You put the coin in the slot and pull the handle. What, you thought there was a trick to this?

Actually, there is a bit more to it. But first, some background. Old-timers will tell you slots were invented to give wives something to do while their husbands gambled. Slots used to be stuck at the edges of the casino and could be counted on one hand, maybe two. But now they are the casino. The casinos make more from slots than from craps, blackjack, and roulette combined. There are more than 150,000 slot machines (not including video poker) in the county. Some of these are at the airport, steps away from you as you deplane. It’s just a matter of time before the planes flying into Vegas feature slots that pop up as soon as you cross the state line.

But to keep up with the increasing competition, the plain old machine, where reels just spin, has become nearly obsolete. Now they are all computerized and have buttons to push so you can avoid getting carpal tunnel syndrome from yanking the handle all night (though the handles are still there on some of them). Many don’t even have reels anymore but are entirely video screens, which offer a number of little extras that have nothing to do with actual play. The idea is still simple: Get 3 (or 4, or 10) cherries (clowns, sevens, dinosaurs, whatever) in a row, and you win something. Each machine has its own combination. Some will pay you something with just one symbol showing; on most, the more combinations there are, the more opportunities for loot. Some will even pay if you get three blanks. Study each machine to learn what it does. Note: The payback goes up considerably if you bet the limit (from 2 to hundreds of coins on penny slots, for instance).

Progressive slots are groups of linked machines (sometimes spread over several casinos) where the jackpot gets bigger every few moments (just as lottery jackpots build up). Some machines have their own progressive jackpot, which can be slightly less stressful because you’re not competing with other players to win the top prize.

Themes and interactivity are the watchwords these days. Pick a pop culture reference and there's probably a slot machine dedicated to it. Wizard of OzThe Walking Dead, Airplane! (“Don’t call me Shirley!”), Sex and the City, Michael Jackson, and The Hangover are just a few of the familiar titles you’ll see on casino floors. Each of them features bonus rounds and side games that have animations, video clips, music, competitions between other players, and, in some cases, even motion-activated seats.

Penny and nickel slots, which for a long time had been overlooked, relegated to a lonely spot somewhere by a back wall because they were not as profitable for the casinos as quarter and dollar slots, have made a comeback. You can bet just a penny or nickel, but maximum bets for the bigger jackpots are usually in the $2 to $3 range, sometimes even more. As a result, more cash is pocketed by the casino (which keeps a higher percentage of cash off of lower-denomination slots than it does off of higher ones), which is happy to accommodate this trend by offering up more and more cheaper slots. See how this all works? Are you paying attention?

Cashless machines are the standard these days. Now when gambling, players insert their money, they play, and when they cash out, they get—instead of the clanging sound of coins cascading out into the tray—a little paper ticket with their total winnings on it. Hand in your ticket at a cashier’s window (or use the omnipresent ATM-style redemption machines), and you get your winnings. Purists howl, bemoaning the loss of the auditory and tactile thrill of dealing with coins, but most of them are the type of people who would put $5 in a machine, lose it, and then be done with gambling for the rest of the trip. Those who are more than just casual players love the convenience and simplicity of the tickets and wouldn’t go back to the days of having to lug big buckets of change around if you promised them better payoff odds.

Are there surefire ways to win on a slot machine? No. But you can lose more slowly. The slot machines use minicomputers known as random number generators (RNGs) to determine the winning combinations on a machine, and though each spin may indeed be random, individual machines are programmed to pay back different percentages over the long haul. As a result, a machine programmed to return a higher percentage might be “looser” than others. A bank of empty slots probably (but not certainly) means the machines are tight. Go find a line where lots of people are sitting around with lots of credits on their meters. A good rule of thumb is that if your slot doesn’t hit something in four or five pulls, leave it and go find another. Also, each casino has a bank of slots that they advertise as more loose or with a bigger payback. Try these. It’s what they want you to do, but what the heck.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.