What Are the 7 Most Popular Gambling Games?

Slot Reel Seven With Dice and Chips

The global gaming market is a $110 billion a year industry. This includes revenues from all kinds of gambling, not just casino games.

But which gambling games make up the bulk of that?

And what make these activities the most popular gambling games?

This post offers some answers.

1- Sports Betting

I read about a recent United States poll of 1000+ Americans regarding their attitudes toward betting on sports. Not surprisingly, most Americans approve of sports betting – especially when it comes to betting on professional sports.

60% of Americans approve of sports betting, which makes it comparable to gay marriage and marijuana use in terms of approval from the American public. In fact, betting on sports sees a higher approval rate than paying college athletes.

When you limit the question to betting on pro sports (as opposed college sports), the number goes up to 66%. In fact, many of those surveyed are already betting on sports on a regular basis and would bet more often if they had access to legal, regulated sports books.

Overhead View of Baseball Stadium

The average sports bet is about $82.

And over 25% of those polled who don’t currently bet said they’d start betting if it became legal in their jurisdiction.re

NFL betting is the most popular type of sports betting in the USA, with NBA being the 2nd most popular. Almost 80% of those surveyed said they’d like to bet on the Super Bowl if nothing else.

Most people surveyed also agreed that legal sports betting would lead to higher rates of gambling addiction.

There’s also widespread concern about corruption among athletes, especially unpaid athletes (like college ball players.)

I’m confident that if you account for all the neighborhood bookmakers, more people wager more money on sports betting than any other gambling game.

2- Slot Machines

The quote I see most often about real money slots is that they account for 60% to 70% of a casino’s revenue, but I suspect that this statistic is old. If I had to guess, I’d put the percentage of casino revenue closer to 80% — especially if you lump games like video blackjack and video poker into the broader “gambling machines” category.

The growth in slot machine gambling has been dramatic, too. I’ve seen statistics that suggest that the amount of money wagered on slot machines has grown by 10% over a 5-year period.

I’ve also seen statistics that suggested that slightly over 50% of the visitors to the casino have played slot machines. My guess is that this number is much lower than the actual number.

Even an educated casino gambler like me, with years of experience betting at both table games and gambling machines, occasionally puts some money into the slot machines.

And once you become familiar with the odds on those slot machine games, you would almost rather play any other gambling game.

3- Blackjack

Blackjack is far and away the most popular table game in the casino, with about 3 times as many players as roulette or poker. That shouldn’t be a surprise. I can cite several reasons blackjack is so popular:

For one thing, blackjack is easy to play and familiar to almost everyone. I learned to play from my mom when I was just a kid, and I don’t think my experience is unusual in that respect.

If you can count to 11 and add numbers between 1 and 11 to each other with any kind of skill, you can learn to play blackjack.

Also, blackjack offers the best odds in the house. If you master basic strategy, you can get the house edge to less than 1%. The best games offer a house edge of around 0.3%, making the possibility that you’ll go home a winner much larger at blackjack than at other games like roulette, which has a house edge of 5.26%.

Blackjack also has a reputation for being a game where a skilled player can play with an edge against the house. This reputation is deserved but possibly overstated.

Playing with perfect basic strategy won’t give you an edge in most blackjack games, but with a little practice, you can get an edge by counting cards.

4- Poker

Poker might be the most quintessentially American of gambling games. It’s a game where your skill can give you an edge over the other gamblers. It’s also a great equalizer. If you’ve got the bankroll to buy in, you can play – and possibly win – against the like of legends like Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey.

Most people interested in such things trace the history of poker back to a French game called poque. We also know that poker has been popular in the United States since 1820s New Orleans, making the game older than the Civil War.

But everyone knows that as of now, in the United States, Texas holdem is the most popular variation of poker available.

Poker for real money is illegal in many states, but neighborhood games where no one’s making a profit are legal in many states. Online poker for real money is only legal in a handful of states now.

Pair of Aces and Casino Chips

In terms of live poker games, the United States is probably the world leader.

But archaic gambling laws have restricted the growth of online poker dramatically.

The future of online poker seems bright, though, as the government’s attitude toward gambling for real money is changing seemingly daily.

5- The Lottery

The lottery is now available in 45 states. It’s also available in Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

State laws vary regarding the lottery, but it’s becoming increasingly common for states to combine their resources to offer bigger jackpots and games to their customers. Mega Millions and Powerball are both examples of lottery games that pool players from multiple states and have bigger jackpots as a result.

The amount of revenue generated by the lottery is well over $70 billion a year.

Alabama and Utah are both states where you can’t play the lottery. Those jurisdictions are more religious than others, and that’s the main reason they don’t have the lottery there.

Nevada doesn’t have a lottery, either, but their motivations have more to do with not competing with the casino industry in the state.

Alaska and Hawaii also don’t have the lottery, but I’m not sure what the reasoning behind this is for either state. I suspect the local culture there just doesn’t have much interest in gambling.

6- Bingo

Bingo and scratch-off lottery tickets are the only popular gambling games on this list that’s more popular with women than men. (That wasn’t always true; at one time, slot machines were considered “women’s games,” too).

Maybe this is because of the social nature of bingo?

Maybe it’s because, compared to other types of gambling, bingo is a “soft” gambling activity. It’s cheap, fun, and so socially accepted that even churches offer bingo games.
Internet bingo has increased in popularity over the last decade, too. In Australia, Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, bingo for real money generates lots of money.

But that amount of money doesn’t compare to the $70 billion+ generated at brick and mortar bingo parlors.

Closeup of a Bingo Card

In the United States, bingo is largely the province of American Indian tribes – that’s because it’s classified as a game where tribes don’t need permission from the state to offer those games. The main restriction is that the bingo has to be played on tribal land.

Traditional brick and mortar bingo is losing popularity in the UK market, though – largely because people are playing online now. Also, the laws regarding smoking in public places have changed, and many of the older demographic that likes to play bingo are smokers.

7- Video Poker

Some people might consider video poker a subset of slot machines, and video poker games are definitely gambling machines.

But the differences in gameplay and philosophy are huge and important.

I’ve written about this before, but video poker games have a skill element that makes them more compelling for intelligent players. They also offer far better odds than most slot machine games.

Most importantly, video poker games are transparent, though.

A slot machine game doesn’t make the probability of winning available for the player, but since video poker is based on a deck of cards, you can calculate the probabilities there.

In fact, that distinction is one that I can’t say enough about:

Slot machines are the only games in the casino where you don’t have the information you need to calculate the house edge. In all the other casino games, the odds are available if you’re smart enough to do the math.

I’d love to see video poker games supplant slot machines on the casino floor, and every time I get a chance to encourage gamblers to play video poker instead of slot machines, I take it.

Conclusion

That’s a rough accounting of the gambling games in the world that are most popular. I’ve tried to include some reasoning behind each game’s inclusion on this list, but I’m human and might have erred.

If you think I’ve left something off the list that should have been included, or if you think I should have ranked these in a different order, please let me know in the comments.