Slots House Edge
Everyone who has ever been in a casino has probably heard the term “house edge”. It is what serious, professional gamblers always pay close attention to, while recreational players tend to ignore it as some kind of pretentious Vegas lingo. In reality, the house edge indicates how profitable a game is and how much players should expect to win or lose while playing it. So, what is the house edge of slots and what does it mean to players?
What Is the House Edge?
The house edge is one of the most important things in gambling literature and can also be referred to as a casino advantage or theoretical advantage. It exists in every game of chance – roulette, blackjack, lotteries, poker, and it is the mathematical advantage the house has over players. You have probably heard the expression – the house always wins. It is true and the evidence for this is the house edge.
This advantage is achieved by the rules of the games and the difference between the true odds and the so-called casino odds, i.e. the payouts. Typically, casinos pay slightly less than the real odds for a certain type of bet. A simple example is the straight bet in the French/European roulette – if we place a chip on 21 red, we face odds against winning of 36 to 1 since there is only one way to win against 36 ways to lose. However, the bet pays 35 to 1 rather than 36 to 1, which gives the casino house edge of 2.70%.
What Determines the House Edge in Slots
The same logic is applied to slots but it is impossible to calculate the exact percentage of the casino advantage since we do not have one crucial piece of information – the odds for each winning combination. Even though we can see the payouts for 3, 4, and 5-symbol combinations, we have no idea how likely each combo is to land on the reels. In other words, we cannot see how many winning and losing combinations there are in slot games.
What casinos usually reveal about the games they offer is the theoretical advantage they have based on these odds. To better understand the house edge, let’s take the example from above. If we play roulette at a house edge of 2.70% (which is the percentage for all standard single-zero roulette games), we can expect to lose $2.70 on a $100 total wager on average.
How Volatility Affects the House Edge
The higher the percentage of the house edge, the more players are likely to lose over time – at least in theory. In reality, there is a level of randomness, of deviation from the perfect results, achieved by calculations. Even though the mathematical advantage indicates that we should lose $2.70 of every $100 bet, we will probably end up the game session with a very different outcome – we might have lost $50 or made a profit of $15 after wagering $100. Any other scenario is just as likely, however.
What the house edge indicates is the theoretical average of thousands and even millions of trials. The real-life games rely strongly on chance, however – an idea described by science as entropy. This level of chaos and unpredictability can be calculated and in gambling, it is referred to as variance or volatility. The variance shows how much real results can vary from the statistical average, while volatility measures the same thing only within a specific time. Overall, slots with high volatility give players the chance of winning big – at the same time, they could make you lose huge amounts of money within an hour or two.
The House Edge in Land-Based and Online Casinos
In terms of average returns and house edge, slots offer some of the worst odds in the casino. House edge is calculated by the percentage of return the machine offers to patrons, meaning that if the return is 85%, then the house edge is 15%. As we have explained above, the exact percentages are based on the payouts for each symbol combination, and the odds of the game, which remain undisclosed and a trade secret when it comes to slots. Standards in Vegas may vary significantly but the rates are, in most cases, advertised somewhere in the casino or even in front of it. The most common house edge you will find in Vegas varies from 5% to 17%, which is a lot.
That being said, there are casinos claiming to offer slots with only a 1% house edge. However, such a high return is usually reserved for specific machines. If, by any chance, you happen to notice advertisements claiming such favorable odds, do not hesitate to enter and inquire the slots manager about the offer, how you can utilize it and for which machines it actually applies (because it usually applies to one or several machines around the house, but not all). This is some useful information you can get so you stand a better chance at winning.
Things are a bit different when it comes to online slots, though. The majority of online casinos clearly display the house edge – or the average return to player (RTP), on their websites and within the rules of the games. Although many of the slots offer house edge around 7%, the most popular titles usually promise much better returns and a house edge percentages between 2% and 5%.
Machines with the Highest Chance of Winning
It is nearly impossible to obtain inside information about the best machines where you stand the highest chance of winning. First and foremost, players should be warned that playing slots may a terrible idea considering the random nature of this game compared to skill-based games such as blackjack or poker. Moreover, there are no winning strategies and no way to secure profits over the long term when playing slots.
Nevertheless, slots offer great entertainment for millions of people and are currently, the most popular type of casino game. Despite their overall bad odds, they could bring some really attractive payouts to those who can spot the games with the highest returns and the lowest casino advantage. Some machines offer a smaller house edge and are more worth playing than others. It is difficult to identify them if the house edge (or the RTP) is not indicated on them, although there are several signs players may want to pay attention to.
The Size of the Casino
One of the things players should pay attention to is the size of the casino. Often, in big, elite casinos, the machines are rather stingy and carry a huge house edge. The reason is that most people who walk into those casinos have a larger bankroll and would not care that much if they lost a few hundred bucks on slots. Also, these casinos have an extended clientèle so they do not need to make attempts to provide everything in the house according to their clients’ needs.
Smaller casinos, on the other hand, cannot afford to lose patrons, so there, you will usually have a bigger chance of winning. You should not be under the illusion that you will always be winning in smaller casinos. You may enjoy some more personal treatment in these establishments but overall, if you have a high bankroll, you would definitely have a better time in one of the more elite casinos.
The Positioning of the Games
There are also myths surrounding the slots positioning on the gaming floor. Some people claim that certain machines on the sides tend to be looser, while others insist that those games are actually placed near the center in most cases so they can attract more attention. The truth is that unless you are slots manager in the particular venue, you cannot really say which machines are loose and where the good ones are placed – or if even there is a loose machine or not.
Even if there is something suggesting that at a certain point in time there was a slot in the center of the casino that was giving out 1% more than the other machines, casino managers tend to move them around so it is probably not going to be the same machine when you go to the casino, anyway. In case there is some truth to this idea, the differences in the house edge of the slots are so small that they are almost unnoticeable and you will only be able to detect them if you try really hard.
Choosing the Right Denomination
Choosing the proper slot game would not be enough in most cases. It is important to pick the proper coin denomination – or in other words, the bets you are making. Generally speaking, the more you bet, the smaller the house edge is, which is why most guides would advise you to bet the maximum coins. Instead of going for the mere quarters, go for the big bucks.
Casinos and game developers typically reduce the house edge for high-denomination games simply because most players tend to prefer the more affordable penny slots. Usually, machines where the minimum coin size is $1 return more than slots where you can play for as little as $0.05 per spin. This does not apply to all games, though.
However, even though it is usually true that the more you bet, the smaller house edge you face, it is also true that you are betting more. So, by definition, you would be losing more in the long term unless you are really lucky. The reason for this is very simple – even the slots with the best odds and payback percentages are still negative expectation games. So, even if you are on a long winning streak, eventually the house edge will pitch in – even if this is after a hundred spins. It is one thing to lose a quarter in a spin, but it is another thing altogether to lose something like $50. You need to keep these things in mind when you decide to play and always adjust the size of your bets in accordance with your bankroll.
Do Your Own Research
It is always a great idea to do research into the games we wish to play before starting to play them. We can compile vital information about each slot – how much it pays back on average, what volatility it has, what bonus features it has, etc. This is much easier to do when it comes to online slots – most casinos on the Internet allow their patrons to test the games in demo mode without betting real money. The rules of the games are also displayed in full, so you can instantly see the house edge, the betting limits, and the free spins or bonus features you can take advantage of.
Doing proper research into land-based casinos and the games they offer, on the other hand, could be a challenge. One of the best tactics is to simply ask the casino staff for information – they would be able to reveal any inside info or trade secrets but they would be willing to provide the RTP and house edge percentages of the slots. But asking the slots manager for information about the machines is often useless if you ask all the wrong questions.
A good example of a wrong and pointless question would be asking if a machine is hot or cold. To indulge you, the casino employee would probably pick a few slots at random, claiming that some of them are cold, while others hot. And do not be surprised if the staff enjoy watching you waste your money based on that information. They have not lied to you, however – this piece of information is simply irrelevant. The concept of hot and cold slots is not based on any sound logic or reason and it is just a myth.