Myths vs. Reality Slot Payback

Can Your Win/Loss Record or Gambling Budget Tell You Anything About Slot Payback?

Binion's gambling sign
Written by Joshua

Back when the pandemic shutdowns of casinos happened, and the reopenings of casinos were beginning to happen, I wrote an article talking about whether players should expect major changes to payback after reopening. Someone who recently found the post didn’t like what I had to say and left this comment:

NONSENSE. I gamble in Vegas, Atlantic City, Biloxi, Detroit & New Orleans and I have NEVER has such a massive LOSING STREAK at slots.

Make no mistake, I AM A GAMBLER. I pack between $5,000-$10,000 with me on each visit, I read my Win/Loss statements. I know for a fact that the house can and does tighten/loosen slots. A slot programmer in New Orleans, TOLD ME TO MY FACE that they tightened up the slots as much as legally allowed by state law.

Is the same thing going on in Las Vegas, or anywhere else? I’m not sure because no one admitted it to me, but my Win/Loss reports suggest they have been tightened up. I do fare better in Las Vegas at MGM properties better than anywhere else.

A friend of mine sent me a screenshot of his win/loss from the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas midway through 2021. Over half a million in coin-in, and he managed to have payback of more than 100 percent. Does that mean the Cosmo pays over 100 percent? To use your own word, nonsense.

Everything you’ve outlined is simply one data point. You cannot surmise a casino’s overall payback from one win/loss record. For the same reason, I can’t look at three years of win/loss at MGM Grand, which for me in a three year swing was under 70 percent, and presume that’s what the casino’s set to pay, not the least of which is that in Nevada, it has to be over 75 percent, per regulations.

Your gambling budget also doesn’t really matter as much as the game you’re playing and the number of spins. If you’re not doing hundreds of thousands to millions of spins, it’s quite likely you can be some ways away from the overall payback because of something called variance.

I have lots of people tell me slot techs (I presume that’s what you mean by a slot programmer) told them things to their face, and usually I wince at what follows because it doesn’t make sense or is simply inaccurate. Casinos furloughed or laid off their entire staff, slot techs included, when they closed, and basically opened things as they were left when they closed (which is the article you’re replying to). And I’ve done multiple articles since that indicate, in markets I’ve reviewed, that the paybacks haven’t changed in any meaningful way since.

But don’t take my word for it – there’s an easy way to verify this for yourself. Vegas, Atlantic City, Biloxi and New Orleans are all markets with commercial casinos that are required to report data to the state government, including their overall hold, which is the inverse of payback – if the casino holds 10 percent, their slots paid back 90 percent (simple example, not meant to be considered an actual example).

The American Casino Guide Book, along with recent payback data, has information on how to check the data in all those markets. You can compare 2018 and 2019 to 2020 and 2021 to see how things have evolved. I’ve looked at Vegas and Atlantic City in detail, and it’s been consistent. I plan on looking at other markets in the future, but you don’t need to wait for me to do so as the data’s available for anyone to review!

I’m sorry you’ve had a bad run, but bad runs are part of gambling, and it’s not nonsense for them to happen without a single change to slot paybacks. Gamblers want to have something or someone to blame for a bad run, but your budget, win/loss and other anecdotal data can’t really tell you what’s happening with slot paybacks. The overall reporting can, and I hope you find what you’re looking for there.

About the author

Joshua

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.

4 Comments

  • I have a question about players cards and points earned vs win loss statements. While my 2021 win loss statement may show I won x dollars (or lost). My point status shows I have played well above what they are disclosing. At my home casino I earn 1 point for every $10 I plug into the slot either directly or by playing off winning spins. For example: my points may show 19000 and if you multiply that times $10 since I only get 1 point for each $10 spent then I have a hard time understanding my losses showing $65K and my winnings showing $75K, which puts me at a profit of $10K. To earn the 19000 points the wins and losses should add up with what I played right? That said, could you use your point balance and the structure of how you earned them to document play not won on for tax purposes?

    • Hi Sheila! Theoretically they’d line up, but it’s important to note that tier credits can accrue at different paces for a variety of reasons – multiplier days, higher accruing for higher card types, and so on. For your level of coin-in that would for many casino programs put you a tier or two up the ladder, so that could be causing a disconnect. Another thing to keep in mind is the only number that matters for point accruing, given the structure you noted, is the coin-in – you get the points regardless of whether you win or lose, and so you could get points and win, or get points and lose. Third, you don’t specifically identify whether the points are tier credits or points like comps, and so if it’s comps, you’ll also need to verify where your balance began, as you may have carried points forward. Finally, some casinos did some weird things with the points and/or tier credits during the pandemic, so that 19,000 could also include a carried over balance.

      As you can see, it’s complicated at times, and without knowing more I can only offer limited advice. But I will say that the coin-in/out is generally about as accurate as it comes, because it records every wager, and the IRS will not be referring to your tier credits or points when working through it. They’re going to look at that win/loss only. Actually, even the IRS states on their website win/loss isn’t enough of a record keeping element, so they’ll be expecting other things to look at like a gambling log or ATM receipts to back up anything you assert in the rare chance you’re audited.

  • Thanks josh. The only thing my home casino did was give us an extra 6 months to make our tier once they reopened. They don’t offer bonus earnings time periods either. Both my tier level and amount of coin in seem to match. I can literally watch how much “coin” I either put in or that I replay off of my winnings and watch my points go up at a rate of 1 point for every $10 played. I guess the best bet is to start keeping a log- but what a kink that can put into your play. Maybe you could do a little blog spot on the best and easiest way to create a log

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