Maryland casinos are asking permission to lower the average payouts of their slot machines by as much as 3 percent. Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission formally approved the proposed change in state regulation, but timing of a final decision by state officials has not yet been decided.
A review by the News4 I-Team found Maryland casino slot machines have an average payout that trails those in some casinos in neighboring states but is higher than the average payouts in some casinos in West Virginia and New Jersey. Maryland slot machines, formally referred to as video lottery terminals, pay out slightly less on average than they did in 2012, the I-Team’s review found.
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The request to allow lower payouts comes amid criticism from some gamblers about “tight slot machines” at D.C.-area casinos. Several of those formal complaints were obtained by the I-Team through state of Freedom of Information Act laws. The I-Team’s review found many of the complaints are unsupported by state data but are written in forceful language.
One Maryland casino patron wrote state officials, “These machines have a low to nonexistent payout.”
Another complained Maryland casinos are driving out “gamblers on fixed incomes.”
Casinos might opt against lowering their payouts, even if regulations allowed them to do so, state gaming officials said. Casinos are under competitive pressure with each other to lure and keep customers, officials said.
Hollywood Perryville Casino was the only one of Maryland’s casinos to agree to comment on the proposed regulation change. “There is an opportunity for additional revenue for the state and the casino,” a spokeswoman said. “We support the change but do not plan to have a specific strategy to change our operation in any way. We have to stay competitive within the state and outside our borders, and customers need to know they can win here as much as at any casino around the area.”
A regulation allowing lower slot machine payouts would negatively impact problem gamblers, health advocates said, because the state would not require the industry to spend additional money on programs to help the addicted. “The state would keep more money, because there would be more revenue from the slot machines, but there wouldn’t be more money going into the problem gambling fund,” National Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Keith Whyte said.
Problem gamblers are unlikely to notice or care if casinos lowered slot machine payouts, he said. “Problem gamblers are not very sensitive to payouts,” he said.
The regulation change, allowing casinos to lower average slot machine payouts, is better aligned with current Maryland state casino laws, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission said. "Our research indicated that Maryland was the only jurisdiction that restricted casinos’ ability to control their floor average beyond the statutory machine minimum payout, which is 87 percent,” the spokeswoman said. “This change was made to align our regulations with the industry standard and provide the casinos with the flexibility they need to remain competitive."