What are Payback Percentages?

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Double Diamond Deluxe three-reel slot machine

Payback Percentage for slot machines effectively means how much money, on average, over the lifetime of a slot machine, it it is expected to pay back to you – in percent.

For example, if a single slot machine brings in $1 Million Dollars ‘Coin In’ and pays out $900,000 ‘Coin Out’ – then it has a 90% payback percentage (with the other 10% going to the casino as profit). This is designed mathematically as the probability of what may transpire.

Casinos are able to adjust the payout percentage of a game based upon how the slot manufacturer set the game up and on local laws. Most slot machines will be pre-set with the ability to adjust from 85-95% payout. If a casino would like to encourage more patrons, then they may increase how much they pay back. Some older casinos who have to compete with the newer prettier casinos, for example, will usually have a higher payback. I’ve heard from some casinos who don’t serve alcohol having to increase their percentages so that they could compete with those who did serve.

While the majority of Indian Casinos are not legally obligated to report their payout percentages, other casinos are required to do so and that data is publicly available in those markets. Many people assume that Indian Casinos (or even Bingo machines for that matter) are set lower because of this, but it’s not true. If a casino has poor payouts, then people would simply not go. Some years, I’ve KILLED it at the Indian casinos.

In some locations like Las Vegas, the city does not announce the percentages by casino, but rather by location. Aka Strip Casinos, Downtown Casinos etc. Some states break down the payout percentages by denomination and others as a whole for the casino or even city!

Not all Slot Machines are created equal…

Penny Machines. Oh how I love thee. They are usually the most fun games with the best bonuses, music and graphics. But don’t be fooled – they have the WORST payout percentages. Penny machines can be set to payout as low as 85%. A misconception is that this means that 85% of people end up winning while only 15% lose. Or if you put in $100 into a machine – that you are guaranteed to cash out with at least $89. WRONG!! Here’s an example:

If one person wagers $5 in a slot machine and wins $1,000 then they have a payback percentage of 2,000%. That means that a further 224 people (or so) who also wager $5 could have a 0% payout percentage (go broke). The grand total of that? An 89% payout percentage. (Of course, you’d have to add a lot more zeroes to my example to show a true comparison of a real slot machine’s life, and a lot more wins and losses of varying amounts).

Progressive Slot Machines

When you see machines with large progressive jackpots – let’s say for this example they are set to a 90% payback. That certainly does not mean that 90% of people are winners. It’s probably more like (this is completely made up by my semi-educated guess) 0.001% win a jackpot, 10% make a good profit, 20% make a small profit, 20% break even and 50% lose all their money. Because of this, progressive machines are most difficult to pull a profit because a chunk of the money that goes into the machine goes toward paying out that 1 PERSON who takes the top prize.

Wow, what a buzz kill. So what games should we play?

One clear fact is that higher denomination machines (not bet amount, but denomination) have higher overall payback percentages. Pennies are the lowest, followed by 2cent, 5c, 10c, 25c, 50c, $1 and so forth up to $100 and above. When you hit the $100 bet range or more, they can have close to a 95% payout! So why wouldn’t we all just bet on $100 machines? Again, they usually have a large progressive amount or Jackpot Amount that will account for a portion of the winnings, thus generally making you a loser.

Does this mean that the casino can ‘flip the switch’ at any time and adjust the payout percentage?

No. No. No. Everyone, including myself, LOVES to blame a casino at times saying that “Oh this section is not paying out”, or “they’re under renovations and have to pay for it” or “It’s the holidays so they’ve flipped the switch!”. It’s just not true no matter how many times you say it. Sometimes you are just darned lucky, and sometimes you are not just darned unlucky. In order for a casino to adjust a payout percentage on a slot machine, they have to open it up and make adjustments to each individual machine. This process can take up to 45 minutes to do, so by the time they are done, the holiday would be over! So no, there is no man in a booth getting ready to shut it down. There was a time when casinos were hoping to go to server based machines, but it didn’t happen.

Any tips?

Play within your limits. If you normally bet $5/spin, rather than play a penny machine with an 87% payout, why not play a $1 denomination machine for the same bet amount of $5/spin with a 92% payout! That’s why when you see me playing Lightning Link, I always do the 10cent denomination for $5 a spin rather than max betting the 1 cent version. When it does come to multi-denomination machines like Lightning Link, the manufacturer will often leave it up to the casinos to set payback for each denomination, and . So in that case, I’ll play Lightning Link in the High Limit room instead with the exact same 10cent denomination at $5/spin bets (the lowest on that machine). Or better still, try your hand at Video Poker for higher paybacks (assuming you know how to play!).

So why do I play penny slots after knowing all of this?

Can you blame me? They’re too much darn fun!! Imagine if all of my videos were on single line $1 machines or me just doing 2 spins on a $100 machine. No one watches for just that! So I will take the cut in payback percentage if it means I have more fun.

Don’t forget, payback percentages are not advertised by casinos nor are they on slot machines, except….LIGHTNING ZAP!! This particular game, created by Everi, is set to start as a whopping 90% payback and they often advertise that at casinos! I’ve also noticed that while playing slots at Dotty’s in Vegas, the U1 slot machines would encourage me to ‘up’ by denominations for higher payout percentages! I think if slot manufacturers caught on to that, it would be very smart. Wouldn’t you bet $3 instead of $2 if it told you your payout would go from 87% to 90%? It sure worked on me, although I ended up losing quicker.

Here’s an AMAZING HIT I got in Reno on Lightning Zap on a $2 bet with a 24,450% payback! Is that right? It sounds too high…but when winning $2 on a $2 bet is 100%, I guess it adds up quickly!

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Line it up,


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