7 Things My Mom Never Taught Me about Casino Gambling (But Should Have)
Published on January 02, 2018
My mom told me that life is short. I like to live it to the fullest. She did, too.
For some people, living life to the fullest might mean eating dessert first. For other people—like me and my mom—it means frequent nights out with friends playing casino games.
Casino gambling can be a great form of entertainment.
But it can also be an expensive form of entertainment—especially if you’re not careful.
Casinos weren’t as common when I was growing up. Now, casinos almost cover the entire landscape across the United States. They attract a large percentage of the population, too.
According to the American Gaming Association, close to 27% of Americans visit a casino at least once every year.
That number continues to grow annually.
Casino gambling is becoming one of America’s favorite pastimes.
My mom’s not around anymore, but she’s the person who taught me to play blackjack and poker. She didn’t teach me everything I need to know though, and I’ve learned a lot over the last decade of gambling.
Here are seven things you should know about casino gambling that I wish my mom had taught me:
No matter which casino game you play, the house always has a mathematical edge. The casinos, unlike you, do not need to rely on luck to make some money. That’s because you’re hoping to buck the odds in the short run.
The casinos are in it for the long run, and over the long run, the math will tilt the money in the casinos’ favor.
Casino gambling is entertainment, just like concerts and shows. Those forms of entertainment require an entrance fee.
Casinos are different. There’s no entry fee. They make their money based on the mathematical edge that the casinos have over the long run.
That edge is the difference between the odds of winning and the payout odds. Over time, the house’s edge guarantees that they’ll win money in the long run.
The house edge is expressed as a percentage, and it represents the mathematically expected loss per bet that you’ll average over thousands of bets. For example, if a game like roulette has a house edge of 5.26%, the casino expects you to lose an average of $5.26 for every $100 you bet.
Casinos don’t worry about short-term wins and losses. They’re sure that their profit will mirror the house edge over time.
The two most important things you need to understand about the house edge are:
Generally, table games have a lower house edge than gambling machines. With the right strategy, you can reduce the house edge at blackjack to less than 1%. If you play baccarat or craps, you can keep the house edge close to 1% without having to worry about strategy. You just need to make the right bets.
On the other hand, if you want to lose money fast, play slot machines. The house edge ranges from 5% to over 30%, depending on the casino and the machine. Since you make way more bets per hour playing slots, you’ll average greater losses per hour playing slots than any table game.
Learn which games have a low house edge and which games have a high house edge. Then, focus on the games with the lowest house edge.
I suggest baccarat, blackjack, craps and video poker.
The number of bets you make per hour also affects how much it costs you to play each casino game.
The casino estimates how much money they’ll make from a casino game with a simple formula:
Bets per hour X house edge X average bet size = Average hourly loss
The casino expects you to lose 30 X $50 X 5.26%–or $78.90 per hour.
That’s a long-term expectation, though. In any given hour, you might be winning $150, losing $150 or breaking even. That’s called short-term variance. That’s what keeps the casinos in business.
If you reduce any of the factors in that formula, you lower your hourly-expected loss. You can lose less money on average by making fewer bets per hour. You can lose less money by placing smaller bets.
You can also lose less by sticking with games with a lower house edge.
One of the best games in the casino, speed-wise, is Pai Gow Poker. Compared to most games, you’ll see a lot of pushes per hour, too. (You don’t lose money on a push, which is a tie with the dealer.)
You might play 25 or 30 hands per hour at the Pai Gow Poker tables, but you’ll see a push on between 10-12 of those hands.
The house edge is only 1.46%.
Too many gamblers plop down at a game they’ve never played before and start donking off chips. Knowing how to play a game can have a far bigger impact on how much you’ll lose over the long run than you might think.
It will also increase your chances of walking away a winner.
Would you play Christiano Ronaldo in a one-on-one soccer game for $2000?
Of course not.
But, if you didn’t even know the rules of soccer, you’d be at an even bigger disadvantage.
In this scenario, Christiano Ronaldo is the casino and you’re the player.
Learning how to play these casino games before sitting down can help you avoid mistakes. Many games—like blackjack or video poker—require you to make decisions that affect your probability of winning.
You can play free versions of every casino game imaginable at any online casino. You shouldn’t put any money on the table for a casino game without understanding how to play the game. You can’t play smart if you don’t know how to play to begin with.
The easiest games in the casino include keno and slot machines. You don’t make any decisions during those games. In fact, you just put your money down and wait for your results.
A lot of gamblers are fine with this, by the way. They just want to relax and enjoy fantasizing about a big win they’ll probably never experience. Casinos love these players.
You can find games that are not only easy to play, but also offer a low house edge. Baccarat and craps are examples of easy games with a low house edge. The only decisions in those two games are which bets to place.
The house edge in baccarat is only 1.06%, if you stick with the banker bet. If you bet on the player, the house edge goes up to 1.24%.
If you bet on a tie though, the house edge skyrockets to 14.36%.
You don’t have to make any playing decisions in baccarat. Just stick with the low house edge banker bet, and you’ll be fine.
In craps, the most basic bets are the bets with the lowest house edge. The pass line bet has a house edge of 1.41%, and the don’t pass bet has a house edge of 1.36%. The come and don’t come bets offer the same odds.
The odds bet has no house edge at all.
But the other bets on the table are real stinkers when it comes to the house edge. Most of the proposition bets at the craps table are located on the inside of the table layout. The house edge on most of those bets is over 10%.
Not all gambling activities are casino games. Betting on sports and playing poker are examples of gambling activities that aren’t casino games.
I include them here because there are so few betting activities where you can get a mathematical edge.
Here’s a list of gambling activities where you can get an edge:
None of these gambling techniques are easy. In fact, most of them require significant work. If you’re willing to put in that work, though, you can make a living at gambling.
My mom was superstitious. She thought playing a slot machine with your player’s card inserted was bad luck.
I know better than that now.
To join the player’s club, just find the appropriate desk at the casino and sign up. (It’s always clearly labeled.) Joining is free, too. The casino gives you a card to insert into the machine when you play.
The casino rewards you with free stuff for being a member of the club and gambling. These freebies can include things like:
These freebies are called “comps.”
These comps are designed to motivate you to gamble more. The value of these comps isn’t enough to tilt the odds in your favor.
But their value does reduce the effective house edge by between 0.1% and 0.3%.
You can use your player’s club card when playing table games, too. Just tell the dealer you want to be rated, and give her your card when she asks for it.
Gambling is addictive. In fact, problem gamblers probably account for half of the players at the slot machine.
What does this mean for you and me?
It means you and I need to learn a couple more things mom never taught me.
One of those things is to never chase your losses. Your luck isn’t “bound to change” if you keep playing. That’s not how gambling works.
In fact, this way of thinking is so prevalent that it has a name—the gambler’s fallacy.
If you find yourself thinking you should keep playing to try and catch up, quit playing immediately.
You should also learn to occasionally quit while you’re ahead. I’ve had countless trips to the casino where I got lucky and then gambled back all my winnings and then some.
If you want to keep playing after a big win, pocket a percentage of your winnings. That way you can walk away with some winnings.
Here’s the thing about gambling when the house has an edge: The longer you play, the more likely you are to lose all your money.
Gambling addiction ruins lives. Be on the lookout for it.
These seven things my mom neglected to tell me won’t make either of us rich.
But if you know to combine slow game-play with a low house edge, you can have countless hours of entertainment at the casinos for next to no money.
Also, if you’re not having fun, quit playing. Gambling is entertainment. If it’s stressful or worrisome, you’re probably losing too much money.