Ever since the 1980s, casinos have discovered that they make more profits off their slot machines than they do from their table games. This is just as true of online casinos as it is of land-based gambling halls. In Las Vegas, where free drinks and loyalty rewards have long been used as inducements for slot play, the latest promotional craze is bragging about payback rates. Where are the biggest jackpots being hit? Who can offer the best slot machine odds?
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If you listen to Las Vegas locals, they say never play the slots at casinos that line Las Vegas Boulevard. “Strictly for tourists,” they will tell you. Then, they’ll point downtown where many of the city’s oldest casinos are grouped within easy walking distance from one another and add, “The best payouts are along Fremont Street.”
But what do the actual numbers say? Is Vegas street wisdom to be believed? And what to make of claims made by casinos themselves? Who really has the loosest slots in town?
Downtown vs. the Strip
Overall, slots generate nearly 60% of Nevada’s annual gaming revenues and almost twice as much as table games. The Nevada Gaming Control Board breaks down its Las Vegas slot statistics in two major tourist areas: downtown and the Strip. Additionally, there is a large locals market, which reports of gaming revenue classify as the Boulder Strip and North Las Vegas areas.
In the full fiscal year between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, the payback percentages for all slots in Clark County were 93.51%. By area, the downtown paid back 93.47% and the Strip returned 92.62%, so there is a certain ring of truth to the locals’ claim. However, what goes unsaid is that North Las Vegas slots returned 93.91% and the Boulder Strip slots paid back 94.76%, so the best advice is to avoid the tourist areas and play where the locals play.
Compared to fiscal 2011, all of the areas except the Boulder Strip showed a slight reduction in paybacks in 2012. Slots located along Boulder Highway paid out exactly the same year on year; they include the machines of such popular casinos as Sam’s Town, Arizona Charlie’s, and Boulder Station, to name a few.
Odds by Slot Type
The Gaming Control Board statistics also indicate which slots pay out the best in order of the denomination of credit played. In fiscal 2012, Megabucks progressive slots showed the worst payback percentage overall, just 87.16%. However, the appeal of a massive jackpot obviously outweighs the poor odds during hard economic times, as Megabucks revenues rose 59% versus fiscal 2011—the biggest gain among all types of slots.
At the other end of the spectrum, the very best payback percentages came from high roller slots. Those accepting denominations of $5, $25 and $100 returned 94.67%, 96.52% and 96.30%, respectively—proving once again that it takes money to make money.
For those whose champagne tastes come with beer budgets, the most fruitful games are on the nickel and quarter slots, which also include video poker machines of those denominations. Fully 94.48% of all 25¢ wagers were returned in fiscal 2012. Coming in right behind were nickel slots, paying back 94.40%.
Many slot players enjoy multi-denomination slots, which were a reasonably good bet in 2012 with a 94.65% payback rate. Meanwhile, dollar machines were not bad performers, yielding a 94.42% return of the cash invested. Much less favorable to players were penny machines, returning just 89.33%—the worst bet other than Megabucks.
What About Other Games
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Who’s Really #1?
For those looking for a specific casino to frequent or a certain machine offering the very best slot odds, it is hard to separate the hoopla from the reality. The Gaming Control Board statistics do not reveal the results casino by casino or machine by machine. And the claims made by the casinos themselves have to be taken with a grain of salt.
For example, in 2010 the Palms Casino Resort launched a massive advertising campaign based upon the results of an “independent survey by the Las Vegas Advisor (that) indicates Palms’ slots and video poker returns are better than the average payback percentages in Nevada.” Their claim was that Palms’ slots were “28.278 percent looser than Clark County and 36.856 percent looser than the Strip.”
Not to be outdone, in 2011 the downtown’s El Cortez Casino shot back with advertising claiming that their slots were “39% looser than the Strip,” implying looser than the Palms’ slots by inference. Most lists of “hot slots” in Las Vegas mention the two properties as #1 and #2, but with three Megabucks jackpots awarded since 2004, perhaps the Palms deserves a slight edge. The El Cortez has paid no Megabucks winners to date.