Foss: Where are the loosest slots in the Capital Region?

A sign for Saratoga Casino and Hotel near Exit 11 in Round Lake is pictured on Thursday.
A sign for Saratoga Casino and Hotel near Exit 11 in Round Lake is pictured on Thursday.

The billboards communicate directly to the gambler who really, really wants to win. 

“Loosest Slots in the Capital Region!” they proclaim, pointing drivers to Saratoga Casino Hotel.

This lingo might not be familiar to the non-gambler, but the implication is clear: Gamblers will win more at the racino in Saratoga Springs than the area’s other big destination for slots, Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady. 

Loosest slots might sound like empty hype — can you really believe a casino advertisement? — but it actually contains a ring of truth. 

Saratoga Casino Hotel returns a higher percentage of the money wagered at its slot machines to players than any of the upstate commercial casinos. 

Slots machines are designed to extract money from gamblers, and players will lose more than they win, at least over the long haul. But this doesn’t mean every casino offers gamblers the same chance of winning at slots.  

Slot machines are programmed to pay out jackpots a certain percentage of the time, and these percentages are reported to, and regulated by, the New York State Gaming Commission. The higher a casino’s payout percentage, the greater the chance of a jackpot. 

Which might be old news to gamblers, but was new news to me. 

I had no idea casinos maintained such careful control over their payout percentages, or that gamblers paid such close attention to seemingly minor variations in payout percentage. It’s information I found fascinating, in part because it speaks to how competitive and tightly monitored the gaming market truly is. 

At Saratoga Casino Hotel, the average payout percentage was 92.36 between April and September. This means the casino returned over 92 percent of the money wagered at its machines to bettors, and kept the rest. 

At Rivers, the average payout percentage during the same period was 90.60. At Tioga Downs Casino, it was 91.79. At Del Lago Resort and Casino, it was 90.96. At Resorts World Catskills, it was 91.56. 

These small differences in payout percentage might not seem that significant, but they can add up to a significant amount of money over time. Casinos with just slightly lower payout percentages will likely see millions more in slot revenue each month. 

“Even small changes in payout percentages can have an enormous effect on a casino’s bottom line because of the very large amounts of money typically bet at slot machines,” a 2015 Boston Globe article observed. 

Rivers and Saratoga Casino Hotel have both made adjustments to their payout percentages in the past. 

Also Sunday in Opinion:

During its first two months of operation, February and March 2017, Rivers’ slot machines were tighter, with an average payout percentage of 89.93. Saratoga’s machines were also tighter once: For much of 2014 and the early part of 2015, the average payout percentage was 91.81.

I reached out to both Rivers and Saratoga Casino Hotel to learn more about the factors they take into consideration when determining payout percentage, but neither casino was very forthcoming. Rivers referred me to the state Gaming Commission, and Saratoga Casino Hotel did not respond to my queries. 

Much as I would have appreciated a response, I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that Saratoga’s “Loosest Slots” advertising campaign is an attempt to lure gamblers to its machines and away from Rivers with promises of more frequent jackpots. 

Saratoga saw its revenue decline after Rivers opened, and its aggressive effort to reverse that trend should come as no surprise.

“If you want to win, you can go to a casino with a higher [payout percentage],” I was told by Jon Friedl, an Ohio resident who calls himself Professor Slots and offers advice on how to win at slots on his website, “Everyone thinks slot machines are random. Most people don’t look at payout return. They’re leaving money on the table.”

This might be true, but gamblers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking they can beat the house. 

As Friedl put it, “On average, [slots] are a losing proposition. You’ll put $100 in and get $93 back.” One of the things he does, he said, is teach people “how to stretch their dollar so it lasts a little longer.” 

Whenever I drive to Saratoga Springs, I can’t help but notice the “Loosest Slots” billboard on Route 9N as you head into town. 

I’m not much of a gambler, and this messaging has little impact on me.

But there are plenty of gamblers on a never-ending hunt for loose casinos, and perhaps it speaks to them. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.       

Categories: Opinion

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