I write a lot of blog posts with specifics about how to play casino games – both table games and gambling machines. I try to include strategies for increasing your odds of winning, too.
But I suspect that some of the concepts in those posts might be a little advanced for the average beginner.
For them, I offer this post about general gambling concepts that casino players should understand before ever buying chips, signing up for the players club, or inserting money into a gambling machine.
The Casino Has Stacked the Odds Against You – Using Math
The casinos don’t cheat, per se. They have no control over the outcome of their games. The blackjack player is dealing from a randomly-shuffled deck. The croupier at the roulette table has no influence on where the ball lands.
What the casinos do, though, is put the odds on their side. The house edge – the advantage that the casino has over the player – is usually expressed as a percentage.
Depending on which casino game you’re playing, the house edge varies from between 0.5% and 15%.
The longer you play, the more likely you are to lose some or all of your money.
Any time you place an even-money bet – a bet where you’ll lose as much as you’ll win and vice-versa – the casino has a slightly higher than 50% probability of winning, and you have a slightly lower than 50% probability of winning.
Usually a game has a simple “gimmick” that gives them the edge. In roulette, for example, the numbers are all red or black – except for the 2 green 0s. Those 2 numbers give the casino its edge.
In blackjack, the player acts first, which means she’ll have the opportunity to bust and lose. Even if the dealer busts, the player has already lost his money on that hand.
In slot machines, if you have a 1 in 10 shot at winning a prize, you’ll probably only get 7 for 1 on your money.
More About the House Edge
The house edge is something that operates in the long run. In the short term, anything can happen, win or lose.
Let’s look at an example using roulette.
You place a single $5 bet on black at the roulette table and lose. That’s an actual loss of $5, or 100%, even though the house edge is 5.26%.
It would be impossible, in fact, to lose 5.26% of a $5 bet on a single bet.
But the more you bet, the closer the number gets to the expectation.
Let’s say you place 10 of those same bets in a row, and after you’ve finished, you’ve lost a total of $20. (You won several bets, but you lost more bets.) You put $50 into action, so that $20 loss represents a 40% loss – still much higher than the expected loss percentage.
Now let’s say you place 100 of those same bets in a row. You’ve put $500 into action. And when your playing session is over, you’ve lost $75, or 15% of your total action.
You’ll notice that as we get more bets into action, the closer the actual loss gets to the expected mathematical loss.
But even at 1000 bets, is possible to come up with results wildly divergent from the expectation. It wouldn’t be unusual to put $5000 into action and see a net loss of $75, which would represent just a 1.5% hold for the house.
Once you get into the 100,000 bets category, though, you’ll get within 0.05% of the house edge in terms of your actual results.
How long does it take to make 100,000 bets if you’re an average gambler?
If you’re playing at a roulette game where you’re able to place 50 bets per hour, you’re looking at 2000 hours. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job for a year.
If you’re a casino, though, you’ll get those kinds of results fast – let’s say you have 6 tables operating 24 hours a day with an average of 3 players at the table at any given time.
6 X 24 X 3 = 432, which means you’ll hit 100,000 bets in less than 25 days – or less than a month.
Generating monthly and quarterly profits becomes easy for a casino because of the volume it’s able to do.
The Grind Is Another Concept to Understand
“The grind” is just the cumulative effect of the house edge repeated over time. It’s the phenomenon that results in most casino players losing all their money during their trip to the casino. Think of it as being like a negative interest rate on a savings account, only instead of being applied monthly, quarterly, or annually, it’s applied every time you place a bet.
Let’s say you take $300 to the casino, and you bet $10 per spin on roulette. If you’re alone at the table most of the time, you might be able to get 50 bets in per hour, or $500 per hour into action.
You’ll win some bets, lose some bets, and eventually see results similar to the house edge of 5.26%.
In other words, if you bet $5700 on a single bet, you wouldn’t necessarily lose the entire amount – you’d either win it or lose it.
But by repeatedly betting a much smaller amount, you’re exposing each bet to that house edge, and you’ll eventually lose all your money.
Casino Game Strategies Make a Difference (But Only with Some Games)
Not every bet at every casino game has the same house edge. For example, you might be playing a blackjack game with a house edge of 1%. That edge only applies to your outcome, though. Some blackjack games offer an additional side bet on a progressive jackpot. If you place that bet, you might face a house edge of 15% on it.
In roulette, the house edge on almost every bet at the table is the same, 5.26%.
But one bet, the 5-number bet, has a house edge of 7.89%.
In craps, you face a bewildering number of bets, all of which have a different house edge. The most basic bet in craps, the pass line bet, has a relatively low house edge of just 1.41%.
But some of the other bets – the proposition bets – have a house edge of between 11% and almost 20%.
Also, in some games, like blackjack and video poker, how you play each hand matters. Imagine if you insist on hitting any total of 19 or less in blackjack.
You’d obviously lose more money than a player who only hits a total of 16 or lower.
Neither of those strategies is ideal, but one is obviously less ideal than the other.
If you don’t want to lose all your money at the casino, spend some time studying the appropriate strategies for the games.
Your Average Loss Is More Important than the House Edge
You’ll see lots of gambling writers dissing keno and the lottery for having such a high house edge, but they might do well to consider the concept of average loss, too.
If the house edge on the lottery is 50%, and I play a single $2 ticket per week, my expected loss is $1 per week, or $52 per year.
If I play video poker on a machine where the house edge is 1%, and I play 600 hands per week at $1.25 each, I’m looking at $7.50 in average losses per week.
The house edge on video poker is much lower, but it doesn’t account for how much you’re betting or how many bets per hour you’re making.
When comparing gambling games, look at all the factors that add up to your average loss – the amount you’re wagering, the house edge, and the amount of time you’re going to spend playing.
You Can Be a Savvier Casino Gambler than Most People
Some people might say that the savviest move you can make with casino gambling is to fold your money in half and put it in your pocket. They’d be right, as far as that goes, but that’s not much fun.
You can still gamble in casinos and be smart about your money management though.
You just need to keep some simple things in mind:
Use win goals and stop loss limits. You’ll find plenty of gambling writers dissing these concepts, but without them, you could gamble until you go broke on every trip. That’s NOT smart (or fun). If you’re willing to lose $100, quit gambling when you’ve lost that much. If you’re happy winning $100, quit gambling when you’ve won that much and go home.
Play low house edge games using the appropriate strategy. You’ll do a lot better in the casino playing single-deck blackjack using basic strategy than you will if you sit in front of a slot machine mindlessly spinning the reels all day.
Slow down. The single biggest factor that affects your average loss is how many bets you make per hour. Take breaks. Play slowly. You’ll lose less money in the long run, and you’ll be more likely to win.
The Gambler’s Fallacy and Betting Systems
The Gambler’ Fallacy is the idea that your previous outcomes affect the probabilities of your subsequent outcomes. In other words, if the ball has landed on red 8 times in a row in roulette, you’re committing the Gambler’s Fallacy if you think the odds of the ball landing on red on the next spin are lower (or higher).
Betting systems operate from a perspective of the Gambler’s Fallacy. Betting systems involve lowering or raising the size of your bet based on what happened on your previous bet (or on several of your previous bets).
Gambling systems can be fun, and you can win money using one, but don’t make the mistake of thinking a betting system will help you win at gambling in the long run.
When you’re familiar with some of the gambling concepts in this post, you’ll make different decisions as a casino player as a matter of course.
And these aren’t the only nuances to think about when gambling online or in a casino. They’re just a starting point.
But everyone starts somewhere.