Gambling in Vegas? The Games With the Best (and Worst) Odds

roulette wheel

Roulette wheel | Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Spending a weekend gambling in Vegas may be fun, though you’ll probably have an even better time if you win big at the tables. If you’re hoping to beat the odds at the casino, the game you choose to play matters. You’re more likely to come home a little bit richer if you sit down at the blackjack table rather than settling in with the gray-haired set at the slots.

It all comes down to math. Amateur gamblers may hope luck is on their side when they walk through the doors of the Bellagio or Caesars Palace, but what they really need to think about are the odds of winning at different games. While the house always has an edge, it’s much bigger in some situations than in others. That’s why you never see smart gamblers wasting their time playing keno or wheel of fortune – games where you’re almost guaranteed to lose money.

Casino games with the best odds

Savvy gamblers are going to cluster around the blackjack tables, where the casino’s edge is usually between 0.5% to 1%, though the number varies depending on the number of decks and other rule variations. You can calculate the house edge on a particular game of blackjack using the Wizard of Odds online calculator. Those numbers also assume you’re playing with what’s known as basic strategy, or making the best possible decision based on the cards you’ve been dealt. For the average player who’s going to make some mistakes, the house’s edge increases to 2%, according to the University of Nevada’s Center for Gaming Research.

blackjack

Blackjack table | Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

“Blackjack is one of our easiest games to play,” Jay Bean, a floor manager at Caesar’s, told Cleveland’s Newsnet5. “You’re just looking for a number that beats the dealer’s number without going over 21.”

“You are somewhere between 44% to 48% in every single hand of winning,” Michael Magazine, a professor of analytics at the University of Cincinnati, said of blackjack.

After blackjack, the games with the best odds are baccarat and craps. In baccarat, which is a game of chance rather than skill, the odds are close to 50/50, though your chances are slightly better if you bet on the banker rather than the player. At the craps table, the house edge on a pass line bet is 1.4%.

Roulette is one of the easiest casino games to play, and the odds are also fairly good. If you only bet on red or black or evens or odds (as opposed to a specific number) the house edge is 5.26%, assuming you’re playing in an American casino with double zeros on the wheel. Your odds of winning are better in a European casino with a single-zero wheel.

Video poker is another game with fairly good odds for players. “For video poker the statistical advantage varies depending on the particular machine, but generally this game can be very player friendly — house edge less than 3% is not uncommon and some are less than 1% — if played with expert strategy,” per the Center for Gaming Research.

Casino games with the worst odds

slot machines

Slot machines | PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Slots may be less intimidating to novice gamblers than table games like blackjack, but the house is more likely to take you for a ride. Each slot machine is different, but the Wizard of Odds estimates the house edge for penny slots at between 6% and 15%. If you can’t resist the slots, chose a higher-denomination machine, since these tend to have a higher payout percentage than lower-denomination slots.

“The average slot machine is probably two, three times more costly to players than the table games,” Bill Zender, a former professional gambler, told Mental Floss.

Even worse than slots are “sucker games” like wheel of fortune and keno. The house advantage on keno averages 27%, according to the Center for Gaming. For wheel of fortune games (which also go by names like “big six” and “lucky wheel”), the house edge ranges from 11% to 24%, depending on your bet.

Whether you choose to take a chance on the wheel of fortune or are a high-roller playing baccarat, understanding how the game is played will put you ahead of most other players.

“Ninety percent of the people who walk into a casino have no idea of the odds stacked against them,” Zender said.

Also keep this in mind: The more you gamble, the likelier you are to lose. An analysis of online gamblers found that those who bet the least also had the highest winning percentage. But even then, the numbers weren’t great. Seventeen percent of the lightest gamblers ended up in the black over a two-year period. Only 5.4% of the heaviest gamblers came out ahead.

“[T]he average person doesn’t understand the math” of the multiplier effect, Jim Kilby, who has written books on casino management, told the Wall Street Journal. “Casino games are nibbling machines, and the more nibbles you have, the bigger your losses.”

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