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Why Do Slot Machine Payback Settings Matter?

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Written by Joshua

If you’ve been reading my site for awhile, you know that slot machines are designed over time to make money for the casino, and come with a variety of payback settings. I’ve also shared ways you can identify machines with better payback through reporting, choice of denomination and so on.

But that may lead to the question – does the payback on machines really matter? If you’re only going to play for 10 minutes, does an 88 percent machine vs. a 90 percent machine really matter?

The answer: If you were only going to play that once, probably not – short term variance can make that a winning or losing session regardless of which choice.

But many players don’t just play one machine and call it a day, or make one casino visit and call it a lifetime. There are plenty of casino players that visit monthly, weekly and so on, and so the reality is that you’re compounding those spins over time.

So today, let’s look at why those payback settings really do matter.

  • An average slots player spins 400-600 spins an hour, and the pace has been quickening. Slots are getting faster over time, in part to increase the number of wagers when getting bets to increase can’t always happen. If you spend 4 hours at a casino, 2,500 spins isn’t an unreasonable possibility – that’s a lot of hitting that spin button.
  • Wagers are also increasing: You may notice it most often on remakes of old machines – games with 30 cent wagers now have 40 cent or 50 cent wagers, or you have to do a 2x line bet where a 1x used to be possible. This, too, is designed to increase the amount of money moving through machines over time.
  • Over time, your money will last longer on higher payback percentage options. While a single session, or even group of sessions, may not bear this out because of variance, with enough play and enough time, a clear difference will emerge. Just to provide an example, if you play a 95% game vs. a 90% game, over time your money will last twice as long, because the casino is holding half as much back over time.

So your money lasting longer, or conversely losing less over time, is certainly a valuable aspect to it. But there’s other aspects to this that can matter too:

  • Most casino players card programs don’t discriminate based on payback or denomination: The pace you earn your tier credits doesn’t matter whether you’re playing a low payout slot machine or a high payout slot machine, a low denomination or a high denomination. The same level of wagers will allow you to tier up and claim perks regardless of the choice. Sometimes your comp dollars will be impacted, but other times they won’t (see Caesars Rewards, for example).
  • You reduce the Risk of Ruin too early: One mistake many players make is overbet relative to their bankroll. That can mean not being able to ride out cold streaks before making it to the next big win. This can cause a player to run out of money and be forced to leave ahead of schedule, even when based on how much they wagered they should have some money left. Slots have a level of volatility that means there will be ups and downs along the way, and so playing games that help reduce that slide over time can also help a player make it to the next big win.

So while a single session isn’t likely to be heavily impacted, because of the fact that casino gaming is about repetition and enough wagers to make the house edge take hold, it’s still an important aspect of what’s going on that players should be aware of it, and find ways to minimize it.

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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