Slot Machine Payback Percentage

Understanding how to play slot machines is more than just knowing how to press the spin button. Like anything in life, slots are more fun if you understand something about how they work. Concepts like payback percentage, payout schedules, and RTP (return to player) are essential to understand if you really want to know what you’re doing in a casino.

The Payout Schedule

The phrase “payout schedule” might make you think that a slot machine game is scheduled to pay out certain amounts at certain periods. That’s not what it means, though, and in fact, it’s a common myth that slot machines work in cycles. Every spin of the slot machine is an independent event, and that’s the first “noble truth” of slot machine wisdom. Your chances of winning a jackpot on the spin after you just won the big jackpot are exactly the same as they were on each of the prior spins.

The payout schedule is just another phrase for the pay table. That’s a key to what the payouts are for the various combinations of symbols on the reels. The pay table shows how many lines pay out, which combinations pay out, and what amounts are paid out. That’s a lot of useful information, but it’s not enough to calculate how good a game is. The reason is because you don’t have any means of calculating how likely or unlikely it is to hit any particular combination.

The Payback Percentage

The payback percentage is a theoretical number that describes what percentage of each bet the game is programmed to pay back to the player over the long run. Always remember that in the short term, anything can happen, but in the long run, a negative expectation game will always result in a net win for the house.

Most slots have payback (or payout) percentages of 75% or greater, and in major gambling destinations, payback percentages of 90% and higher or common. This percentage is calculated when the game is designed, but it can vary from machine to machine, even if the machines have the same name and symbols.

For example, if you’re playing dollar slots, and you’re making 100 spins per hour, you’re putting $100 into action each hour. You can expect to see $90 of that come back to you in winnings each hour, but only in the long run. In the short run, you’re unlikely to see the planned payback percentage.

The flip side to a slot machine’s payback percentage is the house edge. That’s the amount of money the house plans to win from each bet. If a game has a 90% payback percentage, then the house edge is 10%. For some reason, house edge is used to describe almost all games except for slots and video poker.

RTP (Return to Player)

This is just a phrase that means the same thing as “payback percentage”. Some jurisdictions do require that such games publicize their RTP on the machine itself—Victoria is one example of such a jurisdiction.

Such jurisdictions are rare, though, so the best players can do is try to find the highest payback percentages via a few simple rules of thumb. These include:

Gamble on machines in casinos, but skip them in other locations. You’ll find bars and airports and even shopping malls with slots games in them, but the payback percentages in those other venues are almost invariably significantly lower than in an actual casino.

Wager on the higher denomination games when you can. The payback percentage goes up on average between 1% and 2% for each increment you go up in betting limits. In other words, penny slots pay out less than nickel slots, and nickel slots pay out less than quarter slots, and so on.

Place the max bet whenever appropriate. On many games, the top jackpot is only available when you play for max coins. This is especially true of progressive jackpots. Being ineligible for the top prize reduces your theoretical return to player significantly.

Always join the slots club. And always play with your player card inserted. Members of the slots club get a small percentage of their play back in the form of rebates and comps. This amount is usually tiny, between 0.1% and 0.3%, but every penny counts. If you’re playing anyway, you should take advantage of this.

What Does the Payback Percentage / Return to Player Actually Mean in Dollars and Sense?

From a practical perspective, you can calculate the amount you can expect to lose over time on a give game. Of course, this expectation only kicks in when you’re nearing a million spins or so, but it’s still useful to play a game with a lower house edge. Here’s why.

Suppose over your gambling lifespan you stick with dollar slots, and let’s suppose that you take one gambling trip per year for 40 years. We’ll also assume that you spend 40 hours of each vacation playing slot machines. Here’s how much you can expect to lose over the course of your life at various payback percentages. (These numbers assume 100 spins per hour.)

  • 95% payback percentage = $8000 in expected losses over the course of a lifetime.
  • 85% payback percentage = $24.000 in expected losses over the course of a lifetime
  • 75% payback percentage = $40,000 in expected losses over the course of a lifetime

Chances are your numbers will vary, and you can never be sure of what the return to player is on a specific machine, but you can get an idea in most major gambling jurisdictions by reading publications like the American Casino Guide or the magazine Strictly Slots.