My friend Hunter called me today with a simple question. He said, “I’m going to the casino Friday night with a bachelor party. What games should I play? How can I be a winner?” You see, Hunter knows that I write about gambling for a living. He probably thinks I know some secret strategies that he couldn’t find online.

The sad truth is that if he’s playing at the Winstar in Oklahoma, most of the games are lousy. The ante that they charge on the table games is absurd and has a dramatic effect on the house edge. Blackjack, which normally has a house edge of under 1%, has a house edge of about 10% at the Winstar because of the ante.

My friend Michael told me that the ante shouldn’t even be called that. It’s really just a fee you’re being charged on every hand. He’s right, because with an ante in poker, you can always win it back. The casino pockets the antes on these table game bets. All that said, I did have some advice for Hunter. I’ve reproduced most of it below:

1- Decide What Your Goals Are

The first question I asked Hunter was what his goals are. I gave him 3 choices:

  • Do you want the best chance of coming home a small winner?
  • Do you want to try to double your money then quit?
  • Do you want to try to win a big dollar amount?

Different goals require different strategies. The same strategy that will maximize your probability of coming home a small winner won’t work when it comes to winning a big dollar amount. If your goal is just to double your money, then a different approach is called for, too.

Hunter said that his goal was to come home a big winner. I told him we could plan a strategy for that, but the first thing we needed to do was decide how much money he could afford to lose. The 1st thing you decide before going to the casino is how much money you can afford to lose. That’s because the casino has a mathematical edge. I don’t care how good your strategy is; even advantage players like card counters can come home from a casino visit having lost some money.

This money is your gambling bankroll for your trip. You’ll find plenty of nonsense written about money management and bankroll management, both offline and online, but the main thing you need to understand is that it needs to be money you don’t need for anything else. Don’t gamble with even a tiny percentage of the rent money. Catch up on all your utility bills and other financial commitments before your trip. In fact, leave your credit cards at home. Gambling has a way of changing your mindset and interfering with your judgment. It has something to do with endorphins. Don’t fall for it.

2- If You Want the Best Chance of Coming Home a Small Winner, Consider the Martingale System

Even though this sounds like a go big or go home approach, it’s really not. What I’m suggesting is that you use the Martingale System at the roulette table. How does the Martingale System work? You double the size of your bet every time you lose. This enables you to recoup your losses and score a one-unit profit.

Here’s an example:

You bet $10 on black and lose. On your next bet, you wager $20. This time you win, which recoups your $10 loss and shows you a $10 profit.

Here’s another example:

You bet $10 black and lose, but you also lose your $20 bet on the next spin. Now you have to bet $40 on the next spin. This wins back the $30 you won on the previous 2 spins. In the long run, this is a great way to go broke. The house edge on roulette doesn’t disappear because you’re doubling the size of your bets.

And you WILL eventually run into a long enough losing streak that one of 2 things will happen:

  • You won’t be able to place your next bet because you won’t have enough money left.
  • You won’t be able to place your next bet because the table minimums are too low.

When you’re doubling up, the amounts get big fast. Look at a typical progression starting with $10:

  • $10
  • $20
  • $40
  • $80
  • $160
  • $320
  • $640
  • $1280
  • $2560
  • $5120

Hunter’s only taking $500 with him to the casino. With this strategy, he can withstand no more than 5 losses in a row before being unable to continue.Most casinos have a maximum bet of $500 on roulette, too. But…Losing streaks that long are rare. They’re not as rare as people think, but they are rare. So if you limit yourself to just playing for an hour or so, you stand a good chance of walking away from the table with a profit. If you can see a small profit on 4 visits to the casino out of 5, you’ll feel better about that 5th losing session.

Just remember that the 5th losing session will be big enough to wipe out all the wins from those first 4 sessions. Still, if your goal is to get in some time at the tables and stand the best chance of coming home a small winner, this is about as good a strategy as any. You have a 47.37% probability of winning an even-money bet on a roulette wheel.

3- If You Just Want to Go Home After Doubling Your Money, Just Place One Really Big Bet at the Roulette Table

Your goals might be more modest than Hunter’s. You might be happy to go to the casino with $500 and come home with $1000. The best way to do this is place a single $500 bet on one of the even-money bets at the roulette table. You’ll have a 47.37% probability of doubling your money.

You’ll go home a loser slightly more often than you’ll go home a winner, but by making a single large bet, you’re eliminating the most important thing the casino has going for it—the Law of Large Numbers. The math behind these casino games is such that it works out over the long run. The more repetitions you have, the likelier you are to see actual results that resemble the predicted results.

By only placing one bet, you’re taking advantage of the short run. If you try to double your money by making a couple of $250 bets, your probability drops to less than 25% of success. You might break even, or you might lose, but your probability of doubling up drops dramatically.

The more small bets you make, the harder it gets to double your money, too. What’s harder? Winning a bet on black once for $500? Or winning 10 bets of $50 each on black? Of course, you need to prepare yourself for some extra time on your hands, because you’ll either be broke or have $1000 in your pocket afterward and need to figure out what to do with it.

4- If You Want to Win a Really Big Amount of Money, Keep Increasing the Size of Your Bets at One of the Table Games

A lot of gamblers think their best chance of winning a huge jackpot is to play the slots. That’s not true. Slot machines are the worst game in the casino, even when they do have the highest jackpots. You can play for a large jackpot yourself by betting on a table game like roulette and then adding the size of your winnings to your next bet.

Remember how fast the bets got big in the section on the Martingale System? By doubling the size of your bets when you win, you’re putting this effect into action on your own behalf. You don’t have to limit yourself to even money bets, either. You can bet on a single number, then bet on that number again. If you win twice in a row, you’ll have achieved a big, slot machine sized win.

Let’s say you bet $10 on 18 and win. You now have $350. Go ahead and bet the $350 + the $10 on 18 again. Or pick another number. It doesn’t matter. If you win this second bet, you’re looking at winnings of $12,600. The probability of winning those 2 bets in a row is 1/38 X 1/38, or 1/1444. That’s a heck of a lot better than the probability of winning a 1000 to 1 jackpot on a slot machine, I can promise you.

5- What if I Want to Play Poker?

Hunter asked me about this. I don’t know much about Hunter’s experience playing poker, but I did tell him that only the top 90% or 95% of players are good enough to show a consistent profit over time. That being said, poker can be a great game for someone visiting the casino for the first time.

It’s a good idea to try some free online poker first, so that you can learn how the action works at the poker tables in a casino. On the other hand, if you play in a well-organized home game already, you won’t need this extra bit of training. It’s probably easier to just start with Texas hold’em. That’s where most of the action is at the poker tables in the casinos these days anyway. And it’s an easy game to both learn and play.

You can find quick an easy strategy guides to help you as a starting player, too. I won $6000 in my first Texas holdem tournament by studying the 2 or 3 pages of advice on Texas holdem in the book How to Make $100,000 a Year Gambling for a Living. And that strategy wasn’t even aimed at tournament players.

But you can learn the basics of starting hands and whether they fit with the flop fast. If you fold a lot preflop, and if you fold half the time on the flop, you’ll do okay—especially if you stick with the limit games. No limit can get hairy fast, though.

6- Blackjack Is Still the Best Game in the Casino, Too.

You’ll hear plenty of people say that you can get an edge over the casino if you play blackjack with perfect strategy. This isn’t true. If you use perfect basic strategy when playing blackjack, the house edge is still around 1%. It might be a little less, but it won’t turn into an advantage for you.

To get an edge over the casino, you’ll need some kind of advantage play technique. The most common technique is to count cards, but edge sorting, hole carding, and shuffle tracking can all also help you get an edge. If it’s your first visit to a casino, though, these things should be beyond you.

In fact, I think memorizing the complete basic strategy for blackjack is too much to ask of the beginning gambler. I think you should start by learning one of the simplified strategies you can easily find on this site. This will keep the house edge reasonably low—better than almost any other game in the casino—and will serve as fine training wheels for the full basic strategy.

Some people will tell you that assuming the dealer has a 10 in the hole is the wrong strategy, but it’s not the worst shortcut in the world, either. You can also assume that there’s a good chance your next card will be a 10, too.

7- Craps Is More Fun than Any Other Game in the Casino, and It’s Well Worth Learning How to Play

Craps is the classic game where you play with 2 dice. It seems complicated but exciting. It turns out that it’s less complicated than you think, but it’s every bit as exciting and then some. The trick to getting started at craps is to play online for free a few times before you go. Hunter’s thinking about coming over to my apartment after work for a quick tutorial.

The basics are just as easy as they can be, though:

Craps is played in rounds. Each round starts with a come-out roll. The most common bet is for the shooter to “win,” which is called the “pass bet” or the “pass line bet.” On the come out roll, if the shooter gets a 2, 3, or 12, he “loses.” If you bet on the pass line, you lose your money. The next shooter gets to throw the dice now.

If the shooter rolls a 7 or an 11 on the come out roll, the pass line bet wins even money immediately. Then the shooter gets to roll again. If the shooter gets any other total, a point is set. If the shooter rolls an 8, the point is 8. If he rolls a 6, the point is 6. And so on. The shooter gets to keep rolling, and the pass line bet is still in play. If the shooter rolls the point again before rolling a 7, the pass line bet pays off at even odds. If she rolls a 7 before rolling the point, the pass line bet loses. If the shooter rolls anything else, she just keeps shooting.

But you also get to place a bet called “the odds bet” when a point is set. This is a bet that also pays off if the shooter rolls the point, and it pays off at true odds. In other words, the house doesn’t have an edge on the odds bet. You can safely skip all the other bets on the table and have a great time playing craps. You can also find additional posts explaining craps in more detail on this very site.

If it’s your first time to visit a casino, don’t panic. The casino is eager to make things comfortable and easy for you. After all, if you’re having a good time, you’ll put more money into action. The more money you put into action, the more money you’re likely to lose. That’s how games where the house has an edge work.

All this means you should go into the casino with a clear goal for your first gambling experience. Then you can decide on the best approach or strategy for achieving that goal. I listed 3 goals in this post, but you might have other goals. If your goal is to win $100,000 or more, you’re probably going to have to play keno or slots, for example.

At the end of the day, the important thing to remember is that most casino games are negative expectation bets. If you play long enough, you’ll lose. Don’t play with money you can’t afford to lose, and try to treat your casino gambling experience as entertainment.

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