Players who’ve played a long time seem to notice a shift in what’s happening on the casino floor. Here’s one example:
Why does it seem like I have to spend so much more to stay for an hour or so at the casino? Years ago I could bring $50 and play for hours on my penny machines but now I need $200 or more? Does inflation affect the machines? Or have the machines upped the minimum bets that much? I’ve talked to others who play and they say the same thing.Karen
We like Karen’s question because it doesn’t jump to conclusions. We see tons of people posting about how casinos are tighter, cutting paybacks, and so forth when the data reported in various markets doesn’t necessarily hold that up.
A white paper written by slot maker WMS in 2014 researched your exact question, and despite it being almost a decade old now its points are as relevant as ever. While slot payback percentages factored into the calculus at that time, it was fourth, and three other aspects carried more weight:
- Slot machines are getting more volatile
- Slots are increasing their minimum and maximum bets (pushing up player bets)
- The slot games themselves are getting faster
All three of these trends have persisted in the intervening years.
The Rising Cost of a Slot Machine Spin
Their 2014 report noted that slot machine minimum bets had increased from 25 cents to 40 cents. Now you’re lucky to find 50 cent minimum bets (often found on Link machines) but more and more penny slot machines are opting for a minimum of 60 cents, 75 cents, 88 cents or even a dollar.
Maximum bets can get as high as $20 on penny machines now, as seen by games like Super Bowl Jackpots by Aristocrat; this is a higher bet than a 9-line $1 machine in the high limit room.
For a period of time, the percentage casinos kept back was rising because of the growth in popularity of penny slot machines. When they were introduced, the higher house edge was justified by the fact that the games were often 9 line games with 45 or 90 credit maximum bets.
But as the games began to offer higher bets than, for instance, three-credit quarter machines, the payback philosophy for a long time never changed. So as those bet amounts went up, the house edge remained stubbornly high, and more money was being wagered against that house edge.
Reels Spin Faster, and Count Up Faster
Faster games are also contributing to the cause by getting more spins in per hour. They’ve done this in a variety of ways:
- Reels spin faster than they used to
- Games count up money faster than they used to
- Bonuses are in some cases being designed to not take as long
- Games are giving players the ability to control how fast the reels spin
- Players can speed stop the reels and the count-ups to move the game along
You put all these together and more money is being put at risk per hour, and so the expectation is players would lose more money per hour even if the bet amount per spin was exactly the same. But combined with growing bet amounts, it encourages a faster spending of money.
This isn’t a trend limited to slots, either – newer Video Poker machines, for instance, deal cards out faster than old ones, even when on the same speed setting as the older version of the game. That leads to more hands being played per hour, accomplishing the same goal.
Slot Machine Volatility
The other aspect that’s more challenging is slot volatility. Games are getting tougher – there’s more money in the bonuses, but bonuses are harder to get. Line hits are being watered down, especially on extensions of previous games. Players favor these games, so the game makers keep pushing the envelope.
This means you’re less likely to walk away from a specific game a winner, but when you are, you’re likely to win more. But this means the ratio of winners to losers in a session shifts, and it can mean running out of money before getting a comeback win.
If you play an older game on the casino floor, the wins won’t be as big, but the ups and downs won’t be as crazy as often, either.
The House Always Wins
Put these three elements together and the casino only has to change out the games on the casino floor to make more money. And astute players will notice an increase in new games in many casinos as older games are removed.
Part of this is intentional – during the pandemic casinos noticed with half their machines off, they didn’t see their revenue get cut in half, and made changes based on what they learned. They also are spacing machines out more, an aspect players indicated they liked, and have replaced big banks of old machines with less machines in pods and carousels that players frankly play more.
In that way we’re a bit of a victim of our own design – we choose to play the newer, tougher, faster and more expensive machines, putting more money on the line in the process without necessarily being aware of it. And this is why your money won’t last as long.
Ways to Make Your Money Last Longer
So what can you do as a player? You can push back a bit on these trends by doing the reverse:
- Play older games that aren’t as fast, expensive or volatile
- Let the game count up your wins instead of moving on quickly
- Let the spins run out instead of rapid firing
- Don’t hit spin right away when the last spin is over – let it breathe a bit
- Find games with lower minimum bets
- If your budget allows, play higher denomination games that have better long-term payback percentages than lower ones
And for those who find this trend troubling, the fact it’s been going on for decades, and continues to evolve, means you should expect this trend to only continue.