Smarter Gambling Understanding Comps

Earning Points for Offers: How to Calculate Expected Cost Playing Slot Machines

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas bounceback offer
Written by Joshua

Sometimes earning specific offers or comps comes with a required playing obligation. For instance, Caesars-owned properties are now saying you must earn 5 tier credits to pick up gifts, like gift cards, in many cases.

Many times players get confused when discussing this. 5 tier credits on slot machines at Caesars properties is $25 in coin-in – in other words, $25 worth of wagers. Some believe that means $25 worth of losses, and will balk, saying that $20 gift card isn’t worth $25 in losses.

Except: $25 in wagers doesn’t mean $25 in losses. Certainly that’s the absolute worst case scenario. But we know slots can go anywhere from taking all your money to a handpay. We also know slots pay, over time, somewhere between 80 and 98%, depending on the game and the setting the casino chooses. But the reality is there’s no one outcome you can predict, since slots don’t pay a consistent amount each session.

Here’s a chart showing various examples of possibilities at $25 of coin-in:

Session Return to Player %0%50%75%90%100%150%
Amount Returned$0$12.50$18.75$22.50$25$37.50

Here’s the thing: It’s very unlikely, unless you do an all-or-nothing $25 spin, you’re going to end up with 0%. In fact, you can minimize that risk by making some decisions:

  • Doing more spins at a lower bet mathematically will attempt to smooth things out a bit. Variance will still be in play, but you’ll be reliant on more spins to try to get some wins.
  • Picking lower volatility machines, which pay out smaller amounts more often, can further help smooth out the variance.

One of the reasons casinos want players to play for a few hours is it increases the number of wager outcomes. If you spin a slot 400-600 times an hour, on average, you’re looking at 1,600-2,400 decisions – wins, losses, and so on. Given games persistently played with a house advantage, time is on their side.

That $25 in coin-in to get that gift can be improving the chances of making that gift cost you less than the $20 it’s worth by just being careful with your wagering decisions. But realistically, you’re not going to get hundreds of decisions on $25, so the variance could allow for more wild swings.

Now to expand on this with other examples. Some Caesars players are admitted to a slot tournament for 100 tier credits. That’s $500 in wagers. Here’s another chart with some examples of outcomes:

Session Return to Player %50%75%85%90%100%125%150%
Amount Returned$250$375$425$450$500$625$750

Why did I start with 50%? In my experience, the worst payback percentage I got out of a casino (and managed to unluckily see it for three years straight) was some visits to MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where I saw returns in the 60% range. I was clearly unlucky, but even when slots aren’t paying well, they still are usually paying something.

And again, if you are playing more lower bets on lower volatility machines, more outcomes will help to smooth out any unlucky runs (or, conversely, lucky runs) to some degree. Variance will still play a part, but will narrow things out.

If you had 85% of your wagers returned to you in pays, that slot tournament entry would effectively cost you $75. That doesn’t factor in any comps you’d earn for that play, or the $1 in Resort Credits that you get for that coin-in, but it offers at least some clarity into what it takes, so you can then look at the prizes and decide if it’s worth it (most will just find it a nice added bonus as opposed to something to specifically play for).

So if you’re going into a scenario where you have to accomplish something to get something, keep in mind the target is usually not based on loss, but based on wagers, and you can do some math to figure out if that’s in your budget or worth pursuing. Most casino comps cost more to get than they’re worth, but if you already play at that level or were planning on it, it’s an added incentive and payout for your gambling dime.

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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