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How Much Do Payback Percentages Really Matter?


How many players nowadays feel that they’re winning fewer jackpots. They blame the casinos for “tightening up” their games and lowering payback percentages (even if they have no evidence of this).

While some casinos may be ordering new machines with lower payout percentages, this is not the main reason why players may not be winning as much as they used to.

One reason why some players feel they may not be winning as often is that they’re making fewer trips to the casino. They’re simply not playing as many sessions. Because they’re playing less, they’ll see fewer jackpots, and fewer winning sessions overall.

It’s all proportional.

In all of the years we’ve been publishing Strictly Slots, we’ve never received more feedback from readers than from this topic. We appreciate all of the comments that we receive—even when some folks strongly disagree with our opinions. But we still stand by this position. The purpose of this article is not to continue to debate the issue, but to address two questions we received from a reader concerning payback.


I read that casinos were reducing the payback on the slot machines. I have two questions:

  1. Is there any way to tell the payback of a slot machine? My friend says there is a way to do it by counting the symbols and comparing it with the pay table.
  2. I go to the casino about six times a year. My playing time per session is 3-4 hours. So does the payback of the machine really matter? Everyone says that payback is based on the long run, so I’m not sure if I’m playing long enough.

Let’s address both questions. On the original mechanical slot machines, you could determine the return because it was based on the number of reels and the number of symbols on each reel. For example, the first slot machine, invented by Charles Fey, had three reels with 10 symbols on each reel. There were 1,000 possible combinations (10x10x10=1,000). The total payout for all winning combinations was 750 coins, so the machine had a 75 percent return.

The new video slots have video reels. With this technology and design, they are not limited to the number of physical stops on a reel. The game designers can incorporate any number of video symbols on each reel. Most of the new games have five reels, but can pay numerous pay lines. Millions of combinations can be lined up on the reels to determine a winning or losing spin. Therefore, there is no way to determine the return of a slot machine based on the number of symbols on the reel.

Now let’s talk about payback. This is the overall percentage that a machine will return to the player in the long run. These figures are programmed into the machine’s computer chip and are set by the manufacturer to the specifications that the casino wishes to use for that machine. The return is based on billions of spins. It takes into account every possible winning and losing combination.

Many players believe they will win more on a machine that pays out 99 percent than one that pays out 94 percent. But this is not necessarily true. The payback percentage is the profit the casinos can expect to earn over the lifetime of the machine. The average player will never play long enough to see the overall return. Just because a machine has a payback of 99 percent that does not mean you will win back $98 for every $100 you play through the machine.

You might play $100 through a slot machine with a 94 percent payback and win $5,000, then sit down and play $100 through a machine with a 99 percent return and lose it all in a few hours.

There is no way of gauging the overall return if you only play a machine for a few hours or even a few days a year.

Jamie plays the slot machines about 24 hours per year, in total, so he’ll never see the average payback return. The best advice we can give him and everybody else is to play the games you enjoy most at a denomination you can afford. As a recreational player, your primary goal should be to have fun.

If you only visit the casino occasionally, the overall payback of the machine shouldn’t be of much concern to you, as you will probably never play long enough to see the long–term effects of the payback percentages.

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