Arizona is home to 23 tribal casinos operated by 16 different tribal groups across 10 counties. Most of the state’s casino play is focused on the Phoenix area, with fully 1/3 of Arizona’s casinos located within a half hour’s drive of the state capital. The state’s first legal and regulated tribal casino opened in 1992, with new properties opening every few years through 2017.
The best payout casinos in Arizona are Gila River Hotel and Casino and Casino Arizona & Talking Stick Resort. The loosest slots in Phoenix, Arizona are Fists of Fire, Cash Cove, and Sex & the City Multiplay. The state’s loosest slots and best payout casinos tend to be located near the city of Phoenix.
It’s hard to work out the loosest slots in Arizona. That’s because the state’s gaming compacts with tribal groups don’t require operators to release details about payback percentages for their slot machines. In some US states, operators are forced to release monthly RTP figures for every game on their floor. Other states require less frequent but still accurate reporting of game odds and payouts. That’s not true in Arizona.
However, I can use what information I do have about Arizona slots to help people find games that give them better odds against the house. That’s the purpose of this post, to cut through all the advertising and other commercial nonsense and help visitors to Arizona figure out where they should play slots.
I’ll start with a quick guide to gambling law in the state before digging deeper into the subject of how to find loose slots in The Copper State.
Arizona Gambling Law
The Arizona Department of Gaming is responsible for overseeing the state’s gaming industry. That industry is made up of tribal gaming operations as well as pari-mutuel race betting and legal bets on boxing and mixed martial arts events. Arizona’s Department of Gaming is unique among American gambling authorities as it has no regular budget from the state, depending instead on funds from racebook and sports bets as well as money donated annually by the state’s tribal gaming operators.
The other major authority that holds sway over gaming in The Grand Canyon state is the Tribal State Gaming Compacts. This group’s existence is mandated in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. 21 recognized Native American tribal groups hold gaming contracts in the state – 15 of them use these contracts to operate casinos, with the other 6 leasing their government-granted slot machine rights to the state’s other tribes.
Gaming law in Arizona is a typical blend of strict and liberal policies, a fairly common arrangement in the American southwest. While the state has carved out a legal framework for tribal gaming and a few other limited games of chance and skill, gambling is illegal for the most part. Even charitable organizations are prevented from games like bingo or other fundraising opportunities – the most these groups can do is run raffles, which are poorly defined by state law and leave lots of room for interpretation.
Visitors to Arizona’s tribal gaming properties may be surprised to find that there’s no bar. Arizona law makes it illegal for alcohol to be served at any gambling site.
Bettors interested in wagering online in Arizona have few options – you can wager on MMA fights or play Daily Fantasy Sports and that’s about it. Lottery games are widespread in the state and include draw games as well as scratch-off tickets. The minimum gambling age for any legal game of chance or skill in Arizona is 21.
Arizona Slot Machine Returns & Payouts
If we were talking about Las Vegas or Atlantic City, or even Florida, I’d be able to tell you a lot about every slot machine you’ll find on every casino floor. That’s because casinos in those states are required to report payout percentages and other details, and they do so in a public way that’s freely available to anyone online.
Unfortunately, Arizona law doesn’t require such reporting. We have to make do with what details we do have.
The only mention of payout percentage in the tribal gaming compacts of Arizona is a single requirement – that all slot machines in Arizona be programmed with an RTP of between 80 and 100%.
If you think about it, this is a little bit of good news. Slots programmed with an RTP below 80% are just plain no good, and I’ve definitely seen machines with posted RTP figures that low in other gambling states. Those slot machines you see in the Vegas airport? They’re likely to be programmed in the 60s, far below Arizona’s minimum of 80%.
Does it really matter if I play an 80% machine versus, say, a 90% RTP game? Absolutely, especially if you’re an advantage gambler or the kind of slot player who prefers high-RTP games. To slot players who are concerned with game statistics, there’s a lot of difference even between a 90% game and a 92% game. Telling a seasoned slots player that a game returns “between 80 and 100 percent” to the player is likely to earn you a huge eye roll. The scale is just too wide to be useful.
Since it’s not possible to truly know a game’s RTP figure before playing it, slots players who are heavily focused on a game’s return percentage would be better off heading to Las Vegas in neighboring Nevada or choosing an online slot game through a casino that posts verifiable statistics on their games. You’re not going to be able to work out a slot’s exact return to player percentage within the borders of Arizona.
Arizona Slots Reviews (Best Slot Machines)
The state of Arizona is home to thousands of different slots, and with few restrictions in terms of game style, you’ll find every type of game available in Vegas at some spot in the Grand Canyon State. Local progressive, wide-area progressives, video and licensed games, even high-dollar and stadium-format slot games and skill games, you can match your preferred style of play to most casinos in the state. Obviously, the larger casino floors have more variety.
Here’s a look at three very different well-reviewed slot games available to play in Arizona:
Fists of Fire
A throwback to the days of mechanical slot games, Fists of Fire is like an upgraded classic slot, with ten pay lines and five rows. Not many bonuses or extras here, just classic slot play.
This is a 243 Ways to Win game, a popular modern layout you’ll find all over the place in Arizona. At most Arizona casinos, you’ll find Cash Cove in multiple denominations up to $0.25 per spin.
Sex & the City Multiplay
Arizona slot players love licensed games, and they have a variety to choose from. The Sex & the City Multiplay game, which lets players spin on up to four screens at once, uses licensed video and audio from the popular TV show and has multiple in-game bonus rounds featuring the show’s characters.
Arizona Casino Reviews (Best Casinos in Arizona)
The four casinos below represent the best of what you’ll find in Arizona gaming.
Gila River Hotels & Casinos – Wild Horse Pass
Between their Wild Horse Pass property in Chandler and the two sites in Lone Butte and Vee Quiva, Gila River has created a small casino network, something not found anywhere else in the state. Players can accumulate loyalty points and earn rewards across all three casinos. I prefer the Wild Horse Pass site, which is close to Phoenix and therefore easy to get to from anywhere in the country. Arizona has too few beautiful modern hotels like what you’ll find here. Add in 1,200 slot and video poker games and a few blackjack tables and you’ve got probably the best all-in-one entertainment spot for slots players in the state.
Casino Arizona & Talking Stick Resort
Skip the Casino Arizona branch in Phoenix – it’s getting a bit dated, and the gaming area is now considered small by Arizona standards. The branch in Scottsdale, built at the site of the Talking Stick Resort, is the better of the two. Their collection of 1,000 gaming machines makes them a top-10 spot in all of the Southwest. They also have the state limit of gaming tables running at all hours of operation. Casino Arizona is working to get certain forms of sports betting approved – if that comes through, the Scottsdale branch will be one of the hottest spots in the area.
Cliff Castle Casino Hotel
Located exactly 90 minutes from the rental car lot at the Phoenix airport, Cliff Castle Casino Hotel was one of the state’s first casinos and is still one of the best places to play slots in the tri-state area. The gaming area is host to 650 slot machines, not the biggest collection in Arizona but one of the most varied, with a wide range of denominations including a small section of high roller games.
Prescott, Arizona, in the northwestern portion of the state, is home to several tribal casinos. The biggest and best of these is Bucky’s Casino. It’s a small casino, even by Arizona standards, with just over 300 slot games and a few dozen video poker and table game machines, along with a few live dealer table games and an area set aside for pari-mutuel and “sports betting.” Bucky’s has a sister casino nearby, Yavapai Casino, which has offerings about the same as Bucky’s, but is a bit smaller and off the beaten path. A third site is being constructed further north, near the Prescott Valley area.
Slot players would find Arizona a lot more player-friendly if the state would require some notification of actual return percentages for slots games. They don’t have to go the extreme route of requiring casinos to post monthly statistics for every title – the state would do well to at least test and list the average RTP figures for games of different denominations, as you see in almost every other gambling jurisdiction.
For now, we’re forced to approach slot play in Arizona in a totally different way. Playing just for fun, choosing games mainly on denomination size and personal interest.
If you have specific questions about a casino or a game you found in Arizona, post it in the comments and we’ll address it.