It’s usually not easy to find out the return on a particular machine, because casinos don’t like to tell you. Exceptions, as noted earlier, include Fitzgeralds, Stratosphere, and Riveria in Vegas, all of which advertise a 98% return on specific slots.

Non-Indian casinos are required to file reports on their slot returns to the government, and since this is public knowledge, Casino Player magazine publishes the results every month. Unfortunately, this isn’t ideal for a number of reasons. (1) While you can see the returns for individual casinos like Tropicana and Showboat in Atlantic City, the Nevada returns lump all the casinos in an area together. (2) The returns listed are actual returns for one month, and an unusual number of jackpots (or lack thereof) can skew the results. (3) Video poker machines are mixed in with the slots, so you can’t see how much is from slots and how much is from video poker. (4) Most Native American casinos don’t have to report their returns, so they don’t.

What’s most useful about the return tables is seeing what parts of the country have the best slot payouts. For example, Atlantic City, surprisingly, seem to have the worst slot returns in the whole country. Nevada has the best, and within Nevada, the best returns are usually in North Las Vegas and Reno, followed next by Downtown Vegas. Not surprisingly, the Vegas Strip has the worst returns in Nevada, but even so, they’re still WAY better than most of the rest of the country.

Number of Coins Played

Slots accept multiple coins per spin – 2, 3, or 5 coins on mechanical 168bet slots, and 45 or more on video reels. When you win, your payout is matched to the number of coins you played. For example, three single bars may pay out $10 for one coin played, $20 for two coins played, and $30 for 3 coins played. Most machines have a bonus for the top jackpot. For example, 1 coin pays $1000, two coins pay $2000, but three coins pays $5000 (not $3000). This is to try toget you to play more coins at a time, since the casino makes more money that way.

Most gambling experts tell you to always play maximum coin, and if you can’t afford to play maximum coin, move down to the next denomination (playing quarters instead of dollars, for example). These “experts” are wrong. The penalty for playing maximum vs. one coin is usually less than 1% of the total return, while the penalty for downgrading to a lower denomination slot is usually MORE than 1%. So you’ll usually enjoy a better return (and have a better chance of winning) by continuing to play your high-stakes machine for one coin at a time rather than downgrading. Besides, the difference in return only becomes an issue if you hit the jackpot, and how often does THAT happen? (On typical slots, you can expect it to happen about once a month with full-time play.)

The advice to downgrade is good for a different reason, though: You’ll be putting less money into the machines, so your expected loss will be smaller. You’ll lose less on lower stakes machines even though the odds are worse, because you’re not pouring as much money into them.

The above advice is geared towards typical slots. If you’re playing progressive machines where the top jackpot is huge and keeps escalating higher (like Wheel of Fortune and Megabucks), then obviously you’d want to play the maximum coins, since the only reason to play progressives is for the shot at hitting the BIG jackpot. But limit your play on progressives, because the house take is often twice what it would be on a regular slot.