Strategy for Playing in the Casino
“There is a very easy way to return form a casino with a small fortune; go there with a large one.”
This quote from Jack Yelton neatly summarizes a common view of casino gambling. Many people believe that it’s nothing more than a surefire way to lose some money. They’re not entirely correct.
It’s true that most people who play casino games lose in the long run. It’s also true that casinos have an overwhelming advantage that simply cannot be overcome. However, it’s not true to say that it’s impossible to win in the casino. If it was, there simply wouldn’t so many people who play casino games. The fact that there IS a chance of winning is precisely what makes them so appealing.
Now, casino gambling does ultimately come down to luck. The odds are in the casinos’ favor, which is why they always win in the long run, but players can and do get lucky on occasion. And casino gambling isn’t ENTIRELY about luck either. Contrary to popular belief, there are certain things that players can do to improve their chances of winning. This is essentially where casino strategy comes in.
We explore the subject of casino strategy extensively on this page. We start by explaining two important concepts that you should understand – random chance and the house edge – and then offer some basic advice that can give you a better chance of winning. We also explain how learning optimal play can help, and finish with details of two important casino strategies you should be aware of. These are card counting in blackjack and using betting systems.
Games of Chance & The House Edge
In our beginners’ guide to casino gambling, we touch on four key points that you should ideally be aware of before risking your own money in a casino. These are as follows.
- Casino games are games of chance
- It’s not impossible to win
- The house always wins
- Luck is not the only factor
To understand why the first three points are true, you need to understand about games of chance and the house edge. So we’re going to explain these to you right now. As you read through the rest of this page, you’ll understand why luck is not the only factor in determining how and when a player wins.
What are games of chance?
A game of chance is defined as a game where the outcomes are wholly or primarily random.
A good example of a game where the outcomes are wholly random is roulette. Depending on which variant of the game is being played, there are either 37 or 38 possible outcomes from the spin of a roulette wheel. Each one of those possible outcomes is equally as likely as any other, because the number that the ball lands on is entirely random. It cannot be influenced by anything other than natural physics. So it doesn’t matter what we bet on, the chances of us winning or losing are random.
Blackjack is a good example of a game where the outcomes are primarily, but not wholly, random. The random element comes from the fact that the decks of cards are shuffled. If the order in which the cards are dealt is random, then the outcome of the games will be also random. The reason that the outcomes are not wholly random is because the players can decide how to play their hands. Their decisions also have some impact on the outcome of the game.
Let’s go back to roulette. If we bet on, say, the number 15 for ten consecutive spins, there’s every chance that the number 15 would come up once during those spins. If it did, then we’d win money (assuming we were betting the same amount on each spin).
The payout for a correct single number wager is 35:1. So we’d lose our stake nine times when the number was not 15, but win 35 times our stake on the one time it was.
This is why luck plays such a big role in casino gambling. Statistically, the number 15 should come up once every 37 or 38 spins (again, depending on the variant being played). But the random nature of the game means it might come up three or four times in ten spins, or not all at in 100 spins or more. Over the long run, the laws of probability will kick in and it will appear roughly the “correct” number of times. In the short term, though, anything can happen. The same principle applies to all casino games.
So, if anything can happen, why is it that the casino always wins? The answer is because of the house edge.
What is the house edge?
The house edge is the mathematical advantage that the casinos have over their players. In simple terms, it exists because they don’t pay out based on “true odds”.
When using the roulette example above, we explained that the actual chances of winning when betting on a single number are one in either 37 or 38. We also mentioned that the payout is 35:1. The difference between these chances of winning and the payout odds is what gives the casino it’s mathematical advantage, or edge.
Let’s say we’re playing European roulette, which has 37 numbers on the wheel. If we bet on the same single number for 37 spins, the mathematical expectation is that our number would come up once and once only. If this happened, we’d lose our stake 36 times and we’d get a payout of 35:1 once. So if we were betting $10 each time, we’d lose $360 but win $350. That’s a total loss of $10.
Now, anything could actually happen in 37 spins, because of the randomness that we mentioned earlier. But, over the very long term, each number will come up roughly the number of times it’s expected to. This is simply because of the laws of probability. So, over that long term, the mathematical advantage that the casino has due to not paying true odds gives them what is effectively a guaranteed profit.
This is only a very simple explanation to give you some basic insight into how the casinos have an advantage. If you’d like to learn more, you should read our article which explains all about the house edge in more detail.
Basic Casino Strategy Advice
The unfortunate truth about casino gambling is that the house edge exists in each and every game that casinos that offer. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing slots, roulette, blackjack, or any other game, the casino is always going to have this inherent advantage.
Although you can’t actually overcome the house edge in the casino, there are a few things that you can do to effectively minimize its effect. That’s what casino strategy is largely about, and it’s why luck is not the only factor. There’s nothing you can do to guarantee regular and consistent winnings, but you can improve your overall chances of winning. At the very least, you can reduce the rate at which you lose.
Here are two easy to follow tips that will instantly give you better value for money in the casino.
- Play games with the lowest house edge
- Take advantage of casino rewards
One important thing you should know is that the size of the house edge is not the same in every casino game. It can vary from very low to very high. Somewhat obviously, if you play the games with the lowest house edge then you’re keeping a casino’s advantage over you to a minimum. There are three games in particular that have very low house edges, and are also very easy to learn. We recommend playing these if you want to make your money last in the casino.
- Video Poker
Another important thing to know is that casinos reward their customers. Their primary goal is to have as many people playing at their games and machines as possible, for as long as possible. The more gaming activity they handle, the bigger their profits will be. They therefore incentivize their customers to play more often, by giving them rewards.
Most venues provide their customers with player cards. These cards record a player’s gaming activity, and casinos issue comps based on that activity. Comps can come in the form of free drinks, meals, accommodation, or even extra chips to gamble with. You really should take advantage of these comps when you can, as they can significantly increase the overall value you get for your money.
Although not technically a strategy, there’s another very important piece of advice we want to offer you at this stage. And that’s to ALWAYS set a budget when playing. Casino gambling should be viewed first and foremost as a form of entertainment and a way to have some fun. You may well win some money, but you’re always going to be more likely to lose. This is why you should only ever play with money that you can afford to lose.
Optimal Play in the Casino
The single best way to get maximum value in the casino is, in our opinion, to simply learn the optimal way to play each game. This point doesn’t apply to games that are wholly random, as it doesn’t really matter how you play them, but it does to games where your decisions matter.
In such games, there is always a “mathematically correct” decision to make. If you make the right decisions each and every time, you can greatly reduce the effect of the house edge. You still won’t overcome the house edge, and so the odds will still be against you to some degree, but you will technically improve your overall chances of winning.
Blackjack and video poker are the best examples of games where your decisions have a big effect on outcomes. With these, you can minimize the house edge to an almost negligible level if you play the right way. We explain the best strategies for playing these games in the following sections of our website.
Card Counting & Using Betting Systems
Card counting and using betting systems are two casino strategies that you should be aware for very different reasons. Card counting is a strategy that can be used when playing blackjack, and if used correctly it can actually give you a small edge over the casino. Betting systems are not really a strategy at all, but many players view as them as such. They don’t do anything to change the effects of the house edge, and actually have the potential to be very damaging.
Card Counting Explained
The idea with card counting is to keep track of all the cards that are dealt, so that you can have some idea of which cards are left in the deck. Because there are certain cards that are technically of more use to the player than the house (tens and aces), you can identify circumstances where you are more likely to win upcoming hands than lose them. By increasing your stakes when the remaining cards are heavy with tens and aces, it’s possible to actually put the odds in your favor.
Betting Systems Explained
The basic concept of betting systems is that you adjust your stakes based on whether previous wagers have won or lost. These systems fall into two broad categories; positive progression systems and negative progression systems.
With positive progression systems, you increase your stakes when you win and decrease them when you lose. The theory is that you can take advantage of winning streaks by betting more and more while on a good run.
With negative progression systems, you increase your stakes when you lose and decrease them when you win. The theory here is that losing streaks have to come to an end eventually, and by increasing your stakes you’ll end up winning more from successful wagers than you lose from unsuccessful wagers.
The logic behind these systems might seem sound at first glance, but these systems are entirely flawed. They do nothing to increase your chances of winning in the casino at all, and should only be used with extreme caution.