7 Statistics about Gambling You Need to Become Familiar With

By Randy Ray in General
| January 13, 2016 12:00 am PST
Dice Rolling

As a blogger, I have goals. One of them is to write data-driven posts. What better way to provide informative content to my readers?

Statistics about gambling provide a perfect opportunity to write just this kind of post. I came up with the idea for this post a couple of days ago. A friend of mine (also a blogger) asked for feedback on his latest post.

Here’s what I told him:

The first three paragraphs—your introduction—are boring. Much of what you’ve written is bland to the point of being meaningless. For example, one of your sentences is “gambling games are part of our culture”.

Well, yeah. So what?

You want to include specific data about HOW those gambling games are woven into our culture. The best way to do this—especially in your introduction—is by sharing specific statistics and data points to catch your readers’ interest from the start.

Here’s an example:

King Richard outlawed dice among his soldiers in 1190. Cervantes was writing about blackjack as early as the early 17th century. The word lottery is derived from the Biblical concept of “casting lots”.

That’s a data-driven approach to explaining that gambling games are a part of our history.

Of course, that’s a little bit of a digression. You want to read a post with gambling statistics that you NEED. I offer 7 of these statistics below, along with some commentary and analysis related to each of them.

1. On any given day, a casino gambler will walk away a winner 30% of the time

This statistic is from the Wall Street Journal. It’s encouraging, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, either.

The data comes from a 2 year period and looks at results of casino players on the Internet. Over the entire period, 11% of those gamblers ended profitably. Most of them had a net win of less than $150.

A more important detail is how those results change for heavy gamblers. The top bettors are the ones who placed the most wagers over the 2 year period. Only 5% of the top-tier gamblers walked away a winner.

Here’s another telling detail:

2% of the gamblers made up 50% of the casinos’ revenue. And 10.7% of the gamblers made up 80% of the casinos’ revenue.

What about the gamblers who spent less time gambling? How did they fare?

The 10% of the gamblers who placed the fewest wagers had the highest winning percentage. 17% of them walked away winners.

The study looked at a total of 4222 gamblers. Of them, only 7 won more than $5000, but 217 lost more than $5000.

What do specific individuals look like?

One example is a Swiss customer who played an average of 3 days per week. He made 1000 wagers per day at an average of $9 per bet. He won 16% of the days he gambled.

What was his net loss over 2 years?

$110,000

Another example is a Slovenian gambler who only placed a few small wagers each day. He had 2 big winning days within the same 2 week period. On each of those days, he won a little over $14,000. He played for a little longer, but he still quit while he was ahead. His net profit was $22,000, making him the biggest winner in the study.

Why do you need to know and understand this data?

It keeps your expectations realistic. You shouldn’t gamble at a casino, online or otherwise, with the idea that you’re going to get rich.

It also should inform your strategy and playing tendencies. If you want to be a winner, you should use the Slovenian gambler as your role model. Only place a few small wagers. Once you’ve had a couple of big winning days, quit.

Quitting while you’re ahead is the most difficult gambling strategy to adapt.

It’s also the most effective.

What does this data NOT indicate?

It’s not a condemnation of the industry. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gamble or play casino games. It just means you need to take a reasonable approach.

Casino gambling is like eating sweets. It’s best done in moderation, but who’d want to live their entire life without sweets?

2. Less than 2% of Americans have a gambling addiction or compulsive gambling problem

This data comes from the National Council on Problem Gambling. The number sounds small because it is.

Of course, the United States is a big country, so that tiny percentage actually equates to over 5.77 million people.  By comparison, Americans with a substance abuse problem number around 7%, or 20 million people.

Unfortunately, the United States does a lousy job of addressing compulsive gambling. The amount of public money spent on compulsive gambling treatment is only 1/281 of the amount provided to substance abuse treatment.

Why do you need to know this?

For one thing, it should reassure you that you’re probably not a problem gambler. Don’t assume that just because you’ve had a losing session or two that you’re a gambling addict. By all means, seek help if you need it, but gambling moderately isn’t impossible for most people.

I like to think of gambling as being like alcohol. It’s probably not good for people in general, but it’s also not something we should outlaw. Some people can handle this kind of fun. Others can’t.

Know which camp you fall into. Behave accordingly.

3. Only 0.5% of gamblers fall into the category of “professional”

This statistic is 18 years old. But I can’t imagine it’s more than double or tripled over the last couple of decades. I found it in a 1997 New York Times article about a professional sports bettor. They, in turn, got the statistic from the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

Many of these professionals are involved in sports betting. To break even in that niche, you need to win 53% of the time. To make a living, you need to win 55% to 58% of the time. Winning more than 58% of the time is almost impossible.

But before 1987, there was no legal designation for a professional gambler. Robert P Groetzinger, an Illinois greyhound bettor had a dispute with the IRS, and he had to take it to the Supreme Court. They ruled that he was, in fact, a professional gambler.

To be considered a professional gambler, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must gamble full time.
  • Your primary motive must be income or profit.

The biggest perk to being considered a professional gambler is that you can deduct business expenses, like newsletter subscriptions.

Why do you need to know this statistic?

It’s going to keep you realistic about your odds of becoming a professional gambler. Gambling for a living is hard work. It involves near-insane levels of self-discipline, meticulous record-keeping, and lots of knowledge.

It’s hard enough to be in the top 20% of your field. Imagine trying to be in the top ½ of 1%.

What’s the other reason for knowing and understanding this statistic?

So you’ll know that even though it’s hard and unlikely, it is POSSIBLE. If you think you’re the type of person who’d make a great professional gambler, know that it is possible.

Give it a try. It might be the lifestyle for you.

4. Electronic gaming machines are the favorite casino game of 61% of gamblers

This statistic is from AmericanGaming.org. The percentage of revenue generated from gaming machines is also in line with that number. Some states report revenue by game. In the states that do, 62% of their revenue comes from gaming machines.

Iowa and South Dakota casinos are outliers, though. They get 91% and 90% of their gambling revenues from machines. Nevada, on the other hand, is the lowest, with 62.5%.

Why does this statistic matter to you?

For one thing, if you’re not playing electronic gaming machines, you might be missing out on some of the most entertaining games in the casino. If these games weren’t fun, people wouldn’t play them.

Slot machines and video poker are sometimes looked down on by serious gamblers. But they shouldn’t be. Many of the better-quality casinos offer slot machines without payout percentages in the 95%+ range.

And video poker has some of the best odds in any casino. Look hard enough and you’ll find video poker games with payback percentages of over 98% or 99%.

And video blackjack and roulette are becoming more popular, too. They’re worth a try if you’ve never played one before.

5. The house edge for the lottery is 50%

In an article on Live Science, Michael Shackleford, a gambling math expert, explains that the worst gambling game you can play is the lottery. That’s because the house edge is 50%.

How does that compare to other gambling games?

Even roulette has better odds. If you bet $10 on the lottery, you are mathematically expected to lose $5. Wager that same amount on a spin of the roulette wheel, and your expected lost is only about 53 cents.

Why does this statistic matter?

Once you understand how bad a bet on a lottery ticket is, you’ll probably never play again. In fact, I’d much prefer that you save your gambling money for the casino. I’ve written at length about why I hate the lottery and love casinos, but here’s a quick summary:

The government has no business running a gambling business. That’s not what the United States government is supposed to be about. Imagine if the government decided to start opening bars where they could sell alcohol.

Also, and probably more importantly, they offer a lousy game. No one should play a game with a 50% house edge. No one should offer such a game. The worldwide gambling and casino industry is a living example of how huge profits can be made offering games with much better odds.

Finally, the government doesn’t really spend the money generated by the lottery on education. The reality is that most of those funds subsidize tax cuts for corporations.

6. The best payback percentage for slot machines (96.71%) in Las Vegas can be found on the Boulder Strip. The worst (87.15%) can also be found on the Boulder Strip

The payback percentage for a slot machine is the amount of money a casino expects you to win per spin over the long run.

Here’s an example:

You’re playing a slot machine with a 96.71% payback percentage. You’re wagering 25 cents per spin, and you make 600 spins per hour. For every 25 cents you bet, the casino expects you to win 24.18 cents. That results in a net loss of 0.82 cents per spin. Over 600 spins, that’s a total expected loss of $4.92.

That’s not a bad deal for an hour’s entertainment. According to American Casino Guide, that’s the historical rate of return reported for the quarter machines on the Boulder Strip.

The MegaBucks machines offer the worst returns in Vegas, and they’re especially bad on the Boulder Strip. Yeah, you have the possibility of winning a huge life-changing jackpot. But most of the time, you’re just going to lose the expected amount.

In this case, you’re looking at betting $1 per spin 600 times per hour. The casino expects you to keep 87.15 cents per spin; they expect to win 13.85 cents per spin. Over an hour, that adds up to $83.10.

There’s a big difference between losing $83/hour and losing $4 or $5 per hour.

Avoid the MegaBucks slot machine games. They’re better than the lottery, but not by much. What really matters is how they compare to other games.

7. In 2001, Macau generated less than $2 million in gaming revenue. In 2012, that number rose to over $35 million

According to the reports at the University of Las Vegas website, Macau is the fastest growing gambling destination in the world. In fact, they generate over 3 times the gambling revenue of the entire state of Nevada (home to Las Vegas).

Why does this statistic matter?

It might matter if you’re looking for a new frontier to explore, gambling-wise. Just be ready to play baccarat. It’s by far the most popular game there. 85% of the gambling revenue generate in Macau is generated from action at the baccarat tables.

Compare that with the United States, where 65% of the gambling revenue comes from slot machines. You’ve noticed that slot machines take up most of a casino’s floor nowadays. Imagine all that space covered in baccarat tables instead.

They also play Pai Gow there, and you’ll find other gambling games you’re familiar with.

Conclusion

Data-driven posts about gambling are hard to come by, but knowing some of the statistics makes the hobby more interesting. Knowing approximately what the odds are that you’ll walk away a winner is a good thing. It’s also good to know exactly how unusual it is for someone to be able to gamble professionally.

Understanding the house edge can help you decide which games to play and where. Stretching your gambling budget is one way to get more entertainment value for your money. The numbers don’t lie about the popularity of gambling in Macau, either.

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