A Novice’s Tutorial on Casino Gambling Games
Published on October 10, 2018
I knew next to nothing about casino gambling games the first time I visited Vegas.
Despite being a complete rookie, I still did okay.Most games are designed with small edges so that novices have a chance to do well.
This is by design on the part of the casinos. They WANT it to be easy for you to play. The casinos always come out ahead in the long run, so it’s in their interests to attract as many new people to their games as they can.
I may not have done badly during my first Vegas first, but I often wonder if I’d have done even better if I’d educated myself a little more first.
Smarter beginners than I probably DO want to learn something more about the casino gambling games and how they work before getting started. That’s what this post is for.
First, understand that there’s a distinction between a “casino game” and some other gambling games. Poker, for example, is a gambling game—but traditionally, you play against other players. The house isn’t banking the action.
In the context of this post, casino games are ONLY those games where the house is banking the action. If you win, the casino pays you off. If you lose, the casino gets your money—not the other players.
Next, understand that all the games offered by the casino have a mathematical edge for the house.
When you place an even-money bet in a casino on the outcome of a game, your probability of winning is always less than 50%. The difference between the probability of winning such a bet and the probability of losing such a bet is the house edge.
Here’s an easy example.
An even-money bet in roulette is a bet on red or black, or a bet on odd or even, for example. The probability of winning that bet on a standard roulette wheel is 47.37%. The probability of losing is 52.63%.
Subtract 47.37% from 52.63%, and you wind up with the house edge—5.26%.
The reason the probability of winning is so much lower than the probability of losing, in the case of roulette, has to do with how the game is set up.
You have 38 numbers on the wheel. An even-number bet is always a bet that one of 18 numbers will come up—there are 18 red numbers and 18 black numbers, and there are 18 odd numbers and 18 even numbers.
There are always 20 numbers that AREN’T red, black, odd, or even. That’s because 2 of the stops on the roulette wheel are green and are numbered 0 and 00.
To calculate the probability of winning a bet, you just divide the number of ways you can win by the total possible number of outcomes.
In the case of American roulette, you can win 18 ways, but you have 38 possible outcomes. 18/38 = 47.37%. It’s the same number, but most people are more comfortable understanding that number when it’s expressed as a percentage.
You should also understand that in most casino games, skill doesn’t matter. In the few games where skill does matter, the house still has an edge. It’s just smaller for players with more skill.
For example, everyone knows that blackjack is a game of skill and decision-making. If you make the correct decisions, the house still has an edge of at least 0.5%-maybe even 1%. But most players who don’t know the right strategy for blackjack give the house an edge of more like 2% or 2.5%.
Some players can get an edge over the casino at blackjack or video poker, but that takes skill and experience. If you’re really a novice, you might want to put off learning how to get an edge at those games—at least until you get your feet wet.
One other aspect of casino games I’d like to mention is “The Gambler’s Fallacy.” This is the belief that past events somehow affect future events, even when they don’t.
If the ball lands on red 8 times in a row in a roulette game, the probability of it landing on black on the next spin is still 47.37%. The formula for probability doesn’t change unless the conditions of the game change.
This happens in blackjack, by the way, and this is the reason card counters are able to get an edge over the casino. When all the aces have been dealt, it’s impossible to get a blackjack. That’s just one example. But every card that’s dealt from the deck is gone, which changes the probability.
But when a ball lands on red in roulette, that red stop is still there the next time you spin the wheel.
What does this mean on a practical level?
The main thing is that hot and cold streaks only exist in retrospect. They have no bearing on future results. Slot machines don’t become “due.” Numbers don’t stay hot or cold just because of what happened before.
I went to a casino with a beautiful lady friend of mine last weekend, and she was absolutely convinced that if she played the same slot machine every time she visited the casino, her odds of winning would gradually increase over time.
That’s not how it works.
I’d like to continue this post with some suggestions about how to choose which games you should play.
Everyone has a different personality. Most articles on the internet that recommend casino games base their recommendations on a single factor—the house edge. If the house edge is low, then that’s a good game. If it’s high, that’s a bad game.
Choosing a game to play is more complicated than that, or at least it should be.
Do you like making decisions that affect your possible outcomes? Or would you prefer to just play a game of pure chance where your decisions don’t have anything to do with your purely random outcomes?
If you do like making decisions, blackjack and video poker are probably the best games for you.
The house edge on these games is low, and it gets lower when you play well. This means being able to decide whether to hit or stand in blackjack, or deciding on the right cards to keep or throw away in video poker.
If you don’t like making decisions, almost any other casino game will do—except maybe for some of the poker-based games, which also require decisions. (Blackjack has a much lower house edge than any of those games, though.)
But that’s not the only factor to consider.
How social are you?
Do you want to talk to other people while you play? Or would you rather be left alone?
If you prefer to be left alone, slot machines and video poker are the appropriate choices. Video poker is better than slot machines in almost every respect other than the pressure of needing to make decisions.
There are other questions you need to ask when choosing a game, too.
Baccarat and roulette are both games with multiple people at the table and are relatively slow-paced and require no decisions on the part of the player.
Craps, on the other hand, is a speed freak’s dream.
It’s all about hot streaks and cold streaks, and most of the players at the table are rooting for the shooter. When a shooter gets hot, people get excited and jump up and down, high-fiving each other.
Most online gambling writers ignore everything but the house edge, but the house edge doesn’t tell the complete story.
How many bets you make per hour is the biggest factor affecting how expensive a casino game is in the long run. The size of those bets is important, too—but nothing’s more important than the number of bets per hour.
That’s why slot machines are the most expensive game to play in the casino. The house edge is usually high, but the rate of play is absurd.
Even if you’re only betting a small amount per spin, most players make so many slot machine spins per hour that they lose crazy amounts of money.
The mathematical formula that defines your average loss per hour over a long period of time is actually just a simple multiplication problem.
The most commonly cited number of slot machine spins per hour that I see on the internet is 600.
When I intentionally tried to play slowly at the Winstar this weekend, I was still making 400 spins per hour. The games are hard to play slow.
There’s no way to know the actual house edge of a slot machine game, but let’s assume that the game you’re playing is pretty loose by most standards. It has a 5% house edge.
Furthermore, we’ll assume that you’re playing a penny slot where you’re wagering $1.25 per spin. You’re betting 5 coins each on 25 different paylines. (This was the set-up on Lightning Sevens, which was a fun progressive game I played last weekend.)
Now let’s compare that with a much slower-paced game—roulette.
The number of bets you make per hour in a roulette game is largely a function of how many players are at the table.
Let’s assume that you’re one of 6 players at the table. You’ll probably see about 30 spins per hour. The minimum bet at most roulette tables is at least $5, so we’ll use that as our average bet size. (That’s a bet 4 times as large as I was gambling with on the slots, by the way.) And the house edge is 5.26%.
That’s a huge difference in your average expected loss, but most people think that roulette’s a lousy game with a high house edge. And since the minimum bet is so much higher, you’d think your average losses would be correspondingly higher, too.
But they’re not.
What about a game with a much lower house edge? How would that compare?
Most people know that blackjack has a house edge of 0.5% if you play well. Let’s look at how much we expect to lose on that game.
We’ll assume (again) that you’re sitting at a reasonably full table, so you’re probably only playing 50 hands per hour.
As you can see, blackjack is easily one of the best games in the house if you know how to play the game well.
If your main criterion for choosing a game is how easy it is to play, you probably won’t be disappointed with the slot machines.
There’s really nothing to playing slots. If you spend a little time studying how the paylines work, you’ll understand what’s going on just fine.
On the other hand, if you don’t mind doing some work, craps has one of the lowest house edge figures in the casino. It’s easier to play than you think, too. Just take one of the classes that the casino offers in the mid-morning or early afternoon.
But ignore the casino’s advice about strategy. They always give lousy advice about the right craps strategy.
The right craps strategy is simple enough—just stick with the bets on the table with the lowest house edge. These bets include the following.
You can find plenty of tutorials about how craps works on this site, in fact, and all those bets will be explained. You can pick a lot of other crazy bets at the craps table, but the house edge on those bets is so high it will make your head spin.
Blackjack is easy to play but harder to master. You should take the time and effort to learn to play and use basic strategy to get the lowest house edge possible, too.
Video poker is also a great game that takes some learning to play well. Both games are worth the effort.
One of the coolest things about hanging out and playing games in a casino is getting free stuff. At most Vegas casinos, you can get free cocktails just for playing the casino games.
But you can also get free food, free room and board, and even cash back in the form of rebates. All you need to do to qualify for these freebies is to sign up for and use the players’ club that the casino offers.
Here’s how that works.
The casino gives you a card. It looks kinda like a room key or a credit card. You insert it into whatever slot machine you’re playing, and it tracks how much you’re gambling. You earn points based on how much money you risk.
A lot of gamblers are suspicious of the players’ club card. They suspect that it’s used to change the odds on the slot machines if you’re winning.
This is NOT the case. The casino wants you to use the card, and they don’t care if you win. They know that in the long run, they’re going to walk away with more profits if you spend more time on their machines.
You can even use your players’ club card at the table games. Usually, all you need to do is hand it to the dealer so that they can track your play there, too.
The only good reason for not using the players’ club card is if you want to avoid being marketed to. Don’t believe the myths about how the players’ club card causes the slot machines to tighten up.
That’s just not how they work.
Getting started with casino gambling is probably way easier than you ever thought possible, but if you think about it, that makes sense.
Casinos don’t market games that are hard to play. That would result in fewer players and less revenue.
Be careful with your money the first time you go in a casino, though. The games are set up so that the casino has a mathematical advantage. You can win in the short run if you get lucky, but the odds are against you.