Casino Odds

When it comes to gambling, novices trust Lady Luck, while pros learn to do the math. This means learning about probability, odds and house edge

Understanding House Edge, Odds, & Probability

Before playing any casino game, it’s essential to learn what the odds of losing are. Note that we say “odds of losing,” not “odds of winning,” because probability in gambling is always computed according to loss.

In brief, mathematical odds represent the probability of an outcome expressed in a fractional or decimal format. Think of flipping a coin: Since a coin has two sides, there are two likely outcomes, head or tails. So the odds of the coin coming up tails is one out of two, usually written or said as 1:2, a ratio, or as a 50 percent chance (50-50).

Start applying this same principle to various casino games. For example, an American-style roulette wheel has 38 numbered slots, plus two colors red and black. This makes a player’s odds of winning with one bet in roulette at 1:39 (since the color-related bets, like flipping a coin, are 1 in 2).

Now start thinking about a 52-card deck in poker, or three or four 52-card decks in blackjack, or six sides on each of the dice in craps. Naturally only mathematical geniuses can calculate the odds of bets in these games while playing. Fortunately, smart gamblers don’t have to calculate; instead they can memorize probability tables. Some strategies don’t require memorizing an entire table, only those combinations that win big.

Whatever the strategy, mathematics is very much part of casino gambling. As if probability and odds weren’t challenging enough, casinos throw in something called “the house edge.” In brief, casinos set up the rules of various games to ensure the probability that the players will lose, which means the casino rakes in the bets.

For example, for decades the standard odds in a blackjack game have been 3:2. However in the past decade casinos have instituted 6:5 blackjack games in order to increase their revenue. Most people assume that 6:5 and 3:2 are the same thing expressed differently, but Do the Math. In reality a 6:5 bet makes the odds four times worse for players! Take the time to study your favorite casino game, do the math and come up with a strategy before you make a bet.

Casino Games with Best Odds

So if the house works to preserve its edge, why bother playing casino games for real money at all? That’s the question each player has to answer for himself or herself. Some people play casino games for the thrill of it, others like the mathematical challenge, others think of it as entertainment. However, for those who really want to win some money at casino games, the only alternative is to play the odds to the best of your ability.

Looking at the chart below, it’s obvious that baccarat, blackjack, craps, and offer the smallest house advantage. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why blackjack and craps are the two most popular casino games.

Game House Edge
Craps (double odds) 0.60%
Blackjack 0.80%
Baccarat (banker) 1.17%
Pai Gow Poker 2.5%
Roulette (single zero) 2.7%

Blackjack in particular is a game where a player skill at applying strategy can virtually eliminate the house edge. What’s more, a really proficient blackjack player can create a “player’s edge.” This is accomplished by adjusting one’s bets and card choices based on one’s strategy. Some of this involves learning charts of what to play when dealt certain cards, but some veterans employ a controversial strategy known as “card counting.” There are many blackjack strategies available, so be prepared to study hard if you want to use one of them. Also be advised that casinos frown on card counters, so card counting is a strategy that must be employed subtly to avoid being removed from the game.

If nothing else, learning a little strategy for craps and blackjack will decrease your losses and likely increase your winnings as well.

Casino Games with Worst Odds

Looking to avoid losing lots of money in a casino? Then avoid Keno!

A kind of lottery, Keno has one of the highest house edges of all casino games, weighing in at a hefty 25 percent. This means that three out of four times, the house wins and everybody else loses.

Other popular casino games with the worst odds of winning are Pai Gow Poker at 2.5 percent, single-zero roulette (a rarity in US casinos) at 2.7 percent, three-card poker at 3.4 percent, Let It Ride at 3.5 percent, sports betting at 4.5 percent and Caribbean Stud Poker at 5.26 percent.