Slot machines seem harmless enough to the new gambler. After all, many of today’s casino-goers grew up in environments like Chuck E. Cheese and Dave and Buster’s, where there are plenty of games that look and sound like slot machines.
What the new casino gambler often doesn’t realize is that slot machines can put more hurt on their bankroll than any other game.
Slots can be fun, but you need to know what you’re up against before plunking your money in the slot.
Below, you’ll find some useful words of advice if you’re a new slot machine player.
Slot Machine Have the Biggest House Edge in the Casino
Aside from keno, real money slots have the biggest house edge. The house edge is a mathematical prediction of how much of each bet you’re going to lose in the long run for a game. It’s expressed as a percentage, and it’s a long-term average.
Here’s an example:
The house edge for the pass line bet in crap is 1.41%. If you make a $100 bet repeatedly on the pass line, you’ll eventually average a loss of $1.41 per bet over time.
You won’t lose $1.41 on any single bet or any small number of bets. It’s an average outcome over hundreds or thousands of bets.
Most games in a casino have a house edge of between 1% and 5%.
But the house edge for slot machine games range from 7% or 8% on the really good machines to up to 25% on the stingiest machines, like the ones you’ll find at the airport or in gas stations.
Calculating the House Edge
In most casino games, you can calculate the house edge with ease if you’re mathematically inclined. The house edge is based on the difference between how much you’ll win the percentage of time that you win and how much you’ll lose in the percentage of time that you lose.
In a game like roulette, for example, we know that the odds of winning a single-number bet are 37 to 1, but the payoff is only 35 to 1.
In the standard roulette game, by the way, the house edge is 5.26% on almost all the bets.
But with a slot machine, you don’t know what the probability of getting those winning results is. Sure, you know what the payouts are for the various outcomes. But without the odds of getting those outcomes, you can’t calculate the house edge.
Even identical machines sitting side by side can have wildly different house edge figures.
The Payback Percentages Being Reported Are Averages
If you follow some of the bigger magazines in the casino industry or look at some of the larger casino guides, you’ll find the average payback percentage for various casinos, casino locales, and casino cities. These averages don’t say anything about an individual slot machine.
The payback percentage, by the way, is the flip side of the house edge – it’s just the house edge subtracted from 100%. It represents how much you expect to win back for every bet you place.
If the payback percentage for a slot machine is 92%, you expect to average a win of 92 cents for every dollar you play. And again, this is a long-term average.
But here’s an example of how that average number can be misleading:
Let’s say you’ve found a report that says the average payback percentage for the dollar slots at Border Casino is 92%.
And let’s also say that Border casino has 1,000 slot machines to choose from.
Some of those machines might have a payback percentage of 75% which is offset by some of the other slot machines having a payback percentage of 97%.
But you have absolutely no way to distinguish one from the other.
Even if you track your results carefully, you need a large dataset to draw any conclusions.
The Difference Between a House Edge of 8% and 25%
Most people understand what a percentage means on a theoretical level, but let’s look at these percentages in practical terms.
Let’s look at how much it will cost, on average, to play a slot machine with an 8% house edge versus playing a slot machine with a 25% house edge.
The formula for calculating your expected loss is simple. It’s just the amount of action you bring to the casino multiplied by the house edge.
Action is just the total amount of money you bet. If you make 100 bets of a dollar each or a single larger bet of $100, the total action is the same—$100.
Let’s say you’re a casual gambler playing dollar slots for 3 coins per spin. You’re putting $3 into action on every spin.
Let’s also assume you get bored after about two hours playing the slots.
Most slots players make 500 spins per hour, so two hours’ worth of play results in 1,000 spins. At $3 each, that’s $3,000 in action.
With an 8% house edge, you’ll lose an average of $240 on that kind of action. That’s $120 per hour for your slot machine entertainment.
But with a 25% house edge, you’ll lose an average of $750 on that kind of action. That’s $375 per hour for the same entertainment.
It might be cheaper to rent an entire movie theater and see a movie.
You get to insert a card into the slots while you play them. This card tracks how much money you’re putting through the machine.
The casino, by the way, doesn’t care how much you win or lose. They know that they make more money the more you cycle money through the machine. Their main goal is for you to put a lot of money into action.
That’s why they base your rewards on how much you gamble rather than on how much you lose.
They know that if you have the occasional winning session, you’ll continue to gamble and eventually lose a lot of money.
They usually give you back 0.2% to 0.3% in rebates and freebies in exchange for your action.
Make no mistake, it’s better to get those rewards than to not get them.
But the casinos are banking on you gambling more than you would otherwise in exchange for that.
Understand How the Players Club Works
Last year, my cousin Peter spent a lot of time at the casino. He would occasionally, maybe once a month, call me to brag about how he won $1,000 or $1,500 that day. The other times—when he had losing trips to the casino—he didn’t talk much about it.
And Peter drove to the casino every time he had a day off, too.
Naturally, Peter knew he should belong to the players club, but he was gambling so much that he started competing with himself to get into the higher tier of the players’ club. The club has three levels:
Your level is based on the number of points you’ve accumulated. The casino awards a point for every $10 you put into action.
You move into the premier tier once you’ve accumulated 5,000 points, which means you’ve put $50,000 into action.
You move into the elite tier once you’ve accumulated 15,000 points, which means you’ve put $150,000 into action.
Since this is an Oklahoma casino, it’s safe to assume that they don’t have a house edge comparable to what you’d find in the better Las Vegas casinos.
Let’s just be generous and assume that the house edge for these games is 10% on average.
This means you’ll probably lose $5,000 to get to the premier tier, and you’ll lose $15,000 getting to the elite tier.
What kind of perks do you get at these levels?
With the elite tier, you get free coupons for restaurants and hotel stays. You also get discounts on the buffet and at the RV park. And you get 10% off everything at the Spa or the gift shop. Finally, you get complimentary access to the cabana.
None of this sounds like it’s worth it to spend this much extra money at the casino.
Peter wasted a lot of money for those perks, many of which involved him spending money he wouldn’t have otherwise spent.
The Words of Advice From an Old Gambler to a Young Gambler
If you’re going to play slot machines, that’s fine. You just need to understand that they’re one of the most expensive options in the casino. You should play for lower stakes than you think, because you’re going to expose yourself to the grind four to five times as much as you would with other casino games.
You should also be leery of the lures of the players’ club. Yes, you should probably join and take advantage of the perks offered with a membership in the players’ club.
But definitely avoid gambling more money than you would otherwise just to try to get your money’s worth.
Those are my words of advice for someone considering playing the slots. I think you can find better entertainment that won’t cost you as much in the casino without even trying especially hard. Consider games like blackjack or video poker instead, as the house edge on those games is lower by a lot.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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