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Ask the Slot Expert: Finding a casino's payback percentage

15 April 2020

Question: How can I find out what a particular casino's payout percentage is? I won't mention its name, but it is on the Idaho-Nevada border, and they have taken a lot of my money, and others that I am aware of. I would recommend avoiding them like the plague.

Answer: As the realtors say, it's all about location, location, location. Some states release payout percentages by casino, others release percentages by area, and others don't release anything at all. Native American casinos that have only Class II machines aren't required to release any statistics. If they have a compact with their states in order to have Class III machines, the states may release payout percentages.

There are a number of ways to get the statistics that are available. States that release statistics usually publish the statistics on their gaming division's web site. These sites will have the most recent statistics, but they're not always easy to use. Casino Player and Strictly Slots also publish payback percentages on their pages. American Casino Guide, finally, has a page that lists payout percentages by state.

I checked where Idaho's casinos are using Google Maps. None are near the Nevada border. That's good, because the six casinos in Idaho are Native American and do not release statistics.

The casino must be in Nevada. That's sorta good -- Nevada releases statistics, but summarized by area. No statistics payback percentages are released by casino.

The casinos near the Idaho border are in Elko county, so their statistics are summarized in the Elko County Wendover Area section. This page contains links to the Gaming Revenue Reports. The latest report available is for February 2020. According to the report, for the 12 months ending 02/29/20, the win percentages are as follows: 1-cent: 6.66%, 25-cent: 7.00%, 1-dollar: 4.25%, 5-dollar: 3.84%, and 25-dollar: 5.36%. Subtract the win percentages from 100% to get payback percentages: 1-cent: 93.34%, 25-cent: 93.00%, 1-dollar: 95.75%, 5-dollar: 96.16%, and 25-dollar: 94.64%. These percentages are actually more generous than the statewide averages and those in Clark County.

I'm sorry that the casino has taken a lot of your and other peoples' money, but isn't that the casino's business model?


We're starting week 5 of Stay at Home for Nevada. Because of Governor Sisolak's order to close the casinos and to stay at home, Nevada is lucky to have only a little more than 3,000 cases and 130 deaths (if the words lucky and only are appropriate) as of 4/14. Many people are anxious for the casinos to re-open. The Governor just gave a press conference. He said that the metrics he will use to determine what to re-open and when are the data and what the medical experts say.

The current date for starting to re-open businesses is May 1, but I suspect that date will slip another two to four weeks. Social distancing is working and the experts say there is a significant danger to re-opening too soon. We already have health and economic crises. If we try to re-open too much too soon, infections and deaths could surge again and the crises we have will get worse instead of better.

People are wondering what the casinos will be like when they re-open. Based on the articles that I've read, I think nothing is going to be the same as it was for a long time -- a year, maybe two.

In addition to frequent hand washing, social distancing is effective in reducing the spread of the disease. Six feet seems to be a reasonable distance of separation for a brief encounter with another person. The choir practice in Washington in which the singers said they practiced social distancing yet dozens got infected may indicate that six feet is not sufficient separation for long-term exposure in a closed space. In addition, some studies show that the virus can travel much more than six feet under certain circumstances. Singing is not the same as normal respiration. I suspect that the singers' projecting their voices during rehearsal caused the virus to travel farther.

In order to maintain effective social distancing in a casino, I think that instead of disabling every other machine, there will have to be at least two machines in between each enabled machine. Some people think that only 25% of the machines on the slot floor will be enabled. I don't know how effective social distancing can be achieved at a table game.

Everyone, including casino employees, will be encouraged to wear a mask. You can't smoke while wearing a mask, so smoking will be prohibited at first. In addition, smoking makes you more susceptible to catching the flu; it might also make you more susceptible to catching Covid-19. Exhaling smoke may also make the virus travel farther -- it's not normal respiration.

Some people think that this will be the end of buffets. I hope that is not the case. If buffets do re-open, though, diners will not be able to serve themselves for fear that an infected person will contaminate serving utensils.

In order to maintain distancing, restaurants will be limited to about 25% of their capacity. The same goes for movie theaters.

I think many shows won't re-open until there is a vaccine because they can't make money or even breakeven selling only 25% of the seats.

I think many strip casinos will remain closed until people feel that it is safe to travel again. There won't be enough business to support all of the casinos until then.

Some people have speculated that casinos will use this opportunity to remove more high-paying video poker machines. It doesn't seem like a good marketing plan to me to say, "Welcome back, everybody. We've raised our prices." I think the only changes we might see on the slot floor are some new machines.

Promotions are going to be tricky. How can you design an event to bring people in and yet also discourage crowds and maintain distancing?

Drawings encourage people to linger in a group near the drawing area. I think this is the end of drawings for a while. Same goes for slot tournaments, where you might have to wait in line to get a seat and then play next to other people.

I don't know whether casinos will be able to give away gifts. I've seen lines that are short and even non-existent. I've also waited more than 30 minutes in a line that snaked its way through a casino. Maybe casinos can minimize lines by increasing the promotions staff.

People working promotions and manning the players club booths are like grocery store cashiers. They come into contact with many people in the course of their workdays. The casinos will have to take measures like giving them masks and gloves to protect them.

Finally, I think we're going to have guards doing temperature checks when you enter the casino and turning away anyone who has a fever.

I read this quote about a country's preparedness for the virus in the morning news brief that I get: "We have a lot of problems, and we don't have much to brag about."

Boris Johnson didn't say it, nor did Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron or Giuseppe Conte. Vladimir Putin said it.

What kind of bizarro world are we in now where Putin is telling his citizens the truth?

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