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Best of Walter Thomason

Gaming Guru

 

Casino Games -- The Good Bets and the Bad Bets

14 August 1999

The games people play in casinos generally fall into two categories: Games of luck and games of skill.

For instance, if you toss a penny in the air and bet a friend that it will land on heads, you're betting on luck, since the chance that the coin will land on heads or tails is the same. But if you are pitching pennies against a wall, and betting on which player's coin will end up closest to the wall, you are betting on skill, because a skillful player will win more often than one who has not practiced and learned how to pitch pennies.

With casino gambling, both games of luck and games of skill are offered to players. The important thing to know is that the games of luck are designed in such a way as to always favor the casino, and that the games of skill only help players who study and apply perfect gaming strategy and tactics. The casino gains an edge with games of luck by adjusting the payoff odds as compared to the true odds of an event occurring. The casino gains an edge with games of skill by adjusting the rules of the game so that they favor the house. In both cases, the casino attempts to insure its long term chances of making a profit.

The purpose of this article is to determine which games of luck and skill offer the player long term good opportunities to win more (or lose less), and which games are bad games and offer the player no reasonable chance of achieving a long-term profit.

An important fact to keep in mind is that both good and bad luck can affect the outcome of play in the short run. Just as a person could flip a coin and show heads 10 times in a row, an expert card-counting blackjack player could lose 10 hand in a row when conditions were most favorable for winning. Luck -- both good and bad -- is a key factor in short term play of both games of luck and games of skill.

Let's review many of the casino games offered, and determine if they are games of luck or games of skill, and if they are good bets or bad bets. As you'll see, some games fall into both categories depending on the skill level of the player, and some games of luck are better than some games of skill.

For the sake of argument, a good bet is any game that allows a gambler to lose no more than 2.5% of the money that is wagered over a long period of time. Keep in mind that all casino games are designed to show a long term profit to the house. That's how they pay their bills and construct those beautiful resorts!

Our objective is to pick and choose those games that give us the best chances of winning. The following chart identifies the good and the bad bets:

GAME

MOSTLY
LUCK

MOSTLY
SKILL

HOUSE EDGE
NOVICE*

HOUSE EDGE
EXPERT*

Big 6 Wheel

X

 

15% to 22%

11%

Baccarat

X

 

14%

0.16%

Blackjack

 

X

5% to 10%

-1% to 0.5%

Caribbean Stud

 

X

6% or more

5.2%

Craps

X

 

3% to 17%

0.2%

Keno

X

 

50% or more

25%

Let It Ride

 

X

3% or more

2.8%

Pai Gow Poker

 

X

2.8%

-0.02%

Poker

 

X

Depends on Skill Level

Red Dog

X

 

3.6% or more

3.5%

Roulette

X

 

5.2% to 7.9%

2.6%

Sic Bo

 

X

7.87% to 47.2%

2.8%

Slots

X

 

10% or more

0.05%

Video Poker

X

 

4% to 8%

-0.01%

* A novice is a person who has no prior knowledge of the game; an expert is a person who knows everything about the game and plays only under the best possible conditions. Percentages have been rounded off or extrapolated in some cases.

The preceding chart obviously needs some explanation, since what I've attempted to do is generalize and summarize the contents of 20 instructional gaming books into one simple list.

1. Many games are listed as requiring skill to improve the player's chances of winning. The skill required may relate to the player's knowledge of previous cards played, or may relate to which wagers or which rules in a particular game offer the best pay-off percentages.

For instance, the unskilled blackjack player faces a house edge of about 5 to 10%, depending on rules, whereas the skilled player can reduce the house advantage to one-half percent, and even to a player advantage of one percent in certain games. In Caribbean Stud Poker, the house advantage can be reduced to 5.2% by making the strategically correct decision to either play or fold after the ante bet.

2. Several games are listed as mainly requiring luck as the most important determinant of the results of play. With most of these games the results of previous hands, or rolls, or spins of the wheel, have no effect on the current round of play, and the player is unable to predict a potential outcome of current play based the results of previous outcomes. Consequently, the player's only skillful way to play the game is to make bets which give the casino the smallest possible edge. For instance, with craps, some of the betting options available contain a house edge of as much as 17%, while a skilled played playing under "best rules" conditions can reduce the house advantage to two-tenhts of one percent by making the proper wagers. With slot machines, the knowledgeable player can greatly improve his chances of winning by knowing how to select and play the machines that offer the best pay schedules.

Let's get back to the original question: Which games are good bets and which games are bad bets?

The preceding chart indicates that the following games are good bets when skilled players make proper playing or wagering decisions: Blackjack, craps, Pai Gow Poker, Baccarat, Video Poker, slots, and poker. Many of these games are bad bets if not properly played or wagered. Another good bet, not listed in the chart, is Bingo -- under certain conditions. Gaming reports from Nevada reveal that casinos keep only about 1.7% of Bingo revenues, making this game one of the best bets available in this state!

The bad bets -- those games that offer no long term potential for the player to lose less than 2.5% of the total amount wagered -- are: Roulette, Big Six Wheel, Sic Bo, Red Dog, Keno, Let It Ride, and Caribbean Stud Poker.

It's interesting to note that only three games -- Blackjack, Video Poker, and Pai Gow Poker -- show any potential long-term positive expectation for the expert casino gambler.

The most important lesson to be learned from this article is that the player's knowledge makes a major difference to the outcome of play in most casino games. There are many excellent books that will provide you with the knowledge and skills required to improve your chances of winning. Take some of the money that you plan to spend at the casino and buy some of these books! They will help you become a more successful casino gambler.

If you have questions about any of my articles, drop me a line at P.O. Box 550068, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl 33355. I'll try to get back to you. Good luck, and play smart!

Copyright 1997 Walter Thomason

Walter Thomason
Walter Thomason is the best-selling author of Blackjack for the Clueless and the editor of The Experts’ Guide to Casino Games and The Ultimate Blackjack Book.

A long-time casino gaming enthusiast, he is a frequent contributor to
The New Chance and Circumstance, Midwest Gaming & Travel, and Heartland Casino News.

His new book is
21st Century Blackjack: A New Strategy for a New Millenium. He can be reached
at PO Box 550068, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33355.

Books by Walter Thomason:

> More Books By Walter Thomason

Walter Thomason
Walter Thomason is the best-selling author of Blackjack for the Clueless and the editor of The Experts’ Guide to Casino Games and The Ultimate Blackjack Book.

A long-time casino gaming enthusiast, he is a frequent contributor to
The New Chance and Circumstance, Midwest Gaming & Travel, and Heartland Casino News.

His new book is
21st Century Blackjack: A New Strategy for a New Millenium. He can be reached
at PO Box 550068, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33355.

Books by Walter Thomason:

Blackjack

> More Books By Walter Thomason