The Ultimate Casino Games Cheat Sheet

By Randy Ray
Published on August 18, 2017
casino-cheat-sheet

Sometimes you don’t want to read a blog post about casino games with a lot of explanatory text. Sometimes you just need a cheat sheet to help you choose a game to play. Or maybe you need a cheat sheet explaining the appropriate strategy for a game.

This post is meant to provide you with several casino game cheat sheets. I’ve included ranked lists and tables below that should be able to help any casino gambler achieve her goals.

Casino Games Where Skill Matters

This cheat sheet is just a list of casino games where skill matters. In other words, you make decisions during these games that affect your chances of winning.

This doesn’t imply that you can get an edge over the casino by being skillful. In fact, for most of these games, if you play with perfect strategy, the casino still has an edge.

But if you’re like me, you prefer games where your decisions make a difference.

  • Blackjack – If you memorize basic strategy and use it every time you make a decision, you can reduce the house edge in blackjack to between 0.5% and 1%, depending on the rules conditions in place. You must learn to count cards or some other advantage technique to get an edge over the casino.
  • Caribbean Holdem – This is a poker-based game, but it’s also a house-banked game. Making the correct decisions affects the house edge for Caribbean Holdem, but most of the time, you’ll be raising. The house edge is around 3%.
  • Caribbean Stud – The correct strategy for Caribbean Stud is complicated, but you can still play with some sense of strategy by learning when to raise or fold. In general, you should always raise with a pair or higher. You should always fold if you have a hand less valuable than the dealer’s qualifying hand (ace-king or higher). Even with close-to-perfect strategy, the house edge is 5.22%.
  • Craps – I’m including this game on both lists, because enough credible gambling experts think that dice control works that you can almost include it here. I remain unconvinced that you can influence the outcomes of the dice rolls, but if you can, craps is a game of skill.
  • Let It Ride – In Let It Ride, you place 3 bets. As the hand plays out, you have the option to pull back 2 of these bets. Deciding whether to pull back the bet or “let it ride” is where your strategy comes into play. The house edge for the game, if you play with close-to-optimal strategy, is about 3.5%.
  • Pai Gow Poker – This game combines elements of poker with elements of an Asian dominoes game called Pai Gow. One of your tasks is to set your hand—you get 7 cards, and you set them into a 5-card hand and a 2-card hand. The house edge is less than 3%, and there are a lot of ties, which means that the expected hourly loss is low.
  • Slot machines – Let me be clear. MOST slot machine games have no skill element. But skill-based slot machine games do exist, and they combine aspects of video games with the spinning reels. Becoming skilled at these games won’t give you an edge over the house, though.
  • Spanish 21 – This is closely related to blackjack and has similar strategy issues.
  • Three Card Poker – This is another poker-based game where you can decide to raise or fold. If you play with perfect strategy, the house edge is around 3.37%.
  • Video Poker – A multitude of VP games are available, each of which has multiple pay tables available. The house edge varies based on the pay table, but the role of skill is important in all varieties of video poker. Find the right pay tables, and you’ll be playing a game as good or better than blackjack in respect to odds of winning. Look for VP games with a house edge of 1% or less (i.e. a payback percentage of 99%+).

Keep in mind that when I write about gambling games with a skill element, this doesn’t imply that chance isn’t an important factor. It’s still gambling. It’s just that you can improve your odds with smart play.

You also might be wondering why I didn’t include Texas holdem or sports betting on this list. I’m focusing on casino games in this post. By definition, a casino game means you’re competing with the house, not the other players. I only include house-banked games on these lists in this post.

Casino Games Where Skill Doesn’t Matter

Some gamblers prefer games where no skill element exists. They just want to relax, take their chances, and try to get lucky. I don’t judge people like this, although it’s not my preferred way to gamble.

Not surprisingly, the list of casino games that are entirely based on chance is longer than the list of casino games with a skill element.

  • Baccarat – Despite what some people might tell you, baccarat involves no skill at all. It’s complicated to play, but the outcome is about as random as choosing heads or tails when flipping a coin. For a game with no skill element, though, the house edge is reasonably low.
  • Big Six – This is also sometimes called the “Wheel of Fortune”, although it has nothing to do with the game show or the slot machine named after the game show. This is basically just a guessing game with a high house edge. It barely qualifies as a casino game. It’s more of a carnival game, and most casinos don’t offer it anymore.
  • Casino War – This game is so similar to the children’s card game war that I’d be surprised if anyone mistakenly thought strategy played a role in this game. The rate of play is super-fast, too, because the game is so simple. This makes the casino’s expected hourly win rate higher. The house edge isn’t as good as it is for baccarat or blackjack, so if you like uncomplicated card games, choose one of those instead.
  • Craps – I’m cheating a little by including this on both lists. Most people don’t have the desire or dedication to learn dice control techniques. That leaves you with only one skill—choosing the bets with the best odds. The outcome is still entirely random.
  • Keno – This is basically a lottery game run by the casino. Not only is there no skill involved, the house edge is remarkably high. You won’t place many bets per hour playing keno, though, so your expected hourly loss is still low.
  • Roulette – Choosing a single-zero game over a double-zero game might be considered a skill, but that’s game selection. No decisions that you make DURING the game affect the odds. There’s one bet to avoid in American roulette—the five-number bet. But you’re still not making any real decisions.

Casino Games With Good Odds for the Player

When we compare casino games’ odds, we look at the house edge. That’s a mathematical projection of how much you can expect to lose in the long run as a percentage of your action.

Here’s an example:

The house edge for blackjack is usually around 1%. This means that every time you wager $100, the casino expects you to lose $1.

The house edge, by the way, is not a sure thing. In the example above, on a single hand of blackjack, you’ll never win or lose just $1. You might lose $100, or you might win $100. You might even win $150 if you get a blackjack.

The house edge is a long-term average.

Casino players sometimes walk away from the casino as winners. It’s called short-term variance. It’s the nature of why casino gambling works.

Sometimes players walk away winners. That’s what keeps them coming back. Often they walk away losers, but their friends or nearby strangers walk away winners.

But in the long run, over thousands of bets, the average will eventually almost assuredly start to resemble the house edge.

Also, the lower the house edge, the better your odds of walking away a winner.

Here’s a numbered list of the 10 games in the casino with the lowest house edge:

No. Game House Edge
10 Single Zero Roulette As Low as 2.70%
9 Pai Gow Poker As Low as 1.46%
8 Craps As Low as 1.36%
7 Baccarat As Low as 1.06%
6 Bonus Poker As Low as 0.83%
5 Jacks or Better As Low as 0.46%
4 Spanish 21 As Low as 0.40%
3 Blackjack As Low as 0.28%
2 Deuces Wild As Low as 0.27%
1 Pick’em Poker As Low as 0.1%

These are the most common, low-house-edge-casino-games you’ll find. You should be aware of a few things, though:

  • Roulette only has a 2.70% house edge if you find a table with a single zero. A roulette game with 2 zeros (which is more common), has a house edge of 5.26%.
  • The house edge for craps is listed for the don’t pass bet, which is the best bet on the table. You should combine that with the maximum odds bet to get the best deal. That bet has no house edge at all, but you can’t make it unless you’ve made a pass or don’t pass bet first.
  • You should always bet on the banker in baccarat. Also, if you’re looking for the best odds without having to make decision, baccarat’s your game.
  • Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, Jacks or Better, and Pick’em Poker are video poker variations. The house edge listed is for the best pay tables for each game.
  • Some video poker games offer the player an edge over the house, but only with certain rare pay tables. You also need to play every hand perfectly to achieve those numbers. I didn’t include those games in this post.
  • The numbers listed for blackjack and Spanish 21 assume rules that are favorable to the player.

Casino Games With Lousy Odds for the Player

I’ve also included a list of casino games with lousy odds. These games are all characterized by a high house edge.

No. Game House Edge
10 Caribbean Stud Up to 5.22%
9 3 Card Poker Up to 7.29%
8 American Roulette (5-number bet) Up to 7.89%
7 Baccarat Up to 14.36%
6 Craps Up to 16.67%
5 Casino War Up to 18.65%
4 Big 6 Up to 24.07%
3 Slot machines Up to 25.00%
2 Keno Up to 29.00%
1 Sic Bo Up to 33.00%

Here are a few caveats and observations about the above table:

  • The house edge at Sic Bo ranges from 2.78% to 33%, depending on the rules, payouts, and which bet you make.
  • The house edge at keno varies from casino to casino, but 29% is a good average.
  • The house edge for slot machines varies, too. You might find a slot machine with a 2% house edge, but you have no way of distinguishing between a slot
    game with a 98% payback percentage and a slot game with a 75% payback percentage.
  • Big 6 is rarely played, but you’ll sometimes see it at older casinos. It’s a lousy bet and a fast-paced game. As with many games, the house edge varies
    depending on the bet—some of the bets on the Big 6 wheel have a house edge as low as 11.11%, which is still terrible.
  • The 18.65% house edge on Casino War is based on the tie bet, which you should never make. If you always go to war on ties, which is the correct strategy,
    the house edge for the game is only 2.88%. That’s not awful, but the game gets in an amazing number of hands per hour because it plays so fast. Blackjack
    is more fun, anyway, and not much more complicated.
  • The worst bet on the craps table is the “any 7” bet. That’s the house edge quoted in this table. If you were paying attention to the cheat sheet for the
    best house edge figures, you probably noticed that craps is also one of the best games in the casino. The trick is to stick with the best bets.
  • The same goes for baccarat. I’ve listed the house edge for a bet on the tie, which is an awful bet. Stick with the bet I recommend in the previous
    section.
  • The house edge for American roulette is 5.26%, but if you place the 5-number bet, you face a house edge of 7.89%.
  • The house edge for 3 Card Poker is for the PairPlus bet, which you should, of course, never make. The rest of the game has a house edge of 3.37%, which is
    still nothing to write home about.

I should also point out that house edge is only one factor to consider when choosing a game to play. I suggest that you treat gambling as entertainment, so compare how much you expect to lose per hour. This is a function of bets per hour and size of bets as well as the house edge.

I look at the mathematically expected loss per hour of various games in the next section.

Casino Games Ranked by Expected Hourly Loss

In the long run, the mathematically expected loss per hour for a casino game is a function of the amount of money you’re putting into action per hour multiplied by the house edge.

To calculate the amount of money you’re putting into action per hour, you multiply the size of your bets by the number of bets you’re placing per hour.

Here’s an example:

An average slots player makes 600 spins per hour. If you’re betting $5 per spin, you’re putting $3000 into action per hour.

You obviously don’t expect to lose an entire $3000 in an hour. You’d have to lose on every spin for that to happen.

Instead, you expect—in the long run, anyway—to lose the house edge.

Assuming an average slot machine game on the Vegas Strip has a house edge of 6%, you’re looking at $180/hour in expected losses.

The lower the expected hourly loss, the cheaper the entertainment.

Here’s a table listing the most economical games based on that metric:

Game Bets/Hour Average Bet Action/Hour House Edge Hourly Loss
Blackjack 50 $5 $250 0.5% $1.25
Craps 100 $5 $500 1.36% $6.80
American Roulette 40 $5 $200 5.26% $10.52
Baccarat 200 $5 $1000 1.06% $10.60
Video Poker 600 $5 $3000 0.46% $13.80
Slots 600 $5 $3000 6% $180

Here are a few observations and caveats about this table, too:

  • I used an average house edge for blackjack. Some casinos have rules that aren’t so favorable to the player, while others offer better rules than this. You might be playing a game with a 1% edge or a 0.28% edge. These numbers also assume excellent basic strategy on your part.
  • The number for craps didn’t account for the odds bet. That’s the only bet in the casino that pays off at the same odds as the odds of winning. If you take the maximum odds every time, the effective house edge drops, making craps a game comparable to blackjack.
  • Roulette turns out to be reasonably economical despite its relatively high house edge. This is because of the relatively slow pace of the game.
  • The hands per hour in baccarat is based on mini-baccarat, which has the same house edge as big baccarat. If you play big baccarat, you can get fewer hands per hour, but you must also face a much larger minimum bet.
  • Gambling machines, even video poker, are relatively expensive on a projected hourly basis—despite the low house edge for video poker. You can make these games more economical by getting in fewer bets per hour. Play slowly and take frequent breaks.

Finally, some games might not be fun for you at all. If that’s the case, skip them, regardless of how economical they are. You wouldn’t buy a book you wouldn’t enjoy reading. You wouldn’t buy a ticket for a movie you’d hate.

Don’t play a casino game you won’t enjoy, even if it seems cheap.

Blackjack Basic Strategy Cheat Sheet

The only correct way to play blackjack is to follow basic strategy religiously. If you’re counting cards, you’ll deviate from the basic strategy chart in some situations. But that’s not really a deviation from basic strategy it’s an adjustment of the correct decision based on the composition of the deck.

Players who use basic strategy can reduce the house edge to between 0.5% and 1% depending on the game conditions at the casino. Players who ignore basic strategy are usually playing hunches and often have an effective house edge of 4% or more.

The difference to your bankroll and expected losses per hour is dramatic.

You calculate your expected hourly loss by multiplying the average size of your bet by the number of bets per hour. You multiply that by the house edge to get your expected hourly loss.

For example, if you’re playing blackjack for $20 per hand and getting in 60 hands per hour, you’re putting $1200 per hour into action. If the house edge is 1%, you expect to lose $12 per hour. If it’s 4%, you expect to lose $48 per hour.

Over the course of a week-long trip to Vegas, that kind of money adds up fast.

Blackjack Card Counting Cheat Sheet

You can find dozens of card counting systems to use, but most card counters use one of the more basic systems. I’m including a Hi-Lo card counting cheat sheet below. It’s a table that describes the values of each card in the deck. After the table, I’ve included an explanation of how to put this cheat sheet into use.

Card Value
2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 +1
7, 8, 9 0
10, J, Q, K, or A -1

The goal of a card counting system is to estimate the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck. Memorizing which cards have been played isn’t realistic for most people. Hence a system like the Hi Lo allows you to create a reasonably accurate estimate of that ratio.

What can you do with this information?

The first and most obvious thing is to raise your bets when the deck has a higher-than-usual ratio of high cards to low cards.

But how do you know how much to bet?

You decide beforehand on your betting spread. That’s the range of bets you’re willing to make.

The low end of your betting spread is the table minimum. Whenever you’re facing a house edge of 0% or greater, you want to put as little money into action as possible.

The high end of your betting spread is 1% of your bankroll.

Here’s an example:

You have a $10,000 blackjack bankroll. You’re playing at a table with a $5 minimum bet and a $500 maximum bet.

Your betting spread should be $5 to $100.

You might decide on the following units:

  • $5
  • $10
  • $20
  • $50
  • $100

The house edge when using the Hi Lo system reaches 0% when you hit a count of +1. You start to gain an edge when the count is +2 or higher.

The minimum count where you would raise your bets is +2. At that point, you’d bet $10.

Most counters would probably continue to raise their bets at +4, +6, and +8.

With a count of +8, your edge over the house is about 3.5%, which means the expected value of a $100 bet is $103.50.

Keep in mind, too, that just because you have an edge of 3.5% over the house, you’re not guaranteed a win. You can still lose, and you often will. Therefore your max bet is a function of your total bankroll.

Your goal is to avoid going broke before the long-term positive expected value starts to kick in.

Remember that in gambling, short-term results vary wildly. Long-term results eventually start to resemble the mathematical expectation.

One final thing to remember:

The Hi Lo count estimates the house edge for a single deck game. If you’re playing in a game with multiple decks, you must convert this running count into a true count. This accounts for the additional cards in play.

To do this, you divide the running count by the number of decks in use.

Here’s an example:

You have a running count of +8. The dealer has 4 decks left in the shoe. You should bet according to the true count, which is +8/4, or +2.

Jacks or Better Video Poker Strategy Cheat Sheets

I’m including 2 cheat sheets here. The first is a table showing the payback percentage for the various pay tables available. In Jacks or Better video poker, the 2 hands where the payouts change are almost always the full house and the flush.

In a full pay game of Job, the payouts for those 2 hands are 9 for 1 and 6 for 1, respectively. Such a game is called a 9/6 Jacks or Better game.

An 8/5 Jacks or Better game only pays off 8 for 1 if you get a full house, and it only pays off at 5 for 1 if you get a flush.

The table below shows the payback percentage for the most common Jacks or Better video poker pay tables:

Pay Table Payback Percentage
9/6 Jacks or Better 99.54%
9/5 Jacks or Better 98.45%
8/6 Jacks or Better 98.39%
8/5 Jacks or Better 97.30%
7/5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
6/5 Jacks or Better 95.00%

Next, I’ve included a simple strategy to use when playing Jacks or Better video poker. Following this strategy will get you within 0.1% of the payback percentage listed, which is pretty good for all but the most dedicated players.

Using this Jacks or Better strategy cheat sheet is easy. Compare your hand with the hands on this list. Hold the highest hand that qualifies, discarding the rests.

  • Royal flush, 4 of a kind, or a straight flush.
  • 4 cards to a royal flush
  • Full house, flush, straight, or 3 of a kind.
  • 4 cards to a straight flush
  • 2 pair
  • Pair of jacks or higher
  • 3 cards to a royal flush
  • 4 cards to a flush
  • Pair of 10s or lower
  • 4 card, outside straight draw
  • 2 cards jacks or higher of the same suit
  • 3 cards to a straight flush
  • 2 cards jacks or higher that aren’t suited
  • 10J, 10Q, or 10K, of the same suit
  • One card jack or higher

If your hand doesn’t qualify as one of these, discard all your cards and start over.

Conclusion

This post turned out to be a potpourri of casino game cheat sheets. It’s fun to look at the various implications of the rules for these gambling games.

Smart gamblers understand that playing casino games costs the gambler money and earns the casino a profit.

But they also understand how to get the most entertainment for their money. The casino game cheat sheets on this page should help you accomplish this.

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