Myths vs. Reality Slot Payback

A Player’s Experience After Casinos Reopened

New York-New York slot floor
Written by Joshua

A player left a comment on my post around whether casinos will change the odds before reopening from their closures before COVID:

I live in Reno, NV. I have gambled at three different places here in Reno multiple times since the re-openings and each time…LOSE LOSE LOSE. Now I know you can lose at gambling but I take $200 or more with me and bet $1-1.50/hand and every place and every machine…can not even get up $20. I believe they have tightened the odds greatly. What fun is gambling if you are guaranteed to lose every time. Don’t kid yourself. My good friend has worked for gaming control and as long as they update the paperwork for the machine with the corresponding serial number and submit it to gaming control they can change the odds every damn day! And they have!

Beverly, via comment on the site

Thanks for your comment Beverly, and I’m sorry that you’ve not had good luck lately. However, I simply can’t sign off on your conclusions. Your experiences may provide confirmation bias to what you believe is happening, and your friend worked for gaming control (seems like a lot of people have friends in the know), but puttins aside those two things we can look analytically at a few things that could be in play to explain why you’ve had bad recent luck:

  • The impact of your bankroll and bet size
  • Changes in game design that make it harder to win
  • The publicly reported data for your market

There are also things we can rule out, like casinos constantly tinkering with payback, which we’ll get into as well. Let’s dive in:

Your Bankroll and Bet Size

If you’re bringing $200, or $300, and betting $1-$1.50 a spin, you are bringing at best 300 times your bet, and at worst about 120 times your bet. To make your money generally have a chance at surviving for four hours, I highly recommend 500 times your bet to reduce your risk of ruin.

Why? An average game nowadays can be spun 400 to 600 times an hour – and it can be very easy to catch a bad patch on a game or games and run out of money fast.

If I roughly halve those numbers, it’s equivalent to putting $100 into Dancing Drums and doing 88 cent spins. I’ve had multiple occasions on that game where I didn’t catch a single bonus or pot close with that $100, and lost it all within 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve had that happen multiple sessions in a row on that game, which made me swear it off for awhile.

So my confirmation bias would indicate you can’t win on Dancing Drums – but I know someone who’s had three Major jackpots on that game in two months, so I know some can win on it too – it just hasn’t been me.

But if you’re under bankrolled, you could make it impossible to ride out losing streaks to get to that next bonus. And that could be contributing to your short term challenges.

I say this as someone who has at times walked into my locals with a $200 bankroll – I know that it can work out, or it can fail, and when it fails it can happen fast.

Tougher Games Nowadays

I wrote about the study done a few years ago that talked about why bankrolls weren’t lasting as long, and the game design of today’s games is a part of it – it can be difficult to win when the games have gotten so much tougher.

If you find yourself favoring Link games, pot games, games with big progressives, there’s a cost to that, and that’s more dead spins chasing those big wins. These are your high volatility machines, and you have to have a proper bankroll to ride out the dead spins on these much moreso than a lower volatility game.

Combined with being short on bankroll, this can be a devastating one-two punch to players who can’t even get something going before they run out of money. This could speak to your not being able to get ahead, although there’s plenty of casino trips where I’ve started out behind, got some action, but still finished down too.

And as such, going to the casino with the goal of getting ahead will simply be a harder one to achieve then, say, getting x hours of value out of your gambling budget, whether or not you go home with money.

Reno’s Payback Reporting Post-COVID

As I write this, we only June and July’s data to look at, but as it turns out, Reno is right on target for its payouts in June and July vs. the trailing 12 months. Low denomination slots actually did a bit better than the recent average, while higher denomination slots did a bit worse, but both were within the realm of expected variance.

Reno’s penny slots over the past 12 months have held about 7.33 percent for the house. The Las Vegas Strip penny slots, by comparison, held 11.08 percent for the house in the last year. If Reno casinos wanted to hold more, as you rightfully note, they could change the payouts at any time and update their paperwork and are good to go. But that would also bear out in the payback data, and so far that’s simply not been the case.

Now, sure casinos can change payouts whenever they want, but do they in reality? Well, the data doesn’t indicate they do. Making constant payout changes doesn’t really help the house enough to make it worth it, more often than not. They could drop payback 2 percent and then someone handpays on the machine, sending it over the expected average. Or up the payouts and someone hits a dry spell and it underperforms.

Short term variance makes constant changes unlikely and, more importantly, unnecessary. Slots have a half dozen payout options, each perhaps 2 percent apart from the last, and moving it 2 percent for a small amount of wagers won’t move the needle enough to make a difference if they’re just going to move it back the next day.

And players would see the machines being taken offline with enough frequency to wonder what’s up, given the rules about what options they have to make the change. Trust is a big deal in gambling, and players seeing tinkering happening too much may lose trust.

Casinos instead will set the payback to what they want to make over time, and will change it only if their overall goals change, or they’re moving the machine and making other changes concurrently.

People want to have something to blame when things don’t go their way. It’d be easy, and maybe even logical, to presume the casinos have ratcheted up payouts to try to make back money lost while closed because of COVID-19. But the reality is a number of other factors are likely in play, backed up by the data that not much has changed around payouts. Hopefully your next trip will be a winner and begin to reverse your fortunes.

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a slot enthusiast who works in tech as a marketer by day, and dabbles in casinos periodically during off-times. Know Your Slots will reflect my interests in understanding the various ways you can play slots, travel, casino promotions and how you can get the most out of your casino visits.

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