Casinos offer a bewildering number of games, many of which seem to be the same game but which have rules variations that change the odds dramatically. If you make a list of the worst games in the casino, you’d see some of the same names of games that you see on this list of best games in the casino.
The difference lies within the rules. Here’s an easy example:
American roulette is one of the worst games in the casino. This is the standard version of the game as it’s played in the United States—hence the name. The house has an edge of 5.26%, making it one of the tightest table games in the casino.
But if you can find a casino that offers a European roulette game, the house edge is only 2.70%. If you can do even better than that—by finding a European roulette game that includes the “en prison” option—you can cut the house edge in half, to 1.35%.
That makes an even money bet at roulette even better than the pass line bet at the craps table.
The difference in the 2 games is simple enough. An American wheel has a 0 and 00, colored green, with a total of 38 numbers. The probability of winning a single number bet in this game is 37 to 1, but the payout is 35 to 1. The difference between the odds of winning and the payout odds is where the house gets its edge.
A European wheel, on the other hand, only has 37 numbers on it, and only one of them is a 0. This changes the probabilities dramatically. You now have 36 to 1 odds to win that single number bet, but the payoff is still 35 to 1. But the difference is much smaller.
This list of the top 6 casino games explains some of the different variations for you to look for next time you’re in the casino. That way you can tell the good games from the bad. That’s a good thing to do, right?
What’s the House Edge?
The house edge is a mathematical prediction of how much of each bet you’ll lose on average over the long run. It’s based on the difference between the odds of winning and the payout odds.
Roulette’s always my favorite example, and we’ve already discussed it a little bit.
Let’s assume you make 38 spins, though, and you bet $100 on each of them. You’ll lose 37 times for $3700 in losses, and you’ll win once, for a $3500 win. There’s a $200 difference.
When you average that by the number of spins you made, you find that you’ve lost $5.26 on average per spin. Since you were betting $100 per spin, it’s easy to convert that into a percentage—5.26%.
It’s important to understand that this is just a mathematical prediction for the long run. In the short term, you’ll see results that vary widely from this prediction. That’s what keeps the casinos in business.
Blackjack is easily the best game in most casinos, with a house edge of only 0.5% or even less. But that 0.5% house edge is conditional. You only get odds that good if you play with perfect basic strategy. That’s the mathematically optimal decision for every situation.
As luck would have it, learning basic strategy is a lot easier than you might think. Most casinos offer laminated basic strategy tables for sale in the gift shop.
But you shouldn’t need to rely on that. You can find plenty of websites offering basic strategy charts online. The best sites (like this one) include lengthy text explanation of how to play each total, too.
Not every blackjack game is great, though. Casinos have a tendency to include rules variations which add to the house edge.
One example of this is a casino that offers a 6/5 payout on a natural—as opposed to the normal 3/2 payout. The casinos love to take advantage of the ignorant, too. They’ll often promote this payout as if it were superior to the 3 to 2 payout.
After all, 6 is a much bigger number than 3, right? But the difference is significant. A 6 to 5 payoff on a $100 bet is $120. A 3 to 2 payoff on the same bet is $150. This changes the house edge by at least 1%.
Another rules variation I saw recently in Oklahoma was the charge of a so-called “ante.” If you made a $5 bet, you had to put up $5.50, and the casino kept the 50 cents.
One myth to beware of as it relates to blackjack is this one—the premise that you can get an edge at blackjack just by making the mathematically correct play on every hand.
Even in the best blackjack games, this isn’t true. The game has an edge, even if it’s a small one. You can only overcome that edge with some kind of advantage play technique like counting cards or hole carding. Those techniques are beyond the scope of this post.
But if you want to face the best odds in the casino, find a good blackjack game, memorize basic strategy, and sit down and play. If you want even better odds, learn to count cards. It’s easier than you probably think.
Craps isn’t a game of skill, but it is one of the best bets in the casino. It’s also one of the worst bets in the casino. It depends on which bets you choose to make.
The house edge on the standard craps bet—the pass line bet—is only 1.41%. That’s a lot higher than the house edge for blackjack, but it requires no skill or decision making on the part of the bettor. That’s a big plus if you don’t want to put in the effort to learn basic strategy.
The house edge gets better, though. If the shooter sets a point, you’re allowed to place another bet called an “odds bet.” This is the only bet in the casino that pays off at its true odds, meaning its house edge is 0.
When you combine the odds bet with the pass line bet and look at the cumulative house edge, it drops dramatically. The more you bet on the odds bet, the lower the house edge becomes. Casinos have a limit to how much money you can place on the odds bet because of this.
Some people claim to be able to get an edge at craps by setting the dice and using a controlled throw. The idea is that they’re going to change the odds just enough to switch an already low house edge to an edge for the player. They don’t have to succeed all the time—just often enough to put the odds in their favor.
I’m skeptical of this technique, although I admit it might be possible. Even so, I’d guess that the number of craps players who can pull it off is painfully small.
On the other hand, the proposition bets in craps are some of the worst bets in the casino. With house edges of 9% to 16%, these odds are comparable to a bad slot machine or a generous game of keno. Only the ignorant make these bets at the craps table. That’s why they’re called “sucker bets.”
Baccarat is a card game with no skill involved. There’s plenty of rigmarole and ceremony in the play of the game, but you might as well be flipping a coin. There’s that little skill involved.
That being said, the house edge for baccarat is remarkably low. If you make the banker bet, the house edge is only 1.06%.
Of course, you can make sucker bets in baccarat, too. If you bet on a tie, you face a house edge of over 20%. That’s one of the worst bets in the casino—comparable to a really lousy slot machine in a bar or gas station somewhere.
The biggest drawback to baccarat is that it’s a high roller game. Most casinos require you to bet at least $25 per hand.
But in recent years, baccarat has been made available in a friendlier version called “mini-baccarat.” The house edge for that variation is the same, but the betting limits are lower and the game is less complicated.
Poker doesn’t really have a house edge—at least not the kind of poker I’m talking about here. I don’t even usually classify it as a “casino game,” even though it’s available in most casinos.
Traditional poker is played against your competitors at the table. Your skill and luck versus theirs determines the outcomes. Texas holdem is the most popular version of the game played in casinos today.
But the casino still makes money from these poker games, and they do it by taking a percentage of each pot as a sort of tax on the game. They remove 5% of each put and call it “the rake.”
You can still get an edge over the other players at the table, but you need to be more than superior enough just to win. You need to be able to win often enough to overcome the rake. That’s a lot trickier.
If you can find a home poker game, you might be able to avoid the rake. But that has its own set of disadvantages. Among these are dealing with wild cards, unruly players, and no security. I won $1000 at an underground card game in Dallas once, and I was terrified I was going to get knocked in the head as I walked out to my car the next morning.
I went into some detail about roulette in the introduction, and I won’t repeat much of that here. Just look for a European wheel—one that has only a single 0.
Roulette has its pros and cons, too. One of its pros is that it requires no skill to play. And if you stick with the even-money bets, the volatility of the game isn’t bad, either. Your bankroll can last a long time in any game of roulette.
Another advantage to roulette is that it’s a slow-paced game. When you reduce the number of bets per hour that a player can make—like you do at a crowded roulette table—you reduce the player’s expected loss per hour.
So even with a 5.26% house edge, it’s possible to play roulette for a long time and lose your money slowly.
There’s one bet you should always avoid in roulette, though—it’s called the basket bet or the 5-number bet. It’s a bet that the ball will land on 0, 00, 1, 2, or 3. The house edge on this one bet is 7.89%, making it the worst bet on the table.
6- Video Poker
Of course, video poker is available in a dizzying variety of games—Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Bonus Poker, etc. And not only are the variants different in terms of rules and pay tables, but games within a category are available with different pay tables, too.
If you find a “full pay” video poker game, and if you make optimal decisions, you can face a house edge as low as you’ll see in blackjack—0.5% or so. Some games are even better.
But finding such machines is a trick unto itself. Many casinos don’t even offer full pay games. The casinos that do offer full pay video poker usually have it at low limits.
The other drawback to video poker is that a big part of the payback percentage of the game stems from the royal flush, which is a hand you’ll only see every 40,000 hands or so.
I’ve seen video poker described as a game where you lose and lose and lose until you hit a royal flush. That’s not a bad description at all.
You can find excellent advice on the proper strategy for these games from reputable authors like Bob Dancer and Jean Scott. We have profiles of both authors available elsewhere on this site, and most of their books are available cheap via Amazon or their own websites.
Most games have different bets you can place. In some cases, like roulette, the house edge is more or less the same regardless of which bet you place. In other cases, like craps, some of the bets have a really low house edge while others are atrocious.
It’s your job as a savvy gambler to be able to distinguish between the good games and the bad games. I’ve provided some guidance for doing that in this post, but you’ll find blog posts and detailed articles about all of these games elsewhere on this site. I recommend studying these material thoroughly before trying any of them.