Payback is considered one of the most important aspects when choosing slots. The reason why is that payback, or return to player (a.k.a. RTP), determines your long-term chances of winning.
The given payout percentage refers to how much money a slot machine is set to pay back on average. Here’s an example:
- You’re playing a slot with 95% RTP
- If you bet $200 on the game
- 200 x 0.95 = $190
- You should theoretically win back $190 on this machine
Gamblers are always interested in finding ways to improve their odds. Payback is the perfect way to do this when considering that it directly relates to how much slots money you can win.
But you might be surprised to know that RTP isn’t as important as the gaming world makes it appear. I’m going to cover 5 reasons why you should ignore payback when selecting slot machines.
1 – RTP Has Little Impact on Your Short Term Winnings
Many slots players consider payback to be indicative of their chances of winning in any given session. But RTP usually has little bearing on your short-term gains.
Payout percentages are merely long-term indicators on how much you stand to win. Most players don’t come anywhere close to reaching the given payout percentage on the game they’re playing.
Even if a slot machine offers 96% payback, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to win back anywhere from 40% to 150% in one session.
Slot machines are by far one of the most-volatile casino games, meaning short-term results can vary greatly from the mean average (RTP in this case).
Pay table distribution is the main reason for the high volatility. Every slot has a wide variation between the lowest and highest prize.
Here’s an example of a simplified pay table:
- 5 vampires = 10,000 coins
- 5 mummies = 1,000 coins
- 5 bats = 500 coins
- 5 holy waters = 100 coins
- 5 vampire hunters = 50 coins
- 5 pieces of garlic = 10 coins
- 5 castles = 5 coins
This pay table has a jackpot that’s worth 2,000x the lowest prize. Considering the large payouts offered at the top, the slot machine must calibrate by offering less frequent wins.
Compare this to baccarat, blackjack, craps, and roulette, where players win over 45% of their bets on average.
High slots volatility comes from how these games are programmed to reach their stated payout percentage after hundreds of thousands if not millions of spins. It’s very unlikely that you’ll sit down to a slot with 96% RTP and win back $96 on every $100 wagered.
Of course, this is also part of the fun when playing slots. Nobody wants to be guaranteed losses when they start spinning the reels.
In any case, you should be aware that slot machines are very volatile and unlikely to pay anywhere near their stated payback in the short run.
2 – Understanding Units Lost Is More Important Than Payback
Bankroll management is crucial for anybody who wants to stretch their slots funds further. Many players often use a game’s payback as their primary tool for bankroll management.
Here’s an example using a run-of-the-mill bankroll plan:
- You have $100
- Your average bet size is $1
- You make 500 wagers per hour
- You’re playing a slot machine with 94% payback (6% house edge)
- 500 bets x 0.06 house edge = $30 in hourly theoretical losses
- $100 / $30 = 3.33 hours
The RTP model shows that your bankroll stands to last over three hours under these conditions. But it’s hard to gauge how long your bankroll will last using payback alone.
As covered above, slot machines’ volatility makes for some unpredictable sessions. Therefore, a bankroll management plan that uses payback as the key measure can go either way.
This is especially true when dealing with small sample sizes, like the $100 bankroll and 3-hour time frame in the example. Smaller bankrolls make you more susceptible to volatility.
A better way to measure how long your bankroll will last involves using units lost per hour. A unit refers to the average bet that you make on each spin.
Breaking your bankroll down into units makes it easier to manage funds. Here’s an example:
- You have $1,500
- You bet $0.50 per spin on average
- 1,500 / 0.50 = 3,000 units in your bankroll
Many players appreciate viewing their bankroll in terms of total bets instead of a monetary value. Furthermore, this practice makes the rest of bankroll management easier.
Of course, units still don’t solve the problem of using something other than payback to perform bankroll management. The best tool to use is an estimation of the average losses per hour.
Low-volatility slots (i.e. small jackpots) usually see players lose around 250 units an hour. High-volatility slots (i.e. big jackpots) normally see gamblers lose around 350 units.
You can use these loss estimations to get a more-accurate idea on how much short-term money you stand to lose.
Here’s an example:
- You have 3,000 units
- You’re playing a low-volatility slot (250 units lost per hour)
- 3,000 / 250 = 12 hours
Nothing guarantees that your bankroll won’t last longer than 12 hours. In fact, you might even hit a big payout and walk out of the casino much wealthier.
Instead, lost units are just better short-term estimates on how long your bankroll will last when compared to payback.
3 – Progressive Slots Payback Is Hard to Pinpoint
You’d be especially wise to ignore payback when it comes to progressive slots. These games feature growing jackpots that make it difficult to figure out RTP.
Progressive slot machines usually take between 1% and 3% of every wager to seed the jackpot. Popular progressive games can offer top payouts worth millions of dollars.
This setup is attractive to players who dream of getting rich through slot machines. But it also makes deciphering payback nearly impossible.
Every progressive slots jackpot starts with good base value. This is also the point when you can define base RTP.
Here’s an example:
- NetEnt’s Mega Fortune starts with a €250,000 jackpot
- The base payback is 96.4%
- The RTP increases as the jackpot grows larger than €250k
The only time that you truly know Mega Fortune’s payback is when NetEnt first seeds the jackpot at €250,000. Other than this, you’re left guessing the RTP.
Being in the dark on payback isn’t so bad when dealing with a high-paying game like Mega Fortune. But it becomes a problem when the base payback is low.
Microgaming’s Mega Moolah is a perfect example, because it only offers 88.1% base RTP. This is awful considering that Mega Moolah is an online slot.
It’s worth noting that Mega Moolah offers some of online gaming’s largest jackpots and can theoretically deliver high payback. But you’re dealing with a low-paying slots assuming you don’t win the jackpot.
Compounding matters is that it’s impossible to calculate the exact RTP for progressive slots. You’re missing key variables, meaning you have to make an educated guess on the payback.
Mega Moolah’s jackpot is seeded at $1 million. Therefore, you can assume that the RTP is worth over 90% when the jackpot reaches $5 million.
Nevertheless, you still can’t pinpoint payback for Mega Moolah or other progressive games.
4 – Most Slot Machines Pay Around the Same Amount
You don’t have to think hard about slots payback in many cases. Most games are roughly the same in terms of RTP.
The only factor that you really have to consider is whether you’re in a land-based or online casino.
Online slots have steadily increased in payback ever since they were first launched in the mid-1990s. Most internet slot machines released today deliver anywhere from 95% to 97% RTP.
Obviously it’s still nice to know the exact payback. This information can be found by googling individual game developers (e.g. Rival Gaming or Thunderkick) followed by the word “RTP” or “payback.”
But you can roughly assume that most internet slots offer anywhere from 95-97% RTP.
Land-based slots developers don’t publish payout percentages. But they often group payback based on coin denominations.
Here’s an example based on the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s 2017 report for average payback among coin denominations:
- Penny Slots = 90.17% payback
- Nickel Slots = 94.54% payback
- Quarter Slots = 93.06% payback
- Dollar Slots = 93.94% payback
- $5 Slots = 94.16% payback
- $25 Slots = 95.03% payback
- $100 Slots = 93.21% payback
You can see that land-based RTP isn’t as impressive as what’s seen with internet slots. After all, online games still offer over 95% payback when you bet a penny per line (a.k.a. penny slots).
The general rule of thumb, though, is that land-based RTP increases as you move up in coin denominations. Nevada slot machines, for example, offer between 93% and 95% payback from nickel games and beyond.
5 – Land Based Casinos Can Trick You
Some brick-and-mortar casinos put signs above a bank of slot machines to advertise generous RTP. For example, you might see a sign that reads “Up to 98% payback.”
These signs are enticing when considering that most land-based slots don’t even offer 95% payback. But you should always be careful when seeing anything like this.
Casinos are only required to offer the stated payback on one machine. Therefore, just one game in slot machine bank must deliver the advertised 98% payback.
Many players don’t realize this, though, and will hop on any slot in the area under the assumption that they’re spinning for 98% RTP.
The best way to handle these situations is by never paying attention to these signs. You have no idea of knowing which game(s) is offering high payback among the surrounding machines.
As I covered before, coin denominations are the best way to determine RTP for land-based games. Don’t, however, rely on any sign that promises a specific amount of payback.
Should You Still Worry About Slots Payback?
Based on everything covered in this post, you might wonder if it’s even worth bothering with RTP.
My personal opinion is that payback isn’t the Holy Grail that slots players make it out to be. But you also shouldn’t completely discount slot machines’ payback.
The main thing to consider is your personal goals. Are you looking for big wins in the short run, or are you going to be a long-time slots player?
If you’re mainly looking to win in a single session, then you should choose slot machines with low volatility. These are typically games that don’t have a big jackpot nor many (if any) bonus features.
If you’re a long-term slots player who’s the dreaming of winning big, then RTP becomes a more important factor. You should choose jackpot slots that offer good base payback to replenish losses.
Earlier I covered how NetEnt has such a game in Mega Fortune, which offers 96.4% RTP and a jackpot that’s normally worth seven figures.
Chances are that you’re not going to hit a seven-figure jackpot any time soon. But the 96.4% base payback at least ensures that you can net smaller wins in the meantime.
High payback comes in handy even if you’re not chasing life-changing money. Games that combine low volatility with good RTP offer an excellent chance to win in any given session.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a slave to slots payback. Instead, you can choose the games and themes that you want without being too affected by this factor.
If you want to play a certain fall-themed slot with 92% payback, then it won’t kill your bankroll to do so for a few sessions. But this isn’t to say that RTP doesn’t have its place in the slots world.
Long-term players will benefit from high payback because they’re more likely to reach the stated payout percentage. In these cases, it pays to know how to look for slots with high RTP.
The best place to begin with online slot machines is by looking at the game’s help screen.
Some internet slots developers list RTP on the help screen for each of their games. Others don’t list this info, which is when you need to use alternative means.
You can always google an individual game followed by RTP or payback. For example, you could google NetEnt’s “Arabian Nights RTP.”
Another option involves googling a game developer’s name. For instance, you could look up “Rival slots RTP” to find payback for Rival’s entire collection.
Land-based casinos are a different matter because providers don’t offer payback online or in a game’s help screen. Instead, you need to make generalizations based on the coin denomination.
Normally, penny slot machines offer between 88% and 92% payback. Nickel slots up to $100 machines feature anywhere from 93% to 98% RTP.
Again, failing to know the payout percentage for a given slot isn’t going to crush your bankroll. But this info can be helpful for serious players.