It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that slot machines on The Strip are “tighter” than the alternatives found outside of the Las Vegas Boulevard bubble.
And no, I’m not talking about individual machines set up to pay out less frequently by the casino overlords above. That notion of “tight” and “loose” slot gameplay has always been a myth passed around by uninformed gamblers.
Instead, I’m referring to the way casino operators with properties on The Strip carefully curate their slot machine selection.
Let’s say Slot X offers a 95.50 percent payback rate, which you might know as the return to player (RTP) rate, while Slot Y and Slot Z offer paybacks at 93.25 percent and 91.10 percent, respectively. In this example, a casino on The Strip will have no problem whatsoever ordering hundreds of Slot Y and Slot Z, while only spreading a dozen or so of the Slot X machines.
The big corporate casinos on The Strip can get away with offering lower average payback rates because they have a captive audience of sorts. Over 40 million tourists visit Las Vegas every year, and when they get there, the vast majority will never leave The Strip. Knowing this, corporations like MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and Las Vegas Sands Corp. show no compunction about sticking it to their slot players with tighter machines.
On the other side of the spectrum, all of those casinos located far from the action on Las Vegas Boulevard have no choice. In order to attract customers and retain the loyalty of local regulars, off-Strip casinos must compete by taking the opposite tack. Mid-major operators like Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming, and others stay afloat by choosing a higher ratio of loose slots to balance out a handful of tight machines.
This strategy creates a higher overall payback percentage on average when you play slots in an Off Strip casino. As you can see below, using data compiled by the annual Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) survey of Las Vegas slot payback rates by region, playing away from The Strip always provides a more player-friendly experience:
Las Vegas Slot Machine Payback Percentage Rates (by Coin Denomination and Region)
1¢ Slot Machines
|North Las Vegas||90.88%|
5¢ Slot Machines
|North Las Vegas||95.29%|
25¢ Slot Machines
|North Las Vegas||96.41%|
$1 Slot Machines
|North Las Vegas||95.39%|
$1 Megabucks Machines
|North Las Vegas||88.52%|
All Slot Machines
|North Las Vegas||93.53%|
Nonetheless, not all off-Strip slot parlors are built the same way…
It got me thinking about all of the off-Strip properties that try to have it both ways, by marketing themselves as the “home of loose slots” even though their machines are tighter than the baseline average for their region.
With that in mind, the list below serves as a warning for slot players, so do your best to avoid the seven worst off-Strip casinos where tight slots reign supreme.
1 – McCarran International Airport
For millions of visitors to Sin City, the first sin they’ll commit is parting ways with even a single penny playing slots at McCarran International Airport.
In case you’re close enough to drive to Las Vegas, and thus haven’t had the “pleasure” of seeing the airport up close and personal, the place is lined with slot machines in a scene straight out of a typical casino. At first glance, these slots can seem like a cool novelty, a welcome mat greeting new arrivals and letting them know they’re in for a little something different.
And on the other side of the coin, when you’re heading home and want to take one last crack at landing that elusive jackpot score, a few spins on the airport slots can’t hurt, right?
Well, you should definitely consider the 85.02 percent average payback rate found on McCarran slots to be painful…
When compared to other off-Strip locales, the airport puts players at a disadvantage equal to 8 percent off their average payback. And even when sized up against The Strip, airport slots are 6 percent worse overall.
You’re already going to face the indignities of modern air travel when passing through McCarran, so stay smart and don’t add industry-worst slot payback to the pain.
2 – Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino
Best known as the site of the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP), the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino is a place where life-changing fortunes are won dozens of times over every summer.
Unfortunately for gamblers who prefer the slots over Texas Hold’em, however, the Rio is relentlessly bad for reel spinners. Likely owing to its parent company Caesars Entertainment struggling through bankruptcy, management has made sure the Rio’s slot selection spits out an average payback rate of only 88.72 percent.
To get a sense of just how bad that payback rate really is, consider this – only the Venetian (86.66 percent) and the Bellagio (87.42 percent) are worse for slot players, and those casinos are on The Strip. In terms of proper casinos found away from Las Vegas Boulevard, you simply can’t do any worse than the Rio if the slots are your game of choice.
3 – Fremont Hotel & Casino
A member of the Boyd Gaming family found in Downtown Las Vegas, the Fremont has been an iconic fixture along Fremont Street since Sinatra and the “Rat Pack” were strutting their stuff.
Sin City has changed a ton over that time, and most of the action has moved to The Strip, but Fremont is still considered to be a home away from home for many locals and longtime visitors. Even so, Fremont’s slot selection still manages to offer the worst payback average of any casino in the Downtown district at 90.37 percent. To wit, the average for all Downtown casinos stands at 92.67 percent, so you’re shaving more than 2 percent off your overall payback rate by spinning at Fremont.
4 – Main Street Station Casino Brewery Hotel
Folks who call Las Vegas home love the Station Casinos brand, which encompasses several reasonably priced venues found all over the city.
Main Street Station is typical of the Station Casinos concept, combining affordable fare with the best odds on table games and video poker. Unfortunately for slot players, Main Street Station found a way to mess up a good thing, as it’s the worst of all Station casinos in terms of slot payback with a 90.56 percent average rate.
5 – Silverton Casino Hotel
One of the rare independent casinos still going strong in Sin City, the Silverton is a holdover from a bygone era of Las Vegas lore.
Even though its relatively new, having opened its doors in 1994, the Silverton looks and feels like it belongs in the 1970s in Nevada’s other gambling locale of Lake Tahoe. The vibe is rustic and intimate, and you’ll easily save a pretty penny eschewing The Strip to stay here.
On the flip side, however, those savings will be eaten up quickly playing slots at the Silverton, thanks to a lower than average 90.57 percent payback rate.
6 – Golden Gate Casino Hotel
The Golden Gate Casino first opened its gaming floor all the way back in 1906, making it the oldest casino in all of Las Vegas – and anywhere in America for that matter.
Golden Gate is a fixture on Fremont Street, surviving for more than a century while rivals came and went with the desert winds.
But while the $0.99 shrimp cocktails and classic coin-in pull-lever slot machines offer a certain sense of nostalgia, Golden Gate’s slot menu gooses its owner’s bottom line with a regrettable 90.64 percent payback rate on slots.
7 – Golden Nugget Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Personally speaking, I still love to take a stroll through the Golden Nugget’s iconic gaming floor whenever I’m in the Downtown district.
Everywhere you look is shining gold, and unlike many other casinos on Fremont Street, the Golden Nugget somehow manages to feel new again despite its age.
So, while I still enjoy visiting the old gal from time to time, playing slots at the Golden Nugget will always be a nonstarter in my book.
Visiting an off-Strip casino to score improved odds and an increased chance of winning has become a rite of passage for sharp gamblers. Many take pride in avoiding the money pit of Las Vegas Boulevard, choosing to preserve their bankroll by staying at a more budget-conscious casino instead.
And while that’s all well and good, it can be all too easy to find yourself spinning slots in an off-Strip casino that still doesn’t serve its players honorably. To help you avoid that fate, this list should serve as a guide to all of the off-Strip casinos that just aren’t worth a slot player’s time.