This is a common question we see when it comes to slot machines. The theory goes that casinos will set the slot machines higher during their introductory period, sometimes dubbed a “honeymoon” period, before lowering it down after players are “hooked” on the new game.
This isn’t the case. In fact, it’s technically the opposite, although it’s not anything the casinos are specifically doing. Let me explain…
To begin, casinos tend to not mess with machines once they’re set up. Changing the payback setting on a slot machine, especially in more regulated markets, requires multiple people (the external gaming commission for example) and a lengthy window of time to set the new settings and restart the game.
If you’ve ever seen a slot restart itself after a power outage or glitch, you’ll know it’s not a quick process for a slot to return to a playable status. Some states, like Nevada, have additional rules even if a machine’s settings are being changed remotely, such as no credits being in the machine and the game having been idle for a few minutes both before and after the change.
Traditionally, casinos will change paybacks in a deliberate and infrequent manner, such as when a machine is being moved, a decision to update a specific game, and so on, and will generally be within a small variance of their overall payback goal for a specific denomination on a casino floor.
The second part is a bit simpler – casinos don’t need to set paybacks higher on new slot machines to get players to give them a try. Many casino players love to seek out new games and give them a try to see if they like them.
The theory is that by making them pay back more at the beginning, players will like them more and keep seeking them out after that setting is lowered later, but because a short session can diverge quite a bit from the long term expected payback of a machine, a difference on the payback won’t make enough of a difference.
There is one bit of data though that we hinted at earlier, and that is around the fact that they may pay a bit less. With an increasing number of slot machines on the casino floor, they have progressives that need time and play to build up. At the beginning, they’re at their starting numbers, and if someone wins a progressive on that first day, it will pay less than what that progressive is expected to pay, on average.
What does that mean for paybacks on new machines? Progressives on a slot machine tend to be a smaller share of the overall payback, but it’s enough to bring down the overall payback by a percentage point or two.
How do we know this? We reviewed the data of multiple new casinos that opened in states like New York and Massachusetts from the time they opened to when their payback numbers evened out. In pretty much every case, the overall payback of the casino was somewhere around one percent lower the month they opened from where they landed later on. The difference can be easily explained by those progressives needing time to build.
But since not all machines have progressives, the games with progressives were probably closer to two percent lower than where they would pay in the end. This means that all those people playing in the beginning were helping build up progressives with a slightly lower payback than the game would perform at later on.
Is that a big enough difference to avoid those new games? Probably not, given it’s a short term problem, but like any savvy player, checking those progressives and playing at the machines with better ones is just a good basic strategy, so in the event you do win one, you win the best one you’re able to get during that visit.