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Analyzing if Online Casinos Are All About Luck or Skill

| June 9, 2022 1:43 pm PDT
Smart devices centered with casinos, casino background with slots, money, people celebrating

Long before Al Gore created the Internet, people were arguing over whether games involving wagering were games of skill or games of chance. Why? Because some people will argue about anything, most likely.

People have spent centuries trying to legalize various forms of gambling as games of skill. Others were trying to criminalize those same games because they were games of chance—which somehow made them evil, like coveting your neighbor’s wife or painting your door a color not approved by your HOA.

Poker is a prime example. Did the person who raked that last pot win because of luck or because of skill? And which would make the win good rather than evil?

Even a cursory contemplation of the facts about poker would reveal that while it took both to make the win happen, overall, the skill had a fat thumb on the scales.

Or—to look at the game from a different perspective—some wins in poker are primarily the result of luck or chance, but most are the result of skill. Good and evil have little to do with the process. Before you head over to the top rated online casinos, join me for a dive into the rabbit hole of luck vs. skill in casinos.

What Is Skill, Exactly?

Card shark

While luck is easy to define, skill is not. There is a mathematical and interpersonal skill (bluffing is a good example of interpersonal skill, as is correctly interpreting tells). There are skills associated with knowledge, such as the “perfect play” required to win at blackjack and video poker.

No one will argue that the ability to judge whether an opponent is bluffing about the strength of his hand is not a skill. Nor is the ability to calculate the odds of drawing the cards quickly and accurately necessary to win a particular hand.

Walk into any brick and mortar casinos and look around. You’ll see games that are obviously skill-based (like poker) and others that are easily driven by chance (like the big wheel).

And among those, you’re bound to spot a few that are on the fence, maybe a bit chance and a bit of skill. Blackjack comes to mind, but there are others.

So why is it that when we click on an online casino, we suddenly suspect that it’s all about luck and that skill is meaningless, useless in the face of blind chance?

I suspect that odd perceptions can be laid directly at the feet of the Random Number Generator (RNG).

Want to learn more about skill, luck, and random chance? See how it applies to gambling in general in the post below.

Is Gambling About Skill or Luck and Random Chance?

Gambling, by definition, involves risking something of value on an uncertain event. This can be a roll of the dice, a turn of a playing card, or the outcome of a sporting event. In that respect, gambling always involves a certain degree of luck. But when you...

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RNG Is Not the Bad Guy Here

RNG graphic

The roll of the dice, the shuffling of cards, and the circling ball on the roulette wheel can all be mimicked by that miracle of modern science, the random number generator.

It is used in virtually every gambling game at every online casino in the world (live dealer games excluded).

At online casinos, even prominent skill games like poker use RNG to “shuffle” the “cards” before dealing them. Don’t confuse that with chance or luck. It’s just a different method of randomizing the cards.

Incidentally, there are two characteristics of some games that can each be described as a skill: Superior ability in playing the game (as in tennis, basketball, hurling) and skill in betting the game (craps, blackjack, video poker).

So how much does luck factor into online casinos? No more and no less than it does in brick & mortar casinos.

Do You Feel Lucky?

One of the first things about deciding what sort of gambling you want to do at any casino—online or otherwise—is to figure out whether you’re primarily an adrenaline junkie or a gladiator.

Adrenaline junkies are typically drawn to the chance/luck games. The fact that the game’s outcome is entirely unpredictable is the biggest reason they enjoy it. It gives them that frisson—that almost addictive sensation of excitement and fear.

It may also give them some solid jackpots, but winning is almost beside the point. As it is for the person jumping off the cliff, for the adrenaline junkie, it’s the journey, not the destination.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the most encouraging example, but you get the idea. A bet on a game of chance is a leap into the unknown, which can be a rush.

The gladiator, on the other hand, is all about victory. The remains of the gladiator’s many foes must be strewn about the battlefield, their treasures at the gladiator’s feet.

There’s nothing wrong with being either of these gambling types. But it’s perfect to know which one most resembles you.

Games of Luck (Primarily)

Once you know what sort of game you’re most likely to want to play, it’s time to see what the online casino has to offer you. In this section, let’s look at the best-called games of chance.

You’ll soon see that some games aren’t so easily categorized, but for the most part, the journey is the reward here.

Slot Machines

A Night With Cleo Hot Drop Jackpot graphic

Whether mechanical, electronic, or virtual, slot machines deliver excitement and entertainment—but they don’t offer you an opportunity to improve your game.

You could try claiming that it was a skill that led to you winning that jackpot, but everyone will understand you would be just as correct, claiming you won because you’re lefthanded.

Some slots, of course, reward good timing, and knowing when to play a game and when not to play a game is a skill of sorts.

For instance, hot drop progressive jackpots—a new type of slot machine that pay-off big jackpots randomly, but only after either a certain amount of time has elapsed (once per hour, once per day, etc.) or once a certain jackpot level has been reached ($1000, $5000, etc.).

Such games will reward the player who only hits the spin button when one of the progressives is likely to pay.

Keno

Come on. Not even die-hard keno players would agree with the statement “keno is a game of skill.” They’d laugh in your face. And then they’d move a couple of machines away from you, slip a twenty into the new machine, and go right back to picking their favorite numbers.

There’s no reasoning with keno players. They won $4500 three years ago when they hit nine out of ten spots, and they know they’re overdue for another.

Incidentally, keno players have plenty of good advice about how to play winning keno. You don’t even need to ask them—they’ll offer it in abundance and free of charge.

Bingo

Like keno, bingo is inarguably a game of chance. It’s very similar to keno (which isn’t all that odd since it is derived from the same ancient Chinese game).

Back before the digital age, when most bingo was played in church basements with beans used to mark the numbers on the bingo cards—the only thing that differentiated bingo from keno was the amount of physical work you had to do to keep track of your current status.

Now that the beans have been replaced with special computer pads that automatically register each number on the hundreds of bingo cards you’re playing, the game has lost much of its glamor.

Lotteries

Lotteries are keno and bingo for lazy people. Not only are they about luck and chance, but they are also for people with no ambition whatsoever.

Roulette

Roulette table

Forget Martingale—roulette is all about chance. It even gave one of the main logical fallacies its go-to example when a roulette table in the Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco landed black 26 times in a row back in 1913.

The Doctrine of the Maturity of Chances is that logical fallacy; although you may know it as the Monte Carlo Fallacy, most call it the Gambler’s Fallacy.

The simple explanation of the fallacy is the erroneous belief that past results in a game of chance affect future results. Our lizard brains tell us the next flip of the coin (after 20 flips resulting in tails) will be heads. Our lizard brains don’t know what they’re talking about. Neither does Martingale.

Baccarat

All those Bond villains notwithstanding, baccarat is a game of luck. Bets are placed before the cards are dealt, and players have no choice of whether to hold, fold, or otherwise change their hands.

If the game had proceeded to the same result, whether you were present during play or not, then you are playing a game of chance. It turns out that the tuxedo you rented to look cool while you played did not affect your play.

Games of Skill (Primarily)

Suppose you’ve decided you’re more the gladiatorial type. In that case, online casinos offer you many opportunities to slay your opponents—er, I meant to say to best your honorable adversaries in a fair and courteous battle.

Incidentally, if you prefer games of skill, then you’ll probably want to take a moment or two to review our detailed guide to gambling on skill games.

Poker

Draw poker

All forms of poker—from five-card draw to seven-card stud, right on through to Omaha and Texas hold’em—are games of skill—for multiple reasons.

They require bluffing skills (and the concurrent ability to judge the bluffing skills of others). They also require mathematical skills, from the simple determination of how many outs one has to make a particular hand to the more sophisticated calculation of implied pot odds.

The best poker players can mentally juggle math calculations equivalent to handicapping all 20 horses running in the Kentucky Derby while sipping a mint julep and laughing at Meg Tilly’s jokes.

Blackjack

While bluffing isn’t part of the equation of playing winning blackjack, knowing the right way to bet every hand is part of that equation.

In fact, perfect play can win you big money at the blackjack table. Incidentally, in case I’m not being convincing enough about blackjack here, I’ve already beaten the blackjack chance vs. skill argument to death, which you can view below.

Assessing Whether Playing Blackjack is All About Skill or Pure Luck

Even though the answer to the question “Is blackjack skill or luck?” seems obvious, it really isn’t. Think of it this way: Anything you must study to make correct decisions during play is a skill game. But that would make 52-card pick-up a...

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Video Poker

Like blackjack, video poker at online casinos will reward your perfect play with the opportunity to win serious money. To that end, we’ve already put together a detailed guide to video poker.

Craps

Winning money at craps certainly requires a solid understanding of the odds behind each of the many wagers available, but the game itself is pure chance. Your skill is determining which bets are actually to your advantage (or as close as you can get, considering the house advantage).

Making Your Own Luck

Rabbit Foot Blues graphic

Whether your favorite casino is a few miles down the road or merely a mouse-click away, you always have a choice of where you gamble, what games you play when you get there, and how much you wager.

You make your own luck—often simply in choosing one game over another, or even one casino over another.

By the way: Do you already know what your game is? A friend of mine once lamented that it was sad that he learned at an early age that his game was bingo.

I know, right?

Sadly, we typically choose “our” games at the subconscious level. We’re drawn to some games, repelled by others, and indifferent to the rest.

So, before you head off to the online casino of your choice, tick all the boxes with the handy checklist:

  • Decide whether you’re a primarily a thrill-seeker or a gladiator—a lover of pure chance or a skilled fighter of 52-card battles.
  • Research any new game before you place your first bet. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of any game you might be interested in trying.
  • Gamble only at safe online casinos.
  • Risk your money only in games you already have experience playing.
  • Know Thyself—Understand your motivations for gambling and why you prefer some games to others. For instance, what specifically makes Texas hold’em so irresistible to you? Or is bingo your game—and if so, for God’s sake, why?
  • Above all, manage your bankroll wisely. Neither good luck nor skillful playing can overcome poor bankroll management.
J.W. Paine
J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

More Posts by J.W. Contact J.W.

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