Our annual rundown on where to find the loosest slots in America
By Frank Legato
Welcome to our 23rd annual report on where to find the loosest slots in the country. In case you don’t know the story, it was our sister publication, Casino Player, that invented the notion of “loose slots” by publishing charts showing overall payback percentages of slot floors monthly, beginning shortly after the magazine was founded in 1988.
Editors of the magazine, established as a player-advocate publication, latched on to the fact that casinos in commercial jurisdictions were required to report their “hold” on the slots—that is, the percentage of all wagers that was kept by the casinos, or put another way, lost by their players. Casino Player flipped those numbers to show how much the players won.
Payback percentages showed exactly how much of all slot wagers each casino gave back to players as winnings. “Loose slots” soon became a marketing boast for casinos in their advertising. The only problem was that the percentage representing “loose” in a given month was misleading—a few jackpots on high-denomination slots would skew the results, with percentages over 100 percent actually possible on a monthly basis.
The real gauge of “loose” would come in the statistics for an entire year. Casino Player started compiling those numbers for the year 1993, publishing the first “Loosest Slots” awards in 1994. Two years ago, Strictly Slots took over the survey and report.
For years, players have relied on our Loosest Slots awards to guide them to the most generous casinos. And, those casinos have displayed their Loosest Slots awards proudly. Players love the report because it is based on historical fact, as opposed to manufacturers’ estimates of theoretical payback. While those theoretical numbers— included in our “Slot Spotlight” section—are accurate for individual machines the actual statistics on which this report is based reveal the casinos that went the extra mile for their players in placing the games with the highest theoretical payback on their floors.
And these days, knowing the casinos that give slot players the best deal is more important than ever. As we noted in our last Loosest Slots report, the statistics show that as an industry, the casinos have tightened their slots in response to the Great Recession, reacting to lower slot revenues by taking a bigger slice of the smaller pie. Statistics also show that has made things worse, as some players are quitting the slots altogether.
Casinos and slot manufacturers are responding by creating new types of games, many with elements that allow players to use skill to increase their return on games. Those games are not here yet, though, and for the vast majority of slot players who have no intention of quitting the slots, the best bet is to know where to get the best return. That’s where our Loosest Slots report comes in.
As always, we predicate our results with a few answers to the questions we always get about the report. First of all, we can’t cover everyone’s favorite casinos. Our results, both in our monthly payback charts and in this annual report, are based on statistics that are available publicly. Casinos report their hold numbers publicly only if required, and then, only in the manner in which they are required by law to report them.
That’s why many Native American-owned casinos, including all of the popular big California casinos, are excluded from the report. Indian nations are sovereign nations, and are not subject to state gaming laws requiring that they report their slot hold numbers publicly, unless it is part of the agreement, or compact, between a tribe and the state (as in Connecticut).
It’s also why you will not find denominations broken out in many locations—such as New Jersey, where regulators stopped reporting denominations two years ago.
Finally, the way the numbers are reported publicly is the reason video poker paybacks are not broken out in this report. No jurisdiction reports separate numbers for video poker. However, you’ll find that the casinos with the highest overall paybacks consistently offer the highest-returning pay schedules on video poker.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS
There were some surprises in this year’s results, but mostly, the casinos that were the most generous have remained the most generous.
But drilling down a bit into the numbers also shows that casinos in general have yet to reverse their policy of maintaining tighter slots than they once did. The vast majority of the results related to the top three loose-slots casinos in each jurisdiction are basically static when compared to last year, with differences typically in the hundredths of a percentage point—and mostly in the wrong direction.
The results also show that the real culprit in this situation is the multi-line penny slot, the style of game that has been the game of choice, and thus, the style of the most popular games from each manufacturer.
Slot games in dollar-and-higher denominations are still returning payback percentages in the mid-90s and higher, topped by North Las Vegas at 96.11 percent returned from dollar slots—a house edge of only 3.89 percent. That is a great return for a slot player, and it represents an increase from last year’s results.
Now, look at the penny denomination. Of the nine jurisdictions reporting individual denominations, the average return on pennies for the loosest casino or region was 90.58 percent this year, a house edge of 9.42 percent that has actually gone up since last year. And that’s the cream of the crop in each area. The vast majority of penny games return less than 90 percent, with many actually in the mid-80s.
Until the casinos and/or their regulators can reverse this trend, your best bet as a slot player is to go where the slots are the loosest. And as usual, when it comes to slots, there’s no place looser than Nevada.
SILVER STATE SHINES
Once again the top three places to find the loosest slots in the nation are in Nevada. For a remarkable ninth year in a row, the casinos of Reno, Nevada get the award for Loosest Slots in America.
The Silver Legacy, the Eldorado, the Atlantis, the Peppermill, the Grand Sierra, the original Harrah’s and all the other casinos in Reno collectively returned 94.86 percent of slot wagers to players this year, basically equal to the last year’s 94.93 percent.
Second place in the state and the nation goes to the “Balance of County” group of casinos, which refers to casinos in Clark County, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, but are off the Strip—they include the Orleans, Hard Rock, The Palms, Palace Station, M, Silverton, Gold Coast and others. This group returned 94.54 percent of slot wagers, compared to 94.58 percent last year. Close behind that was the Boulder Strip, referring to casinos on and around Boulder Highway in Las Vegas (Sam’s Town, Boulder Station, Cannery East, Arizona Charlie’s, etc.), at 94.44 percent—up a tenth of a percent over last year.
Once again, the third-place Nevada casino was nearly a full percentage point higher than the closest region in our survey, the Cripple Creek, Colorado casinos at 93.55 percent.
Elsewhere, Casino Queen repeats its title for the Loosest Slots not only in Illinois but of all regions where casinos are singled out in the results, returning 92.65 percent of wagers. However, this year, there were two other individual casinos right on Casino Queen’s heels. Horseshoe Cleveland returned 92.38 percent, and Prairie Meadows in Iowa returned 92.05 percent.
In Atlantic City, the top three remained the same from last year. Harrah’s Resort again wins the city’s Loosest Slots award at 91.69 percent, up slightly from last year. Following closely were the Borgata at 91.63 percent and Bally’s at 91.01 percent. Connecticut also returned the same results, including the exact same payback percentage of 91.9 percent for winner Foxwoods, a virtual tie with second-place Mohegan Sun at 91.79 percent.
In Iowa, Prairie Meadows takes over the Loosest Slots crown at 92.05 percent, with Wild Rose Jefferson a new top-three finisher at 91.82 percent and Wild Rose Emmetsburg, last year’s winner, in third place at 91.48 percent. In Louisiana, the top two regions switch places over last year, with Baton Rouge taking the top spot at 91 percent over Lake Charles, last year’s winner.
Pennsylvania has a completely new top-three Loosest Slots casinos, with Valley Forge Casino Resort winning the crown at 90.18 percent, followed by Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino and The Meadows. Last year’s top three—Parx, Nemacolin and Mount Airy—were all lower than Meadows’ 90.08 percent, which means most of the casinos in Pennsylvania return less than 90 percent overall. (Even with free play, that’s pretty bad.)
The rest of the survey finds repeat winners—Cripple Creek in Colorado, Rising Star in Indiana, the Coastal Region of Mississippi, River City in Missouri and Horseshoe Cleveland in Ohio.
Our congratulations to the Loosest Slots winners—by bucking the trend of tighter slots, you’ve proven that you can still provide a slot player a fair gamble.