How Do I Tell the Paybacks of My Favorite Games?

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Casino sign outside Golden Gate on Fremont Street

Slot machine payback remains a big mystery in the United States, but it doesn’t stop players from hoping to find the answers:

I hear a lot about payback percentages and volatility. How do I find out the payback for my favorite games? The slot attendants look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language when I ask them lol. Examples are ultimate fire link Olvera Street or the dragon link series.

Patty

Unfortunately, casinos are not generally willing to share the payback percentages of games found in their casino. On a rare occasion, casinos will promote the payback of a machine as a marketing tool, but that tends to be the exception to the rule.

Games are designed with multiple payback options, usually a half dozen or so. Casinos select which one of the payback options, based on what they want their casino floor to pay over the long term. These payback numbers won’t be precise to the casino’s goal, so they’ll choose the one that’s closest.

For instance, if a casino wants their 1 cent games to pay 90 percent, game A might pay 90.11% and game B 89.89% – both of those are close enough to 90 percent so that’s what they’ll select off the options. If a game has multiple denominations, they will generally choose a setting for each denomination, or a payback setting that assigns a number to each denomination (it depends on who makes the game and their payback setting design).

The thing is that physical casino slots almost never convey that information. The only game machine we’ve ever seen that displays paybacks on the screen itself is called the U1, only found in some casinos in Nevada to our knowledge. Regardless of what you’re playing – slots, Video Poker, keno – it will show you what the payout percentage is for that bet. 

And as you raise your bet, that payout percentage tends to increase as well, which is also unusual – most games have a set payback percentage per denomination, regardless of bet on the denomination. If only all games worked like this!

There are things out there called PAR sheets – they educate casinos about how a given payback percentage works for a given game. The challenge is even if you had that information, and knew what payback options existed, you still wouldn’t know which choice a casino made, unless you somehow saw the screen, or a slot attendant actually told you, which most won’t.

On occasion casinos setting up new machines will tape a piece of paper on the front with all the settings – if you know what you’re looking for, you can spot it that way. Otherwise, this information, at least in physical casinos, is not generally available.

If you’re playing online, the good news is there’s more transparency on that information – most games display the payback percentage in their pay tables. So as online games continue to grow in availability, perhaps this eventually brings about a change. But for now, it’s a separate setup altogether.

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