Payback Percentage and its Relationship with Slots

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97 percent payback slot machine

As players get familiar with slot machines, a term that comes up a lot in conversation is payback percentage, or return to player (RTP). It’s a mysterious thing to many, especially since you can’t walk up to a slot machine in a physical casino and see its payback percentage. (In many cases online casinos and slot machines do show the return to player statistic.)

The lack of information about payback percentage makes some players distrust what they’re set to, but in today’s post we’ll share what is available about it so you as a player can be a bit more informed.

Let’s first discuss what payback percentage is – it’s the payback over time as achieved over millions of spins of a slot machine. This aspect is important because things can wildly diverge from the expected payback in the short term. This is how some players can get massive jackpots while others can struggle to win anything at all on the same machine – both short sessions are just small data points on a larger path to its expected payback.

Effectively a game’s payback is calculated by adding up all the possible outcomes, divided by the amount that would be input to achieve all those outcomes. Let’s go through a simple example: Let’s say a game has exactly 1 million possibilities. If you bet $1 to achieve each possibility, spending $1 million accordingly, and all of the outcomes combined would pay back $900,000, that return to player, or payback percentage, would be 90 percent.

Games today are designed with more than one payback percentage possibility – manufacturers will often create a half dozen variations, generally between 85 and 98 percent return to player options. The range depends on, for instance, if a game is lower or higher denomination, the betting ranges within a denomination, market demand and so on.

Part of the challenge is a player can’t walk up to a machine and know by looking at it if the one they’re sitting down at is an 85 percent option or a 98 percent option. Online, it is often possible to compare providers to see what each one is offering, similar to how video poker players can look at the pay table and know what one machine pays vs. another.

However, there is another avenue to pursue when it comes to having an idea as to what the payback might be, and that is publicly published payback percentage data. For most commercial markets, and the occasional tribal gaming market like Connecticut, the payback information on slots are publicly made available. 

Some publications have made that data available in an organized fashion over the years to help players more easily navigate this information. And, it’s most often the case that the paybacks tend to be pretty consistent year to year overall, despite misgivings around various topics like the pandemic, the economy or just overall greed leading casinos to “ratchet down the payouts” – the reality is they’ve pretty much stayed the same, although the games themselves have gotten more volatile due to player tastes.

So that is how payback percentage relates to slots, and the information players can leverage to make the most informed decisions they can. We may not know every exact detail about each slot machine and their payback as set up in the casino, but there’s helpful information out there that can give us a pretty general idea.


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