Slots: A primer

 Earlier this month, Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood began promoting itself as having “the loosest slots in America.”

But is that really true? And what does that even mean?

For those people who have never played a slot machine, here’s the lingo: A “tight” slot is one that doesn’t pay out very much. A “loose” slot is more generous.

Casinos make most of their money on slot play, and attracting patrons to choose one particular venue over another is a challenge. Most places boast of customer service and fun atmospheres. But in gamblers’ minds, it often comes down to one question: Where will I win?


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So let’s use the Seminole Classic’s promotion as a jumping-off point to explain the business of slots.

Can casinos really control how tight or loose a machine is?

Heck, yes. Every slot machine offers a variety of payback options, determined by the computer chip that management decides to insert. Each machine has about six different chips. For the popular slot machine Stinkin’ Rich, the payback rate — the amount of every dollar that gets returned to players over a period of time — can range from 85 to 98 percent. The average is about 92.5.

Who checks these things out?

In Florida and most other states, an independent firm, Gaming Laboratories International, tests the machines and confirms the payback rates. It then tapes a security sticker over the chip. If the state ever checks a machine and finds a broken sticker, well, there’ll be hell to pay for the casino. Tampering is not allowed.

How many slots are we talking about at Classic?

Seminole Classic cordoned off a section of 29 slots, many with $1 minimum bets, and calls it “the Loosest Slots in America.”

“We put in the highest-returning chip for every game,” Seminole Classic director of slots Lou Rosa said. Games include Triple 7s, Stinkin’ Rich, Lotus Flower, White Orchid and Bombay.

How does that compare with other casinos?

The Seminoles don’t have to report their payback rates, but industry experts say most machines max out somewhere about 97 percent. The Seminoles say their overall numbers are similar to the parimutuels. The payback rate for South Florida horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons is about 92.5 percent and is posted near their entrances and can be researched via state records at MyFloridaLicense.com/dbpr/pmw.

How does that compare to Las Vegas?

Las Vegas’ strip casinos pay back about 90 percent. Las Vegas’ downtown casinos, which offer more video-poker games (which have overall higher payback percentages), pay back about 93 percent.

Do the parimutuels have “loose” slots, too?

Yes. Dollar slots everywhere can carry a 97 percent payback, slot expert Frank Scoblete said. Penny and nickel slots often pay below 90 percent.

 “Even if a guy is playing a 98 percent [machine], if he’s pumping in $100, the house is making a lot more money than they do on the guy playing a quarter machine that returns 90 percent,” said Scoblete, whose latest of more than 30 books is titled “Slots Conquest: How To Beat the Slot Machines!”

This isn’t related to loose slots, but don’t casinos know when a machine is about to hit?

No. Slot machines operate on a random number generator, which then displays symbols on the screen to match those numbers. Those words again, in order are: Random. Number. Generator.

What does it mean for business?

While looser slots may be perceived as less profitable for casinos, Scoblete argues that they’re better for business in the long run.

“First, players would have a tendency to win more sessions. The more they win, the more they prefer to play at the casino where these wins take place,” he said. “The casino might not make as much on one visit as a tight casino would, but with far more multiple visits, I can hear the cash register ringing.

“The more casino players coming back time and again,” he added, “the more money they spend in the restaurants, bars, clothing stores, sundry shops and stationery stores, and the more they spend for rooms. This can be considered the reverse of collateral damage. It is collateral profitability.”