You don't have to spend long at online casinos before you come across the term Return to Player or its abbreviation, RTP. This is a term that's used when talking about all kinds of casino games, from blackjack and roulette to pokies, and when you understand what it means it can be very useful to you as a player. The aim of this article is to explain what Return to Player is all about, why it's so important and why it can be a good idea to play games with high RTPs as a matter of habit. Here's a quick spoiler: high RTPs can be a lot nicer to your bankroll.
Return to Player is a figure that tells you what percentage of bets taken by a particular game will be returned to players in prize money. For example, a game that has an RTP of 97% can be expected to deliver an average of NZ$970,000 to players in prizes for every NZ$1,000,000 that it takes in bets.
The RTP can be thought of as being the opposite of the house edge, which tells you what percentage of stakes a casino can be expected to retain. That being the case, a high RTP is just as good for players as a low house edge, because both figures are describing much the same thing from different perspectives.
Calculating the Return to Player rate is usually something that casino online sites and game developers take care of, so you won't have any reason to calculate them for yourself. Even so, it can be good to understand how they are calculated so that you have a fuller appreciation for them.
In simple terms, RTP percentages are calculated by measuring the gap between the odds paid by a particular bet and the probability of a player succeeding with that bet. Consider the game of European Roulette, for example. This has 37 numbers on the wheel, of which 18 are red, 18 are black and 1 is green. A successful bet on red or black pays odds of 1:1, which would be fair if you would have a 100% chance of winning by betting on both outcomes. However, due to the green 0 on the wheel, your actual chance even when betting on both red and black is slightly lower, at 97.29%. That is the RTP in the game, and the remaining 2.71% is the house edge.
Should you ever be in a position where you know the house edge of a bet or game and you want to calculate the RTP instead, simply deduct the house edge from 100%. For example, the house edge when you make a Pass Line bet at the craps table is 1.41%. Deduct that figure from 100% and you'll get the RTP of the same bet, which is 98.59%.
While the Return to Player percentages of table games can be obtained through some fairly straightforward calculations, the RTPs of online pokies are much more challenging. The complexity is greater because there are more variables in an online pokie. The number of reels and lines in play, as well as the structure of the paytable, can all have an effect on the bottom line.
Those who develop online pokies generally know what kind of RTP they want their games to provide and will program the pokie software accordingly. Then, to test how it can be expected to perform over the long term, it is put through millions of spins that are carefully tracked and monitored. This will give the game provider a figure that can be published as the actual pokies RTP.
Some of the most popular online pokies publish RTP ranges, such as 94% to 97%. This is either because the actual RTP can be set by the casino offering the game, or because it can vary according to how the player engages with it. For example, to get the highest possible RTP in some games, you might have to bet the maximum number of lines with the maximum number of coins.
One of the most important things to note when discussing Return to Player figures is that they are not short-term averages but rather long-term estimations. While it might be fairly reasonable to expect a 96% RTP game to return around NZ$96,000,000 from every NZ$100,000,000 taken in bets (and even then, you'd have to allow a wide margin of error either way) that doesn't mean you can expect to win NZ$0.96 every time you bet NZ$1. Never forget this and adjust your gaming session expectations accordingly.
For those of you who play online pokies, you also need to bear in mind that different games have different levels of volatility. Some games regularly deliver prizes of modest value, and we say that those have low volatility. Other games don't pay out nearly as often, but when they do, the prize values tend to be much bigger, and we say that those games have high volatility.
We mention this because the 'hit frequency' of different games can mean that they can stray from projected RTP figures to extents that vary considerably. A low volatility pokie might vary from its RTP by just as little due to its frequent payouts. At the same time, a high volatility pokie can deliver far less than its RTP would suggest, only to catch up all at once by suddenly delivering a clutch of big wins.
Although you can't and shouldn't expect RTP figures to be experienced in the short term, let alone a single gaming session, it is still a good idea to play high RTP pokies rather than those with low RTPs. We say that for the following reasons:
- Over the long term, playing high RTP pokies should help you to lose less than you would by playing games with lower Return to Play figures.
- The more that people play high RTP pokies, the more reason developers will have to keep producing them.
In addition to the above, it is also worth bearing in mind that high RTP pokies are a great choice for anyone who wants to put online casino bonus funds to good use. Bonus funds and free spins are given to reward new and existing players alike. When you use these to play high RTP pokies you'll be giving yourself every chance of making them last longer than they would on less generous games.
You can find high RTP pokies at the majority of online casinos, but if you want a few to get started with right now, here are our top five favourites:
- Mega Joker - With a variable RTP range that goes right up to 99%, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more generous pokie than Mega Joker. To enjoy the maximum RTP just stated, you will need to become proficient in the game's Supermeter mode, but in our opinion that just makes the pokie a lot more engaging. Released by NetEnt, this is a three-reel slot that high RTP aficionados love.
- Book of 99 -This is one of the most recent high RTP pokies on our list, having been released in 2021 by Relax Gaming. It has an RTP of 99% and a five-reel format with 10 pay lines. If you like ancient civilisation themes then this is a game well worth spending some time with. Trigger the bonus round and you'll get 10 free spins with an expanding symbol.
- Thrones of Persia - The historical theme continues with Thrones of Persia from Tom Horn Gaming. This title was released in 2016 and boasts an RTP of 98.83%. It has a five-reel layout, gives you 20 ways to win and features beautifully stylistic artwork. The volatility of this game is high, so you might have to wait a while for a decent win. Or not, depending on how lucky you are.
- 1429 Unchartered Seas - If you'd prefer a high RTP pokie with low volatility, meaning that you can expect to win modest amounts more frequently, you should take a look at 1429 Unchartered Seas. This game from Thunderkick has an RTP of 98.5% and will have you charting unknown waters that may or may not be populated by sea monsters and other strange creatures.
- Triple Bar - Pokie fans who like their games to offer more realism than fantasy will be well suited by Triple Bar. This pokie was released by 1X2Gaming in 2021, and it gives you a very healthy RTP of 98.15%. It looks, sounds and plays just like a classic Vegas slot, with three reels and one all-important pay line. Medium volatility means that this game strike a nice balance between the value of prizes paid and hit frequency.
While there are plenty of online pokies offering high RTPs of 97% or more, we should highlight that table games can also be a good place to find high Return to Player gaming opportunities. Two of the most popular in New Zealand are European Roulette and Single Deck Blackjack, so let's take a quick look at each in turn.
The game of European Roulette is better for players than its American Roulette cousin because it has just one green zero on the wheel instead of two. That makes a big difference in terms of RTP, with the European game giving players 97.29% and the American game (with two green zeros) giving just 94.74%. Stick to playing even money shots (red, black, odd, even, and so on) for the best chance of enjoying a win or two. You will find more Casino Games on our dedicated page.
Single Deck Blackjack
As its name suggests, Single Deck Blackjack uses just one deck of standard playing cards. That helps to keep the house edge down to less than 1%, which means that the RTP here can be 99% or more. Learn to play the game properly (for this is a game of skill as well as luck) and you could enjoy an RTP of as much as 99.5%. Multi-deck blackjack games are also very good in RTP terms. However, be sure to avoid those variants that try to dazzle you with bonuses and side bets, as their RTPs will invariably be lower.
Return to Player or RTP percentages are very useful because they enable players to focus on games that return the highest proportions of stake money. They cannot be expected to be accurate from session to session, but over the long term playing higher RTP games can help you enjoy more gaming for your money. If you don't believe this, try keeping track of the games you play, their associated RTPs and how much you win or lose. You'll probably find that the more you focus on high RTP games, the better off you are.