You’d assume that someone who writes about gambling for a living would be smart enough to only play games where he could get an edge.

I’m not that kind of gambling writer, though, and I’m certainly not that kind of gambler.

Sure, I understand that the odds of the various casino games are against me. I also know that some bets are just plain lousy bets.

One piece of advice I try to include in all my posts is to avoid playing slot machines.

But guess what.
Sometimes I play slot machines. I had a big time a few weeks ago on The Big Lebowski slot machine, in fact.

The truth is, multiple factors play into which gambling games I play and why.

This post lists my 10 favorite gambling games and why I like each of them.

Skill Games
1- Roulette

Roulette is the first game I ever played in a casino, and even though the house edge is higher than you’ll find at most games, it’s still one of my favorites. One of the things I learned from roulette is that house edge is only PART of the equation for deciding which gambling game to play.

The house edge for a standard roulette game in the United States is 5.26%. That’s higher than most table games unless you’re choosing bad bets at the craps table or something.

But the game’s stately pace makes your predicted hourly loss reasonably low for the amount of entertainment that you get in return.
Also, roulette is a very low volatility game, especially if you’re going with the outside bets most of the time.

With something like a slot machine, you’re making 600 bets per hour. That’s devastating to most bankrolls just because you’re exposing your money to the house edge so often. Roulette, on the other hand, might average more like 50 bets per hour.

You can even bet more money on an average roulette spin and see lower losses per hour. You can lose more money betting $3 per spin on the slot machines than you would lose betting $10 per spin on roulette.

It’s also an easy-to-understand game, and the math behind how the casino gets its edge is obvious. I’m a fan of transparency in gambling games, and roulette is one of the most transparent games there is.

Skill Games
2- Blackjack

Blackjack has a learning curve, but even if you only know the basics and just try to use common sense when making decisions, you’ll face a house edge lower than that of roulette. The house edge for blackjack runs between 2.5% and 3.5% for the average player.

If you’re willing to take the time and put in the effort to learn basic strategy, which is just the mathematically correct way to play every hand in every situation at the blackjack table, you can reduce that edge to 1% or less.

If you’re willing to go even further and learn how to count cards, you can get an edge over the casino. Some people even play blackjack professionally, although I’d guess the percentage of blackjack players making a living at the game is small.

On top of all that, it’s a fun game where you get to socialize with other blackjack players and the dealer. In terms of casino games, the math behind blackjack is better than the math behind any other casino game.

Skill Games
3- Craps

I stayed away from craps for a long time because it seemed too complicated to me. The wide array of bets and the seemingly complicated rules intimidated me.

I wish I’d learned how to play craps sooner, though. In terms of sheer fun and excitement, craps is the best game in any casino.
And the house edge, if you stick with the most basic bets at the craps table, is only 1.41%, making it almost on a par with blackjack.

If you’re the type who wants to find an edge at every gambling game you play, you could even try your hand at dice setting and controlled throwing. You don’t even have to be that good at it to get an edge. You just need to influence the dice in such a way as to avoid some of the worst results at the table..

And that stuff about the rules being complicated?

It’s nonsense.

I can explain the basics for how to play craps in less than 100 words.

You play with 2 6-sided dice, and the game is played in rounds. The round starts with a come-out roll, which is just a roll of the 2 dice.

The come-out roll succeeds when the shooter gets a 7 or an 11. It fails when the shooter gets a 2, 3, or 12. In either of those cases, you start the game over with a new come-out roll.

If you get any other total, you’ve set a point, and the shooter keeps rolling the dice until 1 of 2 things happens:

  • 1. The shooter rolls a 7 and fails
  • 2. The shooter rolls the point total again and succeeds
  • The most basic bet in craps is the pass line bet, which is just a bet that the shooter will succeed. It wins in any of the success scenarios I described above, and it loses in any of the failure scenarios I described.

    Skill Games
    4- Video Poker

    Video poker was my 2nd great love in the casinos after I learned to play roulette. I enjoyed the strategy aspect of the game—deciding which hands to keep and which hands to throw away is a lot of fun.

    Also, video poker is a relatively low volatility game, so you tend to see wins pretty often–almost half the time, in fact.

    I didn’t learn until later that I was actually playing one of the games with the best math in the house for the player. If you learn which pay tables to look for and which cards to throw away and which cards to keep, you’ll face a house edge of under 1% on video poker.

    If you’ve never played, start with Jacks or Better, and move on from there. That’s the most basic kind of video poker there is, and once you understand how it works, you can understand another kind of video poker game.

    They’re all just variations on that theme—some of them have wild cards, some of them have different pay tables, etc.

    Skill Games
    5- Texas Holdem

    I learned Texas holdem relatively late in my gambling career, too. I played 7-card stud online because I understood the rules, and I did pretty well at it for a long time.

    But Texas holdem is the game of the day for most gamblers, and I eventually got involved in a social game run by several of my gambling webmaster buddies. I had to learn how to play just to participate.

    I’m glad that I did. Texas holdem is a heckuva lot of fun, and you can always find plenty of action at the holdem tables.
    In a lot of casino cardrooms, you can’t even find 7-card stud anymore, although you can find Omaha, usually.

    If you don’t know how to play Texas holdem, you’re really giving yourself short shrift.

    From a professional gambler perspective, too, playing Texas holdem is great because it’s a relatively high volatility game. Luck plays a bigger factor in your short-term results than it does in other poker games.

    This makes the weaker players think they’re better than they are, which improves your chances of making a profit in the long run.

    You’ll find more profitable opportunities at the Texas holdem tables than you will playing any other poker games in the modern United States gambling scene.

    Skill Games
    6- Slot Machines

    If you’ve read many of my gambling advice pages, you’ve probably noticed that one of the most common and repeated pieces of advice I offer is this:
    Don’t play slot machines.

    I write that because I have philosophical problems with slot machines as a general rule. The biggest problem I have with slots is this:

    You have no way of knowing what the odds are.

    Compare a slot machine with a video poker machine, for example. You know that the odds of getting a spade as one of your next cards are based on the fact that there are 13 spades in a 52-card deck.

    You also know how much you get paid off for the various possible combinations—you know what a flush pays off at, and you know what a straight pays off at, etc.

    Compare that with a slot machine. You might have cherries, you might have oranges, and you might have plums.

    But you have no way of knowing what the odds are of getting any of those on a payline.

    In fact, since slot machines use random number generators to create their results, those probabilities could be set to anything. You might only have a 1/100 chance of seeing a cherry on a stop on any given spin.

    And to make things even more opaque, 2 identical slot machines might be programmed with different odds.

    All that being said, I’ve had a lot of fun playing the slots. My most recent slot machine adventures were at the Winstar Casino, where I played Blazin’ 7s and The Big Lebowski slots. I definitely preferred The Big Lebowski, which was running hot that night.

    I actually came home with a profit of about $100, even though I know that’s the exception and not the rule.

    Also, I expected to do worse at The Big Lebowski slot machine, as it had way more bells and whistles than the other game. Usually this means the payback percentage is lower, but it wasn’t—at least not in this particular evening.

    The trick to enjoying slot machine is moderation.

    Because of the way these machines are designed and the way the human mind works, it seems like moderation with slot machines is tough, though.

    I prefer more intellectual stimulation and social interaction when I gamble, so slots are only occasionally on the menu for me.

    But yeah, I’ll admit it.
    I like slot machines, too.

    Skill Games
    7- Scratch Off Lottery Tickets

    I’ve also written a lot about how much I despise the lottery, but I’ll admit this:

    I’ve spent $50 on scratch off lottery tickets over the last week.

    And I’ve won nothing. Nada. Zilch.

    I bought 2 tickets for $20 each and one ticket for $10. When I was researching some of my latest blog posts, I read that the higher denomination scratch-off tickets had a better payback percentage. I’ve always stuck with the $1 and $2 games before, but I decided to try stepping up my game a bit.

    I’ve read that scratch off lottery tickets might have a payback percentage of around 65%, which is lousy compared to most casino games, but I thought I’d give it a chance anyway.

    3 tickets is a miniscule random sample, but if I based my prediction on those results, I’d expect a 0% return in the future.

    I did enjoy playing, though, and I’ll probably try some more scratch off tickets—after I get paid on Friday, of course.

    Skill Games
    8- Sports Betting

    I’ve told countless friends that watching a football game is far more interesting if you have a little money on the game. I’m convinced that this is true regardless of whether or not you’re a football fan. I’m also convinced that this applies to any sporting event.

    Having some money riding on a game makes a big difference to my enjoyment of the game.

    I don’t generally gamble with online bookmakers, though. I prefer to bet on sports with my friends and acquaintances. I hate paying a vig.
    Also, it’s just more fun winning money from someone you know. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy playing in home poker games so much, too.

    The other advantage to betting on sports with your friends is that you can negotiate the terms with them. This can lead to profitable situations. I don’t think you should screw your more ignorant friends over so badly that they never speak to you again.

    But I also think it’s on them to be educated about the sport and make rational bets.

    If they don’t bother to look at the point spreads, or if they’re willing to offer you a better deal than the average book, that’s on them for not doing what they should be doing.

    I’m not a huge sports fan, so sports betting will never top my list of gambling games.
    But I enjoy it when I do it.

    Skill Games
    Pai Gow Poker

    Pai Gow Poker is a combination of Pai Gow, a Chinese dominoes game, and poker. It involves being dealt a bunch of cards which you then have to sort into 2 poker hands. It’s a slow-paced game because of the decision-making aspect.

    The thing with casino games, though, is that a slower pace limits your losses. The more money you put into action per hour, the more money you can expect to lose per hour.

    Also, a “push” result happens more often in Pai Gow Poker than in most other gambling games, which results in less money lost per hour.
    Pai Gow Poker is a game of strategy.

    You should try to make the optimal decision when setting your 2 hands, because doing this wrong can take a big chunk out of your expected value.

    Skill Games
    10- Omaha

    I learned to play Omaha when I became friends with a WSOP bracelet winner in the game. At first, I didn’t much like it. Omaha just seemed like a more complicated version of Texas holdem.

    In some respects, this is true.

    But Omaha is also a game where you have a lot more information than you would have in Texas holdem. You get 4 hole cards in Omaha instead of 2, which gives you twice as much information preflop as you’d have in holdem.

    You also have to remember that an Omaha hand ALWAYS consists of 2 hole cards plus 3 community cards. In Texas holdem, you can use any combination of cards from your hand with the board to make your final hand.

    The great thing about this rules difference is that it throws off rookie players. Any time they make mistakes, you stand to benefit.

    Omaha 8 is an even better game, because the low hand (8 or better) splits the pot with the high hand. This makes it even more interesting, because your goal becomes scooping the pot instead of just winning high or low.

    In fact, one of the worst things that can happen to you in a game of Omaha 8 is to get “quartered.”
    That’s when you’ve tied for the high hand, and you only get half of the high half, which is 1/4 of the pot.

    In many cases, you’ll have more money invested in the pot than that, so even though you won some money on the hand, you still saw a net loss.

    Skilled players at the Omaha table make more money more consistently than lucky players at the Texas holdem table.

    It’s a game well worth learning if you don’t already know how to play.

    Skill Games

    My favorite gambling games might not be what you’d expect based on the advice posts I write. The truth is, I gamble recreationally and don’t seem to have any kind of problem with my gambling activities. As a result, I can just stick with my budget and have my fun.

    Which gambling games are your favorites and why?

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