Maryland Regulators Support Lowering Average Payouts from Slot Machines

State gambling regulators are recommending that Maryland’s five casinos be permitted to reduce required average annual payouts from their slot machines, according to online documents.

The regulators are endorsing — in part — the casinos’ request that the state relax a requirement that each casino pay out an average of 90 percent to 95 percent of the money bet at all of its machines over the course of a year — its entire floor payout.

The Sun reported in June that casinos were seeking to lower the minimum average payout to 85 percent.

The state’s gaming division is recommending instead that the average payout percentage be shifted to between 87 percent and 95 percent, giving the casinos more flexibility but not all that they had sought.

The recommendation appears as an attachment to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, which will consider the change.

Such a change could shift millions of dollars in winnings from customers to the casinos. State and casino officials said competition among rival casinos would minimize the effect on the “hold” — the amount of wagers casinos retain from slots play.

“Hold percentages are dictated by competition and consumer demand,” said Charles LaBoy, the state’s assistant director for gaming.

Since the change will not be submitted as an emergency regulation, it does not require approval of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, according to LaBoy. But, he said, the committee “does have the ability to request a hearing on the regulation if they so choose.”

The casinos’ recommendations came earlier this year as part of an annual process in which they suggest modifications or updates to gaming regulations. Casinos said the proposal would give them needed flexibility to develop innovative slots offerings with widely varying payouts.

The state’s gaming division said in an online memorandum that its recommended changes “will serve to improve and update our regulations.”

Maryland law requires an individual slot machine to pay out at no less than an 87 percent average, although many pay out more.

Pennsylvania and Ohio mandate at least 85 percent payouts per machine, New Jersey requires a minimum 83 percent and West Virginia 80 percent, according to figures compiled by Maryland regulators from the American Casino Guide. Delaware’s requirement is the same as Maryland’s.