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.
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.
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:
Here’s another example:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.