Casino gambling is supposed to be entertaining. For some people, that entertainment is attained by playing your favorite penny slot machine with all the bells and whistles. For others, it’s spinning that stupid wheel and betting on where it will land. Still others may prefer the chances of winning that jackpot by loading up on all the side bets in the carnival poker games (Let it Ride, 3-Card, etc.).
Me? My entertainment comes from taking money from the house. The more I take (and the more often I take it), the more entertained I usually am. As a result, I generally only play games that give me the highest expectancy to win. If you’re like me, then this blog post may be for you. Even if you’re not like me, keep reading because reading about casino games is fun. Yo’leven!
This post is broken up into three sections: (1) Positive Expectancy Games, (2) Negative Expectancy Games With Best Odds, and (3) Negative Expectancy Games With Worst Odds. This will all make sense in a minute.
POSITIVE EXPECTANCY GAMES (+EV)
I wanted to separate these games into their own category because they differ from the normal games in the casino. These games all have the possibility to be positive expectancy games, or put another way, they are beatable with superior skill.
This one is pretty obvious considering the player is not playing against an established house edge, but instead against other players. The house gets its cut by taking a small percentage from each pot (called “the rake”). If you are a skillful poker player, the expectancy is positive when you sit down at a poker table. This is different from being a skillful 3-Card poker player, because the established house edge makes it impossible to win consistently over the long haul.
RACE AND SPORTS BOOK
This is another obvious one. If you know your ponies or your sports, you can gain an edge over the house. However, unlike poker, there is somewhat of a “house edge” to overcome in the sports book. Every bet has what is called the vigorish (or “vig” for short) built in. All bets are different, but consider the following example to help explain the vig. Say you bet Kansas -5.5 (-110) over Duke. This means that you would need Kansas to win by 6 points or more to win. The (-110) means that you’d need to wager $110 to win $100. If you lose, you pay no vig. The vig only pays on the win.
Most sports bettors will tell you that in order to have a positive expectancy over the house, you need to win at least 53% of your bets. This is to cover the cost of the vig. Let’s use another example from Professional Gambler:
Say two bettors each risk $110 with the same bookmaker on opposite sides of the same proposition, each bettor trying to win $100: The bookmaker receives a total of $220 from the two bettors. One bettor wins, one bettor loses, and the winner picks up a total of $210 — the $110 he put at risk, plus his $100 profit. That leaves the bookmaker with $10 gross profit as his vigorish on the deal. The bookmaker kept $10 of the $220 total amount risked.
As a result, you need to be an especially skillful handicapper in order to beat the built in vig, but it is definitely possible if you know what you are doing.
COUNTING CARDS AT BLACKJACK
This goes without much explanation, but if you are able to count cards, you have the possibility of making the game of Blackjack a positive expectancy game. That said, the margin is very slim and can only be realized over the long haul, similar to how the casino eventually makes its money. Counting cards is a grind, but if you want to tip the odds back in your favor, it is one advantaged play available to you.
NEGATIVE EXPECTANCY GAMES (BUT WITH LOW HOUSE EDGE!)
These games are considered “negative expectancy” games because the built-in house edge makes them losing bets over the long haul. However, these bets all have very low house edges compared to other games in the casino.
It can be debated that in some cases Video Poker can be a positive expectancy game when full pay tables are found and played with perfect strategy. There are still some of these games out there, including Full Pay Deuces Wild, which played at perfect strategy has a 100.76% expectancy. The problem is that it’s very difficult to find full pay machines in most Vegas properties (your best bet is to visit off-strip and locals casinos). As a result, I put this under negative expectancy, though the game itself is still a solid bet if you can find Not So Ugly Deuces (99.73%) or full pay Jacks or Better (99.54%), both of which can be found with some searching. Beware of bad pay tables, as even a small change in payouts can change the house edge considerably. For more information, check out Bob Dancer’s site as well as the Wizard of Odds VP page.
Like many games in the casino, the house edge varies in blackjack depending on the rules of the game as well as the payout for a player blackjack. However, with the most liberal rules, blackjack has a very low house edge of approximately 0.28%. As rules are adjusted in favor of the house, this house edge changes. Check out the Wizard of Odds blackjack odds calculator to find out how the odds change with specific rule changes. The good news is that even with conservative rules, the house edge generally doesn’t go over 2%. This change is still relatively large compared to the .28% house edge explained above.
Also note that the house edge is figured assuming the player plays perfect strategy. This means that you can’t stay on 16 against that 10 no matter how much your intuition tells you otherwise (if you hit, you’ll still lose 75% of the time…but if you don’t hit, you lose 77% of the time. In a game in which the dealer shouldn’t beat you more than 51 hands in 100, giving up 2 winning hands is a huge margin!). For more on Blackjack, check out my Blackjack 101 Page.
CRAPS PASS/COME BET
The Pass Line and Come bets have the same house edge of 1.41%, a relatively low number. However this number decreases with the free odds you’re able to place behind or with your bet. Single odds lowers the house edge to 0.08%, double odds to 0.06%, 3-4-5x odds to .037%, 10x odds to 0.018%, and 100x odds to 0.0021%!
It should also be noted that the “Don’t Pass” and “Dont’t Come” bets actually offer an even lower house edge (1.35%) than the Pass/Come, but this means you’re betting against the dice, which isn’t quite as fun as cheering for the dice. But go for it if you hate mankind. And fun. For a short explanation of Craps, check out my Craps 101 Page and for more explanation of the house edge in craps, check out the Wizard of Odds Craps Page.
In order to understand this bet, it’s important you understand the game of Pai Gow Poker, so if you don’t know it, check out my Pai Gow 101 page. In Pai Gow Poker, the dealer generally deals the cards and acts as “Banker” by covering all the bets on the table. When the dealer is the banker, the house edge is around 2.68%. However, the game allows for individual players to bank the bets, too. This means that you will have to have enough of a bankroll to cover all the wagers on the table among your fellow players. You’ll then play “banker” which gives you an advantage because hands that tie (or “copies”) go to the banker.
So why not play banker every hand, especially when you’re heads up against the dealer? The casino doesn’t allow it. In fact, the most a player will be able to bank is every other hand, resulting in a house edge around 1.46%. If the casino doesn’t allow banking every other hand, the house edge will rise slightly. But if you have the bankroll, I recommend banking! More on Pai Gow from Wizard of Odds.
BACCARAT (BANKER, THEN PLAYER)
Baccarat is a super easy game to bet. You only have three choices — (1) Banker, (2) Player, or (3) Tie. That’s it. Betting the banker is one of the lowest house edge bets in the casino (1.06%), but just know that you have to pay a 5% commission on all wins. Betting the “Player” on baccarat isn’t too bad, either. The house edge is 1.24% and no commission will be paid. Note: Avoid the Tie bet (more on that later).
CRAPS (PLACE SIX AND EIGHT)
It doesn’t matter whether you place the 6 or 8 or both because the house edge is the same (same number of times the dice will roll 6 or 8). The house edge on these bets is 1.52%. These bets are different from the Pass/Come listed above and have a lesser payout than true odds. That said, these two bets are the next best bets on the table and are among the best in the whole casino.
NEGATIVE EXPECTANCY GAMES (BUT WITH BRUTALLY AWFUL HOUSE EDGE)
These bets are considered the worst in the casino because the house retains the most advantage over you. Avoid these bets whenever possible.
Do yourself a favor and just don’t even approach a Keno parlor. The game is a true lottery, with house edges from 25% to 29%. Seriously just go put everything you wanted to bet on keno on one hand of blackjack. Or give it to me. Or throw it away. But don’t bet it on Keno. More on the house edge.
BIG 6/WHEEL OF FORTUNE
You know this game. It’s the big ass wheel in the middle of the casino that looks super flashy and easy because it’s just a wheel that spins and wins you money. Don’t approach. Back away. The house edge differs by bet, but ranges from 11.5% ($1) to 24% (casino logo).
TIE IN CASINO WAR
Generally avoid tie bets. Especially in casino war, where the house edge is 18.65%.
ANY SEVEN (CRAPS)
You would think the casino would reward those betting on the bad number, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The house edge is 16.67%, which makes those people throwing in bets on “red” dumb faces. Plus they deserve to lose for cheering against the dice (can you tell I don’t play the Don’t?).
As explained above, baccarat has a very low house edge on the Banker and Player bets. This is not the case for the Tie bet, which carries a house edge of 14.36%. Enjoy baccarat. Just don’t bet the tie.
LET IT RIDE BONUS BET
If you have played Let it Ride, you know what I’m talking about. That little $1 bet on the red circle seems so small, but it builds up as a significant loss over time, especially with a house edge anywhere from 13.77% to a whopping 36.52% at New York New York. For more, check out WoO Let it Ride page.
This is probably also a good time to note that pretty much every “side bet” on any table game is a bad one. I won’t get into every single one, but just know they are all bad bets over the long run. All of them. Yet every player at the table plays them and will judge you for not playing them too. Don’t succumb to their judging, those judging judgers.
CRAPS 2/12/HARD HOPS/ANY CRAPS/HARD 4 & 10
It is advisable to avoid every bet in the center of the craps table, especially the 2/12/hard hops which result in a house edge of 13.89%. The Any Craps/Hard 4 & 10 all have a house edge of 11.11%, and should also be avoided.
You knew it was coming. The problem is that it’s very difficult to put an accurate house edge estimate on all slot machines. What we do know is that the lower the limit, the higher the edge. As a result, penny machines have a lower expectancy than dollar machines. It has been estimated that the house edge in slots can reach all the way to 15%.
If you like action and the opportunity to win a huge jackpot, feel free to play some of the crazy bets I said not to play. It’s your money and I won’t judge you, especially if you don’t urge me to join you. After all, casinos are supposed to be entertaining. Do what entertains you.
Just keep your pants on.