Pub slot machine
Elliott Brown /

Online slots have become incredibly popular over the past few years, but that doesn’t mean that pub fruit machines have ceased to exist. It’s easy enough to play a slot game using your mobile phone or tablet even when you’re in a pub or bar, but it’s not particularly social and also requires you to use your debit card or other depositing means in order to get money into your online account to play them.

There are many reasons why fruit machines remain popular, therefore, but how exactly do they work? Unlike online slots, which are as close to truly random as we can currently get, pub-based fruit machines of the more traditional type are what as known as compensated. They also offer a much lower Return to Player percentage than online slots, meaning that it will cost you more to play on them.

Compensated Slots

Coronation Street slot
Coronation Street themed fruit machine (Scorpions and Centaurs /

Online slot games use Random Number Generators, which is a benefit offered to computerised slots that more traditional versions of the game can’t offer. If you play on computerised machines in pubs then there’s a decent chance that they’ll be using an RNG, but most fruit machines don’t tick that box and instead operate on a system that is known as ‘compensated’, meaning that when they pay out will be different.

Both players have a Return to Player percentage, which we’ll come onto in more detail elsewhere, but the key thing to know at this stage is that the RTP% is based over a large number of spins. In other words, if you’re using the machine for an hour you won’t necessarily get the percentage payout that the machine suggests. This matters because of the way that compensated slot machines tend to work.

The best way of thinking about a compensated slot is as though it is somehow sentient and has a memory. It remembers when it paid out and how close it is to its RTP% not being hit. If it has a Return To Player percentage of, say, 90% and is as 88%, it is likely to pay out on the next few spins in order to meet its target. It would have a ration of one winning spin out of every ten, hitting that fairly regularly.

If you’re using a fruit machine in a pub and have hit several losing spins in a row, the more likely it is that it will hit a winning spin at some point sooner rather than later. Head to a pub and you’ll normally see a few locals keeping an eye on the people using the fruities, filled with the knowledge that if they walk away without having won then it’s worth them jumping on after in order to try to claim the winnings that are due to come.

Why the RTP Matters

Fruit machines in pubs are likely to have a much lower Return to Player percentage than their online equivalents. We’re not just talking one or two percentage points here either; in most cases the difference will be in the tens rather than single digits. A pub fruit machine might have an RTP of 80% whilst an online one is more likely to be at the 95% mark, if not much higher.

That means that £10 would, in theory, return £9.50 when playing an online slot but will only give back £8 when you’re playing in the pub. Playing in a pub, you would only need to spend £50 to lose a tenner, whereas it’s £200 when you’re playing online slots. It’s obviously not quite that simple, insomuch as the RTP% is based over a longer period of time, but it gives you some indication of how you’re losing out playing in the pub.

With a compensated slot, the longer the streak of plays are losing ones, the more that the Return To Player percentage will shift in the player’s favour. Let’s imagine that there are nine losing combinations in every ten spins. If three of your spins lost, that means that it’s now one winning combination and six losing ones. In other words, your chances of winning have improved from 10% to 14.23%.

There’s lots of complicated maths involved, but the main thing to remember is that that RTP% on online slots can be based over tens of thousands of spins, whereas it’s much more likely to be over smaller playing periods when you’re using a compensated slot. That is good news, given the fact that compensated slot machines are likely to have much lower Return to Player percentages, so you need something to shift the odds in your favour. Here’s a look at some of the v various RTP% for bar-based slot machines and online equivalents:

Game Name Fruit Machine or Online? RTP
Deal or No Deal: Win Fall Fruit Machine 74%
Deal or No Deal: Go All The Way Online 97.36%
El Jackpoto Fruit Machine 76%
Jack Hammer 2 Online 97.10%
Full Metal Jacket Fruit Machine 72%
Mega Joker Online 99%
Payback Fruit Machine 74%
Blood Suckers Online 98%
Clockwork Cash Fruit Machine 80%
Joker Strike Online 98.11%

You can see from the table that online slots boast a much higher Return to Player percentage than fruit machine alternatives. The fruit machines in our list are mostly offering RTP% in their 70s, with 80% being the highest on offer. Online games, on the other hand, have a lowest Return to Player amount of 97.10%. It’s easy to see that if you want your money to last, you’re much better playing online than in a pub-based fruit machine.

What About Minimum Stakes?

Pub slot machine
Eric Huang /

Knowing the Return to Player advantage of online slots is one thing, but what about the minimum stake that you can play? Is it any better when it comes to pub fruit machines? The best thing to do is to look at the same slot machines that we’ve looked at above and compare and contrast the minimum amount that you can play on each of them to see if there’s any advantage to play one form of game against the other.

Game Name Fruit Machine Or Online? Minimum Stake
Deal or No Deal: Win Fall Fruit Machine 10p
Deal or No Deal: Go All The Way Online 10p
El Jackpoto Fruit Machine £1
Jack Hammer 2 Online 50p
Full Metal Jacket Fruit Machine £1
Mega Joker Online 10p
Payback Fruit Machine 10p
Blood Suckers Online 25p
Clockwork Cash Fruit Machine 2p
Joker Strike Online 10p

Again, then, you can see that there is a large variance between the different game types. Whether it be online slots or fruit machines that you’re looking to play, the chances are that you’ll have to pay a different minimum depending on the game that you opt for. Online slots typically tend to be a bit lower, but it’s far from a given and there are some pub fruit machines that drop quite low when it comes to their minimum bet.