Whether you enjoy playing the games at an actual casino or at a casino website online, it’s clear that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. If you’re playing for real money, this means that sometimes you walk away with a profit, and other times you write off what you’ve spent as the cost of a fun night out. But did you know that every game is different in terms of the amount of money you’re likely to win back over time, compared to the amount of money you wager or spend on playing the game?

This figure is known as the Return to Player (RTP) percentage. It represents the percentage of all the money wagered on a game that the game will return to players over a period of time. Therefore, a slot machine with an RTP of 90% means that if you played the game 100 times, wagering a dollar each time, you would win back $90 on average. Remember though that casino games are about having fun and should not be looked at as an investment plan.

Long-term figures

It’s important to remember that the RTP represents an average percentage over the potential lifetime of a game – that is, if you played forever. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the theoretical RTP. The actual RTP that you experience, playing a slot a dozen or so times, or playing it regularly over a few weeks, may vary from this considerably. Generally speaking, however, the more times you play a game, the more your actual experience should fall in line with the stated RTP.

Different variations on different sites

The RTP on a game is determined by the game developer, but it can also be adjusted by the casino hosting it. The same game may have a different RTP depending on where you play it. There may also be a variation in the RTP depending on whether you play the game on a web browser or through a mobile app, purely because of the technology used.

These days, all major online casino providers offer mobile apps, and these are often indistinguishable from the desktop version. The BetMGM Casino app features nearly 300 slots, 12 video poker variations, and a smaller number of table games. There are also generous welcome bonuses and progressive jackpots. The RTP for slots varies from 94% to 97%, though slots with an RTP of 98% or more can occasionally be found.

The house edge

Gamblers and gaming websites will often talk about the house advantage, or the house edge. This is the inverse of the RTP. An RTP percentage of 96% means a house edge of 4%. To put it another way, for every $100 you spend, you’ll get $96 back and the house keeps $4.

Once again, this is an average figure and your actual experience may vary. All casino games are a matter of chance, and although no game has an RTP of 100% or more (because then the casino wouldn’t make any profit), you can always get lucky and win much more than you put in.

The trick, then, is to walk away as if you carry on playing, the house will inevitably win back what you scored, eventually restoring the RTP average. Of course, very few of us really quit while we’re ahead, instead seeing our eventual losses as the price of a good time.

Hit frequency and volatility

The RTP should not be confused with hit frequency or volatility, sometimes called variance. The hit frequency describes how often a winning number or combination comes up. Volatility describes payout, and can be low, medium or high. A low volatility game pays out often, but in small amounts. In contrast, a high volatility game pays out much less frequently, but with bigger jackpots.

Neither of these factors affects the RTP, which is based on money won for money spent, rather than the number of wins as such.

How to find the RTP

All games developers need to rigorously test and declare a game’s RTP in order for it to be licensed. Similarly, casino sites need to constantly monitor games to make sure that they are not underperforming or overperforming. The RTP should be listed in the paytable next to a slot. With table games, it may be expressed in terms of the odds for each bet.

Knowing the RTP enables you to make informed decisions about the casino games you choose to play. Obviously, the higher the RTP, the better your chances are of winning in the long term. However, remember that even a game with an RTP of 100% would only result in you breaking even and winning as much as you spent. In the short term, it’s still mostly a matter of luck.