usually find a few Game King classics like Jacks or Better and Double Double Bonus, and sometimes a few proprietary exclusive poker games that are close variants of the Game King products.
The question then comes down to why to choose slots over table games. It is a very subjective decision, but here are a few key points to remember:
- Table games tend to have a much better RTP than most (not all) slots, and video poker is often even better than table games.
- However, if the table game offers any “side-bet” options these will offer a much worse RTP.
- Casino games generally tend to have much less volatility than slots.
- Because of these advantages, online casinos will usually penalize non-slot games in terms of bonus credit, it will take much longer to unlock your promotional bonus on anything besides a slot. Only a few sites are notable exceptions.
- Table games tend to be harder to learn and play with perfect strategy than slots, which can often just be set on auto-pilot. Video poker games often have an easy strategy to learn that is very nearly as ideal as the perfect one, but still requires a lot more effort and attention than slots.
- Like video poker, slots offers an extremely similar experience to that of playing the same games inside the casino, whereas table games only offer a computer facsimile of the usual experience. The exception is Live Dealer games, which attempt to virtually recreate the casino floor as much as possible.
- Many table games have multiplayer options, offering more communal gameplay and interaction. This is especially true of Live Dealer games, and a big part of their popularity.
Other frequently asked questions
When will online slots be available in Pennsylvania?
It is still unclear exactly when the first online casinos will launch in Pennsylvania, but several major properties have indicated they hope to be up-and-running in the second quarter of 2019.
Will there be welcome bonuses for slot players?
Online casinos can be expected to offer generic welcome packages with bonuses that can be unlocked by playing any games, but generally, slot players get the best benefits for these promotions as slot playthrough usually counts 100% towards unlock requirements.
Some operators may decide to offer a huge-but-complex welcome package with specific terms that only allow the full benefit of the bonus by dividing your play across slots, table games, poker, and sports betting.
We expect the monetary cap on welcome bonuses in Pennsylvania to be slightly lower, on average, than in the legal online casino market in neighboring New Jersey, due to PA’s sky-high tax rate on online slots.
Who will be the major providers of online slot machines?
Based on partnerships signed with PA casinos and performance in neighboring NJ, we can expect many of the usual popular slots will be provided by industry giants IGT, NetEnt, NextGen, and WMS.
What impact will the tax rate have on slots?
Unlike land-based casinos where individual slot machines can have RTP settings adjusted, this is not generally an option for online slot providers.
Instead, the most likely result will be that the most lucrative games will not be as widely available, and promotional offers and loyalty programs will be designed less generously than they would in a state with a more reasonable and sane tax rate.
What are some of the best online slots to play?
A handful of games stand above the rest by offering a very favorable RTP.
- Blood Suckers, RTP 98%, low volatility
- Wolfpack Pays, RTP 97.76%, low-medium volatility
- Jack Hammer 2, RTP 97.1%, low-medium volatility
- Jack Hammer, RTP 97%, low-medium volatility
- Joker 10000 Deluxe, RTP 97%, medium-high volatility
- Divine Fortune, RTP 96.6%, medium volatility, progressive jackpot
What are the craziest slots?
These would be the games with the highest volatility:
- Dead or Alive, RTP 96.8%.
- Wheel of Fortune: On Tour, RTP 96.80%
- Jack and the Beanstalk, RTP 96.30%
- Merlin’s Millions Super Bet, RTP 95.3-95.6%
- A While On The Nile, RTP 95.3-95.6%
What should I steer away from?
Over the long run, these games will have a much greater negative impact on your bankroll than slots with the highest RTPs:
- Champion Raceway, RTP 94.2%, high volatility
- Grand Monarch, RTP 92.99%, medium volatility
- Wheel of Fortune Ultra 5 Reels, RTP 91.96%, low-medium volatility
- Most progressives immediately after the jackpot has paid out.
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