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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Are slot paybacks higher in Las Vegas' locals casinos?

7 September 2016

Question: Do the local casinos' slots in Las Vegas have better payback percentages than those in the casinos on the strip?

Answer: Yes. And no. How's that for a definitive answer?

According to the slot payback page at the American Casino Guide's website, the payback percentages reported for The Strip area are consistently lower than those reported for the Downtown, Boulder Strip and North Las Vegas areas. (The Nevada Gaming Control Board does not release statistics by individual casino, only by general areas.) Don't be put off by the North Las Vegas designation. The area doesn't mean the city of North Las Vegas. The designation includes all of the casinos north of the Las Vegas strip. Similarly, the Boulder Strip area also includes casinos south of the strip and in Henderson.

For the best long-term paybacks on slot machines, definitely get away from the strip.

Video poker is a different matter. Quarter and dollar players can find the highest paybacks at the locals casinos. Higher denomination players, on the other hand, can find the highest paybacks on the strip.

The reason the locals casinos have lower long-term paybacks than the Strip casinos on high-denomination machines is because the locals casinos offer many promotions that make their video poker positive when you add the value of the promotion to the long-term payback of the paytable. For example, Emerald-level players at Boyd cainos and all players at Station Casinos get 3x points, making their NSUD games breakeven. The games go positive on bonus multiplier days. The casinos therefore limit the best-paying games to quarter and dollars to prevent players from being able to earn serious money from them.

Promotions at the Strip casinos aren't generous enough today to give players a positive expectation, so the paybacks on the video poker machines at the Strip casinos follow the general rule that the payback rises with the denomination.

For more information about video poker paybacks in Las Vegas, see last week's column, The Video Poker Payback Inversion.


Question: In Washington State the Indian casinos claim to use lottery scratch tickets as their base of win selection. Do you know how this works and what determines the payback?

Answer: I'm always amazed at some of the convoluted ways some slot machines -- and casinos -- have to operate, as if basing machines on bingo drawings or scratch-off tickets and playing on the water is somehow more acceptable than playing an RNG-based slot on land.

The slots in Washington State work exactly the same way that a lottery's rip-off -- er, scratch-off -- tickets work. To run a paper-based scratcher, the lottery determines the total number of tickets to be printed and the number of each type of winning ticket to be printed. The ticket printing company then follows some procedure to distribute the winning tickets among all the packets.

In Washington, a central server contains the pool of all tickets and winning tickets are distributed throughout that pool. When a player hits the Spin button on a slot machine, that machine requests a ticket from the central server. The central server takes the next ticket in the pool, like the lottery agent rips off the next ticket in the pack, and sends a message indicating how much was won down to the machine. The machine then displays a winning combination for the amount won, or a losing combination if nothing was won.

When the central server uses the last ticket in the pool, it generates a new pool of tickets.

Just as with the paper-based tickets, the payback is determined by dividing the total amount of money that can be won from the tickets in the pool by the number of tickets in the pool. If there are 10,000 tickets in the pool and the total value of all of the winning tickets is 9,000, the payback for the pool is 90%.

In practice, lotteries never have paybacks that high. Washington's casinos are not required to release payback data, so we don't know what their paybacks are. The minimum is 75%, though.

Let's compare an RNG-based slot with a pool-based slot. The outcome on an RNG-based slot is not affected by prior outcomes on the slot. Every outcome is possible with the same probability on every spin.

The probabilities on a pool-based slot, however, change as tickets are removed from the pool. If all of the jackpot tickets have been used, for example, you won't be able to hit the jackpot until the pool is regenerated.

An RNG-based slot may take hundreds of thousands of spins to zero in on its long-term payback percentage. The payback on a pool-based slot also varies as it is played, but it achieves the payback of the pool once all of the tickets in the pool have been used.


John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots