Did Casinos Change the Payouts After the Pandemic?

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Brian Christopher flips the switch

A recent Facebook post about an article we posted here around why slots are getting harder to win on drove a lot of sentiment in social media about how machines don’t pay like they used to.

One of the big culprits some players like to point to is the casino shutdowns that occurred in 2020, and that things changed after they came back.

I find that 9 out of 10 times I lose and the one time I do win it has been less than before Covid.

James K.

And

After Covid, slot machines are more tight for sure. I used to hit jackpots all the time but now…. Good Luck! Shirleen A.

Shirleen A.

But there’s always someone in the comments asking the right question too:

What would really be interesting is to find out if the state payout percentage has changed in the last two years 😉 the gaming commission oversees the casinos, but who’s to say those percentages haven’t changed to pay less legally?

Kirsten D.

Specifically to the topic of the pandemic, when casinos reopened, many set up scenarios where at best half their machines were up and running to promote social distancing. Despite only having half their machines up and running, many operators realized they didn’t see their revenues drop by half.

Meanwhile, new data-driven tools began to show the benefits of replacing mostly idle rows of old machines with a smaller amount of newer and better performing machines. 

The big thing about replacing those old machines with new ones is that newer games for those machines are more volatile, with bonuses that are harder to achieve and bigger progressives that will ultimately only be awarded to one player.

Many players perceive these changes as machines getting tighter, when the change is actually the ratios of winners to losers. Newer games will generally yield a winning session one out of every 5 or 6 times – that can be bruising if you fall below that average.

So let’s take a look at Kirsten’s question. How have the payouts changed before and after the pandemic?

Here’s some examples of data comparing data from the fiscal year ending 2019 with the fiscal year ending 2023, pulled from the various state reporting websites. This data covers electronic machines like slots, video poker and video keno in each of the locations the data is compiled.

This may be a slightly different time period by location depending on the fiscal year, but each includes the last full year before COVID closures and the most recent full year available:

CasinoSlot Payback FY2019Slot Payback FY2023
Statewide, CO92.58%92.32%
Mohegan Sun, CT91.90%91.80%
Foxwoods, CT91.95%91.91%
Statewide, DE92.18%91.90%
MGM Springfield, MA91.47%91.29%
Las Vegas Strip, NV91.84%91.99%
Downtown Las Vegas, NV92.22%91.47%
Statewide, OH91.66%92.19%
Parx Casino, PA90.70%90.27%
Wind Creek, PA90.09%91.31%

The first thing you may notice is none of them have paybacks that are identical from one year to the other. There’s a variety of reasons why the numbers can differ, but the first thing to remember is this is a snapshot in time. This is the payback from all the play from a 12 month period. And things can change:

  • Which slots players play – if they favor higher denomination machines at any given point more, the payback may be a bit higher.
  • The mix of video poker and video keno play vs. slots – here too, players playing more video poker in a given window can change the payback in a window of time, for instance.
  • The games the casino has available – many casinos removed machines off their floor and added others, so the options for play evolve.
  • New casino openings and new casino ownership – these can change the numbers. Downtown Las Vegas numbers shifted noticeably after the opening of Circa, for instance.

None of these shifts are hugely significant. The most significant one, Wind Creek in Pennsylvania, is perhaps surprising in that it is a continued trend of paybacks increasing over the four years. So it can also go both directions.

What this also indicates is there’s not major efforts by the casinos to make any major changes to their payout percentages after reopening. It’s an easy boogeyman to blame, but the data just doesn’t bear that out.

That’s why we talked about what we did in our article and video. There’s more nuanced things at play here, that many players are probably not even aware is happening. If you haven’t checked it out, we encourage you to do so.


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