What is Return to Player (RTP) and How does It Work at Online Casinos
If you’ve ever played either at an online casino or in land-based casinos you have done your fair share of calculating your chances of winning – then you’ve come to the right place! In this article we’ll explain in-depth what Return to Player (RTP) is and what the meaning of “house-edge” is.
We will also answer questions like “Can I increase the odds of winning at a slot machine?”, “What games have the highest RTP?”, and many more.
What is Return to Player (RTP)?
This is one of the questions that could be answered in one sentence, but that may just prompt further questions. If we say “that’s the percentage of all wagers or stakes played which are rewarded back to the player” you might be asking yourself who gets the money back? Who gets more or who gets less? And who and/or what decides the exact percentage that is given back? It is obvious that it takes a lot more than one sentence to completely understand what Return to Player (RTP) is and how it works, so let’s go through it step by step.
First of all, you should know what hides behind the RTP abbreviation. Theoretically it stands for “Return to Player”. Even though the “theoretically” part is sometimes left out, it is extremely important and here is why;
Let’s say a new slot machine just came out and the first ten spins were spun by ten different players. The developer promises a 98% RTP and those ten players spent €10 each. This brings us to a total of 10 unique players, each spinning once and paying €10, which makes the combined investment €100 so far.
At this point, you would expect that those ten players got €98 back, while the casino made €2. But what happens if one of those players won the €1,000 jackpot? In case the other nine won nothing, the casino is now €900 in “debt.” This is why the RTP is theoretical and can be valid only after giving the algorithms more time. Eventually, the casino will get their money back and will stay cash-flow positive. It could also happen that all players win something back, or that only half of them get more than they have spent, while others lose.
Let’s continue with the example we started with were ten players spend €10 individually, each spinning the reels once. The 2 euro that the casino take can be considered the house edge at that very moment. But, just like RTP, it is only valid over a longer period of time. In fact, house edge and RTP work alongside each other. The house edge is the percentage of all wagers or stakes which the casinos take themselves. In a nutshell, that answers the “How do casinos make their money?” question. Fairly straight forward!
As most slots and casino games have the information on what the RTP is, you don’t need a calculator to find out what the edge of the casino is. All you need to do is deduct that percentage from 100% and that’s it. A 96% RTP goes along with the 4% edge, while the 1% edge means that players will get 99% of all stakes back over time. Easy!
As we dig deeper into this topic, new questions appear such as who decides the RTP? How is it processed? And who guarantees that the casinos are not changing the edge as they wish?
Who Sets the RTP?
Be aware that gambling, video slots and online casinos were not invented recently. In fact, slot machines have existed for well over a hundred years, while the first online casino and the software which operates it was made over 20 years ago. InterCasino was the first online casino in 1996, while Microgaming finished the first online gambling software in 1994.
Who sets the RTP is normally up to who developed the game. It could be a development studio or a freelancer. The last is rather unusual these days as the industry has been growing rapidly in the last 5-10 years. Our experience from within the iGaming industry says that the RTP is often set in collaboration between publishers, the software provider studio and the online casino. These days some of the big online casinos also create their own software providers to own more of the process.
This is why playing games and slots from already well-known and reputable companies, who are “3 in 1” is the best way to go. On the other hand, that’s also the reason why it is so hard for brand new companies and providers to find their place in the market and in the industry.
What is Random Number Generator (RNG)?
RNG is what decides the outcome of all spins in slot machines. It stands for “Random Number Generator”. In land-based casinos, it is a microprocessor that works 24/7 in order to randomly decide the position of the reels.
In online slots and online gambling in general, the concept is the same, but the procedure and tools used are a bit different. In this case, RNG is a complex developed code which (normally) uses the MD5 algorithm. It is a Message Digest algorithm, and we can thank Ronald Rivest for what we are able to do today as invented it in 1991. Even though it is a 128-bit hash function mainly used in cryptography, people found it useful in other areas, such as RNG for online slots.
The two most used RNGs are:
- Hardware Random Number Generator – Mostly used in land-based casinos and arcade games
- Pseudorandom Number Generator (PRNG) – Used in online casinos
Predicting and manipulating RNG as a frontend user is possible in theory, but not in practice. Complex math, randomness and preset values (read RTP) determine the outcome of the spin. But, how do you know you stay safe and if the casino keeps their word and maintains the same RTP over time, without manipulating it behind the scene? That’s next in below section.
Who Keeps You Safe?
What we have learned so far is that RTP determines how much the players get back over time, RNG decides the outcome, providers, publishers and sometimes the casino set the RTP, but who’s in charge of casinos?
When you are playing with real money online, you want to sleep at night knowing that your money is safe. But you also want fair play. Here’s when licencing agencies and authorisation bodies step in. When a casino is licenced, you know that all their slots and games are legit and that the RTP promised is guaranteed to remain unaltered at all time, treating everyone equally and leaving everyone with the same odds of winning.
These are some of the most reputable and trustworthy licencing agencies from all over the world:
- Kahnawake Gaming Commission
- UK Gambling Commission
- Gambling Supervision Commission
- Malta Gaming Authority
- Alderney Gambling Control Commission
- Curacao Internet Gambling Association
There are many more out there, and new ones seem to appear each year. As there are hundreds of casinos and thousands of games available online, there’s absolutely no reason why you should play in one that’s not licenced by the “right authority”.
Games and Slot Machines With the Highest RTP
Well-known games such as roulette, baccarat and blackjack always have the same RTP:
- Jacks or Better (Video Poker) – 99.54%
- Single Zero Baccarat – 97.30%
- Vegas Rules Blackjack – 99.72%
- European Roulette – 97.30%
Depending on which variation of a specific game you are playing, the edge might vary due to different rules. It doesn’t take much to affect the RTP by and large. To prove the point, just take a look at the difference between the European and American roulette. The American version has an additional field on the board (double zero), but the edge is almost twice as high, standing at 5.26%.
When it comes to online slots, it is an entirely different story, as each game has a unique story, symbols, ways of winning and of course, RTP and the edge will vary with the slot. If only one field in a game with over 50 betting options makes such a big change in RTP, you can understand why every slot has a unique RTP, as almost everything is different in each game.
Parameters that vary constantly are the number of symbols, paylines, ways to win systems, reels, rows, jackpots, sign values, developers, publishers, overall sentiment and the current market (industry) state and laws.
As there are thousands of unique slot games available online, the RTP sometimes goes under 90%, while in some cases it’s over 99%. We have compiled a list of top 10 slots with the highest return to player percentages:
- Goblin’s Cave – Playtech – 99.30%
- Ugga Bugga – Playtech – 99.10%
- Ocean Princess – Playtech – 99.10%
- Nemo’s Voyage – WMS – 99.00%
- Ooh Aah Dracula – Barcrest – 99.00%
- Tropic Reels – Playtech – 99.00%
- Jackpot 6000 – NetEnt – 98.90%
- Cinerama – Playtech – 98.40%
- Blood Suckers – NetEnt – 97.60%
- Big Bad Wolf – QuickSpin – 97.35%
It seems like Playtech is the most generous software provider in the industry, judging by the fact that they take 50% of the spots on the list. No doubt they have managed to stay at the top of the online gaming industry for more than 20 years. What’s interesting is that most of the slots in the top 10 are rather oldschool, but the graphics were ahead of their time when they were first released, giving them a vintage feel which is probably why they are fun to play even today.
One thing that’s worth mentioning when we talk about RTP is the Jackpot. There are different types of jackpots:
- Available only in the slot you’re playing, which means that it is taken into consideration when processing the RNG code.
- Casino exclusive jackpot, can be won in any slot available in the casino and does not affect the RTP of individual games.
- Multi-casino jackpots, or so-called “Megas”, which are available in multiple casinos at once.
- Progressive jackpot, increasing every time someone plays a regular round but does not win it.
In some other cases, you’ll see the amount of the jackpot increase at a stable rate, which resets when someone obtains it. The third variation is when players have the option to spend additional money, besides the wager used to spin the reels, in order to contribute to the prize pool and possibly win the entire amount.
Final Words on RTP
The most important thing to remember is that you can’t manipulate the outcome. Strategies in games such as Poker, Roulette, Dream Catcher and Blackjack exist, but they never guarantee that you’ll end up winning. When it comes to slot machines, the only thing you can do is control the amount you bet with.
Common sense tells you not to play if someone has won huge amounts in the game you’re playing, or in case someone won the jackpot, but that’s not the case. You are already aware of that though, as you now understand how RTP and RNG actually work thanks to our detailed guide presented through this article! Playing games with high RTP does not mean that you’re going to win more often or end up losing less after a while.
In the end, it all comes down to how much fun you’re having while you’re playing. You should never play slots, roulette, blackjack or even poker with the only intention of making more money. Find a game you enjoy playing the most, set a budget you can afford to lose and find your comfort zone (read more about responsible gaming).
You can always try new games by playing them for free, and when you decide that it’s the right time to make a transition to the real money gameplay, find a casino that is licenced. Licences assure you that the RTP you’re promised is guaranteed and that your money is safe at all times.