Slot odds and payouts (RTP)

Discover the return to player of the slots

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Slots are continuing to evolve, driven by increasing competition for players. This competition has been a boon for players because it has been a driver of innovation, which has led to slots with enhanced graphics, designs and exciting bonus games. Combined, this has resulted in a superior end product that is highly entertaining. Look beneath the pretty packaging, and you might be surprised to learn that the engine that drives these slots are made up of the same principles. Slots are built to ensure that the house maintains its edge over us. This reality does not mean that it is not possible to win, which is why players continue to indulge in this past time for the dream of striking it big.

The purpose of this article is to examine the mechanics of online slots, to understand why winning is difficult, why we love playing slots, and how to better the odds.

Introducing the slot random number generator (RNG)

Critical to understanding a random number generator (RNG) is the fact that they are entirely random. The RNG is not affected by the amount or frequency that you have lost or won since they have no memory. Random number generators are designed to be exactly that – random!

A good analogy for an RNG is rolling a die, which has one of six possible outcomes. Each number has a 1 in 6 probability of coming up. What you rolled before will not affect what you roll next. This is how a slot works, but instead of numbers on the side of a dice, you have symbols. In place of a six-sided die, now imagine a die with thousands of numbers and a comparable number of possible outcomes.

Makes sense so far? Well, we next need to tell you about the concept of hit frequency because the prob-ability of each outcome on a slot is not the same, unlike the roll of a die. So what is hit frequency? This is when a value set determines the probability of an outcome. Going back to our die analogy, let’s imagine that the number 6 is the highest-paying symbol, while the number 1 is the lowest-paying symbol. The die is reprogrammed so that instead of having a 1/6 chance of landing the number 6 (highest-paying), there is a 1/12 chance. Effectively the chance has been cut in half, but the possibility of landing a 1 (lowest-paying) is now double with a 1/3 chance. The outcome is still randomly determined, but the probability of landing a lowest-paying symbol is four times higher compared to the highest-paying symbol.

To make it easier to visualize, we’ve created our own theoretical slot machine that we’ve called “The Lucky Aquarium.” This slot has only five possible symbols: red fishes, yellow fishes, purple fishes, golden fishes and treasure chests:

Combination Payout Hit Frecuency
Five treasure chests 2500 0.001%
Five golden fishes 1000 0.015%
Five purple fishes 400 0.05%
Five yellow fishes 50 0.5%
Five red fishes 5 7%
Total 3955 7.566%

The table makes it easier to see the probability (hit frequency) of striking a combination of five identical symbols and their corresponding payout. Notice the considerable drop-off in hit frequency between the highest-paying symbol (treasure chest) and the lowest-paying (red fish). Five treasure chests have a 1:100,000 chance (0.001%), while the probability of hitting any combination of five identical symbols is 1:13 (7.566%). Each combination will have a different payout and hit frequency, but you can imagine how the slot you play might appear. It is not uncommon for most slots to have a 40% probability of some combination of winning symbols.

The reason why it's hard to win when playing slots

It is true that over the long run, the house has the advantage (house edge). In other words, the more you play, the more likely you are to lose. If that’s the case, then why bother to play? Well, the answer is that anything can happen over the short run.

The return to player (RTP) will never be greater than or equal to 100%. If it were, then the house would no longer have an edge. Typically, online slot games have an RTP in the neighbourhood of 92% to 97%. A theoretical RTP of 94% means that, on average, over the long run, a player will win back 94% of their bet. To put it another way, if you were to bet $100, your average win would be $94, meaning a loss of $6.

Loosing on slots

So if this is the reality of playing a slot, why bother playing? Well, as we already mentioned, anything can happen in the short run. You can be fortunate and win $500 while betting $100 in your first few spins. Conversely, it is also possible that your luck is terrible, and you end up with $10 left after your first few spins. In the long run with an RTP of 94%, you are still likely to win back, on average, 94% on each bet you make.

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What is the payback amount on slots?

In the long run, what you’re winning and losing is determined by the return to player (RTP). The value is a probability that is based on all possible combinations and their respective values. If we look back at our table, we could calculate the RTP by taking the sum of the individual RTPs for each combination. These individual RTPs are calculated by determining the product of the payout and hit frequency (probability). As you can see, the RTP of our pretend slot is 97.5%, which is not so uncommon for a slot. Re-member that our calculation is based on a simple set of assumptions. The reality is that we are usually playing with more symbols meaning more possible win outcomes from combinations of less or more than five, amongst other things. It would be terribly complex for us to calculate all this ourselves, which is why it’s fortunate for us that the slot provides us with this information already.

Combination Payout Hit Frecuency Return to player (RTP)
Five treasure chests 2500 0.001% 2,5%
Five golden fishes 1000 0.015% 15%
Five purple fishes 400 0.05% 20%
Five yellow fishes 50 0.5% 25%
Five red fishes 5 7% 35%
Total 3955 7.566% 97,5%

In our example slot the total RTP ended up with a value of 97,5%, which is quite a common value amongst online slots. Please do however note that this is a very simple example and that the slots we’re playing on have a lot more symbols and winning outcomes that can happen. For us to be able to calculate the RTP of an online slot, we would have to know the probability of each outcome, which we never do. Luckily this is already done by the game provider and the RTP can always be found in the slot’s information.

Why play slots - is it possible to win?

So what is the point of playing if I am likely to lose over the long run? First and foremost, slot games are designed to be fun and entertaining. Some people choose to catch a movie. Others people decide that they want to paint the town red while others might want to spend a quiet evening inside. You should never base your fun solely on whether you have won. Playing slots is not an investment. It is like any other goods or service that you consume such as when you pay for a ticket to the movies or a hockey game. Slots are designed to be fun and exciting, and who doesn’t need a little of that sometimes?

Having said this, yes, there is the chance of winning money. Sometimes these amounts are smaller, but they can also, on rare occasions, be enormous such as with progressive jackpots slots where players have won millions. Keep things in perspective as these sorts of wins are extremely rare.

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A game’s RTP is set by the developer and cannot be affected by anything that we do, but there are things we can do to increase our chance of making a profit. This includes making use of an attractive bonus offer. Bonus offers allow us to play with money that technically doesn’t belong to us. If lucky, a player can transform bonus money into a profit, which can then be withdrawn as real money.

Slots are a fun and highly entertaining way of passing some time by bringing some much-needed excitement at times when things are a little slower than usual. While winning should never be the main goal for playing a slot, there does exist the possibility of winning more considerable sums of money. Sometimes these amounts can become life-altering in size. Still, never forget that the house always has the edge over us in the long term and that RTP of a slot implies what we can expect to win back on average over the course of many, many spins.

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