Actions

Where are the loosest slots? I-Team ranks 32 gambling venues in 3 states on how much they pay out

Three percentage points separate the best from the worst
SlotsPlayer.jpeg
Posted at 5:35 PM, Nov 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-09 22:45:43-05

CINCINNATI — Al Yager has no doubt about it: Belterra Park racino in Anderson Township has the Tri-State’s loosest slots.

“I used to go there regularly and I’m ahead,” the Highland Heights resident said. “Anytime I’m ahead, that means they have the best slots.”

Jay Riddle of Cold Spring prefers Newport Racing & Gaming to Belterra Park. He thinks it "went downhill" after the property changed hands in 2018.

“Their payout’s nothing,” Riddle said. “They don’t give you any benefits, no offers.”

Despite those perceptions, Newport and Belterra Park had very similar payout rates on slot machines in 2022, according to a new analysis of state data by the WCPO 9 I-Team. In fact, only 9-100ths of a percent separated the two properties in September, when Belterra Park ranked 4th in Greater Cincinnati by paying an average of $90.76 to gamblers for every $100 bet.

“These are always fluid numbers,” said Michael Taylor, who manages Newport and Turfway Park Racing & Gaming for Louisville, Ky. -based Churchill Downs Inc. “There’s nothing that remains the same as it relates to payout rates. I think the real differentiator is the guest experience. That’s what matters most.”

Greater Cincinnati’s casino market is in a new state of flux, with sports betting on the way to Ohio casinos and Newport’s sister property - Turfway Park Racing & Gaming - now open for business in Florence, Ky.

That caused a market-share shift among the region’s smallest rivals, with Belterra Park and Belterra Casino Resort near Vevay, Ind. posting double-digit revenue dips in September while Rising Star Casino declined 9% to $3.6 million.

Market share leaders Hard Rock Casino downtown, Miami Valley Gaming in Monroe and Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg all withstood the challenge, with revenue growth between 2 and 8 percent.

“We’re a brand new property up against some properties that have been here for 20 years,” Taylor said. “So, we have to provide that differentiator. We think we’re going to be able to do that. Tremendous guest experience. An assortment of entertainment options.”

But even as the market evolves, one thing will never change: Slot machines will drive most of the revenue for these rivals as they try to lure new customers monthly fluctuations in the payout rates for the roughly 8,500 one-armed bandits now in use.

That’s why the WCPO 9 I-Team compiled data from gaming regulators in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to see which local casino has the loosest slots and how the Cincinnati market compares to other cities. It’s the first time you’ll be able to see how Kentucky properties compare to those in neighboring states and it lets you see how casinos altered their payout rates from month to month in 2022.

Here’s a summary of what we learned:

  • Hollywood Casino in Columbus ranked first in payouts among 32 properties in every month through September, while downtown’s Hard Rock Casino ranked second in five of nine months.
  • Greater Cincinnati’s market share leaders had the highest payout rates in six of nine months through September.
  • Ohio casinos had six of the 10 highest payout rates in our list of 32 properties, based on full-year data through September. Kentucky had four in the top 10 while Indiana’s highest-ranking property, French Lick Resort, ranked 11th out of 32 properties
  • Because Ohio is the only state that discloses all promotional spending, the I-Team included an adjusted payout rate that excludes free-play spins. You’ll find that adjusted number by hovering over the percentage for each Ohio casino or racino.
  • The difference between the highest-ranked casino in this analysis and the lowest is about three percentage points, or $3 for every $100 bet.

That difference is “worthy of a backflip” because it lets you play longer, said Jon Friedl, who offers gambling tips at ProfessorSlots.com.

Friedl ran the numbers on two hypothetical machines with a 2.5% difference in their payout rates. Assuming you start with $100 and bet 50 cents at a time, the machine with a higher payout should take three hours to drain your bankroll, or 43 minutes longer than the lower-odds machine.

Of course, all that goes out the window if you're unlucky enough to pick the wrong machine. That’s why Friedl built a company around helping people pick the right one.

“I tell people go up to a slot machine that you are considering, turn around and look. If you’re facing a wall, that’s not one you want,” he said. “If people are looking back at you, you know, sitting at the café, sitting at other machines, that’s what you’re looking for.”

Friedl looks for "high-traffic" machines near an entrance or at the intersection of wide aisles. He also likes going back to the same machine one week after winning there and visiting high-limit rooms on the morning after a busy day. Finally, he urges people to walk away when they’re up.

“The biggest problem slots enthusiasts have isn’t winning,” he said. “It’s keeping it.”

AlYager.jpeg
Highland Heights resident Al Yager

That won’t be a problem for Yager, who lost touch with Belterra Park when it closed his favorite buffet during the pandemic. He became a Newport regular when the Campbell County Senior Center arranged for free-play perks for seniors once a month.

“I’m not a wealthy person,” he said. “I know that they’re not here to make me money. They’re there to make money for themselves. And so, I enjoy it. It’s fun. But not that much fun that I can spend a lot of money doing it."

Let the I-Team investigate
Send us your story tips today to iteam@wcpo.com
Or call 513-852-4999