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One of the most important things to take into account when deciding what online slots game you are going to play is the return to player of the game, also known as the payout percentage.
This is an important factor, because it determines, statistically speaking, what return you can expect on the bets that you place over time while playing the game. It gives you a theoretical estimation of what your win/loss ratio will be, assuming you don’t get really lucky and hit a big prize payout. It needs to be stressed that this is a theoretical statistical calculation, so it won’t always be completely accurate, given that it can of course be affected by random lucky or unlucky events – like hitting a big win or going on a sustained losing streak. But averaged out over time and over a large number of spins of the reels, this percentage will generally hold true.
Not only does knowing the return to player of a particular slot help you to choose the games you are going to play more wisely, it also helps you to reduce the house edge as much as possible, which is the only way to really get some sort of advantage over the casino. And all games are always more fun when you understand them better and know how they work.
Let’s start with the basic building blocks of the slots payout system – the payout table or paytable. This is the matrix of payouts that the slots game will make. It lists each winning combination of symbols that can occur on the reels, with the payout that you will get for hitting each combination. These payout tables have been meticulously calculated by the casino software manufacturers and are specifically designed to contain a house edge. A lot of complicated mathematics goes into these tables, and this is not the place to delve into all of that. Suffice it to say that the payout table is the outcome of all these mathematical calculations and serves as the basis on which the return to player is calculated.
While we’re on the subject, it’s important to understand a certain aspect of statistics and to debunk a misconception. Casino statistics are based on many thousands of events – in the case of slots these events are spins of the reels – which are aggregated to give expected outcomes. But they are susceptible to chance. Which is why the common misconception that slots work in cycles is untrue. It is equally possible for a slot to pay out at regular intervals as it is to pay out 3 times in a row. This is because, to coin a well-worn phrase, statistics have no memory. The slot does not “know” or “remember” that it has just made a payout. Each spin is therefore independent of every other spin, making it equally likely for a payout to occur on any spin of the reels. In other words, there is no pattern. So your chance of hitting a jackpot is exactly the same on every spin.
We explained previously that the slots game’s payout table has been carefully calculated to ensure that the house gets an edge, on average, over time. This edge can be expressed as the payout percentage. It represents the percentage that the slots game has been programmed to pay out relative to all the bets over time. And we can’t stress enough – this is deliberate programming. It’s not that the slot is in any way rigged. Reputable casinos undergo stringent audits of the random number generators that determine which symbols appear on the reels for every spin. So it’s not rigging of the game; it’s the design of the payouts in order to give the players a fair chance at getting value for the bets they make, while ensuring that the casino makes a profit at the same time.
At this point you may well ask what the point of playing is, if the house has a pre-programmed profit built into the very fabric of the game. Well, that’s the thrill of gambling, isn’t it? The chance that you can buck the odds by having a lucky win and hitting a big prize that blows the numbers out of the water. This is the reason why we gamble. Despite all the calculations and statistics, we all know that this could happen, to any of us, at any time.
The payout percentage is expressed as percentage of the player’s betting that he or she can expect to win back, over time. Different online slots have different payout percentages, which vary from around 75% to around 95%. But what does this percentage actually mean? The easiest way to explain it is to use a real money example.
Let’s say you spend 3 hours playing a slots game and you make a total of $300 in bets. You neither have a long losing streak, nor do you win anything really significant. You win a few and lose a few, so that at the end of the session you’re not vastly up or down. So if the slots game has a payout percentage of 80% it means – theoretically - that you would have won back 80% of the bets you placed, which is $240. In other words, you lost $60. Or if you prefer, an 80% payout percentage means that for every dollar you bet, over time you can expect to get 80c back in winnings. This is also known as the return to player.
Now it should be clear to you why the payout percentage is so important. It represents how much you can expect to win or lose over the long run on a slots game. And it should also now be obvious that you want to choose the slots game that has the highest payout percentage, because this means you will, statistically speaking, lose the least amount of money over time.
The first thing to realise is that you cannot work out the return to player yourself because you have no way of seeing the internal mathematical programming of an online slots machine. There may well be some statistical geniuses who can work it out from the payout table, but that’s not you or me. So you have to rely on the casino telling you what the payout percentage is on each game. In some jurisdictions it is mandatory for casinos to disclose this, but in others it is entirely at their discretion. So the first piece of advice is to find slots games where the casino has published the payout percentage. You can usually find this in the game description.
The second important thing to remember is that casino games typically offer better return to player than games that are in other locations, like bars or airports. So if you’re concerned about preserving your bank roll, only play slots at a casino.
The third maxim when it comes to slots games payout percentage is that the return to player is usually higher on higher denomination games. In other words, games with higher betting limits that allow you to place bigger bets typically have better return to player than the cheaper games. So try to play at the richest slot you can afford.
Fourthly, always bet the maximum. This is to maximise the benefit to you should you hit a lucky spin. Most slots games only pay out a jackpot if it is hit while you have placed the maximum bet. So by placing a maximum bet you are ensuring that if you do get lucky, you really get lucky in a big way. This big win will make the payout percentage completely redundant, as it totally goes against the statistical calculations that the payout percentage is based on.
Now that we’ve explained all about return to player, here’s a handy list of five of the Microgaming slots with the most favourable payout percentages: