by Joshua O’Connell

Because of the nature of casinos and gambling, which has a lot of things kept out of direct public view, people love to ascribe various ideas and, frankly, myths to casinos, slot machines and more. Many of these myths make people feel like casinos are an even worse bet than they are, oftentimes to make people feel better about the fact that they lost to the house.

In this article we’ll cover common misconceptions about casinos and slot machines, and what the reality is for each.

Casinos Change Slot Machine Paybacks Based on Time of Day, or Day of the Week

It’s not as easy to change the payback on a machine as many players think. Players assume because slots are effectively modern computers, that some guy in a room somewhere on the casino property can update the paybacks on all the machines instantly. The reality is much more complicated.

For one, many slot machines aren’t designed to support this, even today. Second, regulations in many states require a much more complex process. For instance, in Nevada, a machine must sit idle for a period of time, with no credits in the machine. Then it will have to go down to reboot and verify everything is settled. Then it has to be idle for a few minutes again. 

Players would notice this happening, and in today’s world of share everything on social media, you’d better expect to see plenty of examples of whole groups machines going down for a reboot all at the same time if casinos were doing this.


You Have a Better Chance of Winning When There Are More People in the Casino

Your individual odds don’t change because there are more players in the casino, but there will numerically be more people winning at any given time, simply because there are more people in the casino.

Say if there’s 100 people in the casino, and 40 are winning. Shift that to 500 people, and 200 could be winning, but the ratio is still roughly the same. The casinos don’t offer a higher payback percentage just because there’s more people in the building – that percentage is already locked in regardless of who and how many are playing.


Using a Players Card Reduces Your Overall Payback

Players card systems, while installed into slot machines, do not have direct control over a slot machine. They largely read data, and in the instance of free play, can put a credit on the machine, but that’s about it. So playing with or without a players card will not have any impact on the machine’s payback.

However, using a player’s card is the only way you can guarantee you get the earned casino comps and offers that come with gambling in any casino. So in that sense playing without a card costs you, not the other way around.


New Slot Machines Have a Honeymoon Period to Get Players Hooked

Actually, new slot machines will oftentimes pay a bit lower than they eventually will.

First off though, as we discussed earlier, casinos rarely touch the payout percentages of a machine once installed. So the odds of them setting a new game higher to start is unlikely; a good chunk of gamblers love to try out the new games, so they don’t need to incentivize players to play them anyway.

However, games with progressives will take time to reach their overall payback percentage, and that’s because the progressives need time to build up.

If you play a new game that has a $10,000 grand, and hit it that first day, that grand won’t be far off the $10,000 mark. But if it hasn’t hit for weeks, that $10,000 might be $12,000 or $15,000, and that has an appreciable difference on the payback of slots.

I’ve reviewed the paybacks of a number of casinos from the time they’ve opened to a year later, and oftentimes the first couple of months the casino pays back as much as 1-2 percent lower than ultimately where it evens out, just showing you that new machines need time to build up their top prizes before they can achieve their average payback percentages.


Never Leave a Hot Machine; Run From a Cold Machine

The concept of a “hot” or “cold” machine (or a “loose” or “tight” machine for that matter) is an evaluation of how a machine has done recently. That is not a predictor of what will happen on the next spin, as because of the random number generator (RNG) operates, any outcome is possible on the next spin.

If you hit a jackpot, the chances of hitting a jackpot on the next spin is still the same as it was on the last spin. That’s because the random number generator makes any outcome of the game equally possible on each and every spin. The game doesn’t deviate from its path because as hundreds of thousands or millions of spins are performed on the game, the more and more likely the game will arrive at its expected payout percentage.


If a Bag, Pot, Fireworks is Full/Bursting, A Bonus is Due to Hit

Many games nowadays have one or more accumulators, which is a visual indicator that evolves with play, showing a progression. However, it’s what the industry calls a perceived persistence, some element that’s growing in value that actually has no specific value at all. 

That’s because, like a “hot” or “cold” machine, it’s an indicator of what has happened, not what will happen. The visual is telling you that it’s been awhile since a bonus, not that a bonus is approaching.

There are games that have “must hit by” elements or other scenarios that are indeed indicating that a bonus is approaching as it reaches the upper end, but those will clearly be labeled when that’s the case. Otherwise, it’s all for show, in the hopes you’ll fall into its trap and play because those coins are overflowing.


Machine Paybacks Differ if You Use Cash, a Ticket or Free Play

The machine’s payback will be consistent regardless of the way the money got deposited. The machine will keep track of basic things for accounting purposes, but there aren’t multiple payback settings for a casino to choose from – it’s one choice that governs all the play that the machine has, regardless of what got deposited in the machine.

In a different era, some casinos would have specific machines that you could use free play on. I’m sure those machines were set lower because they were purposefully in place for that one specific reason, but nowadays free play is allowed on many machines, oftentimes the ones without big jackpots, but otherwise machines you can play with cash or free play on the casino floor.

Similarly, tickets are simply a record-keeping device, not unlike chips for table games, that avoid constant cash being passed in and out of the machine. The ticket system also allowed casinos to finally move away from heavy and expensive coin management at each machine, and opened up the door for more denominations, including penny denomination slots. They are as good as cash and treated as such by slot machines.


If You Don’t Know the Payback (At Tribal Casinos, On Cruise Ships), They Will Be a Lot Lower

Many players have a fear of the unknown. Some states and casinos report their slot machine payback statistics, while others (generally tribal casinos and cruise ships) are not required to do so. Some players presume if casinos aren’t required to report their paybacks, they’ll set them extremely low, much lower than commercial casinos. This is wrong for a few reasons.

Slot Makers Set the Paybacks

Casinos choose which machines to put on their floor, but ultimately they’re buying from games developed by slot makers, and those machines have a range of paybacks on offer. If a casino wants a game that pays below what a given machine will offer, they won’t offer the game, but as a general rule the games seen in tribal casinos and commercial casinos come from the same group of providers, with the same options available.

Slot makers would prefer to offer better paybacks, given their choice! I’ve spoken to multiple developers who look for ways to tweak the knobs to give the players just a little more back within the parameters on offer. Ultimately the range has to be attractive enough to casino operators while still making the games fun, which leads to…

If a Game Paid Really Low, We Would Notice

There’s a point where it becomes very difficult to make the game exciting for many players while extracting a very high payback percentage from players. Already even with the paybacks on offer, some players hate the really volatile games that make it hard to get wins; now imagine the wins you did get were even lower to accommodate those lower paybacks.

Game makers want to make sure wherever you see a specific game, it will play right, and that means there needs to be a floor so the game still feels like the game. If a player has a series of bad experiences on a game, whether not winning or whatnot, they may avoid the game in the future wherever it is, and with enough players doing that the makers will find their games not as sought out by either players or casinos.

Where The Lower Paybacks Can Occur

It’s fair to assume given a range of paybacks, cruise ships will opt for the lowest option. I’ve seen many examples of this from machines being set up on cruise ships. You may also find higher denominations of games will pay lower than traditionally on offer in land-based casinos. But you won’t find them lower than what land-based casinos can offer – that floor is there.

Tribal casinos it’s a bit broader, because some are in competition with one another, and usually that means the paybacks have the potential to be higher. Some tribal casinos also don’t offer traditional slot machines, but instead Bingo machines, which work on their own payout schedule (and at least some report to be higher than traditional slots, to overcome the hesitancy some might have about playing Bingo machines).

Ultimately, the fact that they don’t report doesn’t mean they pay any less than any other land-based casino would offer.

Indeed, if you look at new casinos and their paybacks right after opening, the first months tend to be a bit lower and it builds to a more sustained number about a percentage point higher, after a couple of months have passed.

Remember, the odds of winning a progressive is the same whether it’s built up or not, so it will be just as tough to win on day one as day 100, but the prize on day one will be lower because there hasn’t been enough play to build it up yet.


Slots At the End of a Row Pay Better

While many casinos are doing away with rows in some parts of their casinos, an ongoing belief is that you have a better chance of winning on the end. The reality is your chances of winning on slot machines are the same anywhere in the row, but you’ll see more people winning on the end of a row because, simply put, people prefer to sit on the end for space reasons.

If you ever go to a casino that first opened up, you’ll notice the progressives growing more quickly on the end, because more players will choose to sit there and play vs. the inside. And then, as players begin to spot the higher progressives, they’ll likely sit down there, continuing the cycle, until such time as the progressive is won, resetting it.

So, similar to the myth about number of people in the casino, you’re simply more likely to notice people winning on the end of a row because, on average, you’re also more likely to see someone gambling on the end of a row vs. in the middle.


Joshua O’Connell is the author of Know Your Slots, a casino website that talks about slot machines and how they work,
comps, travel, 
cruises and other casino-related topics. New and updated content is posted daily.