West Virginia Slot Machine Payouts

West Virginia Slot Machine Payouts – Maryland casinos are offering to lower the minimum payout required by the state, according to documents obtained through a state records request. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Five Maryland casinos have asked the state to allow them to lower the payout required on slot machines — a move that could shift tens of millions of dollars from customers to the casinos, state records show. state.

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The request is part of a group of proposals recently submitted by casinos to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun in a Maryland Public Information Act request. .

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According to the proposal, the state will relax the requirement that each casino must pay approximately 90 percent to 95 percent of the money wagered on its machines for a year. Casinos want to lower the minimum payout to 85 percent, which will increase the casinos’ “hold” – the amount of bets kept on slot games.

“Consumers will probably get a little more,” said Charles LaBoy, assistant director of gaming. “The opposite of that is increased retention. So there’s potential revenue for the state from that.”

LaBoy declined to estimate how much revenue – possibly in the billions of dollars – could be reaped by casinos and the state.

The government will benefit because it distributes money to slots in casinos. Although their popularity has waned in recent years, slot machines generated $622 million at the five casinos during the first 11 months of this fiscal year. The biggest part – $290 million – went to Maryland’s Education Trust Fund, while casino operators took $229 million.

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“There’s definitely an opportunity to bring in additional revenue for us and the state,” Matthew Heiskell, general manager of Hollywood Casino Perryville, said of the proposal.

But Heiskell and gambling analysts say casinos won’t drop the huge payouts for competitive reasons. With five casinos and a sixth on the way, Maryland has become one of the largest gambling markets in the country. And surrounded by states that want to compete in gaming events.

Currently, Maryland is “in the ballpark” compared to its neighboring states on average, which includes five casinos, LaBoy said.

The average payout for the state from July 2013 to June 2014 was 90.38 percent, according to the American Casino Guide. That put Maryland behind Delaware’s 92.23 percent, Ohio’s 91.62 percent and New Jersey’s 91.01 percent, but ahead of New Jersey’s 90.01 percent. Pennsylvania and West Virginia’s 89.86 percent.

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“Like any place, we’re going to have a big mix,” Heiskell said of slot payouts. “You want people to know they can win where you are.”

Casinos say that the proposal will give them the necessary flexibility to develop new slots offers with different payouts. The proposal “allows for more competitive customer service,” the casinos wrote in a memorandum to the agency.

They also said the plan would give them economic stability with casinos in states that offer a more generous financial cushion than Maryland.

In the memorandum, the casinos also asked the state to return – from 87 percent to 85 percent – the minimum average that must be paid for gambling during the year. They say that 87 percent is required compared to neighboring states.

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Pennsylvania and Ohio mandate at least 85 percent payout per machine, New Jersey requires at least 83 percent and West Virginia 80 percent, according to figures compiled by Maryland regulators from the American Casino Guide. Delaware’s claim is similar to Maryland’s.

“It’s really about flexibility and how we can change and create unique and unique gaming opportunities in our casino,” said Robert Norton, president and CEO of Maryland Live, the state’s largest casino. about the proposal to lower the floor of each slot machine. payment. “The fear that the casinos are going to take that 85 percent — take a hundred percent of that — is completely unfounded.”

Representatives for Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and Rocky Gap Casino declined to comment, and officials from Casino at Ocean Downs did not respond to requests for comment.

LaBoy said regulators will not respond to requests made for individual slot machines because state law requires each machine to pay no less than 87 percent.

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LaBoy said the regulator has “flexibility” to consider casinos’ proposals for overall payouts. “Perhaps there is a common ground in what we can do,” he said.

Any changes would require approval not only by state gaming regulators — who aren’t expected to make a decision until later this summer — but by the House Joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Committee. Review.

“I think we’ll be keeping a close eye on that,” Del said. Eric G. Luedtke, Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Joint Committee on Gaming Control. “The counter argument is if people feel like they’re getting a crappy deal, they’re not going to play. I’m concerned that Maryland players might consider going elsewhere if they feel the salary is higher. in neighboring states.”

The casinos’ proposals came as part of an annual process in which they propose changes or revisions to the rules of the game. If casinos disagree on something, “they don’t list it,” Norton said.

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Most of the other recommendations are technical, including how to work on table games and replacing the deck of cards.

Because slot machines are controlled by a random number generator, it seems a mystery to players trying to guess which machine will “hit” and when. But the government closely monitors the payouts from the slot floor together and from individual machines. The machine is programmed to pay out a set percentage, albeit randomly.

In the first quarter of this year, Ocean Downs had the highest average in the state – 91.79 percent, followed by Maryland Live at 90.33 percent and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore at 90.1 percent. Hollywood Casino Perryville paid 89.88 percent and Rocky Gap 89.81 percent.

Although Hollywood and Rocky Gap fell below the minimum 90 percent, regulators said the casinos are not in violation of the rules because the requirement is for a year.

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Experts say it is difficult to measure the impact of lowering the minimum wage on casino revenue or attendance.

“Most players probably don’t know if the retention rate is anywhere from 8 percent to 10 percent,” says James Karmel, casino analyst and history professor at Harford Community College. “Let’s say you’re a slot player based in Anne Arundel County and you want to go to [Maryland] Live. If you see the slots are up 3 percent, is that worth going to Delaware or West Virginia? Probably not.”

Beverly Johnson, 65, plays the Horseshoe twice a week. West Baltimore residents don’t think the slot proposal will drive away gamblers, even if they don’t win much.

“I lost tonight, but I’m not mad. I’m going home with a smile,” he said last week. “I don’t think many people would consider it.”

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Victoria Gay, 62, and John Bush, 69, drive from Hyattsville to visit Maryland Live or the Horseshoe Baltimore about once a week, even though Bush says the slot is already low-paying. Maryland casinos.

When they settled on the Horseshoe, Gay said he didn’t like the idea of ​​lowering the percentage. He thinks it should be increased.

“If it was simple, every [Maryland] casino would place every game at 87 percent,” he said. “The reality is you have to balance the experience or balance the creativity and uniqueness of the game world.”

The average payout is lower than 10 years ago, said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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He believes this is partly due to the popularity of penny slots and other low-profile machines that have low payouts and high stakes.

If the casinos’ request is approved, LaBoy predicted that “the state average will stay pretty close to where it is.”

Players may notice such changes better in small casinos where the game world is limited and the tendency to pay back is more obvious.

“If you go to the Rocky Gap casino, you’re obviously going to feel it more than you are going to a big place like Maryland Live,” said Alan Woinski, whose Gaming USA Corp. publishes industry journals.

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“In reality, players quickly find out if a casino has a tough machine,” he said. “Players aren’t that dumb.”

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