Here are the casinos with the best-paying slots in the business
By Frank Legato
Well, actually, we invented the concept of loose slots as a reason to visit casinos. Our sister publication Casino Player, founded in 1988, was the ﬁrst to publish charts showing the overall percentage of slot-machine wagers that were returned as jackpots to players by each casino or casino region.
It was the editors of Player who ﬁrst realized the usefulness of monthly public reports required by gaming regulators showing their “hold” on the slot ﬂoor—the amount of slot wagers kept, or “won,” by the casinos. The idea was to ﬂip those numbers to show how much they gave back, and the idea of loose slots was soon a marketing asset heralded by casinos. And the ones who wanted to be known as the players’ casino increased returns to players. Everyone who played slots beneﬁted.
Of course, when Player began its Loosest Slots charts, the only casino choices were Nevada and New Jersey. But as the industry grew with Indian and riverboat casinos in the early 1990s, giving players more choices, the need to know the most generous casinos grew. In 1994, Player published the ﬁrst annual “Loosest Slots Awards,” honoring the casinos across the country that oﬀered the best deal on the slots for an entire year.
It was a hit, and casinos winning the awards blazed the accomplishment across billboards and other advertising media. And again, the players beneﬁted. The annual report, for one thing, uses historical, factual data logged over 12 months, not the theoretical payback percentages programmed by the games’ manufacturers. Additionally, results for one or even two months can be skewed by unusually high or low jackpots.
Gamblers slamming the casino on the high-end slots often results in a payback number exceeding 100 percent. Twelve months is plenty of time for all the games to return their true payback percentages.
Three years ago, Strictly Slots took over the annual survey and report. Welcome to our list of the casinos that were most generous to slot players in 2016—the 24th edition of the Loosest Slots Awards.
Knowing the casinos that return the most to slot players is more important than ever, since many casinos tightened up the slots after the recession and have yet to return to pre-recession levels of return. Many will never return, thanks to increasing reliance on penny denominations—where the lowest payback on the ﬂoor is masked by frequent low hits and high-proﬁle brands.
But many casinos buck this trend, and have oﬀered decent return on the slot ﬂoor all along. The evidence is in the fact that our list is rich in repeat winners that remained through the lean years.
As usual, we’ll begin with answers to the most-frequently-asked questions about our report.
First of all, our apologies if your favorite casino is not included. 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 three 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 slots and video poker. However, you’ll ﬁnd that the casinos with the highest overall paybacks consistently oﬀer the highest-returning pay schedules on video poker.
THE PENNY DRAG
The top casinos for loose slots in the U.S. have pretty much remained the same for several years, and the most generous casinos spread high payback percentages across all denominations. However, despite numerous player complaints that casinos have tightened their slot machines, the overall percentages remained stagnant last year.
Year-on-year comparisons reveal only a couple of hundredths of a percentage point in diﬀerence between overall returns in 2016 compared to 2015, but at least the numbers have stabilized a bit. Considering the Loosest Slots winner in each jurisdiction, six percentage results were lower than last year, but ﬁve were higher. That’s a signiﬁcant improvement.
The penny denomination continues to be the category keeping overall results down. Most overall numbers were barely a 90 percent return, even for the category winners, with some in the 80s. Slot games in dollar-and-higher denominations are still returning payback percentages in the mid-90s and higher, but that’s not enough to bring the overall numbers up.
But fear not. There’s always Nevada.
BEST OF THE BEST
For a remarkable 10th year in a row, the loosest slots in the nation are in Reno, Nevada, and once again, it’s not even close.
In fact, the state of Nevada again has the top-three loosest slots regions in the U.S.
Loosest Slots champion Reno’s casinos returned 94.73 percent of all slot-machine wagers, essentially the same as last year (94.86 percent). The Silver Legacy, the Eldorado, the Atlantis, the Peppermill, the Grand Sierra, the original Harrah’s and the other Reno properties have dominated the Loosest Slots chase for years, and as the economy in Reno has been rejuvenated with an inﬂux of high-tech industries, there’s no reason to think the trend will not continue.
The “Balance of County” group of casinos—the Clark County casinos outside of the Las Vegas Strip and Boulder Highway, such as the Orleans, the Palms, Red Rock and Green Valley Ranch—and the Boulder Strip—Sam’s Town, Arizona Charlies, etc.—tied for the No. 2 spot in the nation at 94.46 percent.
Elsewhere, Casino Queen in Illinois once again can boast the loosest slots of any region that singles out results for individual casinos. As it has for several years, Casino Queen topped the Illinois survey, last year returning 92.53 percent of wagers to players, down from last year by a 10th of a point. And once again, Horseshoe Cleveland in Ohio is nipping at Casino Queen’s heels, returning 92.35 percent of wagers to players.
In Atlantic City, the top two remained the same from last year. Harrah’s Resort again wins the city’s Loosest Slots award at 91.76 percent, a slight increase for the third consecutive year. The Borgata was right behind at 91.63 percent, with Caesars (90.99 percent) taking over third place from its sister property Bally’s.
In Connecticut, Foxwoods (92.04%) maintains its edge over Mohegan Sun (91.81 percent) in loosest slots, with both casinos returning more to players than last year.
In Indiana, the top two casinos for loose slots did not even make the top three last year. The winner is French Lick Casino at 91.58 percent, with Indiana Grand and Rising Star both right behind at 91.53 percent. Rising Star topped last year’s survey.
In Missouri, Ameristar St. Charles, not in the top three last year, takes the Loosest Slots crown with a 91.03 percent return to players. The casino edged out last year’s winner, River City, which returned 90.98 percent. In Pennsylvania, Parx Casino (90.88 percent), also not in the top three last year, gets the Loosest Slots crown.