Forget the myths that abound in casinos
by Frank Legato
Millions and millions of words have been written over the years of the modern history of slot machines on how to find the “loose slots” on the floor. It was this magazine, in fact, that actually led to the notion of “loose slots,” when it first published its payback charts in the late 1980s.
But can you actually walk into a casino and know where the loosest games are?
The answer: You can make an educated guess, but not as effectively as you once could. Let me explain.
In the old days, there were outward characteristics of a casino floor to which one could pay attention in a quest to choose a loose slot from among the thousands on the floor. These visible signs had much to do with how slot floors were designed.
Merchandising of slots on he casino floor is much like the merchandising of consumer products in department stores. Slot managers want the most visually exciting games in the most visible locations. These days, they have a wealth of visual stimulation from which to choose—slots offer eye candy ranging form giant fortune wheels to arcade-style bonus games to remarkable displays of video animation.
However, 25 years ago, a “visually exciting” game meant one thing: people were winning. The slot games, by and large, all looked the same. What made them exciting was the image of someone winning, with bells and buzzers going off and coins clanging in hoppers.
Therefore, in the old days, you could expect the loosest slots to be in your field of vision when you entered the casino. You could expect them to be on the ends of aisles, or visible from show lines. You could expect tighter games to be located in areas conducive to “impulse” play—near coin-redemption booths to catch the odd coins; near the room elevators to offer that last chance at getting even.
Other than these assumptions related to merchandising, one could expect looser slots deep in the casino, in the less-accessible banks; and tighter ones to be easier to get to.
These assumptions are no longer reliable, because of several developments.
First, the development of microprocessor technology has provided many more ways to visually attract players—slots no longer all look the same, and all have attention-grabbing elements that do not necessarily relate to whether or not someone is winning.
Second, the very fact that scores of articles were written advising players that the loose slots were on the end of the aisle—or by the show aisle, or near the front, etc.—led them to become widely accepted theories among the playing public on where to find loose slots. Slot officials laying out their floors wanted to avoid the obvious and predictable—why place loose games where players expect them to be? If players expected the loose games to be on the end, they may now be second from the end.
Finally and most importantly, players became more knowledgeable. Thanks in no small part to magazines such as this, players began to track actual payback percentage numbers. Casino marketing departments, in response, started to use “loose slots” as a positioning tool—something to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Casinos plugging their loose slots added loose video poker—a game on which the player can simply view the pay table and know the theoretical return.
With players viewing actual payback numbers regularly, and with no need to use the visual stimulus of people winning as a way to merchandise the slot floor, payback percentage became, for casinos, a matter of policy.
This is evidenced by the charts—you will see consistent policy in any given denomination for casinos within any given market. Every slot game is offered by manufacturers in six or seven different payback percentage configurations. Instead of purchasing banks of slot games with differing percentages, slot managers today will almost always purchase all the units of a given game with the same percentage program within any one denomination.
If the casino’s policy is to return 92 percent on quarters, every game in the quarter denomination will have a theoretical percentage close to 92 percent. The games on the end will return around 92 percent, as will the games in the middle, by the show aisle and near the coin redemption booth (tickets have made “impulse play” a rarity in any event). This means the old method of choosing games according to where they are in the casino is, by and large, obsolete with respect to finding the loose games.
So what’s a loose-slot-hunter to do? How do you find the loose games on today’s casino floor?
The answer is by knowing the games that are likely to return the highest, based on several factors.
First, pick a casino or, in the case of Nevada, a region, in which the slots have proven themselves—through actual, reported numbers as in our payout charts—to offer players the highest return. If you’re in Nevada, for instance, head for the locals casinos instead of the Strip. If you’re in Atlantic City, head for Borgata, Hilton or Sands. In Illinois, go to Casino Queen.
If you have chosen a casino known to offer players a fair shake, you can pretty much assure yourself a loose slot game by choosing the right game style. The types of games may have proliferated, but one common denominator to loose slots has remained the same: The higher the denomination, the higher the payback.
Casino slot departments across the industry still follow this time-honored tradition of awarding the player a better return for higher wagers.
You also will find a higher overall return, in general, in the more traditional game styles. Therefore, in a local Las Vegas casino, if you play a traditional reel-spinner in the dollar denomination, you can be virtually certain the return is 96 percent or higher. If you move up to the $5 denomination, you’re flirting with 98 percent or higher.
If you’re a quarter player and go for the traditional reel-spinners, you’re looking at a 94 or 95 percent payback in local Las Vegas.
Don’t believe the old methods of finding loose slots; they were once valid, but no more. And don’t believe a popular myth that never was true—the notion that you can simply ask someone working for the casinos where the “hot machines” or “loose machines” are.
First of all, a slot attendant or other floor person is not going to be privy to the actual payback programs purchased for the machine; only the slot director or other executive who actually purchased the machines knows that.
Secondly, a machine’s past performance is no indication of how it will perform in the future. A machine can be churning out jackpots for five days straight; it doesn’t mean it will keep churning out jackpots.
The best gauge these days of a loose slot game is the policy of the casino, as proven by actual returns to actual players. The second is the game style.
In the end, if you want loose slots, play in the casinos that have already proven they offer loose slots.
TIP OF THE MONTH
Bottom Line: Play What You Like
While it is true that these days, unless you play video poker, it is difficult to know with certainty where the loosest slots are, you can know which casinos are the most generous, and thus have the best chance of finding loose slots.
But the bottom line to enjoying your casino experience is not finding the games with the best payback percentages—it is to find the games you most enjoy playing.
A “loose slot” does not guarantee you will win. You can find the loosest game on the floor and still lose all your money in short order. You can play the tightest game on the floor and go home rich.
This is because, as we have said many times, payback percentage is a long-term number. The payback percentage represents not what you, personally, will receive in jackpots as a percentage of your wagers this evening, or even this week. It is a number representing the percentage of every wager placed on that machine through its entire life—several years worth of spins—that will be returned to everyone who has played that machine. Normally, a slot game will reach its theoretical payback percentage over play during a given week, but not a given night. On a given night, anything can happen.
That also means on a given night, anyone can win on a game that has a low payback percentage. People would not play penny games if no one was winning—and penny games have the lowest payback percentage on the slot floor. Someone is winning on these games, and a whole lot of people are playing them.
A whole lot of people play the lowest-returning games for one reason: They are fun to play. The reason you should pick one game over another is that you like to play it. Decide what type of game you like to play, and then seek out the highest possible returns in that particular game genre.
Fun is the key. Payback is gravy.