Slot machines remain one of the most popular games at any land based or online casino. Every casino likes to claim ‘generous payback’ in their marketing but this is extremely tough to validate. Why *wouldn’t* a casino claim something that they know will appeal to players but be difficult for even the most experienced bettors to quantify? Everyone wants to find the loosest slot machines so the appeal of this marketing strategy is obvious. Short term variance makes it all the more difficult to accurately assess slot machine payback. Regardless of the actual hold percentage, any player can win or lose in the short term.

Yesterday, we took our first look at actual slot machine revenue and return data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s monthly reports. Even with the obvious geographic limitation, it’s helpful to see some actual ‘hard numbers’ when trying to get a handle on which slot machines are the most ‘player friendly’. The NGC strives for accuracy but there are a few factors that have to be considered when evaluating it from the slot player’s perspective. Nevada gaming revenue reports lump video poker and video keno into the slot machine category. Since video poker returns are often some of the highest of any casino game, to some extent it ‘inflates’ the overall number. Video keno offers a better return to the player than traditional keno but generally has a payback similar to or slightly less than slot machines.

Another limitation is that the Nevada data is an aggregate of all licensee revenue. This is broken down several ways for more detail–by county, geographically within the major casino jurisdictions and by the annual revenue of the properties–but provides only general guidance as to which casinos are best for the player. For example, the data shows that players have a higher return in downtown Las Vegas than they do on The Strip. Return percentage can vary widely not only from casino to casino but within the casino so while helpful this general data can only take you so far.


So where can you find casino specific data? Not surprisingly, casinos don’t make it easy to quantify their payout percentages. Video poker is significantly easier due to the game being based on a finite number of options (typically a 52 card deck give or take a few wild cards). With this information and a machine’s pay table you can figure out the payback percentage. Even the newer video poker variations follow the fundamental rules of poker and the established parameters of a deck of playing cards.

This isn’t the case with slot machines. Slot machines are required by law in most jurisdictions to display a payout card clearly on front of the machine. Even where it *isn’t* required, it’s always done since players expect it. The problem is the other half of the ‘theoretical return’ equation. It’s easy to figure out the ‘true odds’ of the various video poker hands derived from a deck of cards. It’s exceedingly difficult to ascertain how many ‘stops’ there are on a slot machine reel. Manufacturers aren’t anxious to hand over this data to players. Some gambling researchers get the information from ‘insiders’ but much of the slot machine data that gets to the player is based on personal observation and taking notes. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that over the past decade casinos have started to take a dim view to slot players taking notes.

In Nevada, state law requires a machine to pay out at least 75%. Thanks to the magic of market economics, most slot machines in the Silver State pay in excess of 90%. In our next article, we’ll look at some of the research data on slot machine returns and see what sort of information can be extracted.