Introduction to Florida Slots Return-To-Player
All U.S. casinos closed for months in 2020. Since that unprecedented event, a big concern for slots enthusiasts is if casinos are trying to “get back their lost gaming revenue” by reducing their return-to-player (RTP).
But is that true, state-by-state? I look closely at the return statistics for Florida’s commercial casinos.
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Casino Financial Woes
Every U.S. casino closed in 2020 due to the global pandemic. These 989 casinos closed quickly and re-opened slowly around two months later. Nearly a year later, approximately 100 casinos have yet to re-open. They may never re-open.
There is no doubt that these abrupt closures financially hurt the U.S. casino industry. After re-opening, their financial woes continued due to broad travel restrictions and reduced occupancy at their casino, often a 50% reduction in slot machines but sometimes more.
When my 20,000+ audience of slots enthusiasts started returning to newly re-opened casinos, they began to report “tight” slot machine game play. For the most part, slots players who chose to return to playing slots at casinos shrugged and said, “Well, that’s understandable.”
But one month turned into two months, then four months, and then 10 months. Along the way, some casinos appeared to understand how angry their slots patrons were becoming due to all the tight slot machines. So, some casinos made adjustments. Other casinos? Not so much.
Those casinos that made adjustments to tight slot machines started to give out wins again. This thrilled slots enthusiasts. But then they noticed another, second change. The wins were smaller than from before the pandemic.
And you know what? That was okay! They were happy to be winning again, even if it wasn’t much.
At a guess, which casinos do you think retained their slots patrons and which casinos did not? I’d say casinos with happy slots enthusiasts did the best.
The question is, how long has this gone on? Has it stopped yet? Is it still happening, both small wins or effectively no wins? What are the facts? Let’s find out for Florida’s commercial casinos.
Florida’s Slots Industry: An Overview
Florida slot machine casino gambling consists of eight pari-mutuel racetracks in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, seven tribal casinos, senior center amusement arcades, multi-day cruise ships with onboard casinos, and day-long gambling boats.
State gaming regulations have authorized slot machines at pari-mutuel wagering racetracks in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. These counties contain the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale in southern Florida.
The gaming control commission is the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering within Florida’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR).
There are over three dozen pari-mutuel wagering facilities in Florida for which the DBPR is responsible, including the eight sites with slot machines.
Eight pari-mutuel racetrack and wagering sites in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties hosting Miami and Fort Lauderdale offer slot machines, including:
- The Big Easy Casino in Hallandale Beach.
- Calder Casino in Miami Gardens.
- Casino Miami in Miami.
- The Casino @ Dania Beach in Dania Beach.
- Gulfstream Park Casino in Hallandale Beach.
- Hialeah Park Racing & Casino in Hialeah.
- Isle Casino Pompano in Pompano Beach.
- Magic City Casino in Miami.
Florida’s tribal compacts do not require theoretical payout limits on their slot machines, nor do they required to make return statistics publicly available.
All this information and more is in my annual slots review for Florida.
Florida’s Return Statistics for Slots
Return-To-Player (RTP) is a slightly ambiguous term. For some slots enthusiasts, it refers to the theoretical payout limit located in state gaming regulations. For others, it’s the actual return statistics report to the state by its casinos.
Florida has a minimum theoretical payout limit of 85% for its commercial casinos, meaning each slot machine must be set to 85% payout or higher. Because there is no upper limit, as in some other states, payouts can be set above 100% by a commercial casino if it so desires, done on specific slot machines occasionally for marketing reasons.
Many slots enthusiasts who are aware of theoretical payout limits make the unreasonable assumption that every casino will always set their machines to the minimum possible legal limit. We’ll see evidence shortly which shows this to be a false assumption.
As we’ll see, no commercial casino even gets close to the minimum theoretical payout limit. Florida’s 85% theoretical payout limit is effectively unused.
Based on Florida gaming regulations including tribal-gaming compacts, return statistics exist only for the eight racetracks with slot machines located in Miami-Dade County hosting Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Return statistics are a record of the results of machines set to a specific theoretical payout somewhere within the minimum and maximum limits set by state gaming regulations. This specific payout is individually set by
Florida’s commercial casinos as chosen from the possible values provided by the machine’s manufacturer.
The eight casinos in Miami-Dade County report these actual returns to the state each month after which the state gaming commission makes them publicly available in a short while on their Florida government website.
Monthly Player Win Percentages for 2020
The return statistics for the eight commercial casinos in Miami-Dade County are available monthly all the way back to 2007.
One way to calculate a useful return statistic is the player win percentage, which is the monthly casino “Credits Out” divided by “Credits In”. Credits In is how much slots enthusiasts spent playing slot machines. Credits Out is how much slots enthusiasts won playing slot machines.
I’ve downloaded the 2019/2020 thru 2020/2021 return statistics and both calculated and then plotted the monthly player win percentage. Here is the graph with each casino shown:
These are the observations I’ve made while looking at this graph:
- The gap in data is when all U.S. casinos closed for two months in 2020 due to the pandemic.
- The player win% for all casinos ranges from around 90.5% to 94.0% or about a range of 3.5%.
- Each casino’s player win% is roughly consistent over 2020, although not perfectly so.
- For each month of 2020, Hialeah Park and Magic City consistently had the two best player win% return statistics.
- Dania Beach increased its player win% by nearly a full point in the month before closing, likely meaning they were driving up wins to pull move traffic into their casino.
- In each of July, August, and September of 2020, the player win% increased at half the casinos but dropped at the other four casinos.
To get a better idea of whether Florida’s commercial casinos are cheating you at slots, we need to plot another graph. Let’s look at the player win% in total for all eight casinos.
In this graph, we can see that player win% rose both before and after the casinos closed. But then the player win% dropped to its lowest value for two consecutive months. However, for the last four months, it has remained consistently level very near or slightly greater than pre-pandemic returns.
If casinos needed to “win back” some gaming revenue to recover from closing for two months, it seems they did so in July and August 2020. Altogether, for those two months, they won back nearly $4.8M more than they otherwise would have without the 1% drop shown.
As we suspected, these casinos did lower the odds of winning to increase their income. However, this occurred only within the few months following closures. The last few months of 2020 show slightly higher returns, by perhaps 0.3%, than seen at the beginning of 2020 prior to the pandemic.
Changes in Promotional Dollars
If Florida’s commercial casinos are no longer cheating you by reducing their player win%, perhaps they’ve found another way? Let’s look at promotional dollars spent monthly.
In Florida, slot machine promotional dollars are including in return statistics provided by commercial casinos to the state gaming commission.
Promotional dollars come from many sources including car giveaways, complimentary gifts, slots tournaments, and more. What does “more” mean? That’s hard to say, but it might include “hidden” promotions such as setting up a slot machine in an open area to be a winner.
I’ve found and played a slot machine with such a hidden promotion myself. It was an extraordinary experience which made me re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about slots … to your benefit.
If you’re feeling like the casino’s slots are “tight,” despite evidence to the contrary, then maybe it’s the lack of gifts. We should check to see if there have been significant changes to monthly promotional dollars in 2020 by comparing each month to its corresponding month in 2019.
Again, I’ve calculated and graphed the appropriate return statistics for promotional dollars by casino and month for 2019 and 2020. Here they are:
These are the observations I’ve made while looking at this graph:
- No promotional dollars spent during the two months of closed casinos.
- Calder spent a lot more promotional dollars prior to the pandemic than any other casino.
- The drop in promotional dollars in April 2020 is likely due to closing late that month.
- Four casinos spent very little in promotional dollars during July and August 2020.
- Hialeah Park and Magic City appear to have returned to close to early 2019 amounts, but changes have occurred with the other casinos.
Let’s try another graph to examine monthly 2019 to monthly 2020 promotional dollars in terms of percentage change. Here’s that graph:
In this graph, the 100% line indicates no change that month to the same month in 2019. The plot clearly shows that four casinos dropped their promotional dollars to 5% or less when compared to the same month the year before. Compared to the year before, those four casinos “saved” just over $10M for those two months.
Otherwise, in the last four months of 2020, six casinos show promotional dollars being less than 100%, equating to the amount spent 12 months before. However, also during the last four months of 2020, two casinos have dramatically increased their promotional dollars by nearly half or more. Specifically, these two casinos with increased promotional dollars are Big Easy and Gulfstream Park.
From March to June 2020, when partially or fully closed due to the pandemic, Florida’s commercial casinos lost $178.2 million in slots income compared to the same four months of 2019. However, they reduced their slots promotional dollars by $52.4 million. With that savings, these eight casinos only lost $125.8 million in March thru June 2020.
Reducing the player win percentage in July and August 2020 earned them $4.8 million, which updated their losses to $121 million for all eight casinos. Also, four casinos reduced their promotional dollars in July and August 2020 by another $10 million.
Therefore, the average loss for each of four casinos was $15.1 million. The four remaining casinos which reduced their promotional dollars to 5% or less had an average loss of $12.6 million.
Florida’s commercial casinos are each, on average, down as much as $15 million in 2020 as a direct result of their pandemic closures, mitigated slightly by their subsequent efforts to “win back” some profit ending before September 2020.
Summary of Florida Slots Return-To-Player
If you suspected that Florida’s commercial casinos reduced their player win percentages after the pandemic, the state return statistics shows this to be factually correct. However, this reduction has long since passed.
Promotional dollars also decreased after the pandemic in 2020, also “saving” casinos money and, while not yet fully recovered at all casinos, this decrease has also passed.
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