Everything You Know About Slots Could Be Wrong

Woman Profile With Hand on Chin With Slot Machine Background

To hear all the gambling experts talk you should never play any slot machine game because the theoretical return to player is so low compared to table games like blackjack and roulette.

Is that really true?

Slot machine game designers have been changing their systems and methods for decades. The games are more random than they used to be. But game design has been studied and discussed on the Internet for nearly 30 years.

And going back before that there were several popular books that explained how slot machine games worked. Players have had their eyes opened for a long time. As a rule people understand how these games work better than they once did.

What hasn’t changed over time is why casinos buy slot machine games. They make money. Outside of Macau most modern casinos earn the majority of their income from slot games.

Maybe that is the reason why so many gambling experts still crack down on slot machine games as the evil villains of casino gaming. Personally, I think keno is the game to avoid. I don’t spend much time on the slots because there isn’t much challenge in pushing a button.

How reliable is the advice we get about gambling in general, and slot machine games in particular?

Slot Games Have Really Bad Theoretical Returns to Player

The RTP is a misnomer, in my opinion.

As a player I’ve never had a casino return anything like 99%, 98%, or even 80% of my money to me. The “player” in the theory is a statistical side in the game. There are two sides in most casino games: the house and the player.

You are not the player. You and I are just a couple of guys filling in for the imaginary player. And we do this at our own expense.

The player always plays but I go home when I’m tired, I’m out of money, or my wife says it’s time to leave.

The player is not on your side. He may keep 80-99% of whatever is gambled but most players don’t. Just as gamblers don’t get the house odds neither do they get the player’s odds.

Paris Las Vegas Slot Pit

You’d think the games were rigged or something.

No matter how you calculate the theoretical return to player, it’s not nearly as good for the average gamer as the estimates turn out to be.

And the funny thing is that most of the gambling experts complain that slot machine games have bad estimated RTPs. But their numbers don’t add up. It’s like they’re quoting 20-year-old books and magazine articles.

Any slot game that shows you a theoretical return to player in its help screen is required to give you an honest estimate. I’ve played enough slots to know many of them have RTPs ranging from 96% to 98%.

Where do these awful RTPs in the 60s and 80s come from?

I’m not disputing what others have seen on slot machines they’ve played but I know that high 90s RTPs are out there. It’s not okay to malign all slot games as having very low RTPs. In my book that discredits your expertise.

RTPs Don’t Matter Because the Casinos Make More Money Anyway

It doesn’t matter how you explain it. When you study monthly income reports from casinos that file their earnings with state commissions in Nevada and New Jersey, 1 thing stands out. These guys are raking in the bucks on every game.

Gambling experts tell you the RTP on baccarat and blackjack are really high – the highest in the casino – and so you should only play these games.

But if it were really that simple then why do so many casinos report in excess of 10% retention on blackjack wagers?

Either the theoretical RTP on a game doesn’t matter in the short run – and true experts explain why that is the case – or something else is going on. And the fact is that a lot of people are very bad blackjack players.

It doesn’t matter how good the game’s RTP is. If the cards aren’t against you in the next game all your mistakes will be. Even good blackjack players sometimes make mistakes.

If everyone played perfect blackjack I’d expect the house’s profit to be closer to its estimated edge of just over 1%. But we’re obviously not all such players because the house’s realized edge is usually 10 times the estimated edge.

And that’s just as true for slot machine games as for blackjack. If you study the financial reports you’ll see the casinos are making fortunes from slot machine games. Maybe most of these games have less than a 92% theoretical return to player but the casinos are keeping more than 8% in wagers.

Even though slot machines don’t require any skill, how is it that players keep so little of their money?

Even the player getting screwed on the slots.

There Is a Gambling Tip Most Experts Rarely Share

You’ve heard this tip a million times: “Quit while you’re ahead”.

I’ve read my share of gambling strategy guides and almost none of them every talk about when you should stop playing the game. The funny thing is that this one tip is more likely to be shared by slot gaming guides than any other gambling advice guide.

One of the classic slot machine gaming strategies is to set a target. If you begin playing with $100 and run it up to $1000, stop playing right there. You’re done.

If every slot machine gamer did that the casinos would probably take most of their machines off the floor. They’d go broke overnight.

Whether you’re playing blackjack, craps, or roulette how do you quit while you’re ahead?

We’ve all had lucky nights. Unless you have more lucky nights than everyone else you’re not quitting while you’re ahead often enough.

The games aren’t designed to win for the house every time. They are designed to win for the house in the long run. We all know this.

And yet we stay at the tables, putting our money right back in the game. That’s part of the house’s hidden edge.

Without that hidden edge every casino would struggle to pay its bills. The hidden edge includes every dumb thing players do, from making bad calls to playing too long.

All Slot Machine Games are Designed to Take Your Money

I’ve read variations on this truth many times. Slot machine games are just cash cows for the casinos. While that’s true, people who say these things imply that other games are not designed to take your money.

A casino won’t offer a game it can’t make money from. The house may not have any money in the game at a poker table but they’re still making money.

Everything in the casino is designed to take your money. And by extension everything in the grocery store is designed to take your money. You can grow your own food but most of us don’t.

Tabletop Toy Slot Machine

This is one complaint about slot machine games that I consider to be a truly cheap shot. It’s a deflecting would-be experts’ attention away from the fact that their favorite games are designed to take their money, too.

The house won’t run a game it can’t make money from. That is the whole point of the casino. Make money from everything possible.

A casino is a business, not a charity. Slot machine games are just one of many ways the casinos take our money. And that is why it’s called “entertainment”.

There Are Loose Slot Machines – No, There Are Not!

This must be the all time biggest debate about slot machines. For every article I’ve read quoting a casino manager who says they have loose machines, I’ve read another quoting a manager who says they don’t.

Most people believe there are loose slot machines sitting on the floor, tricking gamers into thinking they’ll have great success if they play long enough.

As long as most players believe this idea the casinos don’t need special loose machines. I’ll concede some casinos might do this or did this in the past.

There is no way for any player to know exactly how every casino runs its games.

And that is my point. You shouldn’t care if some games are paying more than others. Yes, it’s nice to win but every machine that pays big draws a crowd.

How do you expect to play all these loose games?

People settle into routines when they visit casinos. If you’re lucky enough to get the machine you want you should be happy for a while. I hope it pays you nice big prizes.

Even slot games with lower than average RTPs should go through phases where they pay a little more than usual. That is the nature of random number generators. They are programmed to mixed it up so you cannot predict when the machines will pay.

And then there are games with higher volatility or variance than others. Some slot machine games are completely irrational by design and others plod along like the tortoise in the race.


With thousands of games to choose from players shouldn’t assume every game only differs from the others by a few factors. All the games are designed to favor the house in the long run. But if a slot game says it can pay a $100,000 prize then it really can pay that.

You need big wagers to win $100,000 in blackjack or roulette. And whether you’re playing blackjack or slot machine games you’ll have to lose some to win some.

If gambling for big money on a small budget is your thing then honestly you’re better off playing slots than table games that will never pay 10,000-to-1 odds. There is a slight chance you’ll win that much on a slot machine game.