Everybody wants to play at the loosest online casinos, right?
You'll sometimes see lists of what are supposed to be the most favourable UK online casinos. If they use any data to qualify these lists, it's usually a percentage payback number - 97%, 98%, something like that.
That's supposedly the average amount that the casino pays back to players over time. In other words, if the casino has a 98% payback percentage, it's only keeping 2% of all the money that's wagered there.
Where do these numbers come from? Ideally, they're from a good independent auditing organisation. They might be self-reported by the casino, which makes them a little more questionable. And, this being the internet, someone might have just pulled them out of nowhere.
It isn't necessarily about the accuracy of the numbers, though; if they come from an organisation like eCOGRA, they're pretty trustworthy. These numbers tell you a little something, but they don't tell you nearly everything. And they don't necessarily steer you to the best payouts for your style of play.
Today we'll take an in-depth look at how online casino payout calculations work, and how you can really find the best paybacks for your style of gambling.
Breaking Down The Payback Numbers
Let's start by taking a closer look at how casino payback percentages work.
When you see one listed, you should immediately ask what the source is. If you can't find a source, assume it's just about as good as made up.
The number might be self-reported by the casino. If it's an online casino that is licensed by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC), it's very unlikely that they're going to publish unsubstantiated numbers. But how did they calculate it? Is it an average of the expected payback of all of their current games, or is it based on the actual payout amounts for the previous month?
Organisations like eCOGRA track each month's payouts as part of their certification process. The casino's monthly certificate shows how much of player winnings were kept by the casino, broken down by the major game categories (slots, roulette, video poker, and so on).
The thing about the numbers that eCOGRA publishes is that they aren't really meant to inform players of who is paying out the best. These numbers are raw data to demonstrate that the casino is running fair games by paying out within a realistic expected percentage range for each game type.
Limitations of Payback Percentages
So even if these numbers are accurate, you can probably see a few limitations shaping up already. For example, you only know what the payouts were for the previous month - what if games or pay tables have been changed since then? And even if the games haven't changed, numbers based on what people win - rather than what the games are designed to pay out - will necessarily change in a random way all the time.
The overall payout rate for each game type also isn't necessarily the payback you can expect at your games of choice. For example, let's say you're a fan of progressive jackpot slots. Those are games with thrilling big wins, but you usually pay with some volatility and lower overall payback percentages than you get at simpler types of slots. If the casino has just a few progressives and a lot of classic three-reels, it's likely that the expected payback for your progressives is a lot lower than the site average that's being reported.
And if you're into games in which skill plays a part in the expected return (like blackjack or video poker), those monthly payout numbers are usually going to skew downwards thanks to most players not being particularly skilled at them.
So What Should You Be Looking At?
The first thing to look at is the individual payback percentages for the games that you like to play. Aggregate payouts will change over time, but each game's individual expected payout should stay the same.
You also have to factor in bonuses and benefits. Those will usually offset some percentage of your losses. You've got the signup bonus when you first create an account, regular daily / weekly / monthly promotions that are available to all players, and special offers made based on the amount of your play. Also consider the benefits you get at each tier level of the loyalty club (where applicable).
This all involves a bit of math, but it's easier than ever these days as the expected payback percentage to the player is usually available for each individual game. A lot of casinos are directly publishing them now, but even if they aren't a little Googling will usually reveal them.
Figure out what games you like the best, find the ones with the most favourable terms, then find the casino with the best player benefits and offers - that's the way to securing the best possible payouts for yourself!
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