The Ultimate Guide to Casino Game Strategies
Published on April 09, 2016
You’ll find plenty of guides to casino game strategies online, but let’s face it—most of them are hard to navigate and bloated with extra information you don’t need. The goal for this post is to provide a one-stop-shop reference page for people who are looking for the best strategies for the most popular gambling games in any casino.
How do you define the “best strategy” though?
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to define the best strategy as the one that provides the house with the lowest edge against the player. You can find an explanation of the house edge here. One thing you should keep in mind is that no matter how low the house edge is, if you play a game where the casino has an edge long enough, you’ll eventually lose all your money.
Of course, you can find games and use strategies that tilt the edge in your favor. If you’re interested in making a living gambling, then you’ll want to focus exclusively on those games and those strategies.
The gambling games are listed in alphabetical order by name. In the conclusion, I’ll provide a list of the games which provide the best odds for your money.
Baccarat is basically a guessing game. The house edge is only 1.06%, which is excellent compared to most games. It’s an even better deal when you take into account that no skill is involved. Most games with a house edge that low require at least some thought and strategic thinking—blackjack, for example.
Gameplay is simplicity itself. There’s a banker hand and a player hand. You can bet on either.
The initial hands consist of two cards, just like in blackjack. Aces count as 1. Face cards (the jack, queen, and king) count as 0. Every other card scores according to its rank.
In some cases, a third card is dealt. This is determined by an arbitrary set of rules. You don’t need to memorize the rules for whether or not the third card is dealt, because the dealer knows. She’ll make the appropriate decision regardless of what you do.
The scores are totaled, and the higher score wins. Only the 2nd digit of the score counts. So if the player hand consists of a 6 and a 5, the total is 11. But you ignore the first digit, and you just count the score for that hand as 1.
The low house edge mentioned only applies to a bet on the banker hand. If you bet on the player hand, the house edge is 1.24%.
Also, if you’re interested in your expected loss per hour (and you should be), it’s best to play in slower games. The fewer hands you play, the less you can expect to lose over the long run.
This was one of the first casino games I ever played, but it’s almost more of a carnival game than a casino game. Like baccarat, the big six wheel doesn’t require any strategy besides choosing what to bet on. Unlike baccarat, the house edge for this game is usually higher than most other games in the casino—between 11.11% and 24.07%, depending on which bet you choose.
The casino spins a wheel with various denominations on the stops–$1, $2, $5, $10, and $20. The lower the denomination, the more times it appears. For example, there are 24 $1 stops on the wheel, and only 15 $2 stops on the wheel.
On an average wheel, there are 54 stops, and 24 of those are the $1 denomination. That means your chances of winning that $1 wager—which pays out at even odds—is 44.44%. The house edge on that bet is 11.11%.
And that’s the best bet in the game.
Notice how the house edge for the best bet in this game is more than 10 times higher than the house edge for baccarat?
But that’s not even the worst bet on the wheel. You also have two logos, which pay out at 40 to 1. That sounds like it might be better deal, since you stand to win $40 on a $1 bet. The problem is that the odds of winning this bet are only 1.85%. The house edge on those logo wagers are 24.07%. That’s huge—one of the worst examples in the casino.
A better strategy might be to find a different game. The big six wheel is just too doggone expensive to play.
Also, you should know that this game is also sometimes referred to by other names, like wheel of fortune, lucky wheel, money wheel, etc. It’s still the same game with the same lousy odds.
Blackjack is a perennial classic. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it also offers some of the best odds in the casino. A skilled blackjack player can even get an edge over the casino if the conditions are appropriate. The problem is that it requires a certain amount of skill.
Blackjack is a simple comparing card game with some similarities to baccarat. These similarities are mostly on the surface though. Each player is dealt a two card hand, and the dealer also gets a two card hand. But unlike in baccarat, the player’s get to make decisions about how their hands are played. The dealer has to play her hand according to the casino’s prescribed rules.
A hand of blackjack is scored according to how many total points it has. Aces count as either 1 or 11, whichever is better. Face cards (the jack, queen, and king) each count as 10 points. All other cards are scored according to their rank.
Players play versus the dealer, not against each other. The dealer always acts last. The goal is to get closer to 21 than the dealer or to avoid busting when the dealer busts. A blackjack hand busts when its total reaches 22 or higher.
Players get to decide, based on their total, whether or not to take additional cards. They also have occasional side bets to choose from, like insurance. They also have the opportunity to make some more exotic decisions, like splitting an initial hand into two hands, or doubling down, which means taking one more card and doubling the amount of their initial bet.
In every situation, there’s a single correct decision to make mathematically. This is called “basic strategy”. A blackjack player who uses basic strategy can reduce the house edge to less than 1%, depending on the rules variations in place at the casino. A player who doesn’t know anything about how to play their hand faces an estimated 4% or higher house edge.
You can further reduce the house edge and even get an edge over the casino by counting cards and raising the size of your bets when the deck is in your favor. “The 10 Commandments of Blackjack” is a good post for beginners to review if they’re just getting started, too.
Caribbean Stud Poker is a house-banked poker game. Players make an ante bet along with an optional $1 side bet on the progressive jackpot. Then they each get 5 cards. The dealer also gets a 5 card hand. The players’ cards are all dealt face down, but one of the dealer’s cards is face up.
The first decision a player makes is whether to fold or raise. If he folds, he forfeits his card and the ante bet. If he raises, then he has to place an additional wager of twice the size of his ante.
At this point, the dealer turns over her cards. She needs an ace and a king or better in order to “qualify”. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, the player wins even money on his ante. The raise is considered a push and is returned to the player, but with no winnings.
If the dealer qualifies, she compares her poker hand to the player’s to determine who wins. If the dealer has a better poker hand, the player loses both the ante and the raise.
If the player has the better hand, then the ante is paid off at even money. The raise pays off based on how good the player’s hand is. The game will have a pay table posted with the possible hands and their payoffs.
If the player and the dealer tie, it’s a push. The player gets his money back but no winnings.
The progressive side bet is paid off if the player has the appropriate poker hand, regardless of whether or not the dealer ties.
Here’s the most common pay table:
|Royal flush||100 to 1|
|Straight flush||50 to 1|
|4 of a kind||20 to 1|
|Full house||7 to 1|
|Flush||5 to 1|
|Straight||4 to 1|
|3 of a kind||3 to 1|
|2 pair||2 to 1|
|Any other winning hand||1 to 1|
The house edge for Caribbean Stud Poker is 2.56% when you take into consideration the proper strategy, which has you only making raises a little over 52% of the time.
Perfect strategy for Caribbean Stud Poker is complicated, but it’s easy enough to simplify. You should always raise if you have a pair or higher. And you should always fold if you have a hand that isn’t as good as a qualifying hand for the dealer.
The only hands that are complicated to play are the ones where you have an ace/king.
You should raise with your ace king if the dealer has a 2 through queen showing that matches one of your cards. This makes it less likely that the dealer will have a pair or higher. You should also raise if the dealer has an ace or king showing if you have a queen or jack in your hand, because that reduces the chances that the dealer has a straight. Finally, you’ll also raise if you have a queen and the dealer’s up card is lower in rank than your 4th highest card.
This is the simple strategy that Michael Shackleford shares on his Wizard of Odds site, and it’s as workable and practical as any strategy I’ve found. It’s not completely optimal, but it only gives up about 1/100th of a percent compared to the actual optimal strategy.
There’s one other aspect to proper strategy for this game—whether or not to place the optional progressive side bet. The house edge on that bet is over 26%, so the smart move is to just ignore that bet and play the main game. On rare occasions you’ll be a little bummed when you would have won the progressive jackpot, but you’ll save so much money in every other situation that it will more than compensate.
Caribbean Stud Poker is a fun and exciting game. The house edge of 2.55% isn’t bad.
Casino War is a comparing card game similar to baccarat, blackjack, and Caribbean Stud Poker. The biggest difference is that casino war might be the simplest casino gambling game ever devised. It’s just a variation of the card game war you probably played as a kid.
The dealer gets a card and so does the player. The high card wins. Aces are always high.
If there’s a tie, the player has 2 choices:
In the case of #2, the player only wins the amount of the original bet.
It should be easy to see how the house gets an edge in a game with these kinds of rules.
Oh, and the game also has an option where you can bet on a tie. That pays off at 10 to 1 if there’s a tie, but the house edge on that particular wager is absurdly high.
Like baccarat, casino war has no strategy other than placing the correct bet on every hand.
You should always go to war and never bet on a tie. The house edge for the standard version of the game, when you follow this strategy, is around 2.8%.
Some casinos offer a bonus payout if you win after a tie. The strategy remains the same in such games, but the house edge goes down.
Casino war is a fast game. The house edge seems low enough, but when you compare it to the slower gameplay and lower house edge of baccarat, it’s not nearly as attractive.
Craps is the most famous dice game in the world, and it’s also the most exciting game in the casino. Unfortunately, a lot of players are intimidated by the complexity of the game. They needn’t be, though, because craps is actually easier to play than most people think.
The basics work like this. A round starts with a player rolling the dice. The basic wager is on whether or not the player succeeds when shooting the dice. This bet is called the “pass” bet.
If you bet on pass, then you win even money if the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 on the come out roll. You lose if the shooter rolls a 2, 3, or 12. If the shooter rolls any other number, a point is set.
Suppose the shooter rolls a 5. She keeps shooting until she rolls a 5 again, or until she rolls a 7. If she rolls the 5 first, you win your pass bet. If she rolls a 7 before rolling the point, then you lose the pass bet.
The house edge on this bet is 1.41%, but craps is a little more complicated than that.
You can also bet on the shooter to lose. This is called the “don’t pass” bet, and the house edge for betting don’t pass is slightly better—1.36%. I think 0.05% is a small enough difference that it’s worth it to bet for the shooter to succeed. It’s just a lot more fun, and it doesn’t cost that much.
Where you really get the opportunity to improve the math of the game in your favor is by taking the odds bet. Once a point has been set, you can place an odds bet of equal to a multiple of your original wager. The amount of the potential multiple is determined by the casino.
What makes the odds bet special is that it pays off at the true odds of winning, which means it’s a bet you can place with a 0% house edge. That has the net effect of reducing the house edge on the total amount of money you have in play.
The appropriate strategy in craps is to bet on either pass or don’t pass and then place the highest odds bet as you’re allowed. Find a casino which allows large odds bets, and you can play a game with an effective house edge of less 0.02%.
Ignore the other bets at the craps table besides the come and don’t come bets. They’re basically the same thing as the pass and don’t pass bets, but they treat each additional roll after the point has been set as a new come out roll.
Keno’s not such a great casino game, as it has one of the highest house edges in the business. It’s comparable in game-play to the lottery. You choose a bunch of numbers, and if they match the numbers that are drawn by the casino, you win a big payout. The problem is that the odds of getting a number of matches are small—much smaller than you probably think. Still, compared to a state-run lottery, keno is a relative bargain.
You fill out a card and choose a set of number between 1 and 80. You’ll usually choose between 2 and 10 numbers. Then the casino randomly draws 20 numbers. Depending on how many numbers you get right, you get a payout.
The house edge for keno varies from between 20% and 35%. You don’t really have any options available to you in terms of improving your odds. Keno is a completely random game.
Keno gets a bit of a bad rap for having such a high house edge, but that’s unjustified. Since you’re only placing occasional wagers, the amount of money you expect to lose per hour is usually quite low.
Suppose you’re betting $1 every time you play keno. You’re probably only making 4 bets per hour or so, and you’re only expected to lose 35 cents per bet. So your expected hourly loss is only $1.40.
Compare that with a slot machine game, where you’re making 600 wagers per hour at 25 cents per spin. The house edge might be only 5% on that game, but you’re putting $150 per hour into action. That means your expected loss per hour is $7.50, which is 5 times as much as you’d lose playing keno.
Let It Ride is another house-banked poker game. You get a five card hand, then you get the opportunity to remove some of your bets as your cards are dealt. One of the interesting aspects of Let It Ride is that the dealer doesn’t get a hand—just the player.
You start by making three bets, all of the same amount. You’re then dealt three cards. If you don’t like the cards, you can remove one of your bets. On the other hand, if you like your cards, you can “let it ride”.
Then the dealer deals a community card, which is shared by all the players at the table. Now you have the option (again) of pulling back another one of your bets. You can also let this bet ride.
Finally, the dealer deals a 2nd community card, which you use to complete your five card hand. You get a payout based on what kind of hand you wound up with.
Here’s a commonly used pay table for Let It Ride:
|Royal flush||1000 to 1|
|Straight flush||200 to 1|
|Four of a kind||50 to 1|
|Full house||11 to 1|
|Flush||8 to 1|
|Straight||5 to 1|
|Three of a kind||3 to 1|
|Two pair||2 to 1|
|Pair of tens or better||Even money|
Unlike many casino games, Let It Ride has a strategy which affects the house edge. Here’s a summary of the correct strategy:
With three cards:
With four cards:
One factor to keep in mind when setting your bet sizes is the maximum aggregate payout. At some casinos, the total amount you can win is capped. In that case, you should never bet more than that cap divided by 3000, because that’s the payout on the royal flush.
The house edge on Let It Ride, if you use the above strategy and the above pay table, is about 3.5%. It’s a fun game, but it’s not nearly as favorable to the player as other card games like blackjack or baccarat. Still, it is interesting to be able to use some strategy at a game besides blackjack.
Many casinos offer additional side bets on their Let It Ride games. The house edge on side bets in casino card games is always notoriously high, and Let It Ride is no exception. Depending on the bet, you might be facing a house edge of over 13%. If you decide to give Let It Ride a try, just skip the side bets. You’ll lose less money more slowly that way.
Pai Gow Poker is a variation of a traditional Chinese gambling game called Pai Gow. It’s a slow-paced game with a lot of ties, so it doesn’t cost much to play. For this reason, it’s one of my favorite casino card games.
You play with a 53 card deck—the standard deck with a single joker. That joker can be used as an ace to complete any straight, flush, or straight flush, including a royal flush.
You and the dealer both get seven card hands. You’re then required to separate your hand into a five card hand and a two card hand. The five card hand always has to be higher in value than the two card hand. This is called “setting your hand”.
The dealer does the same with his hand, following a prescribed set of rules called “the house way”/ (This is similar to blackjack, where the dealer has no judgment—she just place the hand according to the rules prescribed by the house.
Both hands are compared. If you win both hands, you get an even money payout less a 5% commission.
If you win one hand but not the other, it’s a push, and your bet is returned. If you lose both hands, then the dealer wins.
Standard poker hand rankings are used, with one exception:
An ace to five straight is called a “wheel’, and in this game, it’s considered the 2nd highest possible straight.
The house edge for Pai Gow Poker, if you play with the correct strategy (which can be found on this page), is 2.7%. Since you’ll see a lot of pushes, and since the game plays slowly, this is one of the most affordable ways to gamble in a casino.
Poker is unusual among casino gambling games, because you’re playing against the other players instead of the house. The concept of a house edge breaks down in this game, but if you assume that all the other players are at least as good as you, but no better and no worse, then you’re playing a break-even game. But since the cardroom where you’re playing is probably taking a 5% rake, the edge you’re facing is that same amount.
But poker is a game of skill. If you play well, you can easily overcome that 5% and play profitably. If your skills are good enough, you can expect to have an edge of between 1% and 10% compared to your opponents.
The best place to start with poker is to tighten up your starting hand requirements and bet more aggressively.
Every poker player should read David Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker.
You can also learn about poker, especially as it’s played online, in the poker section of this site
Roulette is one of those games where no amount of skillful decision-making can affect your outcome mathematically. In fact, the only decision you can make in roulette is at which table to play. In many casinos, you only have one type of table to choose from anyway, so the point is moot.
Here are the different kinds of roulette tables and which ones you should look for:
American roulette is the most common game available in United States casinos. The wheel has 38 slots, which are numbered 1-36, 0, and 00. The 0 and the 00 are green, and the remaining 36 slots are half black and half red. The 0 and 00 are where the house gets its edge.
That edge amounts to 5.26% on almost every wager available. Nothing you can do can change that edge, especially not betting systems where you raise and lower your wagers. This is also the worst roulette game you can play.
European roulette is available in some casinos, and it removes one of the 0s from the wheel. This almost cuts the house edge in half, to 2.70%. That’s a significant difference. So the main strategy related to this is to play a single zero roulette wheel any time you have a choice.
You’ll also find some casinos which offer special rules for when the ball lands on 0. These are called “in prison” rules. This cuts the house edge in half again, because you have a 50/50 chance of breaking even in the in prison situation. That makes the house edge 1.35%, which is a respectably low number. You should always play single zero roulette wheels with the en prison option when they’re available.
But please don’t waste money and/or time trying to improve your odds of winning by using some kind of hare-brained betting strategy like the Martingale. They might seem to work in the short run, but eventually the math will win out, and you’ll regret it. There’s an entire page on roulette strategy on this site, but those are the basics.
Sic Bo is a dice game with almost no similarity to craps other than being played with dice. It’s one of the first gambling games I ever tried, but it’s not as common in United States casinos as it used to be. It’s originally a Chinese game, so it’s probably unsurprising that Sic Bo is popular in Macau.
Players bet on the outcome of a roll of three dice. The payouts vary based on which bet the player makes, and the layout of the table also varies from casino to casino. The payoffs for various bets also change based on which casino you’re playing Sic Bo at, too.
But for the most part, no matter where you play, the house edge on Sic Bo is huge, especially when compared to craps. The best bet is to bet on small or big, which means that you’re betting on a total of 4-10 or a total of 11-17, respectively. You don’t win either bet on a total that consists of a 3 of a kind though. The house edge on this bet is 2.78%.
But some of the other bets on the table have a house edge of almost 30%.
It’s impossible to tell what kind of house edge a particular slot machine has, but you can follow certain rules of thumb to help you find the better payback percentages.
First, let’s talk about how modern slot machines work:
All modern slot machines use a computer program called a random number generator (RNG) to spit out results. They’re programmed to return, over time, a certain percentage of the money that’s wagered. That number is called the payback percentage.
If you subtract the payback percentage from 100%, then you’re left with the house edge for that game.
But the casinos and slots manufacturers don’t post the house edge or the payback percentages on the games.
What are you to do?
I can offer some general guidelines and tips for finding the better slots with the better payout percentages, but none of this is etched into stone. You could get lucky and find a great machine or have a really tough day and get a really tight machine.
First, avoid the progressive jackpot games. A percentage of every wager goes to fuel that ever-expanding jackpot. This reduces the payout percentage and increases the house edge. Also, part of the payout percentage for this machine is based on that huge jackpot, which is almost as hard to hit as winning the lottery. Chances are, you’ll never hit the progressive. That just means you’re settling for a higher house edge.
You should also avoid playing slot machines at the airport or anywhere else that’s not a casino. Slot machines in bars and strip clubs have notoriously low payback percentages. If you want to find the good payout percentages, you need to play the slots in the casinos. That’s where the competition is, and the casinos want your business. Other businesses have other ways of getting your money. They also know that while you’re there, they’re the only game in town, so to speak.
You won’t always get the best payback percentage by choosing lower denomination games, but you will limit the amount you lose per hour. At the same time, you want to play a game where the winnings and the losses mean something to you. Otherwise you’re
just wasting your time.
Games with smaller jackpots generally have higher payback percentages and a lower house edge. Stick with those games as much as possible.
Finally, always join the slots club and play with the card in the machine. This is going to add at least 0.1% to the payback percentage, albeit the addition comes in the form of rebates and perks.
Sports betting seems like it would be an activity that didn’t involve a house edge, but that’s only if you’re placing bets with buddies. If you’re betting with any kind of bookie, you’re going to pay a commission called a “vig”. Here’s how that works:
Most sports books require you to wager $110 in order to win $100. So even if you win 50% of the time, you’re going to be a net loser over time. That extra $10 you’re risking represents the house edge.
One of the easiest and best strategies you can use in sports betting is to shop for a better deal. You can find books which will only require you to lay $105 in order to win $100. That cuts the house edge in half.
Besides that, if you want to reduce the edge further in sports betting, you’ll have to figure out how to pick winners and handicap at least as well as the books. That’s probably a lot harder than you think. You can find lots of tips for winning at sports betting here on our site.
Three card poker is a house-banked poker game played against a dealer. As you might imagine from the name, you compare your three card poker hand with that of the dealer in order to determine whether or not you win.
You start by making an ante and/or a pairplus bet. You and the dealer both get three card hands. The dealer’s hand is dealt face down.
If you made an ante bet, you have to choose to fold or raise. If you fold, you lose your ante bet. If you raise, then you have to make an additional wager, called a play bet. This bet is the same size as the ante bet.
The dealer needs a queen high to qualify. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, you win even money on both your ante bet and your play bet.
If the dealer qualifies, then you compare your hand with the dealer’s to determine a winner. The higher hand wins.
The possible hand rankings are a little different than in traditional poker games. Here they are, in order from best possible hand to worst:
The bets pay off based on the strength of your hand. These payoffs vary by casino. A common payoff on the ante bet is 5 to 1 for a straight flush, 4 to 1 for a three of a kind, and even money for a straight or better. The house edge in this variation is 3.37%. You can assume that any payoff table that pays off less for these hands has a higher house edge.
The Pairplus bet has a higher house edge, but it varies based on the payoffs, too. Since the house edge on this bet is usually twice as high as on the ante and play bets, the best strategy is to just skip this wager entirely.
Video poker is the thinking gambler’s alternative to slot machines. Since video poker games emulate the action of a 52 (or 53) card deck, you can crunch the numbers to compare the payouts versus the odds of hitting certain hands and determine the overall payback percentage for these machines.
The most common example is Jacks or Better. If you find a Jacks or Better video poker game with the right pay table, and if you play with expert strategy, the payback percentage is 99.54%. That means the house edge is only 0.46%, making this game as good as blackjack.
The first step in finding the good video poker games is learning about the various pay tables available. Jacks or Better is easy because the pay tables are almost always the same for all hands except the full house and the flush. You’ll hear people talk about 9/6 Jacks or Better. That’s a JoB game where the full house pays out at 9 to 1, and the flush pays out at 6 to 1.
That’s also called a “full pay” Jacks or Better game.
Other Jacks or Better games have 8/6, 8/5, and 7/5 payouts for those hands. The payback percentage drops dramatically, by as much as 2%. An 6/5 Jacks or Better game with a payout percentage of over 97% is still a better deal than almost any slot machine you’ll ever see, but it’s not nearly as attractive as the 9/6 game.
Deuces Wild is another common video poker variation with excellent payouts, but the pay tables are more complicated. You can find (rarely) full pay Deuces Wild games where the player actually has a tiny edge over the casino. You can also find “Not So Ugly” Deuces Wild games which have comparable payouts to Jacks or Better. Of course, you have to learn the correct strategies for these games.
But if you like playing gambling machines, video poker is a far better alternative than slot machines. Not only do you get some control over your own destiny by being able to make some decisions that actually affect your outcome, but you also get much better payouts—even if you don’t know the correct strategy.
Video poker is one of the best bets in the casino. Everyone should learn to play.
To a certain extent, the idea of using a strategy for a casino game is pointless. After all, if the house has an edge, even a small one, you’ll lose all your money if you play long enough. But you can use strategy to maximize the amount of fun you get in exchange for your money. You do this by avoiding bets with a high house edge. You can also achieve this goal by making fewer bets per hour.
Only in rare situations can you use strategy to get an edge in a casino game. Blackjack, video poker, sports betting, and poker are really the only casino games where you can get an edge. And it’s harder to get that edge than most people think. Frankly, most gamblers aren’t willing to put in the effort to get an edge or become a professional gambler.
One strategy that makes sense is to analyze your goals as a gambler and make sure you’re achieving them. For some people, this might mean relaxing and enjoying a few drinks and some company at the roulette table. For others, it might mean jumping up and down with the excitement at the craps table. Decide what your goals as a gambler are and pursue them aggressively.