Gamers view slot ‘rankings’ with skepticism

May 21, 2002 9:31 AM

A slot payback report released last week generated lots of claims of the "loosest slots" in Las Vegas. Gaming experts said it was a lot of loose talk.

The slot report ”” which listed the best to worst slot machine percentages for a select number of nickel video slots ”” was originally published in the Las Vegas Advisor, a monthly newsletter for tourists and Las Vegas visitors.

It was also the basis of a story in Sunday’s Review-Journal, which hyped the "rankings" as a "new marketing card" for casino advertising executives.

That kind of advertising could be a mistake, according to a source close to Nevada gaming regulators.

"Enforcement would have a field day with that," the source said, adding that advertising claims such as "loosest slots," "best payback" and "play longer" need to be substantiated by the casinos making the claims.

He added, however, that it was unclear whether a casino would have to prove the claims of a survey published in a consumer magazine.

The Palms casino ”” which landed on top of the slot rankings ”” didn’t wait to find out. Telephone operators last weekend were answering calls with the salutation, "We have the best paying slots in Las Vegas."

And early last week, the Palms posted claims of "loosest slots" on its marquee (noting that the claim was based on the Las Vegas Advisor report), but took the banner down by week’s end.

"It’s entirely possible that the Palms indeed has the best paying slots in Las Vegas," said an expert familiar with gaming law. "But for the Palms to advertise those claims, they at some point might have to substantiate them with actual manufacturers information that would be acceptable to Gaming’s Tax and License Division. The claims of a published survey such as the one in Las Vegas Advisor are unacceptable."

Not only are the Advisor’s claims unacceptable, they were probably ill-advised, said a source at the Gaming Control Board.

Even with confidential manufacturers’ information in hand, including the so-called par sheets, it would be possible to come up with a "rough estimate at best," said the Gaming Control Board source.

"You might be able to narrow down the range of payouts, but you won’t necessarily have the actual payback percentages," he said. "It’s not reasonable, even with the par sheets."

Moreover, the source said, the percentages listed in the survey were carried out to four decimal places: 93.42 percent, 89.90 percent, 86.86 percent, etc. "Par sheets are not usually accurate to four digits," he said.

The gaming official added that he doesn’t "believe the figures are accurate for the majority of slot machines, and that the numbers often change on a semi-regular basis."

In addition to skepticism from gaming regulators, the survey generated sharp criticism among gaming officials.

A spokesman for IGT, the world’s largest manufacturer of slot machines, said it could be possible to rank slot machines based on par sheets, but that the outcome would not be 100 percent accurate.

Gaming executives also complained that the slot rankings were "unfair at best" and "misleading in their presentation."

"Whenever you have a ”˜report card’ type of rating, where one casino is rated highest and another is rated lowest, you’re asking for trouble," said the slot operations manager at a locals-oriented casino. He added that the miniscule sampling used in the survey is barely mentioned, and the result draws readers to a misleading conclusion.

"The newspaper printed a chart of the rankings, but you needed a microscope to read at the bottom that the survey was based on only five video slot machines ”” Fortune Cookie, Leopard Spots, Wheel of Fortune, Austin Powers and Reel ”˜Em In ”” all in nickel denominations," the manager said. "Most people would look at that chart and think it was a casino-wide average, which obviously it’s not."

Even the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, Anthony Curtis, was confused with the slot survey. While touting it as "the first comprehensive and credible comparison of Las Vegas reel slot returns ever published," Curtis misstated that the survey was of reel slots and not video slots. Perhaps something was lost in the spin cycle.