A little casino games knowledge goes long way

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I was travelling last week on the East Coast visiting with my wife’s family. As I have one of the more unique jobs on the planet, what I do tends to turn into longer conversations about gambling in general.

As it turns out, much of my wife’s family likes to frequent the casinos in that part of the country. What I find amazing is that despite a wealth of knowledge available out there, the misconceptions about casino games is still significant.

One person I met was a diehard slot player. My reaction was the usual “anything but slots,” but he wasn’t having it. Quite frankly, he wasn’t even the least bit interested in hearing about anything else in the casino. He likes his slots. He thinks he does well at them because he’s hit a few nice-sized prizes.

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I don’t have access to his bank accounts, so I can’t really argue with him, but I’m also guessing that he doesn’t really keep track of his wins and losses. So, he’s happy that he hits some big winners, even if in between are a lot of small to middle-sized losses.

This is the nature of slots. Here in Las Vegas, they average about a 92-93 percent payback. But more so than any other game, a significant portion of that payback is in the top prize. If you’re not hitting it, you’re playing a game in the mid 80 percent range. This means you are losing way more than you are winning.

Next up was a cousin who wanted confirmation that Roulette was the best play in the casino. It’s hard to look at a family member and say “Not even close.” Most of the wagers on the table have the same payback. If you’re playing Single Zero roulette, the payback is about 97.3 percent, which makes it competitive with some of the lower paying table games or the less than full-pay video poker machines.

If you’re playing a Double Zero wheel, then you’re just below 95 percent and there isn’t much to compare it to. Essentially, you’re getting the same payback if you play video poker and/or Blackjack but have little idea of what you’re doing.

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Then there is the relatively newly minted Triple 0 Roulette with its 92.1 percent payback. I never thought these word would be typed by me — go play slots. At least you might become a millionaire.

If you’re looking for the games with the best payback, I’d had have to say video poker. It is harder to find the ones with a player advantage, but they are still out there. You can also find a fair number with low house advantages (less than 0.5 percent).

Next up would likely be Blackjack. You can routinely find a game paying about 99.5 percent if you avoid the tables paying less than 3 to 2 on a Blackjack. Then there is Ultimate Texas Hold’em with a payback in the high 99 percent range.

I list this below Blackjack for two reasons. Achieving this payback takes even more work than learning Blackjack strategy and the average wager for UTH is considerably higher than for Blackjack. This means your actual anticipate loss rate would be higher for UTH than for Blackjack.

All of the games I just mentioned require a significant effort to achieve the state paybacks. They all require learning strategy and paying attention while the former games (Roulette and Slots) mostly require that you are conscious.

To be honest, that is more of a casino requirement than a game requirement.  There is no strategy to these games and all you need to do is be able to participate even if barely awake. This is a good deal of the reason why they offer lower paybacks. The casinos cannot count on human error to increase their profits. Blackjack may have a 99.5 percent payback, but the average Player probably plays at least 2 to 3 percent below that.

What I found so surprising in my conversations with these people is that they are regulars in the casino. If you happen to go one day because some of your friends want to head on over, or you go to kill a couple of hours before a show, I could understand where you might choose to play a simplistic game with little strategy.  If you don’t know how to play Blackjack properly, you might be better off playing Roulette.

But, if you are going to the casinos 10 to 20 times or more a year and are playing slots, you really need to pick up a book about some of the other games. Obviously, I highly recommend one of mine, but there are others (I don’t have any on regular Blackjack).

I’m the first one to say that casino gaming is just a form of entertainment. So, you have to like what you are playing. But, if you haven’t at least tried some of the better paying games, you may find that you’ll like them even more.

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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