The 10 Worst Games in the Casino
Published on August 22, 2016
It’s tempting to just judge all casino games by their house edge. If you do that, you can just look up a list of games played in a casino and sort them according to which ones have the highest house edge, and you’d have your list of worst games.
Casino gambling is more complicated than that, though. There’s more to choosing a casino game than deciding whether or not the house edge is too high. In fact, that’s not even the best predictor of how much it’s going to cost you to play a particular game.
You also have to take into account how much you’re putting into action with each bet and how many bets you’re placing per hour. If you’re playing penny slots at the minimum bet and making 600 spins per hour, you’re only putting $6 per hour into action. Even if the house edge is 20%, you’re only going to lose an average of $1.20 per hour.
On the other hand, if you’re playing blackjack for $100 per hand, and you’re placing 50 bets per hour, you’re putting $5000 per hour to action. Assuming the house edge for that game is 1%, you’re looking at losing $50 per hour on average.
One game has a house edge 20 times the other, but your average hourly loss couldn’t be more different.
And that’s just one consideration among many. Another consideration is how much fun you’re having while you play. If you’re like some people, you don’t want to be interacting with others while you gamble. Maybe you’re an introvert.
If that’s the case, a game with a lot of social interaction, like craps, might be the worst possible experience you could have in a casino.
On the other hand, if you’re an extrovert, playing slots or video poker might be duller than watching paint dry.
Most of what determines whether or not a casino game is good depends on your temperament and goals. You should spend some time thinking about what type of person you and what types of games you might enjoy before setting foot in the casino.
That being said, I do have some opinions about the worst games in the casino. I express them below:
If you’ve read the companion piece to this blog post, “The 10 Best Games in the Casino”, you’ll notice that I included slot machines on my list of best games, too.
No, I haven’t lost my mind.
And no, I’m not trying to be disingenuous.
Some slot machines are great fun, and others aren’t. The slot machines on the worst list include some of the following games for the following reasons:
These have notoriously low payout percentages, especially in Las Vegas. If you’re absolutely desperate to get a little more action in before you fly home, you might play these, but you should know that the payback percentage is probably between 75% and 85%. That means you’re going to lose, on average, $15 to $25 for every $100 you wager on these games.
Compare that with slot machines at casinos which are heavily trafficked, like those on the Strip in Las Vegas. The payback percentage on those games is always well into the 90%s.
The reason is simple:
When you’re at the airport, those slot machines are the only game in town. They don’t have to compete with other casinos for your attention. If you want to play slot machines while you’re at the airport, you’re stuck with their games.
Casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, on the other hand, are constantly competing with each other. If you don’t like how you’re running at the slots in one casino, you can just walk next door and look for a looser slot machine game there
These also offer lower payout percentages than flat top slot machines (A flat top slot has a flat jackpot as its grand prize—it doesn’t grow progressively larger over time.) The math on this is just common sense.
To fuel an ever-increasing progressive jackpot, the games take a tiny percentage of each bet and use it toward increasing the size of the progressive. That’s money that comes directly out of the payback percentage of the other smaller wins. The odds of hitting the progressive jackpot are similar (if not as extreme) to hitting a lottery win.
So 99.9999% of the time, the payback percentage is going to be significantly lower for YOU because you’re not likely to see that progressive jackpot when you’re playing.
Slot machines are cool for certain players, but not all slots are created equally.
You probably also noticed that blackjack made the top spot on my list of the best games in the casino. That’s because it’s a lot of fun and offers some of the best odds in the casino. But not all blackjack games are created equal.
Most blackjack games pay off at 3 to 2 if you get a blackjack (a “natural”). That’s a 2 card hand that totals 21—it has an ace and another card worth 10. This bonus payout changes the texture of the game dramatically.
In fact, the increased payoff on that hand is the reason card counting works. Card counters track the ratios of aces and 10s in the deck to low cards. When there are a relatively high number of those cards in the deck, your odds of getting a blackjack and the accompanying higher payout increases. So they raise their wagers when that situation comes up.
But some casinos only offer a 6/5 payout for a blackjack. That has a huge effect on your bottom line. This particular rules variation takes unfair advantage of unsophisticated gamblers who don’t understand what a big difference that extra payout makes to your bottom line.
This one rules change adds 1.39% to the casino’s edge. That might sound like a small amount, but here’s what that really means to your bottom line.
Let’s say you’re playing for $100 per hand, and you’re playing 30 hands per hour. You’re putting $3000 into action every hour that you play.
You can calculate your expected loss per hour by multiplying the house edge by the amount of action you’re bringing.
Let’s say you’re playing a reasonably good blackjack game with perfect basic strategy, and the house edge with all the rules variations in place for this game is only 0.5%. You’re looking at losing, on average, $15 per hour.
That’s not bad for an hour’s entertainment. And standard deviation will help you win during some sessions, too.
But let’s make this one change to the rules and start paying you $120 when you get a blackjack instead of $150. The house edge jumps from 0.5% to 1.89%.
Now your expected loss per hour is around $57.
And that’s the result of one seemingly small rules variation.
My advice is to NEVER play 6/5 blackjack.
Roulette is an okay game for some casino players. It’s relatively slow-paced, so you don’t generally get a lot of money into action per hour. And it’s a nice way to socialize with other gamblers without the intensity of the craps table.
But there are 2 kinds of roulette in most casinos. One is American roulette, and the other is European roulette.
The difference between the 2 games is the number of 0s on the wheel. And like changing the payout on a blackjack from 3 to 2 to 6 to 5, adding another 0 to the wheel has a devastating effect to your odds.
A European roulette wheel has 37 numbers on it. One of them is a 0, which is green, but the rest of them are even and odd numbers that are colored red and black.
The American wheel is exactly the same with one exception—the addition of a slot with 00 on it. It’s also green. But if effectively doubles the odds of the casino winning.
The house gets its edge in roulette from those 0s. If you removed them from the wheel and kept the same payouts on the bets, you’d have an even money game. The house wouldn’t have an edge, and neither would the player.
Here’s how that works:
In fact, the house edge for European roulette is 2.7%. For American roulette, the house edge is 5.26%.
Let’s assume you’re betting $100 per spin. And let’s also assume that you’re getting 30 spins per hour. You’re putting $3000 into action every hour.
You can multiply the house edge by the amount of action you’re bringing in order to get an estimate of your expected hourly loss.
2.7% of $3000 is $81. That’s a big loss per hour compared to blackjack, but it’s still WAY better than your expected hourly loss in the American version of the game.
5.26% of $3000 is $157.80. That’s way more than I want to give up per hour for the privilege of playing a game which only has one difference—an extra 0 on the wheel.
Not all casinos offer European roulette. I suggest sticking with the casinos that do, and just stay away from the America roulette games altogether.
If you love playing the lottery, maybe keno will appeal to you. But I think the game is as dull as watching paint dry. The odds are lousy, and I can’t find anything to recommend it. You might like the idea of playing for a huge jackpot, but you’d be better off playing a progressive slot machine. At least then you’re getting some entertainment and some smaller payouts more often.
Here’s how keno works:
You get a keno card which has the numbers from 1 to 80 listed on it. You choose the numbers you think will hit, and then based on how many numbers you got right, you get a payout. The keno numbers are chosen randomly. Some casinos have a lottery-like set-up with balls, but newer keno games often choose numbers with a computerized random number generator.
The payouts when you hit can be generous, but guess how often you hit?
If you think the odds are similar to those of winning the lottery, then give yourself a gold star.
I’ve said before that the house edge is not the only determiner of what is and what isn’t a good casino game. But the house edge for keno is so high as to be ridiculous. I don’t want to play a game with a house edge of 25%.
But in fairness to keno, the payout percentage for state-run lottery games is 50%. So in a casino where the keno game has a 25% house edge, you’re getting a lottery game with double the odds of winning.
But a bad game is a bad game. If you take a terrible game and make it half as bad, it’s still bad.
If you enjoy keno, I apologize for hurting your feelings. But there are much better ways of gambling that are more fun and offer you better odds.
Even American roulette is a better deal than keno.
Craps is also on my list of best casino games. I stand by that assessment. I think the right player with the right temperament can have more fun at the craps table than anywhere else in the casino.
The reason craps is also on my worst casino games list is because of some of the terrible bets on the table. If you’re placing bets on the more intricate and complicated options on the craps table, you’re facing some of the worst odds in the casino.
That’s why craps is both one of the best and one of the worst games in any casino.
Here’s a look at the house edge on some of these bets:
The “Any 7” bet is a particularly bad bet mathematically. You’re betting that the results of the next roll will total 7, and you win regardless of which numbers make up that 7—you can win with a 6+1, a 5+2, or a 4+3.
But this bet only pays off at 4 to 1. The house edge for this wager is 16.9%.
Compare that with the house edge of one of the better bets on the table—the pass line bet. The house edge for that bet is only 1.41%.
What kind of mathematical expectation are we looking at when we compare those 2 bets?
If you’re betting $100, you’re looking at an expected loss of $16.90 versus an expected loss of $1.41. And that’s an average per bet.
Even at a busy table, you’re looking at 100 rolls per hour. So you’re looking at the difference between an expected loss of $141 per hour compared to an expected loss of $1690 per hour.
And that’s not the only terrible bet on the craps table.
The hard ways bets are also notorious for their high house edge. A hard way bet is a bet that you’ll get a total of 4, 6, 8, or 10, but the dice are going to get that total by one of the following combinations: 2+2, 3+3, 4+4, or 5+5.
The payoff for winning a hard 4 or a hard 10 bet is 7 to 1. The payoff for a hard 6 or a hard 8 is 9 to 1.
The house edge on these bets is 11.1% or 9.09%, respectively.
Your best bet at the craps table is to stick with the simpler bets like pass/don’t pass, come/don’t come, and the odds bet.
If you’re trying those other, more “interesting” bets, you’re playing one of the worst games in the casino.
Big Six is more like a carnival game than a casino game. It’s not even that common any more. But I know one thing about carnival games—the odds are in the house’s favor in a BIG way.
Here’s how Big Six works. There’s a spinning wheel, similar to the Wheel of Fortune, but it’s upright instead of level with the ground. There are dollar symbols of various denominations on the wheel, and those dollar amounts are also found on the surface of the betting table.
The wheel and the table also have options for the “Big Six” logo.
If you bet a $1 bill on the $1 result, you win $1 if that result hits when the wheel is spun. If you bet a $5 bill, you win $5 if the $5 lands when the wheel is spun. And so on for the $10 and $20 bets. The logo bets pay off at $40.
The odds of winning most of these bets are lousy compared to the payoff, but some bets are definitely better than others with this game.
The best of the bad bets in this game is the $1 bet. The house edge for that bet is only 11.11%. That’s twice as high as the house edge at the American roulette wheel, which you’ll remember made our list of worst casino games already.
But that’s the BEST bet in this game. Bet $5 or $20, and the house edge is 22.22%. That’s about what you’d expect from a keno game, but you don’t even have the slim chance of getting a big payday. The best you can hope for is to win $5 or $20.
This is a silly game that’s not found in a lot of casinos any more. When you do find it, you’ll usually see it near the entrance.
I don’t judge casino games based solely on the house edge, but I do take it into consideration, and so should you.
There’s no good strategy for playing the Big Six Wheel, but if you are going to play, stick with the $1 bets, as the house edge skyrockets for all the other bets on the table.
But some casino executive somewhere saw an opportunity here, and now the game is pretty common.
The problem is that it’s boring and has lousy odds.
Here’s how the game works:
When you were a kid, you probably played War at the kitchen table. You get a card, and your opponent gets a card. The player with the card of higher rank wins the hand. In the event of a tie, you deal out 2 or 3 dead cards and have another showdown.
In the casino game version, you and the dealer compete in the same kind of contest. But if you have to go to War in the event of a push, you only win your original bet, even though you have to place an additional bet to go to War in the first place.
The game not only has a relatively high house edge, it plays incredibly fast. Unlike blackjack, there are few decisions to be made. And you’re looking at half as many cards per hand. So seeing 200 hands per hour isn’t unheard of or even hard to pull off when playing Casino War.
The house edge is between 2% and 2.5%, but there’s a side bet where you can wager on whether or not you’re going to go to war on a given hand. The house edge on that bet is lousy. The payoff is only 10 to 1, but the odds of actually going to war on a given hand are 12 to 1.
I avoid War because it’s just a boring game with a lousy house edge. Blackjack is infinitely more interesting.
Craps is the most popular dice game in the casino, but Sic Bo is still relatively common. This game uses 3 dice instead of 2, and you have a wide variety of bets you can place. But it lacks the excitement of craps, because the house edge is much higher, and the way it’s played is quite different.
Instead of having a player act as a shooter and roll the dice, in Sic Bo the dealer rolls the dice every time. There are a bewildering number of bets available, but the house edge on all of these bets is lousy.
This bet pays off at even odds, but the house edge is 2.78%. This is actually one of the best bets on the table.
You can also bet on specific totals. You might bet that you’ll see a total of 4 or a total of 17. If you do, that bet pays off at 50 to 1 or more. But even though there’s a big payoff, the house edge is awful—it’s between 15% and 29%, which makes this bet a similar proposition to a keno wager. The house edge goes down as the payoff for this result goes up. If you’re at a casino where you get paid off 60 to 1 instead of 50 to 1, you’ll see that higher percentage.
Sic Bo is interesting to look at, and it’s really popular in Macau. Most Americans don’t enjoy the game much. There’s no strategy other than choosing the bets with the lowest house edge, but even then, the odds aren’t great.
I suggest trying craps instead. It’s more fun and offers better odds.
Video poker is another game on my list of best casino games. The reason it makes my list of worst games in the casino is because some versions of some popular games offer a relatively high house edge.
If you can find a full pay version of the game and play with optimal strategy, the payback percentage is 99.54%. That means the house edge is only 0.46%, making the game comparable to blackjack.
But most Jacks or Better games don’t offer these kinds of payouts. You can find 8/5, 7/5, and 6/5 versions of Jacks or Better. The house edge skyrockets as the payoffs for these 2 hands go down.
Here’s a comparison:
The best thing you can do as a video poker player is specialize in certain games and learn how to spot the better pay tables. If you’re discriminating about which games you play, video poker IS one of the best bets in the casino.
But if you play video poker games with lousy pay tables, you’re just giving away your money for no reason.
It doesn’t matter how fun a game is, if you don’t understand what’s going on, you won’t enjoy yourself. I don’t know anyone who is sitting there puzzled about what’s going on whose enjoying himself. So any casino game you don’t understand is, by definition, a bad game.
You’re better off playing roulette if you understand it if you don’t understand blackjack at all.
My suggestion is to spend some time reading the tutorials explaining how to play the various casino games. This site has a tutorial or guide to practically every casino game you can imagine.
Once you’ve done that, try playing some of the free versions of the games available at online casinos. Then give them a try for real money.
If you don’t want to risk real money playing these games, that’s cool, too. In that case, I recommend asking the casino if they offer free classes for the various casino games. Most good casinos offer these classes during their off hours. The dealers are great at explaining how to play the games, although they’ll occasionally recommend less than optimal strategies during their classes.
Here’s the bottom line:
Learn how to play the games before visiting the casino. You’ll enjoy yourself more, and you’ll be able to make educated decisions about which games you want to play and why.
One of the things you’ll notice about this list of the worst games in the casino is that many of the games are on the list of best games, too. That’s because the variations available make a big difference in how “good” a casino game is. Some games offer a few really great bets and a few really lousy bets at the same table (craps, for example). Other games offer different versions where the bets are good, but they have other different versions where the bets are not so good (blackjack, for example, or roulette).
The most important thing to remember is that you should educate yourself about the games before playing them. You should also spend some time thinking about what you’re hoping to get out of your gambling experience.
If you do those 2 things, you can decide for yourself which casino games are the best and which are the worst.