Introduction to Mississippi Slots Return-To-Player
In the months leading up and after all U.S. casinos closed in 2020, a big concern for Mississippi slots enthusiasts is if casinos have reduced their Mississippi slots return-to-player (RTP).
It seems certain they must have. But when did they and, most importantly, have them stopped?
Casino Financial Woes
Every U.S. casino closed in 2020 due to the global pandemic. There is no doubt that these abrupt closures financially hurt the U.S. casino industry. After re-opening, their financial woes continued mostly due to low attendance.
As my audience of slots enthusiasts returned to newly re-opened casinos, they began to report “tight” slot machine game play, accepted for the most part as understandable. But how long did it last and … has it stopped?
We can use publicly available gambling data from those states which offer player win percent and other return statistics Let’s find out for Mississippi.
Mississippi’s Slots Industry: An Overview
Mississippi slot machine casino gambling consists of 27 riverboat casinos and three American Indian tribal casinos.
By law, Mississippi’s riverboat casinos must be located on coastal waters, the Mississippi River, and in navigable waters of counties bordering the Mississippi River. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Mississippi legislature allowed the state’s gulf coast casinos to rebuild on land within 800 feet of the shoreline.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC) is responsible for non-tribal, commercial casinos. The gaming regulations used are from MGC but also from state law, specifically the Gaming Control Act.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians also has its Choctaw Gaming Commission for Mississippi’s three tribal casinos. The gaming compacts which authorized tribal gaming in Mississippi established this gaming commission.
Mississippi’s three tribal casinos are each a property of Pearl River Casinos and Resorts, owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Mississippi’s Return Statistics for Slots
The Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC) offers monthly return statistics for commercial casinos by region of the state:
- Central Region, including the cities of Vicksburg and Natchez
- Northern Region, including the cities of Tunica, Greenville, and Lula
- Coastal Region, including the cities of Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis
The minimum and maximum theoretical payout limits are 80% and 100% for each wager on a gaming device. If the gaming device played is a skill-based, competition-style machine, these limits apply when playing it with optimal strategy or perfect play.
Relative to other U.S. gaming jurisdictions, the payout statistics provided by Mississippi are the most thorough treatment I’ve seen for payout returns.
These extensive return statistics including player win percent by slot machine denomination for all casinos within three state regions: Central, Northern, and Coastal. Progressive machines have separate entries by denomination.
Another useful monthly report is Gaming Devices Report, which offers how many machines of each denomination are in each commercial casino. Once again, progressive versus non-progressive machines are separate.
The two American Indian tribal casinos in Mississippi haven’t established theoretical payout limits nor do they offer publicly available return statistics.
Mississippi’s Monthly Player Win Percentages
The return statistics for Mississippi’s three state regions are available all the way back to April 2000.
These monthly returns offer the casino hold percentage, where the more common player win percentage is 100% minus the win % provided in these state returns.
I’ve collected all the Central, Northern, Coastal, and State-wide totals from January 2019 through January 2021, converted the casino hold percent provided into player win percent, and plotted the results in the following graph.
The left half of this graph shows the typical player win% for 2019 and early 2020 prior to closing in March 2020, closed for all of April 2020, and closed for some small part of May 2020.
Notice how 2019 shows return-to-player ranging between 91% and 93.5%, a range of 2.5%.
Also, notice that Mississippi’s minimum theoretical payout of 80% is nearly 10% below any win% shown in the 2019 thru 2021 data. As I’ve said before, the minimum theoretical payout limit is typically irrelevant as return statistics never even come close to it.
Next, notice how low the player win percent became in March 2020 prior to closing that month. Casinos in the Central Region didn’t noticeable drop their return-to-player, but the Northern and Coastal Regions did to below 90%, more than a 2.5% drop from the prior month. The Coastal Region even dropped RTP to below 89.5%.
And finally, notice how low the player win percent was upon reopening in May 2020 and also how it trends steadily upward through January 2021.
Summaries help to understand trends, so here’s the graph for state-wide total return-to-player only.
This summary RTP graph makes it clear that after the closings were over, RTP trends upward from 91% to 92.5%. An increase of 1.5% may seem insignificant, but it isn’t.
A drop or increase of 2.5% is significant, and the most you might ever see over the long-term, so a jump of 1.5% over nine months is meaningful. It’s worth pointing out that a statewide return of 92.5% in January 2020 is better than most months in 2019 and 2020 prior to the pandemic.
Meaning, January 2021 was a great month to play slots in Mississippi. Only one month was better in 2020 and only two months were better in 2019. It’ll be interesting to see if this upward trend continues into 2021.
Changes in Mississippi’s Monthly Slots Revenue
We now know a lot more about Mississippi slots return-to-player, which seems to be good news, but what the casinos? Do they sacrifice profits to help RTP? Spoiler alert: No!
Mississippi’s return statistics provide both “Coin In” and “Win/Loss” by the player, where dividing the second by the first gives us the casino hold percent.
To determine casino revenue stream totals, let’s plat a monthly graph of Coin-In from January 2019 until January 2021 including when casinos closed in March thru May 2020.
Casino revenues have been highly consistent over the last 25 months with few exceptions, including limited revenue in months when Mississippi’s casinos partially or fully closed.
Notice that the best time to play slots in Mississippi was March 2019. Since casinos happened to partially close one year later, in March 2020, we don’t know if that trend is typical each March.
The most significant revenue drop occurred in March thru May 2020, with no income at all during April 2020.
But the rest of 2019 and 2020, possibly excepting December 2020, were remarkably steady. This answers the question if Mississippi’s commercial casinos lost revenue due to the 2020 pandemic. They did, but only during months when they closed casinos.
The state-wide Coin-In totals for all regions can hide the fluctuations over time for each state region, so here’s a graph without state-wide coin-in included.
Perhaps the most significant fluctuation, if not a trend, to notice the far right of the graph. Remember, these last two months of data are when player win percent had returned to pre-pandemic levels or better.
For December 2020 and January 2021, casino revenue equaled or exceeded most months over the last two years. Yet, for these same two months, player win percent jumped significantly.
What does this mean? Mississippi casinos are making more revenue than ever before and, over the last two months, they’ve started giving back historically high return-to-play.
Over March through May 2020, compared to March thru May 2019, Mississippi’s commercial casinos statewide lost around 73% of their coin-in revenue, dropping from $6B to $1.6B over those three months. Excluding those three months, casino revenue remained steady from January 2019 thru January 2021.
Mississippi’s casinos had a reduction of $4.4B due to closing in 2020. But were they able to get some this revenue back by lowering the return-to-player in the later months in 2020? Let’s see.
Month by month, I’ve pulled the return statistics to obtain the difference in Win/Loss for June thru December 2020 as compared to those same months in 2019.
Amazingly, totaled over June through December 2020, players won just slightly more in 2020 when compared to those months in 2019. Given more than $100M is typically won by players each month, a difference of $0.55M more is statistically equivalent to zero. Specifically, nearly 0.6% more in 2020.
Frankly, this nearly identical return too amazing to be a coincidence. Furthermore, it’s not obvious when looking at the wide variation in monthly player return-to-player differences.
As you can see, monthly win-loss differences swung back and forth by millions of dollars. In June, players got back nearly $6M more in 2020 than they did in the same month in 2019. Yet in June, players got back nearly $10M LESS.
Yet, if you add up all these monthly differences, the total is only the minuscule amount of $55k more returned to players over those seven months. Again, amazing.
This lack of difference is yet another clear example of how very carefully casinos control their player returns. On average over the last seven months of 2020, players won about the same as 2019. But players lost significantly, approaching $10M per month, for three of those seven months. Yet, players won significantly during the other four months.
Summary of Mississippi Slots Return-To-Player
In the months leading up and after all U.S. casinos closed in 2020, a big concern for slots enthusiasts is if casinos reduced the Mississippi slots return-to-player.
Amazingly, on average, casinos did not take more than the usual from players since re-opening after the pandemic in 2020.