Return-to-Player – The Mystery Unravelled


You can’t spend even a short amount of time around online casinos without bumping into the abbreviation RTP. You will also eventually learn that this abbreviation is an acronym, and that acronym stands for ‘return to player’. Having learned this you’re probably none the wiser so here is a detailed explanation of what RTP, or return-to-player actually means, and how you can use it to your benefit when you are playing any game at an online casino.

Return to Player Measures the Likelihood of How a Specific Game will ‘Behave’

The return to player factor of a game is the amount of money a player is likely to have remaining after playing a specific game for an extended period. For example, if a player plays a slot with a 97% RTP and begins with £100, then by the time of their extended playing session they should have £97 remaining.

Calculating a game’s RTP in some circumstances is about as exact a science as looking at the horizon and therefore deducing that the Earth is flat. Slot games are particularly problematic as there is a huge amount of variance to contend with. Slots have millions of symbol combinations so deducing the outcome of each possible spin (and adding on re-spins and bonus games) is like calculating pi to over a million digits.

Other games, and in particular table games, are a lot easier to calculate. For example in roulette no matter how many spins of a roulette wheel are undertaken there are only ever 37 possible outcomes (38 if you are playing American Roulette as opposed to European), and only a fixed number of bets that can be placed.

In European Roulette the RTP is 97.3% and for American Roulette it’s 94.6%, therefore it is easy to see that European Roulette is always favourable.

The Problem with RTP – How Do You Ever Win?

There is only thing that is common with all game RTPs, and that is that ALL game RTPs are below 100% (except once when a company released a game where they had miscalculated the RTP but fortunately only one player noticed and won a nice amount of money before the game was taken down). This begs the question – how do you actually win money playing any kind of casino game?

As there are not any casino games with an RTP over 100 percent, then you will always end up with less money than you started with, surely? What’s the point of playing games where you always lose?

The answer comes with an understanding of probability, standard deviation and variance.

The Coin Flip – RTP 50%?

Say you bet someone a dollar you can predict the outcome of a coin toss. You choose tails and it comes up heads. You of course want to ‘go again’ as the coin needs to balance out the probability so will land tails this time. You choose tails and … the coin comes up heads again. So, what went wrong?

Probability is simply a mathematical prediction. It is not a determination of what will happen. Upon the toss of the coin the outcome is always 50:50. But that does not mean that after two tosses you are ‘guaranteed’ one head and on tail. Similarly, after ten flips you are not ‘guaranteed’ five heads and five tails.

Let’s run an experiment and see how we are doing after a number of coin flips.

  • 10 Flips = 6 heads, 4 tails – 60:40.
  • 100 Flips = 57 heads, 43 tails – 57:43.
  • 1,000 Flips = 529 heads, 471 tails – 52.9:47.1
  • 10,000 Flips = 5071 heads, 4929 tails – 50.71:49.3

We could go on, but our thumbs got tired.

What You Should Take From Our Flipping Experiment

Two things you should notice from this ‘experiment’

  • The ratio of heads to tails never reaches 50:50
  • The more times the coin is flipped, the closer the ratio comes to 50:50

If you flipped a coin an infinite number of times, then the ratio would eventually reach 50:50 exactly.

That’s how RTP works. If you began a slot-playing session with $100 and the slot has an RTP of 95%, then after an infinite number of spins you would have $95 left. So, how do you win?

Let’s go back to our coin-flipping results. If you had chosen heads for each flip, then by ten flips you’d be up by 10%. After 100 flips you’d only be up by 7%. After 1,000 it was down to 3% and by 10,000 you’d be down all the way to less than 1%. Of course, 1% of $10,000 at $1 per spin would win you $100, but what if you’d chosen tails for every spin? By ten spins you’d have lost $1, but by 100 $7, by 1,000 $30 and by 10,000 you be out of pocket by $70.

Like all factors where probability plays a role, ‘luck’ will come into it.

So What’s the Point of RTP if it’s All Down to Luck?

Here we come to the crux of RTP and why it is so useful when it comes to all forms of gambling games. RTP is simply a comparative measure. When you compare two games, you can compare their RTPs. You should then choose the game with the higher RTP.

Roulette is an obvious example. European Roulette has an RTP of 97.3%, which American Roulette has an RTP of 94.6%. Therefore you should always choose to play European Roulette over American.

The same goes for blackjack. Here are the RTPs of some popular blackjack variants:

  • Atlantic City Blackjack: 99.65%
  • Blackjack Bonanza: 94.50%
  • Classic Blackjack: 99.91%
  • Classic Multi Hand Blackjack: 99.42%
  • European Blackjack Gold: 99.60%

As you can see from this list, Atlantic City Blackjack is the game you should be playing, while Blackjack Bonanza is the game you should be avoiding.

The same applies for slots:

  • Gonzo’s Quest: 95.97%
  • Starburst: 96.01%
  • Immortal Romance: 96.86%
  • Fluffy Favourites: 95.6%
  • Foxin’ Wins Again: 95.22-95.62%

From that short list you can see that differences are minimal, but that Immortal Romance gives you the best chances of winning.

So, remember that RTP is simply a measure, and that a game’s performance is mainly down to just how fortunate you happen to be.

BONUS READ: 11 of the Best Blackjack Strategies to Know and Use

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