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Casino Tips: The House Edge

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You've probably heard that the casino has an edge or an advantage on every game it offers. This "house edge" as it is called will vary from game to game and even from bet to bet on the same game. You should know what the house edge is before you play because it will help you pick the games and the bets that will give you the better chances of winning.  If you have any comments, please email me at Alan@AlanBestBuys.com and thanks for stopping by.

DON'T LET THE CASINO HOUSE EDGE CUT YOU TOO DEEPLY

Update August 12, 2019  Everyone who walks into a brick and mortar casino whether it's in Las Vegas or Atlantic City or in hundreds of communities around the country or around the world, or opens up an online casino on their computer, has the idea to have fun and win money. But not everyone makes their bets the same way.

Experienced casino players will look before they leap into all casino games. What they will look for is what's called the house edge on the games and the house edge on the bets available in those games.

Have you ever watched a player walk over to a video poker machine and look at the pay-table on the screen before they make a bet? Have you ever watched a player walk over to a roulette game and look at the layout before making a bet? Have you ever watched a player walk up to a blackjack game and look at the felt before making a bet? What those players are probably doing is checking the minimum bets required as well as the payouts on various bets to decide if the game is right for them.

The payouts on winning bets determine the house edge. The house edge is the built-in profit that casinos have on just about every bet offered in a casino.

If there were no house edge casinos would not be making a profit and casinos need a profit to pay for their employees, and the air conditioning, and to keep the lights on and to offer the free refreshments and entertainment they make available.

It's okay for casinos to have an edge but it's not okay for you, the player, if the casino's edge or profit is too much. The same way you shop for a gallon of gasoline, you should shop for the best payouts and the lowest house edge when you play in a casino. You don't want the casino's house edge to cut too deeply.

If you're not familiar with what a house edge is, consider the standard example of a coin toss. If you toss a dollar coin and win with heads and you win the dollar there is no house edge. But if you toss a dollar coin and win with heads but you are only paid 99-cents, you still win but the one-cent you are not paid is the house edge or the "tax" on your win.

THE HOUSE EDGE COMES IN DIFFERENT WAYS

There are different ways that casinos create a house edge. Let's take the game of roulette. In roulette the house edge is created by paying you less than the true odds of a number showing after the spin of the wheel. While there are an even number of Black numbers and Red numbers, Black and Red are not 50-50 bets because there can also be a Green Zero, or a Green Double-Zero or even a Green Triple-Zero on the roulette wheel. The addition of the "zeros" reduce the chance of red or black showing half the time.

In the game of craps the payouts on the dice do not reflect the true odds of the dice landing on a certain number. For example, the chance of a 12 being rolled is one out of 36 but some casinos will pay you only $30 for a $1 bet on 12 while other casinos will pay you only $29 for a $1 bet on 12. The difference between the chance that a number will be rolled and what the casino pays is the house edge at craps.

So let's go back to what experienced players do when they walk up to a table or machine and before they make a bet. When it's a roulette table they are looking for the number of bets in Green, and whether the table has only one Zero, or a Double Zero or maybe a Triple Zero bet. The more green numbers, the greater the house edge. When it's a craps table, the player will want to know the payoffs on various winning combinations of the dice. While some casinos will pay $9 on a $5 bet on the 4, other casinos might pay only $8 on a $5 bet on four. When it's Blackjack, the players are looking to see if a Blackjack is paid, for example, $15 for a $10 bet or $12 for a $10 bet.

Video Poker, one of the most popular machine games in casinos, has many different combinations of payoffs and the payoffs can vary not only from casino to casino and from game to game, but also on machines next to each other in the same casino. Take for example the Video Poker game known as Bonus Poker. Some Bonus Poker games pay $8 for each $1 bet when a full house is hit, while some Bonus Poker games will pay $7 or even $6 for each $1 bet when a full house is hit. The game that pays $8 for each $1 bet has a lower house edge than the one that pays $7 for each $1 bet.

These are just simple examples of the house edge because we're just examining the house edge of particular bets. Unfortunately, certain games like Craps and roulette and blackjack and baccarat have different bets and each bet has its own range of house edges. Let's return to Video Poker. There is not only a house edge for a full house, but there is also a house edge for a straight flush, and for a royal flush, and for four-of-a-kind and for two-pair. Some Video Poker games might pay $20 for a straight, while others pay $15 for a straight for every $1 bet, and some might just give you your money back for two-pair, while others might give you double your money for two-pair. There are different ranges of overall house edges for different casino games. American roulette with two green zeros has a house edge of 5.26% but slot machines can have an edge ranging from 0% to 15% depending on the game. (Yes, some games have no house edge and these can be considered as a "loss leader" or a teaser game to get you to play.) Bets at Baccarat can range from a house edge of about 1% to almost 16%.

As we said at the beginning, it's okay for casinos to have a house edge because that's how they pay their bills. But the same way you don't want to be gouged at the pumps when you buy gasoline, you don't want to be gouged by the casinos when their house edges are too high on their games. You don't want that house edge to cut you too deeply. You wouldn't want to play a Bonus Poker game that pays $7 for a full house for every $1 bet when the Video Poker machine next to it pays $8, and you wouldn't want to bet on Black in roulette when a casino has a Zero, and a Double Zero, and a Triple Zero on its wheel when the casino next door has only a Zero and a Double Zero on its wheel.
 
Since every casino has a built-in edge on its games, players want to know if they can beat the edge and actually win? The answer is "yes" and "no." Yes, you can win your bet, and lots of bets. You might win bet after bet after bet. But in the "long run" and "overall" the casino's edge will win. The reality is that while you might win your bet on your Video Poker machine, another player might be losing their bet. And while you might be winning your bet, your win was "taxed" by the house edge which means it simply wasn't paid at its true odds.

The house edge does not mean the games are rigged. There is really no reason for a casino to cheat at its games because the house edge or "tax" on the win is a perpetual profit maker. 

BETS WITH NO HOUSE EDGE

The big question players have is whether or not there are bets in a casino with no house edge, or are there even bets in a casino where the player has the edge? Surprisingly, there are a few bets in brick and mortar casinos and in online casinos that either have no house edge or actually favor the player. Here's where experienced, knowledgeable players can actually have an advantage when they gamble and might be called "Advantage Players."

In the game of blackjack if you are able to count cards, you can have an edge over the casino when you know the remaining cards in the multi-deck shoe are rich with Aces and Tens and favor you getting a Blackjack. But card counting only gives you an edge when the casino pays you $3 for every $2 bet on a blackjack. Many casinos now pay 6/5 instead of 3/2 on blackjacks and no matter how good a card counter you are, the casino's edge is too big on an edge in a 6/5 game. Card Counting only adds a tiny fraction to the player's edge in the best circumstances.

In the game of craps, there is a bet known as "odds" that actually has no house edge. But at the same time there is no player edge either. It's actually a break even bet. But while it's a break even bet, if the dice go your way you can win a lot of money. The "odds bet" is the additional wager that you add to a Passline or Come Bet after your "point" has been established. The "odds bet" is always paid at "true odds" meaning that there is no "tax" or "edge" on the payoff. For example, the true odds of a 6 being rolled before a 7 is rolled is 5 out of 6. So when a 6 is rolled before a 7, the "odds" are paid at $6 for every $5 bet.

By the way, in craps if you make a "place bet" on the number 6, there is always a house edge or "tax" on the profit. Place bets on the 6 are paid $7 for every $6 bet, while "odds bets" on the 6 are paid $6 for every $5 bet. Yes, the same number at craps can have different payoffs.

There is a problem with the "odds bets" in craps. While the "odds bets" are in fact paid at "true odds" with no house edge, the casino still is more likely to win. This is because a 7 is more likely to be rolled before any 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10. In fact, a 7 is more likely to be rolled than any other number, so while the "odds bets" are paid at true odds, the casino is still more likely to win that "odds bet."
 
There is another way to cut the house edge at craps, but this method is very controversial. If you are able to influence the dice to either hit certain numbers or to avoid certain numbers you can cut the house edge. I said this is controversial and it is because few believe anyone has the skill to influence or control dice.

 
There is still another bet in casinos that can give you, the player, the edge over the casino. Those bets are known as "free play" bets. Some casinos, as an incentive, will give their players a free bet, or free bet money. Each bet you make with "free money" gives you the edge because the bet cost you nothing and the money you win is yours to keep. Some casinos will give you $5 or $10 when you sign up with their player's club. Some online casinos might give you a "free play match" which is an amount of money equivalent to your deposit. Be aware that the casinos might have rules for when and how you can collect the money that you win with free play.
 
Another way to cut the house edge is to take advantage of "loss rebates" when they are offered. High rollers frequently are offered rebates if they should lose tens of thousands, but you might find a casino willing to give you a rebate of $100 when you lose $100. Note that the rebate might not mean immediate cash. Sometimes the rebate is in the form of free-play coupons or vouchers or chips given to you on future visits. These rebates for future play can be a means for the casino to lure you back.

Besides Video Poker, the most popular machine games in casinos are simply and generally known as "slots." Unfortunately, "slots" don't have their pay-tables or odds of winning displayed like Video Poker games have displays. Some casinos might post signs saying that certain slots have a payback percentage of a certain amount -- but these payback percentages apply to the lifetime play of a certain machine and do not apply to your particular session. However, in certain jurisdictions including Nevada, slot machines must have a lifetime payback of at least 85-percent which means the lifetime house edge can be as much as 15-percent. But your individual session results can be better or worse.

There is another bet in a casino with no house edge or could in fact give the player the edge, and those are bets at games with progressive jackpots. Sometimes the amount of the progressive jackpot can be so big that it outweighs the house edge. Unfortunately, progressive jackpots are hard to hit and without hitting the progressive jackpot, you are probably facing other payoffs with much larger house edges.
 
Some slot machines have what are called "must hit by jackpots" and simply these machines are programmed to have their progressive jackpots hit by a certain level. Unfortunately we don't know when exactly the "must hit by jackpot" will trigger although we do know what the absolute peak amount is. Let's take for example a slot machine that says the progressive jackpot "must hit by" $5,000. You don't know if the jackpot will trigger at $5,000 or if it will trigger at $4,872 as an example. Before you play one of these "must hit by" machines try to estimate how much the jackpot meter increases with each play or spin. If the jackpot meter moves too slowly you might want to avoid play until the jackpot meter is very close to peaking. The other problem with "must hit by" slots is that you might never get a chance to play as casino regulars might hog the machines knowing the jackpot trigger may be near.
 
There are some other things to look for on slots and video poker games that can boost your edge and reduce the house edge, and they are abandoned multipliers and bonuses. For example on some slots there might be bonuses awarded during play and after accumulating five bonuses you might enter a bonus round. Well, if the previous player accumulated some bonuses but stopped playing you could inherit those bonuses to trigger a bonus round sooner, and that would help your edge. And on some video poker games the next game played might be entitled to a multiplier on the win. If you find a VP machine with those multipliers your next play would also have a better potential.

Because there is a built-in house edge, it doesn't mean that you can't win when you visit a casino. In fact, casinos want winners because without winners no one would gamble. Just remember that the house edge is there and always will be there because the casino needs to keep its lights on.

 

Here on our new media website "Moneyman" Alan Mendelson who is the original Best Deals TV Show reporter on KCAL9 and consumer advocate, shows you the best deals on TV, and the best buys, bargains and where savvy shoppers go to save, and how to get the most for "your money" with the best of Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County. Some content on www.alanbestbuys.com is paid advertising. The Best Buys TV Show is a paid infomercial program which may also include news and information which is not sponsored or paid for by advertisers.

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