Slot machines, on the loose!

Apr 27, 2004 7:10 AM

Slot players are always asking where’s the best place to play. The answer, of course, is where you have the best chance of winning.

That may not be easy to determine, especially when casinos are constantly declaring "slot wars" over who has the "loosest" slots.

After compiling and analyzing slot return statistics for all the states that regulate slot machines, GamingToday has determined that a few states stand alone as having the loosest — that is, the most liberal paying — slot machines in the country.

Nevada is one of them, but many might be surprised at the other states that offer comparable machines.

Before taking a closer look at slot payback percentages, be aware that states with tribal gaming often don’t compile slot statistics because the tribes won’t release them.

Among these states are California, Arizona and North Dakota, to name a few. Most, however, are required to offer slot machines with a payback percentage of at least 80 percent.

Also worth noting is the definition of slot payback percentage, which is simply the percentage of the money played into the machine that is returned to the players.

Thus, a machine with a 92 percent payback percentage will return 92 percent of the money inserted into it to the player.

As pointed out, Nevada has the highest payback percentage, with a statewide average of 95.01 percent. Later, we will break that figure down into the popular tourist centers — Las Vegas, Reno, Laughlin and Lake Tahoe.

Running a respectable second is the state of Missouri, where slot payback averages about 94.6 percent, which is slightly better than the 94.3 percent returned to players in Colorado casinos.

Staying in the Midwest, casinos in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa return very nearly the same amount to slot players — about 94 percent in each jurisdiction, give or take a half-percentage point.

Perhaps surprising to some is the relatively low rate of payback at casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersen, where slot players can expect a slot return of slightly under 92 percent.

The casinos in Connecticut — Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun — are famous for their thousands of slot machines, but players should know that machines that take nickels, quarters and halves typically return less than 91 percent, although the higher denomination machines such as $5 and $10 slots, reward their well-heeled players with returns of about 95 percent.

As noted earlier, virtually all the jurisdictions in Nevada, return more than 90 percent to slot players. But the highest paying machines — which return more than 95 percent to players — are located at casinos on the Boulder Strip (such as Sam’s Town, Boulder Station and Arizona Charlie’s), and in North Las Vegas (such as Texas Station, Fiesta and Santa Fe Station).

Within those locales, some machines actually pay close to 100 percent. For instance, $1 slots in North Las Vegas pay on average 98.1 percent, while $5 machines in the same district return a whopping 100.1 percent.

Even the most popular slot machine, the 25¡ machine, paid back 97.1 percent in North Las Vegas and 96.8 percent on the Boulder Strip.

The lowest-paying machines in the state are located on the Strip, which averages 93.6 percent payback, still higher than most states.

Lake Tahoe is slightly better with 93.7 percent, and Laughlin is the only other area in the state with an average below 94 percent, with 93.9 percent return.

Slot experts are quick to point out that slot payback return is a statistic that is calculated over millions of theoretical pulls of the slot machine handle. Thus it is imprudent to expect a machine to always return 94 percent in any given session.

It’s more likely, they say, that the machine will run in "cycles," in which money will be played in and out relatively evenly, which must balance the eventual, though elusive, jackpot that is programmed to hit. Hopefully, sooner than later.