Odds and Probability
The odds in a real money casinos should be looked at like its engine of revenue. In order to keep their doors open, land-based and online casinos are given the legal right by licensing authorities to plan an advantage into the game. Lawmakers and regulators realize casinos must maintain a house edge. This house edge doesn’t assure anything. A gambling establishment could maintain an advantage over the players, but it’s highly probable that the casino is going to win more than it loses.
The probable scenario might not play out in the short term, but over an extended period of time, the results should conform to the mathematical odds. All successful real money casinos operate on the principle that the house edge will make them profits. Like the motor in a vehicle, the house edge should produce revenues at a particular pace. When it does, a gambling house can afford to make the staff’s payroll, pay the utilities, maintain old equipment, buy new equipment, and cover all the various expenses of a gambling operation.
House Edge – An Engine of Profit
Of course, the casino’s profits are really a result of a great many games and machines, each with their own advantage for the operation. The casino sets a house edge on each gaming machine and table game, which all combined create a revenue stream. Management tries to find a balance between setting a house edge large enough to produce substantial profits, but small enough to keep gamblers interested in playing. If games don’t seem fair to the gamblers, they’ll eventually give up and go home. While laws stipulate a maximum limit for the house edge, most casinos set the expected return of their games at a much higher level, to lure players into their venue and keep them satisfied.
In fact, management sometimes offers game with an expected return at 100% or higher, meaning the player (if they’re smart) can expect to win more money than they wager. This is done for promotional purposes, to start a buzz in the gaming community, and should be looked at as an expense much like an advertising budget. Most casinos–especially those lone outfits away from the centers of gambling tourism–see no need to offer such great bargains. Therefore, when you gamble for real money, expect to face a house edge.
When the casino has a mathematical advantage over the gamblers, don’t expect to find some strategy which is going to beat that advantage. Though many people will tell you they have a real money gambling system to beat the casino, they don’t. The house edge is a mathematical law which can’t be broken. You might get lucky and beat the house edge for a while. You might get real lucky and beat the casino’s advantage for a long time–or beat it quite badly. If you play long enough, the house edge will beat you every single time. The so-called tricks which seem to beat the odds are nothing more than illusions produced by the random deviations of probability. Probabilistic results have a certain variance, and the house edge is set well within those variations in fortune, so a person can and will get lucky sometimes. Don’t let that fool you into thinking you’ve got a can’t-miss system to beat the dealer. You don’t.
Each game in the casino has a specific set of odds. It pays to know your chances of winning and losing when choosing a game to play. Ultimately, casino gambling is about playing for fun, entertainment, and thrills. Like any form of entertainment, you’re going to pay to be entertained. Unlike movies and football games and concerts, there’s a chance that you’ll have some luck at the gaming tables or slot machines and the gambling will pay for itself. When you play the games with the better odds, your chances of having that happen are greater. Below is an overview of the games and the odds you’ll face.
Texas Hold’em and Other Poker Variants
Poker is special study, because games like Texas hold’em do not pit the player versus the casino. No house edge exists when play Texas holdem, Omaha, or seven-card stud. It’s you against a table full of other individual players. Your skill and luck combine to determine whether you win or lose. This is why professional poker players can exist, because some people are simply better than other people at cards. Once again, that doesn’t assure they’ll win over the short haul. The cards could fall the wrong way and they lose their whole chip stack. But over the course of a pro poker player’s career, if they’re good enough, they’ll win more than they lose. They’ll win enough to play as a career.
Keep in mind that the house gets a “rake”. The rake is a fee or commission on each hand played. The dealer takes a certain amount of each pot, which the players agree to pay to the house for hosting the game, offering a dealer to deal cards, and otherwise officiate the proceedings. Besides this, gamblers often pay the dealer gratuities when they win. It’s considered good etiquette. Because of the rake, a poker player has to win at significantly more than a 100% return on the money they wager in order to be a successful player. So while a house edge doesn’t exist, the same principle applies. Poker is not just a game of chance, but also a game of skill, so it’s possible to beat the rake.
Blackjack has the lowest house edge of all games in the casino, with the possible exception of video poker. Below, I post the house edge for online casinos powered by some of the best UK and European casino software products. These games try to reproduce the brick-and-mortar experience fairly closely, so these conform somewhat to the odds you’ll find in live casinos.
Single-Deck Blackjack – 0.058%
Blackjack Switch – 0.17%
Vegas Strip Blackjack – 0.34%
Atlantic City Blackjack – 0.35%
Vegas Downtown Blackjack – 0.38%
European Blackjack – 0.39%
Multi-Hand Blackjack – 0.63%
Double Exposure – 0.69%
I’m hesitant to post these numbers, because I’m afraid readers will skim and assume these are the hard-and-fast, universal odds for these games. Keep in mind that specific rules can change the odds significantly and game managers like to stick in a tricky little rule here or there, which weights the odds further in their favor. Always study the stated rules and have an idea of how these rules variations change the probabilities of the game.
Besides the 21 games above, video poker offers the best expected return of the games in the casino. Like twenty-one, video poker has dozens of game variants, too. With a full-pay loose deuces, deuces wild, or jacks or better video poker machine, you’ll be playing at a positive expectation. Don’t expect to find the full-pay machines too often, though, because it’s less common all the time.
Games of Skill – A Caveat
Games of skill like blackjack and video poker require strategy knowledge and optimal play in order to get the nice house edge. If you make bad decisions, the house edge rises. Blackjack players must study basic strategy charts for their variant of the game, while video poker gamblers must master their game, too. If you don’t have the time, patience, and memorization abilities to make these viable games, you might be better off playing games of chance which have decent odds.
Of all games which don’t require strategy, craps has the lowest effective house edge. If you play the pass/come bets in craps, the house edge is 1.41%. If you play the don’t pass/don’t come bets, the house edge is 1.35%. A social factor convinced many players to wager the pass/come bets, because if you bet the opposite, you’re betting against the shooter and most other gamblers at their table. While it’s not considered unfriendly, it certainly is considered bad manners if you win and celebrate, because you’re celebrating the other player’s misfortune.
These odds wouldn’t be better than baccarat and certain types of European roulette, except you also receive the option to make “odds” bets in craps. These wagers have a 0% house edge, though they can only be made in certain situations and the casino limits how much you can wager. If you make pass/come bets and take the odds, the house edge lowers to just under 1%. All other wagers in craps have a higher house edge (some much higher), so if you want to play with the best possibilities of winning, never make any other bets in craps.
Baccarat has several variants, so it’s hard to peg the house edge for each in our limited space. Baccarat has a house edge in the 1.40% range, so it’s not a bad bet for a game with no strategy. Of course, “Chemin de Fer” does offer a strategy component, but you won’t find it in many American casinos. Instead, you’ll be play punto banco and mini-baccarat, which have no strategy. If you want to make the optimal plays, always bet the banker hand instead of the player hand (when possible).
European roulette has a house edge of 2.70%. If you play European or single-zero roulette with the “la partage” or “en prison” (imprisonment) rules, this lowers the house edge on the even-money wagers to 1.35%. Even-money wagers are the even/odd, black/red, and high/low bets. All others remain the same. French roulette games with the “called bets” or announced wagers have the same odds as the aforementioned European roulette. American roulette has a house edge of 5.26%, so I wouldn’t play this game in most circumstances. If you find double-zero roulette with the la partage or imprisonment rules, the house edge lowers to a manageable 2.63%, but you can still find better games in the casino.
The odds on slot machines vary a lot. The house edge might be as low as 3%, but it can balloon to 10% or 15% in some places. Never play the slots at the airport, which have the worst odds you can imagine. The 3% house edge is likely to be for high stakes slot machines. Expect a house edge in the 5% to 8% for the most part. If you play a progressive or accumulated jackpot game, the house edge is going to be higher. The machine has to take the money from a lot of gamblers in order to pay off that one gambler with a life-changing jackpot.
The house edge on keno ranges between 4% and 30%, but expect something closer to the higher number unless you’re in Las Vegas. Unless you have specific information which tells you the keno games have a low house edge, I can’t imagine why someone would prefer to play keno to most other games in the casino.