I’ve previously suggested that the plays per hour rate can often be a better indicator of casino game quality than house edge, so now it’s time to cover the best bets you can make based on speed.
But just in case you’re new to the class, here’s a quick refresher course on the theory.
In my view, a casino game’s efficiency rate can be expressed by the following mathematical formula: Amount risked X number of decisions with a financial outcome per hour X house edge = average
amount lost per hour.
Let’s examine two games with essentially identical house edge rates to see how the pace of play really affects your bottom line.
Savvy gamblers have long preferred skill based, low house edge games like blackjack and video poker – Jacks or Better in this example – because they theoretically offer the best odds against. The
average house edge of 0.50 percent faced by blackjack players using basic strategy is comparable to the 0.46 percent rate found on a Jacks or Better machine (using the 9 / 6 full pay table) – but
both games play out much differently in terms of speed.
Blackjack is a communal table game played against a dealer, which means cards must be physically distributed and
collected, as do chips, while every player in the game has a window of time to think about their decisions. You can always find an empty table of course, but we’ll assume that you’re playing
recreationally in a typical casino, where most blackjack tables will be fully occupied.
Accordingly, the average amount of hands per hour you can expect to face – at a brick and mortar casino in this scenario – is roughly 50.
On the other hand, video poker is a solitary game played on a machine, so cards and
money are handled instantly by a computer processor. And with only one person making decisions during the hand, rather than five or six, an experienced video poker player can easily whip through
10 hands in the time it takes to complete a single blackjack hand.
As such, the average amount of hands per hour you’ll tend to see on a Jacks or Better machine climbs to 500.
Let’s plug those numbers into our formula – using a basic wagering unit of $100 to make the math easy – and see what shakes out:
Land based blackjack game: $100 X 50 X 0.5% = $25 expected loss per hour
Land based or online Jacks or Better: $100 X 500 X 0.46% = $230 expected loss per hour
As you can see by these results, simply judging a casino game by its house edge rate is a fool’s errand. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve been guilty of this plenty of times over my gambling
career, and for good reason: house edge has traditionally been the metric of choice for informed players.
But now we can see the true score.
Even when facing basically identical house edge rates, a blackjack player sitting alongside five or six others can grind for a full hour and expect to lose just $25. Take that same player and sit
him at a Jacks or Better video poker machine, and their expected loss per hour rate soars to $230.
Remember, this example assumes you’re playing at a full blackjack table.
This may be obvious to some, but the link between how many players you’re sitting with and the speed of the game is clear cut. If you’re hunkered down at your own private blackjack table, smoking
a cigarette to keep the casual players at bay, you’ll be running right around 209 hands per hour. Even if you bring a buddy and try to tag team the dealer into submission, the hands per hour rate
is still quite high at 139 – nearly three times higher than a full seven handed game.
We can plug those 209 and 139 figures into our formula to see how fewer players at the table can impact a blackjack player’s bottom line:
Land based blackjack game (1 player): $100 X 209 X 0.5% = $104.50 expected loss per hour
Land based blackjack game (2 players): $100 X 139 X 0.5% = $69.5 expected loss per hour
This should clearly show you the power that pace of play can have on your eventual results. Through nothing more than the basic act of taking your chips to a full table, rather than an empty one,
can instantly save you $79.50 in expected losses per hour as a blackjack player.
In truth, the most effective game selection strategy for gamblers combines knowledge of house edge rates with a sober appraisal of the game’s speed and pace. By applying the formula above to any
casino game in the house, you’ll be able to generate accurate comparisons between the different options.
I invite you to take the formula and use it yourself, sizing up your favorite games to decide where is best to bring your bankroll. But to help get you started, I’ve assembled the seven best
casino games based on speed – and expected loss per hour – below for your review:
*Information will refer to brick and mortar casino play unless otherwise specified, because generally speaking, online casino games run at a much quicker pace than land based alternatives.*
Pai Gow Poker
Although not the most popular all around table game, the Asian inspired Pai Gow Poker is a favorite for players who are well acquainted with the pace of play theory.
That’s because Pai Gow Poker is among the slowest games spread on the casino floor, for a number of reasons.
All players and the dealer receive a full seven card hand to begin with, rather than just two like in blackjack, so right off the bat just the dealing process alone is lengthened considerably.
From there, your job is to “set” those seven cards into two distinct hands: the five card high hand, and the two card low hand.
Because the game has strict rules on how these hands can be set, along with several possible combinations of legal sets, each player is free to take their time thinking things over. Of course, if
you find yourself stuck on a particularly tough decision, you can always take advantage of the “House Way” – or a dealer proscribed method of setting your hands in the optimal fashion.
However you choose to set your hands though, this process can be time consuming to say the least. Some players will act automatically, out of experience, while others will stare at their seven
cards intently for up to a minute before finally aligning them in their preferred arrangement.
Another aspect of the game which tends to gum up the works, so to speak, is the option for players to act as the banker. I’ll spare you a detailed description of this obscure casino custom, but
just the task of asking players whether they’d like to bank the game can add valuable seconds to the time taken on each hand.
Finally, even after you’ve set your hands properly, Pai Gow Poker produces an inordinate amount of chops or pushed pots when you tie upon showing down against the dealer.
In this game, you need to beat both of the dealer’s hands in order to collect a payout. So whenever you manage only one win out of two – which will happen more often than you’d imagine – the hand
is simply declared a tie and your bets are returned as a push.
Keep in mind that the average loss per hour formula only includes decisions (hands / spins / plays) that result in a financial outcome. In other words, a pushed pot that results in no financial
outcome simply doesn’t count. You still derived the same gameplay experience and excitement as any other hand won or lost, but in terms of bankroll movement, a pushed Pai Gow Poker hand is
nonexistent for all intents and purposes.
Even better, you can count on a pushed pot to occur in this game just over 40 percent of the time, on average. The other 60 percent of hands are evenly split between outright wins and losses,
which means right around four out of every 10 hands you play at the Pai Gow Poker tables will wind up in a push.
When all of these factors are added together, Pai Gow Poker becomes a game in which 30 hands in any given hour will produce a financial result (win or loss). The house edge offered by the more
commonly found non banker game is 2.50 percent, while banker based tables offer a reduced rate of 1.46 percent.
By plugging that 30 hands per hour rate into the formula, along with the house edge on each variant, let’s see what we get for both banker and non-banker style Pai Gow Poker tables:
Land based no banker: $100 X 30 X 2.5% = $75 expected loss per hour
Land based banker: $100 X 30 X 1.46% = $43.80 expected loss per hour
Obviously, you should seek out venues which make player banking an option, because you’ll face an expected loss per hour of only $43.80. But even at $75 in expected losses per hour at the
non-banker tables, you’ll still be well within the comfort zone.
Remember, that formula is based on a $100 wager unit to help keep the math clear and easy. Unless you’re a high roller by nature, however, you’ll probably be betting something like $10 a hand
Of course, that would alter the formula considerably, making a big loss of $75 per hour just $7.50 at the lower stakes. Trust me, if you can sit for an hour betting $10 chips per hand and
enjoying a casino game like Pai Gow Poker, all while losing just $7.50 over that time – you’re doing far better than most other players in the room.
Blackjack (Land based, seven players)
Before diving into the details on this one, take a look at this chart:
Hands per Hour in Blackjack
HANDS / HOUR
Using this chart, you can easily see how the number of players at the table with you influences the speed of the game. The more players in the game, the slower things will go.
So I’ll preface this section by saying that blackjack is only a quality game, from the pace of play perspective, when you play at full or nearly full table. I’d say six or seven players should be
the cutoff point, so if you’re hopping in the game as the fifth player, consider hanging back and waiting for one more seat to be occupied before dusting off your chips.
Now then, one of the main reasons blackjack makes any “best casino game” list is the almost perfect combination of skill based play and a low house edge of 0.50 percent. That number assumes
you’re playing with basic strategy, of course, so take some time to memorize the blackjack basic strategy charts easily found online.
At the table by your lonesome, blackjack can be just the opposite of the games this page has been devoted to. The dealer will become a whirling dervish of action, their hands rushing to deal
cards and drag chips. That’s their job, mind you, so don’t take it personally – and consider that dealers are on the opposite end of this spectrum: they make money by seeing more hands played per
But at a full or nearly full blackjack table, the action slows considerably. Players are busy talking to their buddies on the rail, ordering a drink from a passing cocktail waitress, or trying in
vain to flirt with the cute new dealer.
As a communal game, in which one player’s decision can indirectly affect those next to act, blackjack is known for building a sense of camaraderie among tablemates. Take the right hit or make a
well placed stand, and the dominoes can fall perfectly until the dealer busts – leaving everybody with a hand in the black.
Accordingly, blackjack games are often punctuated by rounds of celebration – or folks collectively bemoaning their fate – but in either case, this social aspect tends to take time. And time spent
congratulating one another or commiserating together is time that new hands aren’t being dealt.
I discussed this in the introduction, but playing blackjack by yourself nets a $104.50 expected loss per hour rate. On the other hand, sitting with six other souls at a full table drops that
number to $25 in expected losses per hour.
And once again, that’s for $100 wager units, so if you’re betting a more modest $10 per hand – you can expect to lose just $2.50 per hour at the seven handed table.
That seems almost too good to be true, but that’s the nature of blackjack – one of the most elegantly designed casino games ever devised. By combining the tenets of basic strategy with sound game
selection, you can sit for hours and hours (enjoying complimentary drinks all the while), and leave with an expected loss that amounts to just a few “redbird” $5 chips.
Texas Holdem (Limit Cash or Tournament)
Branching outside of the table game pit and into the poker room, the classic card game of Texas Holdem can be a great way to slow down the pace.
One of main reasons Texas Holdem tends to stretch things out is the fact that most hands will simply be folded before any money is put into the pot. Unless you’re in the small or big blind
position – which only occurs twice during each “orbit” around the table – when you see junk hands like 2 – 7 or 10 – 3 an easy fold essentially nullifies that hand from your expected loss per
Of course, when you do decide to play a hand, you can easily put multiple bets into the pot if you want to reach the showdown. In this way, the time and money saved by five consecutive folds can
easily be offset by one inflated pot.
For this reason, I suggest limiting your action to the variant known as Limit Holdem. Unlike the action packed, all or nothing style of play you’ve probably come to expect by watching No Limit
Holdem poker on TV, the Limit game caps all wagers at a certain amount.
In most brick and mortar casinos the low stakes Limit Holdem tables are played at the $3/$6 level. This means all pre flop and flop wagering must occur in increments of $3, so a $3 bet can be
raised to $6, which can be re raised to $9, etc. For the turn and river betting stages, the betting shifts to $6 increments, but at no point can you move all in or bet anything more than $6 at a
Even better, these games typically “cap” the action at four bets back and forth between two players in a betting round. This ensures that the potential damage one can suffer to their chip stack
is always, well, limited.
Another boon for players minding their pace of play is the general demographics of a live Limit Holdem table. While the youngsters are battling with big bets and bluffs in the No Limit games,
Limit tables tend to be a sanctuary for senior citizens. As a result, the games often take on a relaxed social dynamic, with players chatting away while slowly moving through the mechanics of
Another attribute of Limit Holdem that extends the hands per hour rate is the likelihood that pots will be played to completion. At a No Limit Holdem table the ability of one player to make a big
pre flop raise usually thins the herd, so to speak. For the most part, No Limit Holdem hands are over before a flop is even dealt, or soon after the flop via a quick continuation bet and
But in the Limit Holdem arena, you’ll never face a pre flop raise in excess of four betting units – or $12 at the $3/$6 level. And as most Limit fans know, the general gameplay dynamic is built
around several limpers entering the pot, or a single raise being called in multiple spots. At any rate, the result is several players seeing the flop on almost every hand, which leads to more
betting, stalling, discussion, and other time extending actions.
All told, the average Limit Holdem table will see 20 or 25 hands dealt per hour, while a No Limit game runs around 30 or 35.
Unfortunately, we can’t use the formula for expected loss per hour, as poker is not a house banked game and therefore has no inherent house edge. The house collects their rake of course, or a
tiny percentage of every pot up to a certain point, but as a poker player, the only disadvantage you face is based on your skill level relative to that of your opponents.
In fact, most competent poker players – especially at the lower stakes Limit games – are quite capable of grinding out small wins over the long run. A poker player’s “win rate” is usually defined
in terms of big blinds won per 100 hands, and although the vast majority of players work hard just to attain slim win rates just over the breakeven mark, that’s still much better than losing over
the long run.
And even if you find yourself relegated to the realm of non-winning players, a loss of two big blinds per 100 hands in a $3/$6 game would equate to only $3 in expected losses over the course of a
If the slow grind of Limit Holdem isn’t your bag, consider entering an affordable No Limit Holdem tournament instead.
The small buy in daily or nightly events held at local casinos and card rooms around the country tend to run between $50 and $200. For that flat, one-time expense, you’ll be entitled to a fresh
stack of chips and every opportunity to run it up while going on a deep run.
The average daily or nightly No Limit Holdem tournament lasts between four and eight hours, but as the names imply, these events are always over within 24 hours. That means you can head to the
casino with just a few $20 bills in your pocket, enter a No Limit Holdem tournament, and proceed to enjoy several hours of excitement, enjoyment, and entertainment.
In this case, the speed of the game isn’t really relevant, as the flat fee works to limit your losses to a preset amount. But even so, the tournament game is defined by long “tanks” – or pauses
while players think over a particularly tough decision. For this reason, you can easily see something like 20 hands in the course of an hour, which works to extend your time at the tables.
In the worst case scenario, you’ll bust out quickly within the first hour, but even that calamity will only produce a loss per hour rate equal to the buy in ($100 loss in one hour equals $100
loss per hour). If you make it to the two hour mark, that rate drops in half, and so on.
But the point of tournament poker is to “make the money,” or last long enough to earn a cash reward for your troubles. Generally speaking, the minimum cash will double your buy in, but after that
the prizes escalate on an incremental basis until the lion’s share of the prize pool is claimed by the winner.
With a little luck, your run as a tournament poker player will produce the occasional cash, or even a big win. These results will offset any losses accrued over time to create a breakeven
experience, which is all any gambler can reasonably hope to enjoy.
Pot Limit Omaha
My entry on the poker variant known as Pot Limit Omaha will be brief, as many of the benefits offered by this game were just described in the preceding Holdem section.
Simply put, any poker game warrants a spot on this list, because the absence of a house edge combined with a communal, multiplayer game creates the perfect conditions for a low loss per hour
Specific to Pot Limit Omaha, the game is basically just Texas Holdem with four cards in your hand rather than two. You can only use two of those four, along with the five community cards, to form
your final five card poker hand – but you can choose any two at any time.
This added gameplay dynamic makes Omaha a slower game by default, because most recreational players need to take a moment after the flop, turn, and river just to see exactly what they’ve got. In
addition, the Pot Limit element – in which bets can only be sized up to the current amount of the pot – plays more similarly to No Limit than Limit.
With players needing just two pre flop raises to create a sizable wager in front of you, the decision to fold away most hands will be perfunctory. This means many hands you play during an hour
won’t result in any financial result at all.
Omaha games do carry a higher level of variance, however, so be mindful that big wins and losses will punctuate your placid folding. But if you can handle some swings, while playing a proficient
all around poker game, Pot Limit Omaha can easily run at just 20 hands per hour.
If you’re only playing one hand every three minutes, and many of those hands are just folded on sight, poker games like Pot Limit Omaha can offer the perfect balance of playability and slow pace.
Jacks or Better Video Poker
At first glance, a game like Jacks or Better – or any video poker variant for that matter – wouldn’t seem to be a prime candidate for this list.
But upon closer examination, the classic casino offering can provide players with a rare prize: full control over the pace of play.
As a solitary game, one played with no opponents, tablemates, or dealers, Jacks or Better video poker can be played as quickly as one’s fingers can fly. And sure enough, you’ll run into players
from time to time on the next machine over who appear to be in a trance, their hands a blur as buttons are pressed in rapid fire succession.
For these players, the tiny house edge of 0.46 percent offered by Jacks or Better machines using the “full pay” 9 / 6 pay table, combined with a huge 4,000 credit jackpot for landing a royal
flush, makes speed a priority. The more hands they can squeeze out per hour, the more likely they are to eventually beat the odds and land a royal flush or similarly high paying hand.
This is why the formula for expected loss per hour on Jacks or Better doesn’t seem all that agreeable at first:
Land based or online Jacks or Better: $100 X 500 X .46% = $230 expected loss per hour
As you can see, this computation assumes that you’ll be playing 500 hands of Jacks or Better in any given hour. That comes to 8.33 hands every minute, or one hand every 7.2 seconds. And why not:
video poker often boils down to straightforward, automatic decisions.
But who says you have to play 500 hands per hour? Nobody, that’s who.
If you’re interested in exploiting pace of play to your advantage, you can easily modulate your button clicking to become much more leisurely. Even when you know exactly what cards to hold and
which ones to ditch – knowledge you should definitely study up on by searching for Jacks or Better basic strategy – just sit and wait.
Sip on your drink, check your phone, or chat with your friend on the next machine over. But take your time doing it, and shoot for something like two or three hands per minute instead of 8.33.
Let’s assume you’ve cut the pace down to just a pair of hands every minute. That gives us a new figure of 120 hands per hour, which changes the expected loss per hour rate thusly:
$100 X 120 X .46% = $55.20 expected loss per hour
That’s more than four times less than the original expected loss per hour, a savings created by nothing more than slowing down while you play.
Once again, that formula uses a $100 wagering increment for the sake of mathematical clarity, but you’ll never be betting $100 per hand at video poker. Instead, the coin denominations in place
for almost every Jacks or Better machine out there are $0.25, $1, and $5.
Because sound strategy dictates betting the maximum of five coins per hand, these numbers are more accurately reflected as $1.25, $5, and $25.
For those speed racers who prefer playing as fast as physically possible, these revised wager amounts alter the formulas thusly:
$25 X 500 X .46% = $57.50 expected loss per hour
$5 X 500 X .46% = $11.50 expected loss per hour
$1.25 X 500 X .46% = $2.88 expected loss per hour
As you can see, Jacks or Better video poker becomes a great game in terms of pace of play for even the fastest gunslingers out there. The low stakes quarter machines that recreational gamblers
flock to offer an expected loss per hour of only $2.88, which is one of the best rates you’ll find on the casino floor.
But we’re in the slow lane, having decreased our average hands per hour to 120, so let’s see how the numbers add up in that case:
$25 X 120 X .46% = $13.80 expected loss per hour
$5 X 120 X .46% = $2.76 expected loss per hour
$1.25 X 120 X .46% = $0.69 expected loss per hour
The proof is in the pudding: Jacks or Better video poker played at a pace of two hands per hour carries an expected loss per hour of just $0.69. For all intents and purposes, especially when the
jackpot element is factored in, this style of play turns Jacks or Better into a breakeven game.
You just can’t do any better than grinding for several hours, chasing huge jackpot scores all the while, as complimentary cocktails come your way. That’s the casino gambler’s paradise, and video
poker’s standard game is the place to find it.
Deuces Wild Video Poker
Just like with the Pot Limit Omaha section, most of the virtues held by Deuces Wild video poker were just described in the preceding passage.
A combination of house edge rates that hover between nearly nil (0.04 percent) and positive (the “full pay” table actually offers a player edge of 0.76 percent) makes Deuces Wild one of the more
favorable games on the floor. Throw in the full control afforded to you as the player, and Deuces Wild can be easily exploited to create some of the lowest expected loss per hour rates out there.
Let’s run through the numbers and compare them to Jacks or Better, beginning with the fast pace of play and 500 hands per hour:
Land based or online Deuces Wild: $100 X 500 X .04% = $20 expected loss per hour
That’s more than 10 times less than the rate offered to quick play Jacks or Better fans, so right off the bat Deuces Wild becomes an attractive alternative to the default video poker variant.
But when we adjust to the preferred slow play style, and its 120 hands per hour, the formula spits out an even better result:
$100 X 120 X .04% = $4.80 expected loss per hour
We’re nearing the promised land of a nil expected loss over the hour, but remember, that formulas includes the $100 wagering unit. Let’s adjust for the basic video poker coin denominations at the
maximum betting level:
$25 X 120 X .04% = $1.20 expected loss per hour
$5 X 120 X .04% = $0.24 expected loss per hour
$1.25 X 120 X .04% = $0.06 expected loss per hour
There you have it folks, a casino game that can be played at the cost of just six pennies per hour.
And keep in mind that those figures are for the standard Deuces Wild pay table which uses the following scheme: 800 – 200 – 25 – 15 – 11 – 4 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
If you can find a “full pay” Deuces Wild machine using the 800 – 200 – 25 – 15 – 9 – 5 – 3 – 2 – 2 – 1 pay table, you’ll be the one playing with an edge, rather than the house. That means your
expected loss per hour will actually turn into an expected win per hour, provided you stick to perfect strategy for Deuces Wild.
Although most people associate bingo with church charity drives or senior living centers, the age old lottery style game is actually a staple in brick and mortar casinos.
Most major casinos today have bingo halls on site, and while you might not expect much hardcore gambling to go on there, the games usually offer big rewards for relatively little risk.
Unlike video poker, you’ll have no ability to control the pace of play, so once the numbers start being called, you’ll be pressing your dauber pen as quickly as need be. But even while a single
game of bingo can appear to be a mad dash for the finish line, a bingo session tends to stretch out over a hard and fast schedule.
Generally speaking, a casino bingo hall will run new games around the clock on a preset schedule. You might find smaller rooms running at four games per hour, while bigger rooms with more players
– and thus a higher likelihood of bingo being drawn – can squeeze in up to 20 games in an hour.
We’ll average those to get a round number of 10 bingo games per hour for the formula’s sake.
The other key number to know is house edge, but don’t be shocked at the 11 percent average house edge offered by bingo. Mind you, I’d normally never recommend a casino game carrying an obscene
house edge like that, but this page is all about expanding the house edge concept with pace of play considerations.
And when we examine the expected loss per hour formula, bingo reveals the following figures:
Land based bingo: $100 X 10 X 11% = $110
But once again, that $100 wagering unit isn’t really commensurate with what you can expect to wager in the average bingo game. For the most part, casino bingo halls offer package deals, so you’ll
spend something like $45 for 60 playing cards, $55 for 80 cards, and so on.
If we assume you’re spending $50 for a nightly session of bingo, the formula shifts as follows:
Land based bingo: $50 X 10 X 11% = $55
That’s a reasonable expected loss per hour rate, all things considering, and that’s assuming you lose on every single game. Add in the occasional cry of “bingo,” however, and you’ll instantly
shave that number down to the teens or even lower.
Bingo is a high variance, lottery style game, so bear that in mind if your bottom line is the sole concern. But if you enjoy trying something new from time to time, or you just can’t get enough
bingo action, the game’s high house edge rate is definitely offset by its slower pace of play.
Gambler are wise to examine the house edge offered by any wager or game they put their money on. There’s a reason the metric has been used for decades now to parse favorable, player friendly
games from the sucker bets that should be avoided at all costs.
But house edge shouldn’t be the end all, be all yard stick used to measure the dozens of offerings found on the modern casino floor. With so many games to choose from, and each with its own
unique pace of play considerations, using expected loss per hour as a secondary metric is the best way to accurately analyze the appeal of table games, poker, slot machines, video poker, and the