There are multiple factors that weigh in on how much slot machines have to pay out over time as a percentage of the overall bets that are made on a game. Each has the effect of putting a floor under the proceedings, a good thing for players, as it ensures games have a certain level of payback built into them.
Local or State Regulations
In many commercial markets, the minimum a given machine must pay back will be incorporated into the local regulations. These numbers can be quite low at times, however; in Nevada, that number is 75 percent, while in New Jersey, it is 83 percent.
Some state regulations are set up that every machine must meet a minimum; at New York’s racinos and casinos regulated by the New York Lottery, every game installed must have an overall payback of at least 90 percent. This includes penny denomination games, making that a favorable game design compared to most of the alternatives surrounding it, whether in other states or commercial casinos in New York itself.
Slot Machine Game Design
The slot machines themselves are designed with a range of payback options available to casino operators, but many times the ranges of payback options will be above and beyond the state minimums.
We’ve spoken with multiple game developers and their designers over the years, and a common payback range will be something like 85 to 98 percent, depending on the game type, the denomination targeted for casino floors, and the volatility of the game.
So even if a market has a 75 percent minimum, like Nevada, if a game is designed with payback options starting at 85 percent, it can’t be set up for anything lower than that. Even if a game is being placed in markets with no minimum requirement at all, if it’s the same game being bought as those commercial markets, those same rules apply.
Casino Payback Decisions
Finally, the casino itself ultimately makes the call of what games they buy, and what payback option out of the list they wish to select for placement on their floor. Casinos will simply not buy certain games if they don’t offer the payback options they want, and while many games may have a range between 85 and 98 percent, it doesn’t mean every casino is choosing 85 percent.
Many of the large casino companies have casinos in multiple commercial markets, and it is pretty easy to compare and contrast what one company is paying back in various casinos vs. another. That can offer a helpful indication of how good or bad the overall payback will be.
But ultimately, there are multiple levels of places where minimums and payback floors are set that will determine what a slot can pay back. Because these can vary by market, it helps to look at what the local rules are to know what to expect for a certain area.
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