10 Essentials for Being a Smart Casino Gambler
I read a post recently on a popular question and answer site that asked what a statistician would do if you gave him $1 million and turned him loose in a casino. The most popular answer suggested that the statistician would not gamble a penny of it, and he would, instead, deposit the money somewhere it would receive a respectable return.
I respectfully disagree. A good statistician would understand that there are opportunities to get an edge over the house in the casino. And he might or might not decide to take advantage of those opportunities.
A smart casino gambler knows where those opportunities are. He also understands what his goals are. Not everyone who gambles in a casino hopes to get an edge over the house. But the smartest players want to at least minimize their losses.
Here are 10 essentials to being a smart casino gambler:
1. Understand What the House Edge Is and Why It Matters
The house edge is a mathematical concept based in probability math. It’s the long term expected loss on each bet, represented as a percentage. It’s a long term average, so it bears little relation to your short term results.
Here’s an example:
The house edge for blackjack, when played with perfect basic strategy, is about 0.5%. This means that if you’re betting $100 per hand, you expect to lose 50 cents per hand.
But obviously when betting $100 on any given hand of blackjack, only one of a half dozen or so things happens:
- You lose $100
- You win $100
- You tie, winning and/or losing nothing
- You double down and lose $200
- You double down and win $200
- You win $150 when you’re dealt a blackjack (or natural)
There are also some possibilities related to splitting your hand, but you can see my point. None of these results even resembles losing 50 cents.
That 50 cents per hand figure is an average you can expect over the play of tens or hundreds of thousands of hands.
Every casino game has a house edge. That’s how the casino makes its money. You can read more about the house edge and how it’s calculated here.
2. Know Which Games Offer the Best Odds
Not all casino games are created equal. Some games offer better odds (and a lower house edge) than others. Smart gamblers stick with the games which offer the best odds.
For most players, focusing on 2 games makes sense:
- Video poker
Blackjack, when played with perfect strategy, and with the right table conditions, has a house edge of only 0.5%. Even if you don’t know basic strategy, the house edge is only 2% or so, depending on how many mistakes you make.
Most video poker games have a similar house edge or better. Jacks or Better with the best possible pay table has a house edge of 0.46%. Deuces Wild is even better—you can even find Deuces Wild games where you have an edge over the casino.
In either case, you can further reduce the house edge by taking full advantage of the players club. The casino rebates a certain amount of your action based on your EXPECTED hourly loss. They do NOT base this on your actual hourly loss.
3. Know Which Games Offer the Worst Odds
Another essential of being a smart gambler is avoiding all the lousy bets in the casino. And you’ll find some doozies if you look for them.
Keno, for example, has a house edge of 25%. This means you can expect to lose, on average, 25 cents on every dollar you spend. This isn’t as bad as a state lottery, which has a house edge of 50%, but it’s as close as you’ll find in a casino. I never play keno, and you shouldn’t either.
Roulette is another popular game with lousy odds, but one bet at the American roulette table is worse than all the others. That bet is called the “5 number bet”, and the house edge on that wager is 7.89%.
All the other bets on an American roulette table have a house edge of 5.26%, which isn’t the best in the casino, but it isn’t the worst, either.
But there’s no reason to bet on an option that’s inherently that much worse than the already mediocre option that the rest of the table provides. That’s just silly.
4. Understand Why Betting Systems Don’t Work
Betting systems require you to raise and lower your bets based on your previous results. The idea is that you take advantage of winning and/or losing streaks.
I don’t deny that winning and losing streaks exist. In fact, in a random game, such streaks are inevitable.
But it’s impossible to determine when such a streak is going to begin or end.
It’s like the old quote about how life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forward.
These streaks are just patterns that turn up in retrospect.
Here’s an example of a betting system called the Martingale:
You bet on something with an even money payout—usually a roulette wager on black or red.
If you win, you pocket your winnings. If you lose, you bet again, but you double the size of your previous bet.
If you lose again, you double your bet again.
The idea is that eventually you’ll win, and at the end of each progression, you show a profit of one unit.
The problem with this system and other betting systems is that you’ll eventually run into a losing streak so bad that you’ll have to double your bet to a point where you don’t have enough money to place the next bet.
And that’s just one example. You can find a page explaining betting strategies and why they don’t work here.
5. Take Advantage of Casino Promotions
If you play online, the easiest casino promotions to take advantage of are the casino bonuses. These are free chips that you get in exchange for just signing up and making your first deposit at an online casino.
Here’s an example of how that works:
You’re playing at “Casino ABC”. They have a promotion where you get a 200% bonus on your first deposit, with a maximum bonus of $200.
You deposit $100, and the casino gives you an extra $200 to play with. So your total bankroll is $300.
Land based casinos offer promotions, too. These can take the form of comp meals and show tickets. But they almost always involved joining the players club.
Here’s how they calculate, in a general way, how much to reward you:
They calculate the expected hourly losses involved in your play. They then award you 40% of those expected losses in rebates and freebies.
You should take full advantage of any and all casino promotions that net you more entertainment for your money.
6. The Pros and Cons of Online Casinos versus Traditional Land Based Casinos
Online casinos might seem like a great deal to some people, but they also have drawbacks. Here’s a quick list of the advantages of playing online casino games:
- You can play from home without having to travel.
- The odds are often better.
- The games are as good or better than what you’ll find in a land based casino.
- You can get signup bonuses.
- You can play games for free when your money runs out.
But there are also several disadvantages to playing online:
- The businesses are of questionable legality in some areas, like the United States.
- Some experts think online gambling might be more addictive.
- You don’t get to socialize with other gamblers much when you’re playing on the Internet.
- Some online casinos have lousy customer service.
- Some online casinos might have rigged games. (This is, admittedly, rare.)
My best advice related to trying online casino games is to look for recommendations from a reputable gambling information portal. This site offers several recommendations for casinos with good customer service, fair games, and high payout percentages.
7. Have Good Manners and Know How Much to Tip
It’s no fun being a boor. And the easiest way to avoid boorish behavior is by learning which rules of etiquette apply in which situations. Luckily in a casino setting, you don’t have to worry too much about which silverware to use when or how to hold a tea cup.
Here are some quick rules of etiquette in a casino:
- Don’t tell other people how to gamble.
- Minimize your use of electronics, especially cell phones.
- When you’re buying chips, put your money on the table—don’t try to hand it to the dealer.
- Don’t hold up the game. Cash out between hands, not during them.
- Treat other gamblers the way you’d like to be treated.
You should also treat the casino employees the way you’d like to be treated. This means providing them with appropriate tips and gratuities.
Here are some quick guidelines on how much to tip and who:
- Tip your dealers whether you’re winning or losing. The best way to tip a dealer is to place a bet on their behalf. (It’s just more fun.)
- Tip a cocktail waitress at least a buck when she brings you a drink.
- Tip the servers at a buffet restaurant a buck for each person in your party. You don’t have to tip 15% or 20% of your check, because they’re not really providing you with much table service beyond refilling your drinks.
- The standard rules of tipping other employees apply. You should tip your maid in the hotel, the cab driver who takes you to the property, and the waiters and waitresses at full service restaurants just like you would in a non-casino destination.
I don’t believe in luck, but I think there might be something to this idea of karma. If nothing else, I feel better when I tip appropriately, and I think you will, too. You can read a full guide to tipping in a casino here.
8. Maintain a Disciplined Approach
Gambling is fun, or it’s supposed to be.
But you should still maintain a disciplined approach to your casino gambling.
I don’t mean disciplined in the same sense that a marathoner trains for a run, though. Playing casino games shouldn’t feel like boot camp.
But you should, at the very least, know how much money you can afford to lose. In fact, bankroll management can be the most important essential on this list.
Before any visit to a casino, decide how much money you’re willing and able to risk gambling. That amount is your bankroll.
When you’re at the casino, decide how much you want to play. Use that to divide your bankroll into session bankrolls.
Here’s an example:
You’re going to Las Vegas, and you decide you can afford to play with $2500. You’re going to be there for 5 days, so you decide to set aside $500 per day for the purposes of gambling.
You also decide that you’re going to play twice a day for 2 and a half hours each time. Your bankroll for each of those sessions is $250.
If you lose your $250 for that session, you quit until your next session. This keeps you in action and helps you avoid going broke before you get home.
Never gamble with money you can’t afford to lose. Remember that you’re playing games where you have a distinct mathematical disadvantage.
If you’re an aspiring advantage gambler, stick to the games where you can get an edge with an almost fanatical devotion. Then ignore all hunches—use your advantage gambling techniques to their fullest potential.
9. Ignore Myths and Misinformation
The number of myths and the amount of misinformation shared by superstitious gamblers and sneaky con men is staggering.
Here are just a few of the myths you can (and should) ignore:
- You can tell when a slot machine is going to pay off by the pattern on the reels. (This is called the zig zag strategy, and it’s utter nonsense.)
- You’ll be less likely to win at gambling machines if you play with your rewards card inserted.
- You should raise (or lower) your bets during a winning (or losing) streak.
- Roulette dealers have some kind of control over your outcome.
- You should hedge your bets when playing craps.
These are just some of the more obvious examples. You can find an entire list of casino myths and misconceptions and why they’re wrong on this page..
10. Gamble Responsibly
You see ads for liquor and beer all the time encouraging you to drink responsibly.
If you’re going to gamble in a casino, you should also learn to gamble responsibly.
The endorphins and biochemical reactions you have to placing bets and winning them occasionally are as real as the hormones released when you drink or do drugs.
And they can have just as addictive an effect on you.
If you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, you might think twice about starting a casino gambling hobby. For people with impulse control problems, gambling can become a habit and an addiction in no time at all.
If you think you have a gambling problem, you should seek help immediately. Life is too short to waste even a precious second of it on a gambling addiction. The Mayo Clinic offers good information and suggested resources for people who might have gambling problems.
Casino gambling can be fun and even profitable, but in order to enjoy it to the fullest and to stand the best chance of enjoying yourself and making a lot of money, you need to be smart. The tips I offered on this page will take you long way in the direction of being a smart gambler.
Most of being an intelligent player in a casino involves understanding in a general way how the math behind the casino games works. The rest involves having a disciplined approach to having fun so that you don’t get carried away and lose all your money.