What are free slots?

Banner showing free slots logos with the text 'free slots' overlayed

‘Free slots’ what are they? And, what is the catch?

We’re always told; ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. So, how is it that there are ‘free slots’ out there on the internet and people seem to be playing them day in day out.

What are free slots?

The true definition of ‘free slots’ is slot games that cost the player nothing to play. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. Not a penny, red cent, nada…

Now, that does mean that if you have paid nothing then you will typically win nothing, regardless of how many jackpots you hit or how many reels of Wilds you see in the bonus round. There are some ‘free slots’ that do come with prizes, some even with cash (these are very rare).

The purpose of this guide is to understand what free slots are, and maybe get an understanding of why they exist. As the concept of free slots can seem a little strange, especially when you think how much money is spent playing slots for real money.

Basics of Free Slots

Free Slots are exactly as the name suggests – slots that are free. You don’t need to make a deposit, you don’t need to pay to level up or to progress through the game. Money does not need to be spent to play ‘free slots’, assuming you have found them.

Some slots are similar to free slots, such as social casino slots. But if you need to deposit any money or buy credits to play slots at a social casino, then these do not qualify as ‘free slots’ in my opinion.

History of Free Slots

Free slots have been around for about the same time online gambling kicked off in the late 90’s. The early slots developers, such as Cryptologic, Microgaming, and 888, would allow users to play in ‘fun play’ modes at the casinos that carried their slot games.

Installing casino’s in the 90’s

Back in the late 90’s internet speeds were slllllooooowwwww, typically measured in Kilobytes (KB), rather than Megabytes (MB). If you were playing at an online casino then you would typically had to load a CD into your desktop PC and download and install the casino onto your machine.

An old-fashioned desktop PC from the 1990's with CD drive open and European roulette shown on the computer screen
Online casinos were loaded from a disc drive in the late 90’s

To play free slots in this era, you would have had to have a casino account and you would normally be expected to fund it to get access to free slots. However, in the heady days of the early internet, this was fun and exciting and gave players a chance to try out the limited selection of slots that were available at the time.

The front and back cover for a CD for riverboat casino from the 1990's.
A case for an online casino that is installed from a CD

Affiliate sites with free slots

As we got to the mid-naughties, affiliate websites started to offer embedded free slots and a whole industry took off. Initially, it was all the most popular games in one place, but as time went on some of these sites grew to offer thousands of slots from countless developers.

A screenshot of a popular free slots affiliate site that no longer exists
The homepage of a website that promoted slot games around 2010

As time went on, many of these sites integrated mobile slots into their offerings and made the ‘free slots’ experience as simple as possible.

Integrating mobile slots

The advent of mobile slots saw a big change in the online slots industry around 2010 onwards. Most, if not all, slots developers immediately started moving away from ‘flash-based’ slot games and over to ‘HTML5’. This was largely based on Apple’s decision to move away from Flash and also the versatility and reduction in file sizes that HTML5 offered.

A 3 reel slot game on the screen of an iPhone 1
A slot machine on the first edition of the iPhone

As the transition happened over a few years, almost every online slot became available in HTML5 and free slots were then available on handheld devices like mobile phones and tablets.

Free slots in App stores

Apple was the first with an App store in 2007 and it wasn’t long before developers started creating engaging casino games, which were often free. At the time, most developers didn’t have a clear idea of how to monetize their casino apps, it was merely a race for eyeballs.

However, it wasn’t long before savvy development companies started creating casino apps in both Apple iOS and Google’s Android platform that would hook players in with free slots and other casino games, but quickly you were encouraged to buy credits to level-up or unlock new slots.

Social Casinos

As social networks grew in popularity in the early 2010’s it wasn’t long before social casinos arrived on the scene. One of the early entrants to this market was DoubleDown Casino, which promised thousands of free chips to new customers. Players who hung around would typically buy more free chips would could not be cashed out. There were prize draws and raffles, but you couldn’t win any real money playing at these casinos and the same it true today.

A screenshot of a Facebook page showing Double Down Casino
Double Down casino on Facebook from around 2014

Enthusiast free slots sites

There have been over the years several slots enthusiasts have offered free slots through their websites. Some of these emulate retro slots for back in the day, others just bundle of games and present them as free slots. These sites tend to be fairly static and don’t offer a huge amount of variety. They have a place in the world of free slots, but I see them as more of a niche, rather than a big part of the market.

How Free Slots Work

The mechanics of free slots should match the real money version of the same game. If you ask any slots developer or games studio they will probably tell you that they are identical in payout, Return to Player (RTP), and gameplay.

However, over the years we have seen some lively debates spring up online about whether this is the case. Back in 2018, members at the CasinoMeister forum debated the perceived differences between the free play and real play versions of a slot called Thunder Bird from GameArt.

A screenshot of the base game of Thunderbird slot from Gameart
Thunderbird slot from Gameart

Despite a very clear response from the casino rep that the free play and real play versions were the same, many of the players were not so convinced.

There are no laws that I know of that require slots developers to provide a matching version of their free play and real money slots. Would you put it past them to create a more rewarding version of a particular game as a free slot? Possibly not…

Demo Versions

There are now demo versions of virtually every single slot. Demo slots imitate real money slots, the only difference is you are playing with virtual currency. There are a handful of games that don’t have a demo version or that the demo slot can only be played inside a casino.

Sweet Bonanza slot with a play demo button in view
A demo slot game with a play button in the middle

Try before you buy

Most developers have figured out that having demo slots available to play openly on the internet allows players to try out their slots before depositing any money. The server costs incurred by the slots developer for hosting free slots appears to be a price worth paying. By allowing players to try free slots before playing for real money gives feedback, creates debate, and get players trying out new slots in a very crowded market place.

There are some significant benefits to playing free slots. I am referring specifically to the demo versions of real money slots, rather than free slots on apps or in social casinos. I have defined the main benefits free slots give you here:

  • You are not spending money
  • You are learning game mechanics
  • You understand the attrition rate of a game

Not spending money

You may not be winning money, but you certainly aren’t losing money playing free slots. If you read any regulator report or gambling study, you will soon know that slots are some of the most addictive casino games and take the most money from players. So, by playing in ‘demo mode’ you are simply not spending your hard-earned money. This is probably my number one reason for playing free slots.

Learning game mechanics

Slots vary in mechanics and offering and it can be very useful to get your head around the games you like playing the most. Also, if a new slot is released and you are keen to understand how the bonus rounds work or what base game features may be on offer, then playing the demo version if a good way to do this without risking any of your own money.

Attrition rates

This is basically the rate at which you burn through your money. If you can get a good understanding of how quickly a game could deplete your available bankroll then you will have a better idea of what coin size to play in and how many lines to bet if you choose to play the slot for real money.

Where to Find Free Slots

Free slots can be found in a variety of places on the web, you just need to find the place that suits you best.

Websites like Gamingslots offer the latest online slots for free, as well as many of the top slots from over the years. You will also find other competitors to Gamingslots offering a similar selection of titles.

Play free slots section of Gamingslots.com
A screenshot of Gamingslots before it was updated

Freeslots.com has a limited selection of very dated-looking slots. However, you can access this website very easily and the style and layout suit many players. This website seems to rank highly in search engines. I find the games a little bit primitive for my tastes, but each to their own.

free slots on display at freeslots.com website screenshot
A view of the homepage of freeslots.com

You can typically access lots of free slots via any online casino. You just need to keep in mind that they will continue to pester you to deposit and play for real money. This is their business model at the end of the day.

In a similar model to online casinos, social casinos and free casino apps typically give you a great big pile of free chips to play slots with. Therefore, you could argue that you are playing free slots. However, it doesn’t take long for these free chips to run out and you will need to deposit some money to continue playing.

Common Misconceptions

Some of the common misconceptions about free slots that you will find spouted on forums and chat rooms on the internet.

Free slots are exactly the same as real money slots – There are no laws that I am aware of that force slots developers to make their free slot demo versions exactly the same as their real money slots. There are hundreds of slots providers making online slots, so to assume that they are all doing everything in a completely honest and fair way would be a little naive.

Don’t assume anything. If a free slot game is paying out rather regularly in fun play, it does not mean it will do the same in real money play.

Free slots are the same as free spins – This is completely false. Free spins are an enticement, usually offered as a type of bonus to a player to get them to play a particular slot game. The free spins are typically free and you can actually win real money (potentially). However, the idea is that you play through your free spins and then deposit money and play for real. This is not the same as free slots.

You can gain skill from playing free slots – You can gain understanding from playing free slots, but you can’t gain skills. Slots are not a skill-based casino game and should never be treated as one. If you think you can beat a slot machine with skill then you are sadly mistaken. The internet is littered with ‘slots strategies’, none of which work. Just remember, every spin is independent of the next and the RTP will ultimately determine when the game will next pay out.