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Can a Casino Player Tell the Difference on Slot Machine Holds?

Payback Percentage screen
Written by Joshua

A growing amount of research has been working to determine whether players can tell a game that has a high hold (in other words, a lower return to player/payback percentage). Some recent studies are challenging long held beliefs by many.

STATUS: The jury is still out, as two competing researchers disagree. But most still believe players can tell the difference.

The general belief is that, over time, players can tell the difference between high hold slots and low hold slots. Or, perhaps a bit more accurately, players will be apt to play at places where they see their budgets holding out over time longer. And, law of averages say looser casinos will provide that opportunity more often than tighter ones.

Studies have been trying to knock this belief down for some time. The most recent one was announced by Anthony Lucas, a Hospitality College professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In it, he says that the studies showed increasing the hold on a machine didn’t have any impact on players playing it, and it made more money.

The study is being challenged by others who say the methodology for coming to the conclusion leaves out important player details that will impact the long-term success of the games.

Previous attempts to prove this have been heavily challenged by those who pointed out flaws in the analysis. It seems that there are many entrenched feelings about this, but there’s plenty of data, from casinos marketing the looseness of their machines to the actual win numbers, that indicate that looser casinos will indeed do better in the long run:

If you examine the just released numbers from the Nevada Gaming Control Board for the last 12 months ending in June 2019; you’ll see that the Las Vegas Strip added 1.4% more machines this year and tightened all their games to a record high of 8.16%. As the new study surmised, their revenues rose 3.95%.  But across town in North Las Vegas, where the slots are much looser (6.66%), revenues grew 5.00% with 1.4% fewer machines. Loose, not greed, is good.

Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

Casinos and slot manufacturers are of course watching this carefully. Decisions that could impact the long-term revenues of both casinos and slot manufacturers can be enormous. If casinos turn up the hold on games, players may look poorly on them, hurting slot manufacturers. Casinos that are struggling are less likely to invest in new games or hardware. And so on.

So this science will continue, and those who think higher holds are better will hold their ground, as will those who think looser slots are better. For markets where this data must be disclosed, informed players can look up the data and draw their own conclusions.

Do you think you can tell the difference between a machine with a higher hold and a lower hold? Share in the comments!

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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