Why Don’t Casinos Share Payback Percentages?

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97 percent payback slot machine

Payback percentages on slot machines are one of the secrets of the casino industry. Here’s a question from a player that really hones in on that aspect of things:

Is there a way to know the payback percentages of a machine? In other words, a way to play higher paybacker percent games/denoms?

Jill

First off, a quick definition of payback percentage for those unfamiliar with the term – that’s the amount a slot machine or other game is designed, over time, to pay back to players. It’s sometimes known as the return to player, or RTP.

When it comes to the physical slot machines found in casinos, we’ve only sene one instance of a game that wears its payback percentage on its sleeve, and that’s the U1 machine found in a few places like Dotty’s and the El Cortez in Las Vegas. Otherwise, that information is a closely guarded secret.

Why? Blackjack tables, Video Poker machines, Roulette, and more tell you what they pay based on the information provided. Slots have for some time had a variety of payback options for the same, identical looking, game. And for whatever reason, players have not had access to that information.

Casinos in other jurisdictions sometimes make this data available, but in the US it was decided this was proprietary information. This means you can have two machines that look alike, in different casinos, paying different amounts, because the slot manufacturers give casinos a handful of payback options and the casino can choose whichever one they wish to have on their floor. And since regulations don’t require the sharing of this information, casinos don’t.

That said, there are some ways to get a sense for what a game might pay back over time, even if you can’t see an exact number for a specific machine.

Public Payback Reporting Data

Some markets, particularly commercial ones like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, have publicly available payback data. Some are grouped by region, like Nevada; some are grouped by casino, like Atlantic City. And in some markets, like Connecticut, you can even see the payback by casino, by denomination.

The more specific that data is, the more likely you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Nevada, which pools a bunch of casinos together, makes it the hardest to know what an individual casino pays, because you can’t drill down to that level of detail. By comparison, the by-denomination/casino data in Connecticut gives you a reasonable idea of what you can expect a penny or dollar machine to pay back at each of the two casinos.

So if your casino is one that reports data that’s published by the state, that can be a helpful tool to see how your casino compares to others.

How Blackjack and Video Poker Pay

If a casino has a low paying or high paying philosophy, they’re probably going to advertise it in ways that their marketing department can leverage. For instance, if a casino is offering 3:2 Blackjack payouts vs. 6:5, that’s a good sign. Video Poker pay tables are more generous? That’s another one.

It’s not unusual for a casino that skimps on the payouts of other games to also do so on slots, so even if you’re not a table or video poker player, knowing how to read that information to get a sense of what your casino’s philosophy might be is a good way to know how good a gamble you’re getting.

Denomination Selection

Another rule of thumb that players should keep in mind is generally speaking, as the denomination of the machine goes up, so does the overall payback percentage, as a rule. So shifting from penny to nickel, nickel to quarter, quarter to dollar, etc. denominations can each have a small, but over time meaningful, benefit with a higher expected payback percentage.

Despite a penny player easily being able to do a $10 or $20 maximum bet, and a quarter player in some cases being able to do a 75 cent or $1.25 bet a spin, the general casino floor model continues to follow the rule of thumb that higher denominations yield higher payback percentages. 

This is in part because payback is often set at the denomination level, and not the total wager level. (That could be a nightmare for casinos with machines having 6-8 denominations and 5-6 bet levels per denomination.)

So, it helps to look at that aspect of game play. Even if you only move part of your play to higher denomination games, it can help your overall returns over time.

Online Casinos Work Differently

Up to this point we’ve talked purely about slots in physical casinos. Online Real Money Gaming slots have trended towards more transparency, with an RTP published in many games.

As an added bonus, those RTPs have traditionally been at the higher end of the ranges provided by slot makers to physical casinos, and they are accessible even on the smallest bets.

Here’s a comparison for you. Penny slot machines in casinos can, and sometimes are, set as low as 85 percent. The same game can be available, with a lower minimum bet, at an online Real Money Gaming casino for as high as 96 percent! 

That would generally mean, over time, the same budget could last 3-4 times longer, on average, playing online vs. a physical casino, just because of the difference in payouts.

And honestly one of the reasons we believe those payback percentages aren’t advertised on the machines is that casinos don’t want to acknowledge what those payouts are like. When payouts are above average, casinos (like El Cortez) love to tout their above average payback numbers over their competition as a marketing advantage. It’s also why machines that are purposefully set high can often times be marked as such by the casino.

This is a lot about payback percentages on slot machines and is about as specific as we can generally get on the topic, but hopefully this gives you as a player some tools to analyze what makes sense for you when trying to find a good gamble.

Have a question? Submit yours here!


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6 Replies to “Why Don’t Casinos Share Payback Percentages?”

  • michael stracner says:

    I believe in Nevada the gaming commission wont allow any percentage on slot machines under 80 percent

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Nevada’s minimum is 75 percent, but manufacturers generally don’t even sell machines that get even close to that level. Still, presuming they did, 75-100% is a very big range for machines to be set at.

  • Barry says:

    not about the Australian thing unless it’s new. that being said each state or territory has its own laws on gambling so a nsw casino, club or hotel may post this info but the rest of the country may not. unlike the UK where all slot machines must display their RTPs

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Thanks for the clarification, Barry! We’ve updated the article to not be so firm on that statement since the regulatory rules there definitely are complex given the differing rules by area.

  • Jim S says:

    I lived in Memphis in the 90’s, when the casino expansion at Tunica MS was happening. I recall billboards for one of the casino’s on the main highway from Memphis leading to Tunica boasting they had the “loosest” slots with a 97% payback. Of course, it never specified if that was on all denom’s ,or even how their 97% compared to all the other new casinos slot payback ( they might have been virtually as “loose” for all drivers passing that billboard knew)

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      That’s interesting how they marketed it, Jim, and I imagine those claims went away long ago but players have no clue how much it may have evolved since then. The push to allow smaller denominations has also brought with it lower paybacks – the introduction of nickel and penny machines more broadly certainly had a big impact on things!

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