After two decades, our annual report on the most generous slots in the business comes home to Strictly Slots
by Frank Legato
For exactly 20 years, one of the most popular annual features of our sister publication, Casino Player, was the annual Loosest Slots survey. Player, in fact, invented the term “loose slots” in the late 1980s by pioneering the practice of reporting the payback percentage numbers for casinos every month.
The move triggered a change in the way slot machines were viewed and marketed. Casinos in commercial jurisdictions were required to report “slot hold”—the percentage of slot wagers kept by the casinos—in regulatory reports that were made public every month. The editors at Player decided to flip-flop those numbers to show which casinos were offering the highest percentage of wagers back to the players as winnings—the “payback percentage” was born.
It wasn’t popular with casinos at first, but business acumen soon took over, and the casinos with the highest payback percentages began advertising that they had the “loosest slots” in this market and that market. The payback charts in Casino Player became a monthly ritual for players, and the annual Loosest Slots issue became the publication’s most popular.
That’s because the savviest players know that payback numbers for any one month can be skewed. For instance, a few big jackpots in the highest denominations can result in a payback percentage higher than 100 percent—not exactly a good long-term business model, but anything can happen in the short space of a month. Statistical results even out to a true payback percentage over several months. Over a year, they are reliable indicators of which casinos, by policy, offer the most back to their players.
Last year, Player published its 20th annual Loosest Slots report. The end of last year also happened to be the 15th anniversary of this magazine. Strictly Slots was launched in December 1998 to serve the slot player, and to focus on the culture surrounding slot-machine play. So, it seemed logical to begin the third decade of the Loosest Slots survey here, in the magazine dedicated to the slot and video poker player.
As always, there are a few points of interest that we impart before we give you our survey results.
First of all, in the “Slot Spotlight” section of this magazine, you will see statistics indicating “payback percentage range” for each new game. Those numbers represent the theoretical payback percentage set at the factory for each game. Although the numbers may be similar, the Loosest Slots report is different because there is nothing “theoretical” about these payback numbers. They are based on actual, historical statistics—this is how much real money was given back to players out of the thousands wagered each month on the slots. And, because it covers all 12 months of the previous year, it is quite simply the most accurate picture you will find of who offers the best returns on the slots.
Secondly, among the common questions we receive every year are why video poker numbers are not separated out from the slot payback numbers. We are also asked why all jurisdictions are not included, and why all denominations are not included.
There is one answer to all these questions: We can only report statistics as they are publicly reported. Many Native American jurisdictions do not require tribal operators to publicly report hold percentages. In those cases, the operators consider the information proprietary, and do not publicly report the numbers.
Many jurisdictions no longer break out numbers for denominations like dimes and 50 cents, particularly since the advent of multi-denomination machines. Some place those numbers in a vague “Other” category; others in a dedicated “Multi-Denomination” category.
Other jurisdictions—most notably and surprisingly, Atlantic City—do not even break out the numbers by denomination. Early this year, New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement passed an “emergency regulation” eliminating the requirement that casinos report hold percentages by denomination. Thus, future Loosest Slots reports will not break out Atlantic City casino payback by denomination.
Additionally, this year, New Jersey only made 11 months of statistics available in time for this report—although for the sake of gaining a good picture of which casinos are most generous 11 months of statistics provide a clear view. (We did not include numbers for the Atlantic Club under New Jersey, since that casino has closed.)
There is no jurisdiction that separates video poker percentages from the overall slot returns in public reports. However, over years of covering the casino industry, we have verified that the casinos with the highest overall paybacks consistently offer the highest-returning pay schedules on video poker.
And the Winners Are…
Once again, our survey proves that if you want loose slots, go to the Silver State. The award for the Loosest Slots in America once again goes to Reno, Nevada—the seventh consecutive Loosest Slots crown for the Reno casinos led by the Atlantis, the Peppermill, the Eldorado, the Silver Legacy, the original Harrah’s, the Grand Sierra and others.
Reno’s gambling halls combined for an overall slot payback percentage of 94.89 percent, down half a point or so from last year, but way ahead of the rest of the nation.
Also repeating this year were the second-place and third-place jurisdictions for Loosest Slots—also, not surprisingly, in Nevada. The “Balance of County” group, which refers to casinos in Clark County, Nevada, but off the Strip, like the Orleans, Hard Rock, The Palms, Palace Station, M, Silverton and others, returned 94.64 percent of slot wagers to players. Right behind that at 94.39 percent were the Boulder Strip casinos, which are the properties on and around Boulder Highway in Las
Vegas (Sam’s Town, Boulder Station, Cannery East, Arizona Charlie’s, etc.).
These regions were a full percentage point higher than the closest in our survey, Cripple Creek, Colorado at 93.58 percent.
Besides Nevada topping the nation, another constant in our survey is the winner among casinos in jurisdictions that break out the numbers for individual properties. Casino Queen in East St. Louis, as it has for more than a decade, gets the crown for loosest slots among individual casinos, at 92.94 percent.
There were a few minor surprises elsewhere in the survey. For instance, for the first year, the Borgata in Atlantic City—which won the Loosest Slots crown for that jurisdiction last year—is not among the top three New Jersey casinos for Loosest Slots. The award for Loosest Slots in Atlantic City goes to Harrah’s Resort, at 91.58 percent, with Resorts and Trump Plaza close behind in second and third place, respectively.
Other switches in the crown include Indiana, where Rising Star managed to just nudge Hoosier Park for the crown (although at .06 percent, it really can be considered a draw); and Pennsylvania, where Parx Casino at Philadelphia Park takes the Loosest Slot crown. (Last year’s winner, the Meadows, came in fourth.)
Repeaters in loosest slot include Cripple Creek, Casino Queen, Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, Prairie Meadows in Iowa, Lake Charles in Louisiana, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Isle of Capri Booneville in Missouri. Finally, Ohio enters our survey for the first time this year, with Horseshoe Cleveland edging out Hollywood Columbus for the Loosest Slots crown.
Congratulations to all of our winners. You’ve proven that you care about giving the slot player a fair shake. •