Slot Machine Returns & Paybacks (aka RTP)

Last update: May 5, 2024


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Returns vs. Paybacks

There are two kinds of ways to measure how much a slot machine gives back to the player:  the amount it actually gave back over some period of time, or the amount it's programmed to give back in the long term.  For example, after a couple of hours you might get back 95% of the money you bet (first concept), even though the machine was set to pay out 94% in the long run (second concept).

Since these are two completely different things, we should use different words to refer to them, but confusingly, most people use the same term ("the return") to refer to both of them, so it's often not clear which they're talking about.  They might also use the term "RTP" which stands for "Return to Player", to refer to both concepts.  For clarity, some people refer to the programmed figure as the "theoretical return", but that's a horribly cumbersome phrase.

So on this site, I've defined my own terms, for clarity.  On Easy Vegas, the the return is what you actually got back, and the payback is what a slot is programmed to pay in the long term (what others might call the "theoretical return")

Note that the longer you play, the closer your return will get to the payback.  In the short term anything can happen, but in the longer term, the closer you'll get to the machine's predicted average.

Machines don't get looser & tighter to meet the payback %

A common misunderstanding is that if a slot pays a jackpot, or lots of small wins, it'll then tighten up so it will return the specified payback.  That is absolutely not how it works.  (And I know, because I program them.)  The reels always land on a random combination, and it's the frequency of the symbols on the reels, married to the paytable, which determines the payback of the machine.  Every spin is completely random, and that randomness creates the specified long-term payback. (more...)

How the payback is calculated

The payback on a machine comes from the odds of hitting each winning combination, times how much those combos pay.  We'll use an old three-reel slot to make the example easy.  Let's say there are 64 stops on each reel.  There are therefore 643 = 262,144 total combinations.   If we played through every combination exactly once, on our hypothetical machine we'd win 249,038 coins.  So 249,038 ÷ 262,144 = 95%.  Ta-da.  Here's a more detailed analysis of how the payback on a machine is calculated.

Paybacks are secret at U.S. land casinos

Land casinos in the U.S. almost never tell you the payback of any machine.  Which is ridiculous.  We know the odds for games like blackjack, craps, and roulette, because we can see all elements of the game and can analyze them.  But for slot machines, you'll be flying blind, because that's the way the casinos like it (for no good reason), and no regulatory body in the U.S. has bothered to require transparency.

Sign advertising 97.4% slots at Slots-A-Fun casino.

Slots-A-Fun casino, seemingly in the 1970s.  From Twitter, original source unknown

I know of only two casinos in Vegas which tell you the payback of any of their machines.  The first are machines at Slots-A-Fun, which pay 97.4%, and I think they're $1 to $5.  Incidentally, those are also the only slots on the Strip which accept and pay in coins.  There are 25¢ coin games, but I don't think those are 97.4%.  The coin slots started out at Slots-A-Fun, were moved to the parent casino Circus Circus, and then moved back to Slots-A-Fun circa March 2024.

The second casino which discloses the payback of any of their slots is El Cortez, which reportedly has some slots made by U1 such as Northern Lights, which disclose the payback on the screen, which is 97.3% on at least one of the slots according to a YouTube video. (source) 

The Strat and Riviera used to have a bank of $1 slots labeled 98%, but no more.  Harrah's has (or had) slots labeled "up to 98%", which is so vague as to be meaningless; that means that one of the machines pays 98%, they're not telling you which one, and the others are all crap.  If you know of a land casino which advertises specific paybacks without the "up to" qualifier, please let me know and send me a picture!

Online, it's much different.  Some online casinos, like VideoSlots, publish both the return and the payback for their machines.  (Unfortunately, VideoSlots doesn't take U.S. players, and Bovada, which does take U.S. players, doesn't publish paybacks or returns.)  VideoSlots was probably the first to publish returns, and now other online casinos are forced to follow suit in order to compete.  After all, why would you want to play somewhere completely in the dark when VideoSlots is happy to clue you in?  As more and more casinos are disclosing their slot paybacks, players are coming to expect it, and the websites that rank and rate online casinos are starting to include payback-disclosure in their rating criteria.

In the U.K., casinos are required by law to publish the paybacks on their machines.  Who wants to send me a picture of the label?

Games with the same name come in a variety of paybacks

When a slot maker makes a game, say Money Storm, they offer it in a variety of paybacks, because some casinos want their slots to be looser or tighter than those in other casinos.  (And again, there's no way for you, as the player, to know the payback of a game in U.S. land casinos, though some online casinos are more transparent with their players.)  As an example, the Phantom of the Opera slot comes in eight different paybacks: 85%, 87.5%, 90%, 92.%, 94%, 95%, 97.4%, and 98%. (source) 

It used to be that changing the payback of a machine required physically opening the machine and swapping out a chip.  But new regulations have seemed to open the door to slots that can be configured more easily by the casino, so that casinos don't have to specify the payback percentage when they order the machine.  The paybacks can be set remotely over the network, without having to screw around with the insides.  Even so, there's no reason to believe that casinos constantly tinker with the odds, tightening them up during busy times.  See Slot Machine Myths for more.

Las Vegas slot returns

Vegas casinos are required to report their returns to the state Gaming Commission.  The state doesn't report each casino separately (rats!), they report by area of town.  Also, be aware that they lump all video gaming (including video poker, video keno, etc.) together for the "slot" returns.

Las Vegas slot returns

 Strip  Downtown Boulder
 N. LV
88.7% 89.0% 90.8% 90.6%
95.0% 94.3%
25¢ 88.7% 93.0% 94.6% 95.1%
$1 92.7% 93.2% 94.9% 94.8%
Megabucks 85.9% 88.4% 90% 87.8%
NVGCB Gaming Revenue Report
(12mo ended 6/2023 • first line of 5¢ • includes slots+video poker,
Wizard of Odds (2001 • second line of 5¢ • slots-only)
Megabucks is for 12mo. ended 11/30/20, the last month that NCGCB
reported Megabucks separately from other slots.

Some takeaways from the Vegas figures:

  1. Denomination depends on location.  On the Strip, the best returns are with the dollar machines (but that makes you bet more than you would on a 1¢, 5¢, or 25¢ machine, you'll lose more money, despite the higher return).  Everywhere else, 5¢, 25¢, and $1 machines are pretty much the same.
  2. The strip has the worst returns.  Downtown is a little better, but not by much.  The Boulder Strip and North Las Vegas casinos have the best paybacks.
  3. The bigger separation between the Wizard's slots-only survey and reported returns for the Strip vs. Downtown is probably because the strip has a higher mix of slots and downtown has a higher mix of video poker (which tends to pay better than slots).

Slot returns across the U.S.

In most jurisdictions, casinos are required by law to report their slot returns to the government, so that information is public.  Below are the slot returns I researched across the U.S., for 2017 and/or 2018, with some caveats:

  1. Most jurisdictions lump in video poker, video blackjack, etc. in with the "slots" figures.  For areas that offer video poker (not all do), I'd subtract a percentage point from the figures to more closely approximate the return for just slots.
  2. My figures are the average for all denominations, but lower-denomination games tend to pay worse and higher-denomination tend to pay better.  So expect to get worse odds than what's listed below when playing pennies or nickels, even after you've subtracted a point for VP being lumped in.

Some areas report the returns for each individual casino separately.  (Nevada isn't one of them.)  For those areas, you can see the individual casino returns at American Casino Guide.  However, even when returns are broken out for individual casinos, it's cold comfort, because they all suck.

Most states also prescribe minimum paybacks for the machines.  I also included those in the table so you can see that they're all but irrelevant; most casinos blow way past the mandated minimum.

As I write this, this is the only such table-ized data available anywhere on the whole Internet.  You sure came to the right place, didn't you?

 Legal Minimum Paybacks vs. Actual Returns 

Legal Minimum Actual
Arizona 80% Slots
83% VP/BJ
75% Keno
Arkansas 83% 93%
Colorado 80% (max 100%) 94%
Connecticut none that I could find 91%
Delaware 87% 92%
Florida 85% : Pari-Mutuel facilities
no min: boats & Native Am.
Illinois 80% 91%
Indiana none that I could find 90%
Iowa none that I could find 90%
Kansas 80% Native American
87% others
80% (max <100%)
(avg. for all machines)
Maryland 87% (100% max;
95% max for all machines together)
MD calls slots "video lottery terminals"
Massachusetts 80% 92%
Michigan 75% Native Am. casinos
none for elsewhere
Minnesota 80% Slots (95% max)
83% VP/BJ (98% max)
75% Keno (95% max)
Mississippi 80% 92%
Missouri none that I can find 90%
Montana 80% @ bars (92% max)
no min. @ Native Am.
New Jersey
New Mexico
80% Native Am. + elsewhere
New York
none that I could find for Nat.Am.;
elsewhere: 90% for VLT, 85% slots

91% non-NA
(Nat.Am. don't report)
North Carolina
83% (100% max)
North Dakota
80% slots (max 100%)
83% VP/BJ (max 100%)
Oklahoma none n/a
Oregon none that I could find n/a
Pennsylvania 85% 90%
Rhode Island none that I could find 91%
South Carolina none
South Dakota none that I could find
91% non-NA
(Nat.Am. don't report)
West Virginia 80% (95% max)
Wisconsin 80% slots (100% max)
83% VP/BJ (103% max)
All data sourced in August 2018, except MD April 2021

TV, movie, and celebrity-themed slots pay worse

A former slot director notes, "TV, movie, and celebrity themed games...cost the casino more in revenue sharing (they also cant be purchased), so the hold is always higher."(source)  A VP at a slot maker suggests that these slots pay about 2% points less than non-themed slots. (LV Sun) 

Online slot returns

Online casinos offer much better slot returns than land casinos, because they have much lower overhead.  (No physical machines, no luxury resort to make mortgage payments on, fewer employees, etc.)  Slot returns in land casinos are around 91% (see above) but online it's about 96% (which is my estimate for my advertiser, Bovada Online Casino).

This is a big deal:  At 91% RTP you're losing 9% of your money, and at 96% RTP you're losing 4% of your money.  So, by switching from land casinos to online, your money will last twice as long (with the catch being that you could lose more online if the easy access to online gambling causes you to play more).

While it's nearly impossible to find the RTP for specific machines in land casinos, there are a number of online slot publishers and casinos which publish that data.  I tabulated the data from one online publisher (NetEnt) and here are the results:

  • 89% of slots are in the range 96-96.99%.
  • 96.33% Median
  • 96.37% Average
  • 99% High (Mega Joker)
  • 92.96 Low (Super Lucky Frog)
    Data collected 2/14/23

I estimate the slot RTP for my advertiser, Bovada, to be around 96%.  I've been able to see reports for millions of dollars of casino play at Bovada for 2022, with an RTP of 97.27%, but this includes table games which can have a higher RTP (like blackjack, which is around 99.5% with proper play).  So an RTP of 96% for slots seems reasonable.

Cruise ship slot returns

A Wizard of Vegas member who says that he used to run casinos on cruise ships, says the paybacks were set to 84%. (WoV) 

How much of the payback comes from the jackpot

Most of the payback on a typical slot comes from the small pays, not from the jackpot.  In fact, the jackpot usually comprises less than 1% of the total payback.  The main exception are the huge progressive slots like Megabucks, where the jackpot is a huge part of the total return.  Here's what portion of the total payback is comprised of the jackpot for various machines.  And by the way, as I write this, this is the most complete list of such data anywhere on the Internet.

  Portion of Payback that comes from the Jackpot 
Red White & Blue
Blazing 7's electromechanical 1.93%
Blazing 7's, video 8.1%
Double Strike 0.6%
Hexbreaker <0.1%
Jackpot Piñatas 0.1%
Lion Fish <0.1%
Lucky Larry's Lobstermania 0.15%
Cleopatra (IGT) 0.9%
Megabucks 10.2%
Figures are given in percentage points.  So, if a machine pays back 95%,
and the jackpot portion is listed as 1.5%, the machine would pay back
93.5% if there were no jackpot on the machine. • (sources)

How the payback affects your bottom line

With the payback, we've been talking in terms of how much you get back.  The flip side is how much the casino keeps as its profit.  If the payback is 95%, then the house edge is 5%.  Here's why that's important:  One machine might have a payback of 94% and another 97%.  Those might look pretty similar, and 94% might seem fairly decent.  But flip it, and the house edge (how much you lose) is 6% and 3% respectively.  So, on the 94% machine, you'll lose twice as much money as you would on the 97% machine!

Here's my average loss calculator, which shows slot losses compared to losses at other games.

Turn your phone sideways for a better calculator!
Average Loss Calculator
Game Rounds / Rolls
Per Hour
Bet per round House Edge Average Avg. Loss for
hour(s) hrs
of play
Slots $ 
Roulette $ 
Video Poker $ 
Baccarat $ 
Craps $ 
Blackjack $ 
These are mathematical averages based on infinite play.  You could lose more or less.
Play online casino games with fake money!  It's better than losing real money.

You can calculate your average hourly loss yourself pretty easily:

Bet per spin x spins per hour x house edge = average hourly loss

For example, let's say you're betting $1.50 per spin, playing at a rate of 600 spins per hour, on a 93% machine (7% house edge).  Your average hourly loss will be $1.50 x 600 x 7% = $63/hour.

That's a long-term average.  In the short term, your loss will likely be a little higher, because you'll probably have to play for a long time before you hit the jackpot.  For more on this, see my separate article on average loss.

Understand that your average loss is based on how much money you play, not how much money you take with you.  For example, you might think, "Okay, I'm bringing $500, and the slots take an average of 8%, so I should lose about $40."  Not even.  You'll go through that $500 about half an hour if you play $1.50 per spin, and lose an average of $40 on that.  But then when you play the $460 or so that you got out of the machine, you'll expect to lose 8% of that, etc.  Losing a bit every time you replay your bankroll is called the grind.  The casino grinds you down.  It doesn't matter whether your return is 90% or 99%, if you play long enough at any game you'll eventually lose all your money.

Figuring out the payback from the slot points

Steve Bourie came up with a clever way to figure a machine's payback based on how many slot points are earned for a certain amount of play.  This works only at casinos which award points based on the exact payback of a machine; casinos usually give points based on how much money is run through the machine, regardless of what its payback is.

Play slots online

I suggest you play something other than slots because slot odds are so bad.  You could also play online with fake money, because then it doesn't matter if you lose.  A good casino for free-play is Bovada, since it requires no download and no registration.  (If you see a registration box, you can close it and continue without registering.)  You can play with real money too, though I hope you won't (or at least won't bet more than you can comfortably afford to lose). (advertisement)

All my slot machine articles

Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

You can play Bovada's games (below) right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's the main reason Bovada is the only online casino that gets advertising space on my site.  (When you see the registration box, you can cancel it and proceed to the game without registering.)

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