People have lots of reasons to visit casinos and play casino games. Often they’re just on vacation, but most people now live at least driving distance from a casino. The question that often arises among new gamblers is which casino game has the best chance of winning.
I don’t have a single, straightforward answer to this question. That’s because wisdom isn’t just about knowing the answers to questions. It’s also about knowing the right questions to ask. The question itself, “which casino game has the best odds of winning,” is too vague to be useful.
Are we asking which casino game offers the best chance of winning if you play it all weekend? Or are we asking which casino game offers the best odds of winning if you place a single big bet and walk away, win or lose?
My purpose with this post is to answer this question more thoroughly and more accurately than many of the other pages I see on the 1st page of Google that purport to answer this query. It’s not as simple as choosing the casino game with the lowest house edge.
Why Does the Casino Always Win?
This question, “why does the casino always win,” is another common question. The short answer is that the casino DOESN’T always win. Sometimes you win. If you didn’t, you’d never play, right? What this question is really asking is why the casino always wins in the long run.
The answer to that is actually simple. The games are designed to pay off at odds that aren’t commensurate with the odds of winning. Odds are a way to express the probability of something happening, but they’re also a way of describing the size of a bet’s payout.
Here’s an example:
If you roll a single 6-sided, the odds of getting a 6 are 5 to 1. You have 5 ways to roll something other than a 6, and you only have one way of rolling a 6. If the casino offered you a game where you could predict and bet on the outcome of a single roll of a 6-sided day and paid that bet off at 4 to 1 odds, can you see how they’d be practically guaranteed a profit in the long run?
The difference between the odds of winning and the payoff odds is called “the house edge.” And the house edge is why the casino always wins in the long run.
Here’s how it’s calculated:
You assume a perfect set of 6 rolls of the dice with a $100 bet on each of them. You lose 5 bets, for a total of $500. You win a single bet for winnings of $400. You’ve lost a total of $100 over 6 rolls of the die.That’s an average of $16.67 per roll, which is 16.67% of the amount you’re betting. The house edge for this hypothetical game is, therefore, 16.67%. That’s the average amount of each bet that you’ll lose over an infinite number of trials. The closer your dataset gets to infinity, the closer your actual results will get to the mathematically expected results.
The house edge for the most common casino games look like this:
- Blackjack – 0.5% (But it varies based on the rules in use and how well—or poorly—you play.)
- Craps – 1.41% (But this varies based on which bets you’re placing. That’s the edge for the pass line bet, which is the most basic bet in the game.)
- Roulette – 5.26% (But some wheels only have a single zero, which reduces the house edge to 2.70%.)
- Slot machines – 7% or more (The house edge for slot machines varies from game to game—it can be as high as 25% or more.)
- Video poker – 0.5% (But it varies from game to game based on the pay table in use.)
As you can see, the games with the lowest house edge are blackjack and video poker. If you’re looking for a game where you might have a better than average chance of walking away a winner, those would be good places to start.
What Is the Best Bet in the Casino?
The best bet in the casino is probably a bet on a hand of blackjack, but that’s a direct answer that doesn’t take into account the nuances involved in gambling. Let’s say your goal is to double your money. Which bet gives you the best probability of achieving that goal?
If you said blackjack, because it has the lowest house edge, you’d be wrong. The probability of winning a single hand of blackjack is 46.36% (if you skip ties). That’s not bad, but there’s a game with a higher house edge that offers a better probability of winning—roulette.
An even-money bet on roulette has a 47.37% probability of winning. If you want to double your money, the better probability is to place a single bet on roulette—not blackjack. You might ask why blackjack has a lower house edge than roulette if your probability of winning a bet at roulette is higher. That’s a fair question.
The house edge doesn’t only account for the probability of winning. It also accounts for the size of the payout when you win. In blackjack, you’ll get a natural—a 2-card hand totaling 21—once in a while. The payoff for that is 3 to 2 instead of even money. When that happens, you’ll more than double your money.
The likelihood of winning the bet and doubling your money is lower, but you’ll occasionally have a bigger win. That’s where the difference in the house edge comes from. Also, if your goal is to double your money, your best bet is always to place fewer bets rather than more bets. The more bets you make, the closer you get to the long run.
In math, there’s a phenomenon called “the Law of Large Numbers.” The idea is that the more bets you make, the closer your results will start to resemble the mathematically predicted results. If your goal is to double your money, the more bets you make, the lower your probability of succeeding becomes.
What Casino Game Has the Best Payout?
A payout is the amount you win as compared to the initial bet. A progressive slot machine would have the best payout—specifically, MegaBucks, which has a progressive jackpot that starts at $10 million and grows constantly until it’s hit.
This is not the same thing as a payout percentage, by the way. That’s the number that predicts the average amount you get paid back by a slot machine for every bet you make. It’s the other side of the house edge coin.
If a slot machine game has a house edge of 5%, the payback percentage is 95%. Every time you wager a dollar, the average loss over time should eventually look like 5 cents. But that number goes up and down over time. You might win $20 on one bet, and lose your full dollar on several other bets. And you might have some other smaller wins in there, too. It’s important to note that the machines don’t “remember” how much the machine has won previously. The payback percentage and the house edge are functions of the odds of winning versus the payout odds.
Every spin of a slot machine’s reels is an independent event. If you’re looking for the game with the best payout percentage, the place to start is with the video poker games. Most gambling people don’t refer to payout percentage or payback percentage when they’re talking about table games, by the way. The term is used exclusively to describe gambling machines.
Can You Win at Slots?
Yes, anyone can win at slots. But only in the short term. Since slots have a house edge, in the long run, if you play often enough, you’re bound to lose all your money. That’s just how the math works.
There’s no real way to overcome this edge on a slot machine without cheating, unless you’re tracking the size of progressive jackpots and have a good idea of what the payback percentage for the game is. That’s unlikely, by the way. Slot machine manufacturers give you the pay tables for the games, which include the symbols and the payoffs for lining those symbols.
What they don’t provide you with is the probability of getting those symbols. It’s also impossible in the short run to estimate these probabilities with any accuracy. If you track spins closely enough, over 1000 or 10,000 spins, you might get close to being able to calculate this information.
But even that sample size is small when compared to the true long run. If you want to walk away from a slot machine a winner, be content to walk away when you get ahead with a small amount of money.
Also be prepared to eventually need have a big loss that makes up for any small winning sessions you’ve had. The best way to think about slot machines—and any casino games, really—is as one long, continuous game that goes on for the rest of your life.
What Are the Best Slot Games to Play at the Casino?
Slot games are a losing bet, so the best slot games are the ones where you’ll lose the least amount of money. You can do that by sticking with low-denomination games, where you’re not having to risk a lot of money on each spin.
The lowest stakes slot machine game you can play, of course, is one of the free games available at online casinos like Bovada or Slots.lv. You can’t win any money playing such games, but you won’t lose any money, either. And these games look and sound just like the games that will cost you so much money.
If you must risk money on slot machines, you might try to find some skill-based slot machine games, too. I find these games more interesting, but I don’t make the mistake of thinking I can become skillful enough to get an edge over the casino. You shouldn’t make that mistake, either.
The trick with slot machines for real money is to balance 2 things:
- Making the lowest bet on each spin that’s still exciting.
- Playing the highest-denomination machine you can afford.
Those sounds like opposites, and you might think I’m suggesting a paradox. But I’m not. You shouldn’t play for stakes so low that you’re bored or don’t care about the outcome. That’s just wasting your time.
When I suggest that you make the lowest possible bet, I mean you shouldn’t bet the max on every slot machine out there. Most slot machines have the same pay table regardless of how many coins you wager. Read the pay tables to be sure, though.
The truth is that the higher the denomination is for the slot machine game, the better the payback percentage tends to be. Dollar slots generally pay better than quarter slots, which in turn tend to pay better than nickel or penny slots. You don’t have to bet the max coins on those games, but you should pay for the highest stakes you can afford.
You can also safely ignore a lot of the common advice about how to choose a slot machine at the casino. I went to the Winstar Casino this weekend with a lovely, smart young woman who was absolutely convinced that if she played the same slot machine game EVERY time she visited the casino, it would eventually become due, and she’d have a better chance of winning.
She was disenchanted when I explained to her how slot machines actually work. We still had fun, and she didn’t feel the need to stick with the same machine.
You also don’t have to worry if the machine is located near the aisles or walkways. That might have been a strategy for a casino manager at some point in the past, but it’s almost certainly not the case anymore. Play whichever slot machine game looks like it will be fun.
How Do You Count Cards in Blackjack?
If you’re looking for the casino game with the best chance of winning in the long run, blackjack is your game. But only if you learn how to count cards. The house edge for blackjack is low to begin with, but blackjack is unique in multiple ways. The most important way is that the cards have a memory in blackjack.
Here’s what I mean:
When people play roulette, they suspect that if red has come up several times in a row, it’s either “hot” and more likely to hit again, or it’s “cold” and less likely to hit again. The truth is, there are 38 numbers on the roulette wheel, and 18 of them are red. No matter what’s happened on your previous spins, that ratio doesn’t change. But in blackjack, the ratios of the cards in the deck do change as the game is played. If you can keep a rough estimate of the ratio of high cards to low cards in blackjack, you can increase your bets when you’re more likely to get a natural and get that 3 to 2 payout.
Most card counters do this by assigning values to the cards and keeping a running count in their head. As low-ranked cards are dealt, the ratio of high-ranked cards (aces and 10s) to low cards improves. If you raise your bet as this happens, you improve your chances of winning in the long run.
Here’s one common card counting methodology. The cards are tracked as follows:
- 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 all count as +1 each.
- 7, 8, and 9 all count as 0 each.
- 10s and aces count as -1 each.
Since you need an ace and a 10 to get a blackjack, it should be obvious how your probability of getting a blackjack increases as the cards change ratios in the deck.
When the count is positive you raise the size of your bets. When the count is 0 or negative, you bet as little as possible. You also must use perfect basic strategy as a starting point. Changing your decisions based on the count is also a good option, but it’s only an option. Most of your edge comes from increasing your bet sizes.
The casino game with the best chance of winning in the long run is blackjack, but only if you’re counting cards. If you’re just trying to double your money in the short run, an even-money bet in roulette is as good a bet as any—and it’s better than most.
Don’t believe the other pages on the internet that claim your best chance of winning is always with the game that has the lowest house edge. That’s a factor, but it confuses things in ways that ignore subtlety and nuance. It’s a lazy and cheap way of ranking one casino game against another.
I’m not saying you should bet on the games with the highest house edge. That’s foolish, too. Just keep in mind what your goals really are, and choose the best strategy for reaching those goals.