Understanding The House Edge: Which Casino Games Pay The Best
Casino games are all different. While the house usually wins, some games are definitely better than others for the player. Today we’re ranking these games in terms of “House Edge,” which means how much the casino wins over time.
Generally speaking, if you can play a game with a 1% house edge, you have a MUCH better chance of winning over time than if you’re playing a game with a 5% house edge. The casinos look at these games as “applied mathematics.” Smart players do too.
How easy are these games to play?
Combined with the house edge, we’re also listing a simplified “difficulty index” --- namely simple, moderate, difficult --- to explain how easy each game is to play correctly. Generally speaking, the more difficult a game is to play correctly, the better it returns, although there are some exceptions.
GROUP 1: HIGH HOUSE EDGE
KENO (simple)Keno is a game where you pick one or more numbers from a grid of 80. The house chooses 20 numbers, and you’re paid off according to how many matches you get. This is usually the worst game in most casinos percentage wise --- often in the range of 20% - 40% house edge.
SLOT MACHINES (simple)The house return on slot games varies from 3% to 20%. It is largely impossible to tell just by looking what a given machine pays. In general, the higher denomination you play, the better the odds.
GROUP 2: MEDIUM HOUSE EDGE
ROULETTE (simple to moderate)The house edge at roulette depends on how many zeroes are on the wheel and also the local rules. When a wheel has both a zero and double zero, the house edge is 5.26%. When the wheel has just a single zero, the house has a 2.7% edge. In France, if you bet on 18 of the outcomes (i.e. red or black or high or low or odd or even) and the ball ends up on zero, your bet is “en prison,” reducing the odds against you to 1.35%.
Most of the bets return the same amount on a roulette wheel so there is no skill involved in choosing which way to bet. The skill arises in finding the game with the best rules. You don’t want to be playing a game with a 5.26% edge when nearby the “same” game can be found with a 1.35% edge.)
GROUP 3: LOW HOUSE EDGE
BACCARAT (simple)Baccarat has many formats and often many side bets. The basic game requires you to bet on ‘player’ (1.2% house edge) or ‘banker’ (1% house edge.) That’s it. The rules about whether or not extra cards are taken are a little complicated, but the dealer does all that. After a while, you’ll learn these rules. The rules are good to know in case the dealer does make a mistake, but that is pretty rare. The trickiest part of the game is simply avoiding the other bets---i.e., betting a tie (14% house edge) or a pair (10% or 11% house edge depending on the number of decks.)
There are some Baccarat tips, but Baccarat game is an exception to the rule that the more difficult a game is to play, the worse the odds.
CRAPS (simple)Although the craps table is filled with many opportunities to make exotic bets, if you limit yourself to PASS or COME bets and take full ‘odds,’ it’s really pretty simple. (You can bet the DON’T side of these same bets, for slightly better odds. But if you’re new to the game, it’s better to go with the flow and bet the way most others are betting.) The basic house edge is 1.4% on these bets. After one roll, you can take odds (which has a 0% house edge). Percentage-wise, taking odds lowers the odds against you. The higher the odds that are allowed, the better the odds are for the player.
The exotic bets on a craps table generally offer terrible odds --- often in the 10% to 17% range. Avoid these. They are fun when they hit, but the chances of winning are slim.
BLACKJACK USING BLACKJACK STRATEGY (moderate)Basic blackjack strategy consists of using some basic rules to guide your decisions based on your cards and the dealer’s up card. Different numbers of decks and different sets of rules have different basic strategies.
As you can see from the example chart below, there are hundreds of combinations for you to memorize --- for each basic strategy. (This particular chart is based on 4-8 decks where the dealer stands on soft 17. The chart for another number of decks or hitting on soft 17 would be a little different.)
But if you do have the blackjack chart memorized the game itself can vary between 0.2% and 2%, depending on the rules of the game.
GROUP 4: GOOD PLAYERS ACTUALLY CAN HAVE AN ADVANTAGE AT THESE GAMES
POKER (very difficult)Although often found in casinos, you are not playing against the casino when you play poker. You are playing against the other players and the house takes a small percentage of the pots (the rake) as their fee for providing the game.
If you’re sufficiently better than the other players and can overcome the house rake, you can actually make a pretty nice living playing poker. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s not easy to be that much better than other players. Some very smart players have invested thousands of hours studying and practicing in order to become skilled.
If you sit down at the same table as them, good luck! They can easily beat you when they get dealt good cards, and they also can often beat you when they get bad cards.
BLACKJACK WHILE COUNTING CARDS (difficult)Card counting consists of keeping track of the ratio of high cards (tens and aces) versus low cards (2-6) that have been played. When there are extra high cards stillremaining to be played, the odds favor the player and he bets more and uses a special strategy. When there are extra low cards, the player bets the table minimum (or leaves the table). Depending on how good the player is and the rules of the game, you can get up to a 2% edge doing this.
It is also fairly easy for casinos to figure out what you are doing. While card counting is legal in most jurisdictions, this is not the case everywhere. Most casinos are allowed to kick you out if they think you are counting cards. So don’t do any mistakes at blackjack.
SPORTS OR RACE BETTING (difficult)Betting on sports involves determining the likelihood that one team, person, or animal will beat another in some sort of contest. This is more than just who is going to win. It involves a “price,” where to bet on the favorite you have to pay more to win less and to bet on an underdog you get to pay less to win more. The sports books are very good at setting a line so that regardless of whoever actually wins, the books still do okay. If you can handicap better than the books can, you can make some real money betting on sports. But not many people are successful at it.
VIDEO POKER (difficult)This is my game. Video poker involves figuring out how much each machine returns with perfect play (that’s not too hard if you have software), learning the best play for each of the possible hands you are dealt (that can take some time and players differ in their abilities to learn to play perfectly), finding out how much the player’s clubs return to you (sometimes this is easy, sometimes not), and checking out which promotions are in effect (this is time-consuming if you’re checking several casinos, but not difficult).
Once you’ve done that, if the sum of all these things exceeds 100% (which happens, but not all that frequently), you need to sit down and play --- surviving the bankroll swings along the way.
Every video poker game is different, but there are some general Video Poker tips. You do not play Deuces Wild the same as you play Double Double Bonus or the same as you play Jacks or Better, etc. In fact, every pay schedule is different.
For a game like Double Bonus, for example, if you receive 25 coins for a straight, you play many hands differently than if you only receive 20 coins for a straight.
These things are all able to be learned, but it takes time and study. If you wish to become good at video poker, plan to pay your dues getting good.
Are these all the games in a casino? No. There are thousands of different games that appear some of the time in some casinos. But the games listed here appear most of the time in most casinos.