Some people think casinos try to draw interest and initial attention by offering better payouts than they will down the line. Those who believe this chalk it up to a sort of marketing expense.
STATUS: Not true. In fact, by the most technical definition, many, but not all, slots start out by paying less than they eventually will.
They Don’t Pay More…
This post is inspired by a few things that came up at the time I was working on some new posts for the site. One is this well-written piece by Brian Christopher that hits on a lot of the points I would hit on.
Slot machines are not generally managed so precisely, as we’ve covered here, and most slot managers have better ways to improve the overall performance of their floor than knock payback up or down repeatedly. Plus short-term variance will negate a lot of that work anyway – a low-paying machine could still handpay and a high-paying machine give not much of value.
So casinos don’t manage floors that tightly as a rule, and so going to a casino on day one won’t yield significantly better results than visiting, say, a month later. Your chances of winning won’t change regardless of when you visit. However, could it be bad to visit a casino on the first day?
But Do They Pay Less?
Another thing that got me thinking was someone asking about payback percentages at MGM Springfield, which opened last year. While looking at the data there, Plainridge Park and Encore Boston Harbor, which are all based in Massachusetts and have reporting requirements, I noticed something consistent about all three – their paybacks right after opening were actually lower than they settled into by around month three or four.
Checking a number of facilities in New York, which also has reporting requirements and easily accessible histories, I noticed something similar. Strange.
So why could this be? After chewing on it, it hit me why new casinos, and to a lesser extent brand new slots, might not be paying at it’s full potential: Progressive jackpots.
The Role of the Progressive in Payouts
We’ve talked about progressives here pretty frequently in the past, and the Advantage Play potential of them, selecting the right machines, and how some progressives can grow basically indefinitely until they’re hit. No AP player in their right mind would be searching a brand new casino floor for progressives because they haven’t built up yet. And there inlies the rub.
Progressives have a non-zero influence on payouts. The higher they get, the higher the influence they’ll have in the short term. But when you open a brand new casino floor and none of the progressives have built up yet, the payouts expected from those progressives will underperform. On a seasoned casino floor with thousands of machines, some percentage of them will have progressives that have built up pretty sizably.
With progressives easily contributing a couple of percentage points to payback at full steam, and with progressives on a new casino floor not having a chance to have built up yet, if you played the game above on day one, you’d be looking at a grand closer to $10,000.
If you saw a $10k grand and a $189k grand sitting side by side, which one would you play? If you said the $189k, you made the right decision. So why would you go to a casino that just opened if it’s full of the wrong decisions?
Well, if you’re gambling for entertainment, you might still go to check out a new facility. Most people don’t hit those giant progressives on a given visit either, so perhaps that’s a long shot you’re not worried about. And in reality, winning $10k anytime is a good deal. But in the most technical sense, playing at a new casino, or being among the first to try a new slot, means you’re technically sacrificing the chance at bigger payouts, if only because the progressives are still new.
Just to reinforce one point: Your odds of winning don’t change – those new slot machines will pay you a progressive jackpot with the same odds as a more established casino with the same game set to the same payback. It’s just the amount you can win that changes. And when a casino first opens, those progressives haven’t had a chance to build, so the amounts are naturally lower until some time has passed.
How Long Does it Take to Stabilize?
The data shows a stabilization by around the third month or so; that seems reasonable that most major progressives would hit every couple of months – less often and there wouldn’t be enough big jackpots to share across social media and so forth, but rare enough that you don’t see it happening every hour on the casino floors.
There’s also the linked six-figure progressives across a site or multiple sites, which offer some other ways for things to happen, and certainly some progressives will hit right away, albeit at their lower (in the beginning) values.
But if you’re looking to pop in once the payouts are at their best potential, giving a casino a couple of months can’t hurt.
Non-Progressives Don’t Matter
All of the above has to do specifically with progressive machines. Non-progressives don’t have this issue, so if you go to a new casino, you might find a better bet (pun intended) is to take up some play on non-progressive slots. They’re likely set at a similar payback percentage for their denomination as their progressive counterparts, but since you’re not feeding the progressive jackpot meters, your payback on line hits and bonuses will probably be a bit better accordingly.
It can be harder to find non-progressive machines nowadays, but keep in mind not all progressives are made equal either – there are some games with smaller top progressives and then there’s the ones with massive ones. Smaller top progressives will generally be hit more often since the amount itself isn’t as high, and so you could also seek those out to reduce the impact to you.
Similarly, while they may not be the best bet in the casino in some cases, fixed jackpots are also fine since they aren’t going to change their payouts over time.
Do you race to be the first at a new casino or among the first to try a new game? Or do you wait until progressives have built up first? Share your preference in the comments!