Why Speed is More Important than House Edge in the Casino
Most of the information you find about casino games, if it bothers to dig into anything beyond the basics, preaches the importance of the house edge.
The main point most of these articles, books, or web sites make is you need to play casino games with a low house edge.
On the surface this seems like good advice.
Why give the casino more of an edge than you need to?
You have a set amount of money, or bankroll, to play with, so the lower the house edge the longer you should be able to play.
While I agree that reducing the house edge as much as possible is important, I’d like to introduce you to something that’s more important.
The number that’s really important is how much you can expect to lose per hour playing. To determine this you have to consider the speed of the casino game you’re playing.
Here’s an example:
Would you rather lose $100 per hour or $75 per hour?
Of course you’d rather lose $75 than $100. But what you don’t know is that in this example the $100 an hour is playing blackjack with a half a percent house edge and the $75 is playing Pai Gow Poker with a 2.5% house edge.
Here’s the problem with this question and example. You don’t have enough information to make the correct answer.
This illustrates why you can’t blindly pick the casino game offering the lowest house edge. You need to take more things into consideration including the speed of the game.
I’ve put together this post, including a wide range of examples, to show you how to completely evaluate your casino game choices in the future.
Keep reading to find out exactly how Pai Gow Poker can be better than blackjack and how to find other games that offer the lowest expected loss per hour rates. This includes a few games where you can play for less than $1 an hour.
In order to completely understand how the speed of the game is important I’ve put together a series of examples. You can run your own computations based on the same formula used below.
Amount Risked x Decision with Financial Outcome Per Hour x House Edge = Loss per Hour
Some games, like roulette, have a decision with a financial outcome on every wager, but other games have wagers that aren’t resolved at times. Blackjack has some hands that result in a push, and Pai Gow Poker has a large percentage of hands that result in a push.
All of the numbers below are approximated, but they provide a close estimate of what you can expect in live play. All of the examples use $100 per wager for consistency and for easy computations.
Roulette requires two examples because the house edge is different for single and double zero wheels. The average number of spins playing in a land based casino is 40, but if you play online it can be as high as 200 spins per hour.
- Land based double zero wheel – $100 X 40 X 5.26% = $210.40 expected loss per hour
- Land based single zero wheel – $100 X 40 X 2.7% = $108 expected loss per hour
- Online double zero wheel – $100 X 200 X 5.26% = $1,052 expected loss per hour
- Online single zero wheel – $100 X 200 X 2.7% = $540 expected loss per hour
Blackjack offers one of the lowest house edges in the casino if you find a game offering good rules and you use the best strategy. But you play more hands per hour than in some of the other games.
The half percent house edge used in the examples is fairly easy to find and maintain as long as you always make sure you use the proper strategy. Just like most casino games, if you play online you can play more hands per hour.
- Land based game – $100 X 100 X .5% = $50 expected loss per hour
- Online based game – $100 X 200 X .5% = $100 expected loss per hour
Pai Gow Poker
Pau Gow Poker isn’t one of the most popular casino games, but it’s one of the slowest games and offers a reasonable house edge compared to many other table games. It’s somewhat complicated to assign an accurate house edge because it’s dependent on the strategy you use to set your hands and if you can act as the banker.
Many land based casinos allow the player to act as the banker on a rotating basis. If you play as the only player at the table you can act as the banker every other hand. The normal house edge is 2.5%, but if you can act as the banker every other hand it reduces the edge to 1.46%.
I haven’t found an online Pai Gow Poker game offering the opportunity to act as the banker. And when you play online you can play 100 hands per hour or more.
- 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
- Online no banker – $100 X 100 X 2.5% = $250 expected loss per hour
Jacks or Better
Jacks or Better can be found in casinos with a pay table that has a low house edge of .46% if you play perfect strategy. But whether you play online or in a land based casino you can play 500 hands per hour. The best pay table is a 9 / 6 paying nine for a full house and six for a flush.
- Land based or online – $100 X 500 X .46% = $230 expected loss per hour
Slot machines are worse than jacks or better because you can play at least as many spins per hour as Jacks or Better but the house edge is usually 5% or higher. Here’s an example of how bad slot machines can hurt your bankroll.
- Land based or online – $100 X 500 X 5% = $2,500 expected loss per hour
I’m developing two additional posts with the 7 best casino games based on speed and the 7 worst casino games based on speed that have the complete breakdowns for 14 casino games. Read them to see the numbers for other games if you don’t want to work out your own computations.
Now you know why the house edge is only a part of the answer when looking or the best opportunities in the casino. But how can you use what you’ve just learned to offer the best possible outcomes?
In order to use the math in your favor you have to change one or more of the parts of the equation. You can play fewer hands or spins per hour, bet less, use the lowest house edge, or use a combination of all three.
Here are the best ways to use the speed of casino games to lose less and have the chance to win more often.
One part of the equation is based on the number of financial decisions per hour. Some games in a land based casino don’t allow you to adjust your rate of play. A blackjack or roulette game tends to play at a consistent rate of speed.
You can take longer than normal to make your playing decisions while playing blackjack, but there are limits to how long you can wait.
One option is to play games that offer fewer financial decisions per hour. Pai Gow Poker is notoriously slow and Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride are both slower than most other games.
I showed how bad slot machines were for your bankroll at the maximum spins per hour, but the key thing with them is no one is forcing you to take that many spins. Can you enjoy the game just as much taking half the spins per hour? What about reducing your play to only two spins per minute?
When you take half as many spins per hour your expected loss per hour is reduced by half. The fewer spins you take per hour the lower your expected loss.
This brings us to one of the best games for low house edge and speed. When you play video poker games with good pay tables you can play with a house edge of a half percent or less. The most popular ones are 9 / 6 Jacks or Better and NSUD Deuce Wild.
You choose how many hands per hour you take while playing video poker and when you combine a low house edge with fewer hands per hour your bankroll lasts longer.
Remember in the example above if you play 9 / 6 Jacks or Better at 500 hands per hour at $100 per hand your expected hourly loss is $230. Let’s see how the numbers change with fewer hands per hour.
$100 X 250 X .46% = $115 expected loss per hour
$100 X 200 X .46% = $92 expected loss per hour
$100 X 100 X .46% = $46 expected loss per hour
As you can see, playing slower is one of the most powerful things you can do to lower your expected loss per hour.
Of course the casinos want you to play as many hand or spins per hour as possible. They make a percentage of every dollar that gets wagered so the more money they can take bets on the more they make.
But this doesn’t mean you have to fall into the speed trap. Simply slow down and enjoy the games more while reducing your expected hourly loss rate.
Another part of the equation is the amount you wager per financial decision. Most recreational casino game players don’t bet $100 per hand or spin, but I used it as a nice round number for the calculations so far.
Instead of betting $100, if you bet half as much, or $50 in our examples, you instantly cut your expected loss per hour in half. If you bet $10 per decision instead of $100 you reduce your expected hourly loss by 90%.
Let’s take a look at what happens when playing 9 / 6 Jacks or Better at lower wager amounts does to the equation. When playing Jacks or Better you should always bet the maximum number of coins, which is five. This means on a $5 machine you wager $25 per hand, on a $1 machine you wager $5 per hand, and on a quarter machine you bet $1.25 per hand.
- $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
By simply betting less you’ve greatly reduced your expected loss.
Now let’s combine playing fewer hands per hour with a lower wager amount to see the extreme difference in expected loss per hour.
- $25 X 100 X .46% = $11.50 expected loss per hour
- $5 X 100 X .46% = $2.30 expected loss per hour
- $1.25 X 100 X .46% = .58 expected loss per hour
Notice your expected loss per hour is the exact same playing $25 per hand at 100 hands per hour as it is playing $5 a hand at 500 hands per hour.
Now compare your expected loss per hour of $230 playing $100 per hand at 500 hands per hour and only 58 cents playing $1.25 per hand at 100 hands per hour.
This truly shows how much betting more decisions per hour at a higher amount is damaging to your bankroll.
Online Verses Land Based Play
But what if you want to play blackjack instead of video poker?
I mentioned that in a land based casino you can’t control how fast some games are played. But if you play online you can play as fast or as slow as you want, and you can often find lower minimum bets than you can find playing live.
I’ve played online blackjack for $1 minimum bets online many times, and $5 minimum bets are available in almost every online and mobile casino.
If you play blackjack online at $1 per hand and only play 50 hands per hour here’s the new equation.
- $1 X 50 X .5% = .25 expected loss per hour
A quarter per hour is an extremely low cost for online entertainment. And you have complete control over how fast you play.
Even if you want to play games with a higher house edge like roulette you can play online to have fewer spins per hour, and at lower minimum bets. If you play double zero roulette with its terrible house edge of 5.26% but only play for $1 per spin and take 30 spins per hour your expected loss is small.
- $1 X 30 X 5.26% = $1.58 expected loss per hour
I used a slot machine example above and based on it you might think that you can never play slots with a reasonable expected loss per hour. But if you’re willing to play slower and keep your bet size small you can still play without losing a ton.
If you play 100 spins per hour at a quarter a spin, even with a 5% house edge you can extend your bankroll considerably.
- .25 X 100 X 5% = $1.25 expected loss per hour
Most slots players like the action, but even if you play 200 hands per hour your expected loss is only $2.50 per hour.
In addition to everything included in this section you need to include one more variable when playing casino games. The next section deals with the strategy considerations required to give you the best chances in the casino.
I mentioned using the best strategy a few times in the section about the math behind this discussion and the importance of speed in the casino games you choose to play.
It doesn’t matter what game you play or the size of the wagers; you must make sure you’re always using the best possible strategy.
This is the only way to reduce the house edge as much as possible. By doing this you make your bankroll last as long as possible and you have the best chance to have a winning session from time to time.
Some games require no strategy and nothing you do outside of cheating will change the long term house edge. Examples of these games include:
- Slot Machines
- Sic Bo
But even most of these games have something you can do to keep the house edge as low as possible. If you play roulette you should only play on a single zero wheel. Craps players need to only make bets on the lowest house edge bets. Slots players need to only play the machines offering the lowest edge.
Many casino games have a house edge directly related to the strategy decisions you make. Examples of these games include:
- Video Poker
- Pai Gow Poker
- Let It Ride
- Caribbean Stud
- Spanish 21
- Three Card Poker
Some of these games are fairly easy to use proper strategy with and others are more complicated. But all of them can be played in a perfect way to reduce the house edge.
The nice thing about the current explosion of available information in books and online is experts have used computers to determine the best way to play every casino game.
You can find detailed strategy cards and charts to show the best play in any situation while playing blackjack or video poker. You can also find the best way to decide what to do while playing Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, and Caribbean Stud.
Never play a casino game unless you know how to do it playing with the best possible strategy.
Casinos are always looking for new games because players flock to them and no one knows how to use the best strategy. This raises the house edge and increases the money they make on the game.
If you play a game that has a strategy chart available, never play without using the chart until you have it memorized. If you play online you can keep the chart with you at your computer. If you play live, simply take the chart or card with you.
If the casino doesn’t want to let you use your chart you need to find a different casino.
All of the examples and mathematical computations listed above are based on the long term averages associated with every casino game. This means that over hundreds of thousands of financial decisions the averages will play out.
But in the short run almost anything can happen.
I talked a great deal about Jacks or Better and the low house edge of the 9 / 6 pay table. When the edge is computed it includes the fact that every once in a while you’re going to hit the top pay out of 4,000 coins.
You don’t hit the jackpot often, so when you do you’re in for a nice winning session. But every other time you play the house edge acts like it’s higher than the expected .46%.
This means in the long run, over hundreds of thousands of hands, the expected loss will be almost exactly what it says it’s supposed to be. But you’re probably going to lose more than projected during most playing sessions.
Of course you’re also going to have some playing sessions where you win a little.
The important thing to remember is all of the computations made on this page and any that you do aren’t a guarantee of short term results. So you need to take this into account when determining your bankroll needs for your next playing session.
Now that you have a new understanding of how important speed is when choosing which casino games to play you can start planning your next playing excursion.
Find a game where you can use the best strategy and control the rate of play and combine it with a low house edge. You can play for hours on a much smaller bankroll than you used to need.
Just don’t forget that even though you can reduce the expected loss per hour to under $1 in some cases, you’re still playing a game that’s always in the casino’s favor. You’ll have some winning sessions, but in the long run the house always wins.