Different Forms of Gambling Compared

By Randy Ray in Casino
| December 16, 2016 12:00 am PST
Different Types of Betting Roulette Bingo Poker Lottery Collage

Comparing the different forms of gambling is no easy feat, as there’s a vast array to choose from. Some of these involve an element of skill or strategy, while others are games of chance that force the player to rely entirely on luck.

No matter which option you choose, however, you can bet that the house or sportsbook has taken great care to ensure that they’ll make a profit over the long term. If they didn’t, they would soon find their bones being picked over by a pack of ravenous customers.

As we discuss the various types of gambling in the following sections, be sure to pay careful attention to any mention of the house edge or vigorish. These are meant to ensure a profit for the casino, but the astute gambler can sometimes come out ahead by seeking advantageous odds and avoiding sucker bets.

Casino Gambling

The games that fall into this broad category are routinely found on the floor of brick-and-mortar casinos. They represent the most fundamental building blocks of the gaming world, and their existence accounts for billions of dollars in annual revenue for operators.

These games also make up the majority of titles offered by gambling software designers. In the early days of the Internet, the entire suite had to be downloaded onto your computer, which meant you could only play on a single device. However, advances in technology have led a greater number of casinos to implement a browser-based option, allowing gamblers to access their account from any PC or supported mobile device.

Of all the different forms of gambling, this is the one that generates the most debate among both politicians and the general populace. Some label it a harmless diversion, while others point to a direct link with increased crime, corruption, and a general erosion of public morality.

Despite strong opposition on some fronts, casino gambling is legal in numerous states and countries, and it shows no signs of going away. If anything, the overall numbers have trended upwards since the dawn of the new millennium.

The Chinese administrative region of Macau is a notable example. Gambling has been legal in this area since the 19th century, but business really picked up around 2001 (when the government canceled out the monopoly held by a billionaire named Stanley Ho). Gambling now accounts for about 50% of the economy, and the annual revenue pulled in by local casinos has allowed them to supplant Las Vegas as the most successful gaming destination on the planet.

While the popularity of casino gaming remains high, it should be noted that the house almost always holds an advantage over customers in the long term thanks to the edge provided by the odds. Players may win large sums of money in the short term, but the math always allows the casino to bounce back over time.

  • Card Games

    These are card games where the player competes against the house instead of other players. Notable examples include blackjack, house-banked poker, baccarat, and casino war. Of these, blackjack often has the lowest house edge, especially when using the most liberal Las Vegas rules (0.28%).

  • Gambling Machines

    The outcome on a slot machine is decided the moment the player hits the spin button, while video poker allows the customer to employ a certain amount of strategy. It’s therefore no surprise that slots have a higher house edge, which is usually in the 2% to 15% range. Meanwhile, the edge on the full pay version of Jacks or Better video poker is 0.46%, and it’s sometimes possible to find a machine that actually gives the player an edge over the house (with the proper pay table).

  • Dice Games

    The outcome of these games are decided with dice, and craps and sic bo are the most well-known examples. The basic pass/come wager in craps carries a 1.41% house edge, while the wager known as “odds” gives the player an even chance to beat the house (0.00% edge). Sic bo isn’t nearly as generous, with the edge ranging from 2.78% to an outrageous 33.33%.

  • Spinning Wheels

    As the name would imply, these games are resolved with a spinning wheel. Roulette is the best-known version, with the house edge depending on the type being used (2.70% for single zero and 5.26% for double zero). Big Six is another example, but the edge on this game is unappealing (11.11% for a $1 bet and 22.22% for a $20 wager).


The game of poker is believed to have been created in the United States in the early part of the 1900s, but it wouldn’t become a true force in the world of gambling for more than a century. While a wide range of variants exist, most have a few elements in common: the games use playing cards (generally referred to as “poker cards”), competition includes four or more participants, and the winner collects money from a community pot.

In the early part of the 20th century, poker contests tended to be small affairs. While this remains true for the majority of games, the end of the century also saw a rise in tournaments featuring hundreds of players and massive sums of money. The most lucrative and famous of these is the World Series of Poker, which is held annually in Las Vegas.

From kitchen tables to smoky rooms in Sin City, poker has long been a popular pastime among Americans (even when toothpicks are substituted for money). Once the Internet arrived, though, this passion was taken to a whole new level.

The explosion in popularity and the rise of Texas Hold’em as the preeminent game came about in 2003-2004, when Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer qualified for the World Series of Poker via online play. Each man won the Main Event of the tournament, collected payouts worth several million, and helped fuel the craze that was soon to follow.

Unlike those who partake in casino gaming, poker players aren’t competing against the house. Instead, each gambler is trying to build a better hand than their opponents, and those who successfully do so are able to collect the pot for that hand. In tournament formats, play continues until all but one participant has been eliminated, while more open-ended cash games can continue for an undetermined length of time.

Since casinos aren’t in the habit of doing something for nothing, they generally make their money from poker in the form of “rake.” This is a scaled commission fee that’s taken from each pot, and the amount generally ranges from 2.5% to 10%.

The rake is used to pay dealers and other employees, as well as maintain equipment and cover additional expenses. Since land-based facilities have more overhead than virtual card rooms, you can usually expect the rake to be higher. In fact, a growing number of online casinos offer a rakeback model, which returns some of the rake or tournament fees to players in an effort to ensure their continued patronage.

Thanks to the rake, you’ll lose money over time, even if you’re just as good as all the other players at the table. In order to avoid the draining effect of this tax, you have to be better than everyone else (which is often easier said than done).

The following are the most common categories of poker. Keep in mind that no one type has a greater rake than the others, so the house edge remains relatively consistent throughout.

  • Hold’em Games

    This family of games requires the player to combine their personal cards with community cards in order to create the strongest possible hand. Notable examples include Texas hold’em and Omaha, with the former being the most popular style of poker in the world.

  • Stud Games

    The player receives a mixture of face-up and face-down cards during a series of betting rounds. Popular examples include 5-card stud, 7-card stud, razz, and lowball.

  • Draw Games

    In this type of game, the player receives a full hand prior to the first round of betting. The player then has the ability to improve their hand by drawing new cards and discarding old ones. 5-card draw is the best-known example, although other versions include California lowball, Four-before, and Jackpots.

Sports Betting

Betting on sports is a hobby with massive appeal, and it’s popular in all corners of the globe. The American Gaming Association estimated that $95 billion was wagered on college football and the NFL in 2015, and that’s just within the confines of the United States. Of that amount, about $93 billion was wagered illegally. According to a 2014 Slate article, the total amount of annual illegal bets in the U.S. is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $400 billion (and that’s just in one country).

Virtually any form of competition can be wagered on, from global favorites like basketball and soccer to newcomers such as e-sports (video game tournaments). Most legal bets are carried out via the Internet, although larger casinos often provide betting facilities with big-screen televisions and constantly updated scores and statistics.

While friends or co-workers might engage in straight-up betting (with each wagering on one team to win), the more formal methods involve some manner of odds. Operations that specialize in sports betting have one or more bookmakers on staff, and these individuals assign odds to the various events.

Some customers believe that the goal of a bookmaker is to predict the winner of an upcoming event. Actually, that’s not the case. The true objective of the bookmaker is to set the odds in such a way that a given wager receives bets on both sides of the action. This way, the book wins enough to cover any losses, as well as generate a profit.

Another method used by sportsbooks to ensure a profit is known as the vig, vigorish, juice, cut, or take. This is essentially a commission that the book charges for taking the players wager.

Here’s how it works:

In a normal wager between two people, both might risk $100 on the outcome of a basketball game. That means $200 would be in the pot, and the winner would walk away with the entire amount. With the vig factored in, however, a person would need to risk $110 in order to win $100. If they lost the bet, they would just have to forfeit the original $110. If they won, however, they would wind up with $210 (with $10 taken out for the juice). This results in the book usually having an 11-10 advantage over the player, although it’s closer to 6-5 for smaller bets.

Some of the most notable forms of sports gambling include the following:

  • Spread Betting

    Each team is assigned a number, and these are added or subtracted from their final score at the end of the game. The objective is to pick the winning team with this modifier factored in. For example, an NFL team that wins by seven would be considered a loser if the spread subtracted 10 from their final total. Conversely, a team that lost by three would become a winner with a spread of +4.

  • Moneyline

    The bettor wagers on the winner of the event, with the favored team paying lower odds than the underdog.

  • Parlays

    Multiple bets are strung together, although the player must predict all outcomes correctly in order to receive a payout (which is substantially higher than if the bets would’ve been made individually).

  • Prop Bets

    Wagers that relate to specific in-game events, such as betting on which player will be the first to score a goal in an upcoming match.

  • Teasers

    The customer can combine their wagers on two or more games, adjusting the point spread in the process. In order to get paid, however, they must correctly predict the outcome of all their selected events.

  • Futures

    The player attempts to predict the outcome of an event, usually months in advance (Super Bowl futures are a prime example).

  • In-Play Betting

    With growing popularity online, this form allows for wagers to be made while a sporting event is in progress.

  • Second Half Bets

    This wager is placed during the second half of a sporting event, with only the points scored after halftime counting towards the resolution of the bet.

  • Head-to-Head

    Two participants in a sporting event are matched against each other, and the bettor tries to predict who will achieve the desired outcome first (finishing a race, getting disqualified, etc.).


Primarily popular in North America and certain parts of Europe, bingo is a game of chance that features randomly drawn numbers and players trying to match those same numbers on their cards (which can range from paper to purely electronic). Each round of the game has a winner (who yells out “Bingo!”), and prizes can range from cash to more mundane items. There are dozens of different styles of the game, but most use the same basic concept.

In the case of casino bingo, there’s often a large jackpot prize (sometimes progressive) offered to lure in players from far away. While the actual number of participants can cause your odds of winning to fluctuate wildly, the always-informative Wizard of Odds website lists the Las Vegas house edge on bingo at 11%.

For those who prefer a less cutthroat version of the game, you can often find weekly bingo events at local churches and senior citizen centers. These facilities usually offer modest prizes, but the games provide funds for local charities and give players a chance to get out of the house and interact with fellow human beings.

Winning at bingo is largely a matter of luck, but there are a few things you can do to slightly increase your chances.

Always take advantage on card discounts, stray away from side wagers, and try to play when any progressive jackpots are low (less competition). While none of these tactics are going to alter the balls drawn out of the hopper, it might still be enough to get Lady Luck in your corner.

Lottery Games

Before we go off on a tirade about lotteries, let’s start by looking at the two most common types of the game:

  • Scratch-Offs

    In this form commonly found in convenience stores, the customer purchases a card (usually paying from $1 to $20) and then scratches off a number of covered spaces to reveal the amounts or symbols underneath. If they get a certain number of matches or uncover a specific icon, then they win a predetermined amount. Otherwise, the player loses.

  • Drawings

    The more lucrative of the two, lottery drawings require the player to select a series of numbers from among a field of available integers. Once the deadline for buying tickets has passed, a central drawing is then held and the winning numbers are announced through the media. If the player can predict some of the drawn numbers, then they win a cash sum. If enough matches occur, they might even walk away as a multi-millionaire. This works the same as keno, which is found in many larger land-based casinos.

We’ve always detested the lottery, although that has more to do with a hatred of hypocrisy than the actual game. Take the state of Texas, for example. Casino gambling is illegal where we live, and one of the most frequently given reasons by politicians is a desire to protect the general public from an immoral influence. Of course, the state has no problem running a lottery, especially when it means that they get to pocket all the profits.

There’s also the fact that lottery games tend to be a bet for suckers. Sure, you’re bound to win a few bucks on the scratch-off cards from time to time, but those winning amounts exist just to hook players and keep them coming back for more.

It’s not nearly as easy to win the larger jackpot drawings.

In fact, your odds are far better on virtually all other forms of gambling.

Your odds of getting six correct guesses from a pool of 49 numbers is 1 in 13,983,816. Meanwhile, the odds of getting all 20 numbers on a keno ticket—which has never occurred in history—is an astronomical 1 in 3,535,316,142,212,173,800.


If you’ve been longing to see different forms of gambling compared, we hope this page at least somewhat satisfied your craving. As you may have realized, the casinos and sportsbooks always find a way to give themselves an advantage over the player, whether it’s through a mathematical house edge or vigorish.

For those who wish to minimize the house edge as much as possible, I suggest sticking to games such as blackjack, video poker, and certain wagers on the craps table. These options carry an edge that’s lower than most, and some even negate the edge or turn it in favor of the player.

You’d also be wise to avoid slot machines.

While they’re not as much of a sucker bet as keno, they still give the house a decided advantage in the long run.

That concludes our look at the various forms of gambling. Good luck on all your future wagers, and be sure to read my article on the Golden Rules of Gambling if you want to give yourself an even greater chance of success.

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  1. Joseph Ndung'u October 26, 2020 at 7:20 am

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