The House Always Wins

If everything ended up about even in gambling, there wouldn't be much reason for casinos to stay open. But they do, and they make huge money doing so.

How do they do it? There are lots of factors involved, but the simple answer is that, in the long run, all gambling games are set up to favor the casinos. Casino operators factor things in such a way that there is a percent of profit on virtually every bet. For this reason, the casinos are always winners in the end.

In the gambling world, the fact that the house always wins is known as the house advantage, or house edge. The house advantage represents the biggest odds you face in gambling, other than the odds created by your own skill and level of play. You will read and hear a lot about house advantage when you gamble. Understanding the house edge can help you decide what games to play, and, as in the case of blackjack, can help you play in ways that decrease the house edge to its smallest and increase your chances of coming out ahead.

How much of an advantage — or edge — the house has over its players can vary quite a bit. Different games have different house edges. What's more, for certain games, like craps and blackjack, how you play the game can have a big effect on the house edge, and the edge can vary from one hand or one bet to another.

TABLE 3-1 illustrates basic house advantages for some of the more popular casino games, and what the casino stands to keep out of every $10 you bet on them (over the long term).

TABLE 3-1: Typical House Advantages

Game

House Edge

What the casino keeps from every $10 bet

Baccarat

1.2%

12 cents

Blackjack

0.0% to 2.0%

0 to 20 cents

Craps

0.6% to 1.4%

6 to 14 cents

Let It Ride Poker

3.5%

35 cents

Pai Gow Poker

2.5%

25 cents

Slots

5% to 10%

50 cents to $1

Video Poker

0.5% to 3%

5 cents to 30 cents

You can use the house edge to determine how quickly you'll lose money when playing certain games. For example, if you are playing a game with a 3 percent house advantage, you'll lose your money twice as fast as when playing one in which the house has a 1.5 percent advantage.

Should you always avoid playing games with large house advantages? Not necessarily. Here are some reasons why you might want to play them:

  • Some are simply enjoyable, and you'd be missing out on some fun if you didn't play them.

  • There are ways to reduce the house's edge on some of them, such as knowing which bets to place (and which ones to avoid).

  • Casinos often offer promotions that improve the odds for players and sometimes even give players the edge.

That said, it is generally a good idea to focus on games that give players the best possible edge. If you do decide to play games that aren't as favorable, you can minimize your risk by playing less. Still, it's important to remember that over time, with everything being equal, you'll lose at these games. The casinos, in fact, count on it.

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