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RTP in casino games: how it works and how it feels for the player?

RTP in casino games: how it works and how it feels for the player?

Last updated: 17 November 2023.
Author: Bohdan Lytvyn

Bonjour les amis, Bogdan is here and let's discuss the topic of RTP today.  It's a hot topic and we want to look at it from several angles. Below is a video discussion if you like to watch more than read.


Should you have any questions arising from the article below, please write them down to my email: [email protected] and I'll try to respond to all of you.

RTP is not directly understood by the player 

First of all, let me say that RTP (Return to Player), also known as a Payback, is a percentage of your bet amount that is statistically expected to be paid back each time you make a stake. Terms "RTP" and "Payback" signify the same and can be used interchangeably, most of the time RTP is used by a casino itself, while Payback is used more often by players. Yet, now, obviously RTP is being a dominant term. 

RTP is a theoretical number that's tested over tens of millions bets and what's important is that it is not understood by the player directly.  So in the random games it would take several or maybe several hundred game sessions to understand what kind of return to the player the game has.

Let's take a simple example. Say it's a game of Dice. 📍 If you're playing dice, you probably have to play it 50, maybe 100 times to understand that it's a kind of square: the statistical chance of return is 50%.  You win, you lose, you win, etc. Without knowing that it obviously takes time to come to this conclusion by yourself. In a more complex game like slot machines, it takes even more time.

So that brings us to the following question: why is it important in the first place and how does RTP actually work?

How does RTP actually work?

Return to Player works like this. Every time you make a bet on a spin in an online slot machine game, you are statistically expected to lose a certain amount of your money, let's say 5% on average, to a casino that has an edge over you. It is called a Hold Percentage or a Casino Edge and it is the opposite of RTP.

So it means... that📍a central task of a casino is to keep you playing for as more sessions as possible.  And this is how they actually realise their advantage over you and build their Revenue Sheet. So it brings us to the next practical question, namely,📍 How exactly does RTP feel for a player? And how a casino may manipulate this "feel" in their favour.

What does RTP feel like to a player?

The RTP feels like you have more or less playing time with your budget.  Let's have a look. 

 Let us say you have a budget of 100 Euros and you want to play slot machines. So you have two of them, one with RTP of 96% and the other with RTP of 92%.  The difference between their RTPs is only 4%, but in practical terms, that means actually 📍 twice as short a playing session. So, a 4% difference in RTP shortens your playing time by two.

 See how it works.  For example, the house edge in the first case is 4% (calculated as 100% - 96% RTP). This means that in order to lose your 100 euros, you'd need to play 2,500 spins. But in the case of a slot machine whose RTP is 92% - a house edge of 8% - it will statistically take 1,250 spins to lose your money.  

4% drop in RTP halves your playing time (and not only)

That is to say that a relatively small difference in RTP will result in a gaming experience that is twice as short in terms of playing time.  But there's another dimension to this. So when we talk about halving the RTP, when we say that a small decrease in RTP results in half or almost half a total playing time, we also have to mention that  RTP is divided into small, medium, large and very large wins

Likewise, RTP is divided into several groups of wins: it is paid back in

  1. small wins, like one, two euro wins,
  2. medium, like 20 euro winnings and 
  3. high or very high winnings exceeding 100 times your bet, etc.

So, by a change in RTP really affects both

  1. the playing time and
  2. the excitement of the game.

Here's an example of how halving the percentage of very high wins affects the overall RTP of the slot.

Suppose there is a slot machine whose RTP is 96% and the very high wins accounts for 1% of the total payout there. So then the halving effect of the decrease in RTP would also be in place for the percentage of very high wins is, which means that practically the player would have a slot machine with 90% RTP. We conclude: for slots with high volatility, that is, those where the return to the player is carried out by large wins, the decrease in RTP is really noticeable, that is, the slot becomes "flat" or uninteresting to play. And the greater this difference, the more obvious they are for the player.

Relations of RTP to other key concepts

  1. How does the RTP relate to the Volatility?

As discussed in our article Volatility in Slot Machines, the Volatility is what portion of RTP is given to big winnings. So, if you’d receive your winnings in big amounts, but more rare, then the volatility is high. If otherwise, it’s low. 

Thus, we found out that the RTP of a slot machine affects the time of play, and also, due to the structure of this RTP, affects the payouts in such a way that the more RTP is allocated to large and very large wins, the more volatile is the slot machine and the more noticeable is "felt" any change in the payout. Related articles: discussion about high volatility slots and RTP discussion with mathematicians.

Recap of key findings on RTP

So we found out that RTP, a Return to Player, is a portion of your money that are paid back as a result of each and every game in a session, that is, free spins or spins of the dice or whatever. And we practically know that it affects things like player time, how long you can play with your budget.

And also does RTP affect things like the thrill of the game. Because the higher portion of RTP is given to high or very high wins, the more exciting the game is. This is how we came to what's called volatility.  This is how we arrived at what is called volatility. So in the finale, we have to point out that, obviously, slots with high volatility are very popular these days. And there is a special group of players who like them. Because even if you play, say, 100 spins without winning, but win once in a big way, it makes up for all your losses. But the thrill, the thrill is there...

Now, if you have any questions, please write them down to my ny email: [email protected] and I'll try to respond and good luck out there in the casinos.
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