Comparing the Different Kinds of Gambling Options
What game should I play? Why?
Have you ever asked yourself those questions before? I have. Because while I enjoy gambling, I don’t particularly enjoy handing my hard-earned money over to the casino.
I want to make them work for it. Which is why I prefer skill games over luck.
But what about you? What games do you prefer? Do you know?
If not, you’re in the right place. This page is going to cover the difference between skill and luck-based games, as well as give you the 30,000 view of the most popular games found in (online) casinos.
By the time we’re done, you should have a pretty good idea of how all the games work, and more importantly, which games you prefer to play.
One of Two Categories
All casino games and betting options predominantly fall into one of two categories:
For example, poker, sports betting and blackjack fall into the skill category. That’s because, with deliberate practice, you can become ‘skilled’ at these games. Maybe even to the point to where you can beat the house or other players for a profit.
Games of chance are the opposite. There’s very little, if anything you can do to affect the outcome. The house edge will always be against you, no matter what you do.
That all being said, hardly anything in life is black or white. The same is true for gambling. While all games predominantly fall into one category or the other, you’ll find there’s no hard and fast rule that applies to everyone and every game.
Here’s what I mean by that:
- There’s a lot of overlap.
Skill games still have elements of luck (and vice versa).
For example, you may control how much you bet, what hands you play, when you bet, etc. But what you don’t control are the cards you get, or who you play against. You don’t control what team wins a match or what numbers are drawn.
- Skill games aren’t a guarantee.
- You can play and still lose money. That goes for video poker, blackjack and sports betting. Because they all require skill, which you need to spend time developing. Not only that, but not all skill games can be beaten for a profit.
- The same goes for games of chance.
- You’re supposed to lose in the long run playing these games. But tell that to people who’ve won millions of dollars playing Mega Moolah.
- There’s variance, no matter what you play.
- This means that you’re going to win and lose at any game you play in the short run, no matter what you do, or what the odds say should happen to you in the long run. That’s variance.
I point these things out because I don’t want to give you the impression that playing poker or blackjack guarantees you won’t lose money. Because the honest truth is that most people will lose, regardless of the games they play.
Which is also why you won’t see me berate or mock other people for the games they choose to play. Since most people will lose money in the long run, it makes more sense to choose a game based on how much fun you think you’ll have playing it.
And that’s why you should read the next section.
There I’m going to cover the most popular casino options. I’ll give you a brief explanation of how you play these games, whether they’re predominantly skill or luck-based games, and the pros/cons of each one.
Let’s get started.
The general idea behind sports betting is this – you’re betting against the bookie on whether you think an outcome will happen. Then you place your bet and wait.
There are dozens of different markets and bets to choose from. Sportsbooks cover all the major sports – football, soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey, etc. – while lesser popular options – e-sports, handball, politics, etc. – are a bit harder to find.
But there is something for everyone.
However, most people will never be more than recreational bettors. Sports betting is one of the hardest to learn how to do well because no one wants to teach it. And that’s because there’s no upside to creating more profitable bettors.
The good news is that if you make simple straight bets, you’re going to be pretty close to 50/50 to win. You’re still going to lose money if all you do is break even, because of the sportsbook’s vig. But at least you’re not going to lose your shirt like you would playing keno or slots.
And, to further put this into perspective, the best sports bettors have win-rates of between 53-60%.
The point – you can bet sports, have a good time, and probably not lose a ton of money making straightforward bets.
That’s the general idea behind sports betting. Now let’s look at the pros/cons to betting sports.
- Pretty good chances of breaking even, even if you don’t have betting skills.
- You can make bets and then forget about them. You don’t have to sit around and babysit them. You can watch the game instead (if you want).
- There are lots of betting options online.
- Betting sports is a complimentary hobby to watching sports. It’s a great combo.
- If you want to bet offline, you’re not going to have lots of options for where to bet.
- Sports betting is more complex than other casino games. You got to learn math, odds, the different bets and how they work.
- There’s a fair amount of math involved, especially if your goal is to be any good.
- Most online sportsbooks don’t want professional bettors.
If you enjoy watching sports, sports betting is a great thing to get into. It adds another level of excitement to an already exciting hobby.
However, if you’re not a sports fan, or if you’re looking for something (purely) to make money from, you’re better off playing poker instead.
Poker’s an interesting game where you play against other players instead of the house. Between that and all the different games, variations and structures out there, it’s such a dynamic game few, if any will ever be able to master.
The general idea to poker is to beat your opponents by having the best hand, or giving them the impression that you do.
There are two core types of poker games you can play – cash games or tournaments.
With cash games, you sit down with however much money you want to play with. Whatever you win from a pot is the amount you get to add to your stack. Winning a $1 pot means you add $1 to your bankroll. And since there’s nothing to win but the hand you’re playing, you’re not going to experience a huge financial windfall unless you’re playing for large stacks.
Tournaments, however, are more like a ‘winner takes all’ game. You pay an entry fee and are given a stack of chips (which has no correlation to the entry fee). The tournament starts at a schedule time, and everyone plays until one person has all the chips in play.
The money everyone paid to play in the tournament is pooled together, and divvied out to the top players based on the number of players who signed up. In other words, in a 10-man tournament, the top 3 players are paid. In an 180-man tournament, the top 16 players are paid. All payouts are on a top-heavy sliding scale. Because of this, it’s possible to win large sums of money playing tournaments.
Here are the pros and cons to playing poker.
- You can play for as little as .01/.02 (cash games) or .05 (tournaments) online.
- You can play dozens of tables or tournaments simultaneously online.
- It’s much easier to become a poker pro (online) between the lower limits, option to play multiple tables simultaneously and all educational the resources (coaches, forums, websites).
- Can experience large windfalls if you play and win and/or cash in poker tournaments.
- You can get lots of entertainment for a small amount of money.
- You’re not playing against the house, but instead other people. This means that you can win money simply by playing against players who are worse at poker than you are.
- Poker is more social than games like slots, keno or even table games.
- It’s hard for US players to find games online.
- The games are (arguably) tougher. This means it’s going to take more effort to become a break-even or profitable player.
- You can’t play unless there are other players to play against.
- If you sit down to play a tournament, you’re committed to playing until you’ve busted. Some tournaments can last hours, if not days (with breaks, of course).
- If you play tournaments, you can go many games without a (meaningful) cash.
- There’s quite a bit of luck needed to win a tournament, though less luck if you’re a good player.
- Poker can be boring since you’re often folding hands, waiting for a decent hand to play.
Poker might be for you if you’re competitive, an extrovert and/or have the time to put in the work to be good. You can also get a lot of bang for your buck playing tournaments.
It’s not unheard of to buy in for a $1 or $5 tournament and play for several hours. Win or lose, that’s often a better deal than going to the movies.
Slots and Other Games of Chance
In this section, we’ll talk about casino games of chance. Those include games like:
- Scratch Cards
These games are totally random. There’s little, if anything you can do to influence the outcome.
However, one of the differences between these games and most skill games is that you can randomly win thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars.
Each game is played a little differently. But here’s the general idea behind each one:
- Choose up to 15 numbers. Make your bet. Get paid based on the numbers drawn that match the numbers you’ve chosen.
- Each card is a grid with numbers on it. Mark each number as it’s drawn. You win when you can mark all the numbers to complete a specific pattern or line.
- Scratch Cards
- Buy a card and scratch off the symbols. You win prize at random, or if the symbols shown fulfill the objective (which varies from one card to the next).
- Press spin. When the reels stop spinning you’ll get paid if the symbols shown make up a winning combination (based on the machine’s pay table). Otherwise you lose.
It’s really that simple. There are games, variations and stakes for all people and budgets. And it’s these games that make up 50-80% of what a casino offers.
Here are the pros and cons.
- You can play for as little as .01 per game/spin. These games are budget-friendly, especially considering how much money you can win playing them.
- You can win lots of money in one swoop – no skill necessary.
- There are lots of fun games to choose from based on popular movies, characters, stories, sports and so on.
- Slots, keno and scratch ticket players often get the largest bonuses and deals from online casinos.
- If you play online, you can play any machine you want, whenever you want. You don’t have to wait for it to be free, or wait for other players to join (except for bingo).
- To win the larger jackpots, you often need to bet all the lines at higher denominations.
- If you play offline, sometimes the machine or game you want to play will be occupied.
- There’s very little you can do to improve your odds of winning.
- Games like slots and keno have the largest house edge (10-30%).
- If you play fast, you can burn through $50 or $100 in a matter of minutes playing slots – even betting .01/line.
You should play these games purely for entertainment. In other words, you should prepare and even expect to lose.
If you can get past that, these games are a great way to sit back and relax – sort of like watching TV or playing a simple video game. There’s very little work or effort required.
Video poker is an interesting blend of poker and slots. Here’s how it works:
- Make your bet.
- Receive your cards.
- Choose which cards you want to keep. Discard the rest.
- Receive new cards (to replace the ones you discarded).
- Get paid if you make a winning poker hand per the payout table.
Here are the pros and cons:
- There are lots of video poker variations. Any given online casino will have 8-15 different games for you to play. Offline casinos usually have 5-10.
- Video poker is budget friendly. You can play for as little as $.05-$.10 per hand.
- Many video poker games have a progressive jackpot you can win.
- These have low house edges – usually below 1% – which you can knock down even more with basic strategy.
- Since you’re playing against the house, you can play whenever you want. You don’t need other players to get a game started.
- It’s possible to time a video poker machine where every hand you play is +EV. This means you have an edge over the casino, and every hand you play correctly is making you money (in the long run).
- Correctly timing a video poker machine also increases your chances of hitting the progressive jackpot.
- Since you don’t play against other players, but instead play against the house, you can’t beat video poker for a profit. Though, you might be able to get close to break-even if you use advanced strategy and account for perks / player rewards.
- There’s still a large amount of luck involved because of the randomness of the cards dealt.
- Proper strategy will take time to memorize and, depending on your budget, will only get you nominal gains.
Ultimately, if you want a good blend of poker and slots, or skill and luck, video poker is a good option for you.
Table games include options like:
- Pai Gow Poker
- 3-Card / Tri-Card Poker
- Red Dog
- Caribbean Stud
- Texas Holdem Poker
These games are played against the house using single and/or multiple decks of playing cards. The exception is roulette, which uses a wheel, and craps, which uses dice.
Each game is played differently, but here’s the general idea of each one:
- Table Games
- The goal is for your hand to beat the dealer and/or the other players at the table.
- Choose what you think the outcome of the next roll will be.
- Choose what number, color or section you think the ball will land in the next round.
Choose what number, color or section you think the ball will land in the next round.
Some table games, like blackjack or pai gow, will have strategy you can use to reduce the house edge. Or, in the case of blackjack, beat the house edge.
Other games, such as craps, roulette and war, are pure chance. There’s nothing you can do outside of cheating to overcome the house edge.
That’s the general idea. Now here are the pros and cons:
- Most casinos – especially online – have 5-10 variations of blackjack. Some have even more. That’s on top of the 10-20 different table games they offer, which includes craps, roulette, 3-card poker, war and so on.
- Online you can play for as little as $1.
- Most table games have strategies you can use to reduce the house edge. Sometimes you cut them by more than half.
- Most table games have low house edges to begin with – less than 5-10 percent. But only if you skip the side bets.
- Many casinos give you or let you use basic strategy charts (because they still have an advantage over you if you do).
- You can play live dealer table games online.
- These games have quite a bit of variance. Between that and the 50-100+ hands you can play in an hour, and you can lose your shirt pretty quick.
- Side bets and other long shots are the only way to experience any kind of financial windfall. However, side bets jack the house edge way up – sometimes by more than 10-20 percent.
- The only game you can truly beat is blackjack. But only for small margins, and only once you do a lot of work memorizing the different strategies. Most, if not all of the other games, cannot be beaten.
- Most casinos frown on ‘advantage’ players. If you win too much money from a casino, chances are they’ll ban you from their blackjack tables, if not their property altogether. And online casinos don’t mess around – they’ll close your account.
Table games have the most overlap between luck and skill of any type of casino game. But even if they’re predominantly luck, the way you play them makes you feel as if you have control over the outcome. Even if you don’t.
For some people, the feeling of control is enough. For others, blackjack is the way to go.
There’s a lot of information to cover and consider.
If you already know what you want to play, have at it. Give it a shot and let us know how it works for you.
But if you don’t, I suggest trying a little bit of everything. You can take $50 or $100 and get quite a bit of mileage out of it.
- Make 2 x $10 sports bets.
- Sign up for a $20 poker tournament.
- Play 20 blackjack / table game hands. This includes roulette or craps.
- Play $20 worth of slots. Or, split it between slots and keno.
- Play $20 worth of video poker.
Even offline you’ll get a fair amount of mileage out of $100. More than a couple hours worth, especially if you manage to last in the poker tournament.
Play online, and you’ll get even more because of the lower min betting limits.
The point is, if you’re not sure what to play – even after reading all the information above – you can take a small amount of money and figure it out pretty quick – while still managing to get a little bang for your buck.
You might even find that, like some of us here, that you enjoy most forms of gambling.
Whatever games you choose, though, just make sure you have lots of fun playing them. Because, otherwise, what’s the point?