Return to Player (RTP) Explained – Expected Loss in Casino Games
Last Updated: June 2, 2022
If you have been playing casino games for a long time, you may already be familiar with the term “return to player” or the term “casino edge,” which is basically the exact opposite.
While the house edge represents the percentage of all money wagered that the casino expects to win, RTP stands for the percentage of wagers you can expect to get back from the casino.
For instance, if a game advertises a 95% return to the player, this means that 95 cents of every dollar wagered in that game are returned to the players over the long run.
Of course, no game pays you back the exact RTP every time you play, and the percentage itself is only calculated over the long run, either by running simulations or by simple mathematical calculation.
It may seem then that RTP does not actually matter as it doesn’t guarantee anything in a given session of playing a casino game, but this is very far from the truth.
Return to player percentage is, in fact, the single most important factor in determining how likely you are to win in a casino game, along with other indicators such as hit rate.
How is RTP Calculated in Casino Games?
Calculating the RTP of a casino game is fairly simple in theory. Dividing the amount of money returned to the player by the amount of money wagered gives us the exact percentage.
Yet, it can be difficult for any single player to play enough hands or spins of a particular casino game to get to the real number, as variance in some games is very high.
Slots are a great example of games in which discovering the RTP can be very difficult, as the slot’s hit rate and volatility can make it extremely difficult to see the real RTP.
A slot game may seem to have a tragically low RTP for a long stretch of time before finally awarding you a massive bonus that pays 15,000x your bet.
However, you may also not get lucky enough to trigger this bonus and may end up losing tons playing a game over a few thousand spins.
A simpler game with a higher hit rate, like blackjack or roulette, is much more straightforward, as even a simple mathematical calculation can tell us the exact number.
In online casino games, independent auditors will run simulations of millions of repetitions to come up with the exact RTP and compare it with what the casinos actually advertise.
Return to Player in Video Slots
Video slots are typically the most popular type of casino games in both live and online casinos, as they are cosmetically very appealing and also extremely fun to play.
Recreational gamblers flock to video slots without even knowing that they are actually some of the games with the lowest RTP percentage in all of casino gaming.
Back in the early days of online casinos, video slots used to come with RTPs of 93-95%, which is considered a robbery by modern-day standards.
Today, most new slots offer an RTP of close to 97 or 98%, while many of the older slots with low percentages have been removed from casino lobbies forever.
Live casino slots, on the other hand, still routinely only return less than 90% of all bets to their players, making them some of the worst games you could find on a casino floor.
Regardless, most casino visitors still play slot games without even realizing they are burning their money playing these games compared to other games they could be spending their money on.
The one redeeming factor for slots is that they can be played for very low stakes compared to other casino games, which means you can have a lot of fun with a limited bankroll.
If you are going to play video slots, make sure to find games with a high RTP to play and avoid those that pay back 95% or less.
Furthermore, look around for reviews of the games you plan on playing and figure out what kind of slot volatility a game offers.
Many slot games come with a fairly high RTP percentage but high volatility, which could mean that a 97% RTP will only be 90% for many players and well over 100% for others, as some massive bonuses can be triggered by the luckiest of players.
This is also the case with progressive jackpot slots, in which much of the money wagered goes towards the jackpot itself, leaving most players heavily damaged in terms of returns.
A slot with a high RTP and low volatility will give you the steadiest stream of decent wins, although you may not have the same kind of rollercoaster experience when it comes to the ups and downs that you may be used to when playing slots.
Return to Player in Roulette
Roulette is one of the most popular casino games and one that may offer a better alternative to playing video slots if you are playing the right version of the game.
Most American live casino players have only ever been given an opportunity to play American Roulette with a zero and a double zero, which has an RTP of just 94.74%, which is on the lower end even compared to slots.
A European Roulette wheel, on the other hand, has an RTP of 97.3%, which is reasonably high compared to games like slots but still much lower than the likes of blackjack or baccarat.
The house edge in roulette comes from the discrepancy in the number of slots on the wheel and the actual payouts.
A European Roulette wheel comes with a total of 37 numbers, while a payout for a straight-up bet will be 35/1.
The payouts are the same in American Roulette, but there are 38 numbers on the wheel, nearly doubling the house edge.
It is interesting to note that the house edge and the RTP in roulette do not change regardless of the way you bet.
Whether you take even money shots like red/black and odd/even, or you bet on certain numbers, the RTP will always remain 97.3% in European and 94.74% in American Roulette.
If you are playing online roulette, I recommend playing European or French wheels and staying clear of any American Roulette games.
Since the game is essentially the same and the RTP of American Roulette is quite a bit lower, you will be burning money if you do play this particular version of the game.
Stick to the highest RTP roulette wheels to give yourself the best shot at winning, and don’t deny yourself the extra RTP you could be getting by simply picking the right game.
Return to Player in Blackjack
Blackjack is one of the best casino games in terms of RTP, with some versions of the game making it possible to have an RTP of 99.67%.
Regardless of the blackjack variant you choose to play, an RTP of more than 99% is possible, but you will need to play an optimal strategy to get there.
Unlike other gambling games, it matters how you play in blackjack, as playing the wrong strategy can dramatically reduce your RTP.
If you do learn the basic strategy to perfection, you will be almost breaking even at blackjack, which makes it one of the best ways to gamble in an online or live casino.
If you compare blackjack to a game like slots in a live casino, you may be losing as much as 30 times more by playing slots as you will in blackjack over the long run.
Even if you would play blackjack with a very bad overall strategy and you would not pay much attention to what’s happening at the table, you would hardly have an RTP of less than 95%.
This makes blackjack one of the best ways to gamble, even if you are a complete novice, and definitely the best way to gamble if you are willing to learn basic strategy and play it at all times.
Return to Player in Keno and Instant Win Games
Diametrically opposite to blackjack are games like bingo, keno, scratch cards, and other instant win games you can find in online casinos.
These games rarely give back more than 80% of the money wagered, while some of them actually go as low as 60%.
When you also factor in the fact that much of that RTP is locked up in the game’s jackpot, you may be looking at an RTP of under 50% of the vast majority of players.
If you play bingo or scratch cards, you are likely only chasing after the jackpot, with all other winnings quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Bingo, keno, and scratch cards are some of the least favorable of all casino games, and you should avoid playing them at all costs.
There is literally no reason to gamble on a game with such a poor return to player percentage, and you will be better off using your money to play any other game in an online casino lobby.
Return to Player in Video Poker
Video poker games are some of the most interesting casino games you can find in terms of return to player percentage, as they almost always offer much better returns than video slots.
Video poker is a simple game to play, but it is important to note that you will need to learn how to play each video poker game to perfection if you want to get the highest possible RTP from it.
With some skill and a proper selection of video poker games to play, you can get well over 98% in returns, with some video poker games actually having an RTP of over 99%.
The best video poker machines in the world have been said to offer an RTP of more than 100%, although there is no proof that such machines are actually set up in some live casinos.
When it comes to online casinos, you will know the exact RTP of each video poker game you are playing, and the numbers will always be quite satisfying.
If you don’t enjoy playing card games too much, video poker is your next best shot at having a decent return on your investments in an online casino.
However, be careful when picking the video poker game to play, as some of the more fancy and modern video poker machines online actually have an RTP of 96% or less.
How to Get the Best RTP in an Online Casino
Online casinos offer hundreds, sometimes thousands, of different games you can play, and it’s up to you to pick which game you want to play.
Each of the games in the lobby comes with a different RTP percentage, hit rate, and volatility, and you may want to consider all of these things when selecting a game to gamble on.
Always going for the games with the highest RTP is definitely your best shot in the long run, but it is also important to try and avoid games that are too volatile.
Games with progressive jackpots, in particular, can have a solid RTP in theory but may actually play fairly badly for the vast majority of all players involved.
If you really want to get the absolute most out of your gambling dollars, playing blackjack, baccarat, and video poker are some of your best options.
Keep in mind that both blackjack and video poker requires some strategy and skill to optimize the RTP, and your return will be significantly lower than optimal if you don’t play the right way.
Video slots are fun to play but usually don’t offer competitive RTP percentages, with the exception of some games that do come with an RTP of 98% or higher.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to avoid games like keno, bingo, or scratch cards which only pay back 80% of the money invested or less and are the absolute worst options you could possibly pick.