Myths vs. Reality Slot Payback

Can You Spot Visible Differences in a Game That Can Impact Payback?

Enchanted Unicorn by IGT two reels wild
Written by Joshua

A player I routinely converse with shared with me an example of a game he plays often, and how at two different casinos there appeared to be a difference on the fourth reel. One version had a pair of wilds stacked on top of each other. Another version had a single wild.

His supposition was that the game had different software in it. But I said that it might be something else, which led to the question. Could you spot differences in the game that could give you an indication as to its payback?

STATUS: A game could be designed with discernible differences that a player could spot. But then you’d not necessarily be sure which one pays better.

When designing a slot machine, a certain number of payback settings are created within the software. Once a base game is developed, there are a variety of ways that games’ payback can be established. Examples of how that can be done can include:

  • Adjusting the weighting of a reel stop. This is of course common on mechanical reel slots, which have a physical limitation, so adjusting the frequency of how often each stop on a reel occurs can be one way to adjust the payout percentage.
  • Meters moving at different speeds. There are games with accumulators such as progressives, free game counters, etc. that progress at a different pace on one payback versus another.
  • Different versions of a game. The most famous example is Buffalo being required to be redesigned for Nevada because of regulatory requirements, but in very rare situations a game may differ in one slot market versus another.
  • Adding, removing or replacing symbols on reels. On virtual reel slots, which are basically just animated on a computer screen, you could adjust how often a symbol appears to get to a different payout percentage.

It’s that last one that my friend was potentially identifying. But here’s the challenge: Without more information, you may not be ever 100 percent sure which one pays better without other information, such as a PAR sheet, to truly confirm the answer.

But regardless of that, there are scenarios that if you play a game enough, and begin to spot those reel strip differences, you could very well be seeing a difference between payback of the same game in two different locations. It’s not a guarantee, but it could be a sign.

But whether that can tell you anything else is a bit more difficult to answer without other backing information.

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a 30-something 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, games that give you a potential edge, casino promotions and systems and how you can get the most out of it.

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