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Dulling the House Edge: How to Avoid Getting Taken at the Casino

Mar 21, 2014

house-edge-1-210314Be careful!

Don’t let the casino bleed you dry; learn how to prevent the house from edging you.

As gamblers, we hate the house edge. Why should the cards literally be stacked against us when we walk into a casino? The painful truth is, if there were no house edge casinos wouldn’t be profitable and wouldn’t exist. The edge determines the average pace by which a casino takes money from its players. It’s the price we pay to enjoy our favorite casino games.

But knowing that, players should be aware of the nuances of house edge, and how to use it to their advantage. For example, different games carry different edges. Do your homework, and avoid high edge games.

This piece will provide a detailed analysis of house edge. What it is and how it varies from game to game, ending with some advice on how you can improve your casino strategy to prevent the house from getting an edge over you.

Your best low-edge bets

The house edge is the provider’s (house) winning advantage built into every game, be it blackjack, roulette, slots, sportsbetting or baccarat. In concrete terms, it refers to the ratio of all money lost by players to the total amount they wagered. Taken on the industry level, it is the amount of money which all land-based and online casinos keep from the total amount wagered. However, it is the theoretical win percentage of casinos over a long period of time.

Every game carries an edge, so the question is whether it is high or low. Smart players focus on games with the lowest possible edges. The lowest edge game found in casinos is baccarat. The house edge when the player bets is 1.24 percent, and 1.06 percent on the banker (house) bet. The small margin is due to the fact that baccarat is a game of chance.

The player competes head to head against the banker, with bettors placing their money on the player, banker or tie. While one would not expect the house to have any advantage in a game of chance, players are advised to bet on the banker the majority of the time.

Blackjack is also one of the lowest edge games out there. The house’s built-in advantage (assuming that players do not mistakes) lies at .5 percent for six-deck blackjack, although in reality it is generally around 2 percent due to player missteps. Unfortunately for gamblers, even the best blackjack players are likely to lose money in the long-term.

One way in which to close the gap between player and house is to use a card counting system. Counting helps the player anticipate which cards will be dealt in upcoming hands. While not always successful, it is estimated that counting properly can shave about 2 percent off of the house edge.

May the odds be never in your favor

On the other end of the spectrum, some games carry a very high house edge and are avoided by the majority of smart gamblers. Gambling regulations limit how much casinos can win from slot machines, but some carry edges as high as 15 percent. This means that your chances of taking home money are much higher playing blackjack or baccarat than slots. While slot players are enticed by the chance to win gargantuan jackpots, the data shows that if you play long enough the casino will make away with a large chunk of your cash. It just isn’t a good investment.

The interactive game keno carries an even larger house edge than slots. The object of the game is to predict which numbers 1 through 80 will appear on 20 randomly selected numbered balls. The payout is calculated according to how many matching numbers were selected. While varying depending on location and style of keno being played, the edge is generally around 25 percent. Literally the machine is programmed for you to lose, so focus your time and money on something else.

As for more traditional casino games, roulette carries the highest house edge. The figure can vary depending on location and regulation, but in Las Vegas the average house edge for various styles of roulette is 5.26 percent. The game involves betting that the wheel will land on a specific number or series of numbers. As the wheel covers 38 numbers, there are more ways to lose than to win.

Roulette is a game of pure chance, just like baccarat. The difference is that in baccarat the odds are almost 50/50 between the player and the house, and in roulette the house has a much higher chance of winning. Unlike in blackjack, no amount of skill or strategy can turn the tide back in the player’s favor.

How to prevent the casino from sticking it to you

Don’t let your self-proclaimed high-roller status fool you. Every game carries a house edge. Essentially the edge doesn’t tell you whether you will win or lose money, it tells you how quickly you will lose money. Theoretically an edge of 4 percent means you will lose your money twice as fast as an edge of 2 percent. So do your homework and choose games with the lowest possible edges.

Generally that means table games. Baccarat and blackjack carry relatively low edges, with blackjack strategy and/or card counting ability helping a player counter some of the house’s edge. Avoid slots and keno; they are programmed to take in a lot more money than they pay out. And the classic game of chance roulette carries a high house edge as well.


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