Sometimes even the experienced gamblers can mix up the terms “slot returns” and “slot paybacks”, so this article is designed to shed the light on the differences between the two, since knowing both is very important for the gaming strategy.

The “return” of a slot machine is how the amount of money paid in compares to the amount actually paid out. It’s usually calculated as a percentage – say, you bet $1000 and got $957 back, that will mean that the slot return is 95.7%. In most countries casinos are obliged to report the figures on the returns and later these are made public in industry-specific magazines or online, so try looking up the figures before you sign up to a casino.

On the contrast to the returns, paybacks are calculated theoretically, over an indefinite period of time. If the slot machine is configured for a 97% payback, it will return you 97 cents on each dollar, if you play it indefinitely. That last part of the sentence is key, since no one has a whole eternity to spend on a single fruit machine, and anything can happen in a shorter run. Basically, that’s what draws people to slot machines – the hope that the “payback wave” will struck exactly when they click “spin”.

At the same time, this is the main reason why slot machines never cheat – there’s no need to. Even if you get a win today, somebody will play the machine after you and the casino will get their money back. Even in the best case scenario, where you get that exact 97% payback we’ve mentioned, the casino is still keeping the remaining 3%, meaning it’s earning money.

But don’t go thinking that the math is straightforward with these figures. It doesn’t mean that if you take $100 with you to a “97%” casino, you’ll end up losing about $3 – that will only work for the first machine, and it’s completely possible to gamble away all of your money if you don’t stop in time. Figuring your expected loss is recommended so that there aren’t any nasty surprises when you’re counting your cash at the end of the day.

The general rule of thumb is that the paybacks grow higher with the denominations. According to a recently conducted study, nickel machines pay out about 91%, with the quarter denomination the percentage rises to 92%, and the dollar slots pay out almost 94%. But the machines with the higher stakes require greater care as well, since you may end up losing considerable sums – obviously, because you’re betting more. So it’s up to you what to decide – limit your risks by choosing a lower denomination or boost your chances by picking the higher one.

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