Stepping onto the casino floor for the first time can be overwhelming for many gambling beginners.
Lights are flashing all around, the air is dominated by the din of excited conversation, and everywhere you look money is being moved in one direction or another. Rows of games, table after table lined up and stretched to the horizon, seemingly offer the same experience – cards or dice determining who wins or loses chips.
But upon closer inspection, the various tables are all running subtle offshoots of the games you recognize, with Spanish 21 replacing traditional blackjack, mini baccarat bumping the classic card game, and so on.
Adding in the thrill of money being risked and the utterly unique adult playground atmosphere found only inside the casino makes gambling an intense pursuit for the uninitiated.
For this reason, many raw casino gamblers tend to make basic rookie mistakes. From taking their chips to unbeatable games that tilt the odds far in favor of the house, to backing the worst bets offered by any game, new players simply don’t know enough about the industry to make informed decisions.
And clearly, casino operators and managers make their living on the backs of beginners, enticing them to chase high payouts with a low probability of winning, and trusting that simple inexperience will leave them in the loser column when it’s all said and done.
That’s why I prefer to have a gambling game-plan in mind whenever I step foot on the casino floor. Rather than wander around the massive rooms while making my way from one game to the next, I enjoy prowling the casino like a predator hunting their prey.
Of course, I’ve spent many years as both a recreational and semi-professional gambler, and experience is the only way to become more comfortable with casino games.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, because I’m not claiming to be some sort of gambling Terminator who only tackles the best bets.
Sure, I try to put most of my action behind reasonable wagers, using a basic understanding how probabilities and payouts combine to create every game’s house edge rate.
But I can still let loose and have a little fun playing a game like roulette, even while I know that the odds aren’t all that great for players.
For me, a successful casino gambling is all about finding that perfect balance between profitability and pleasure. If I wanted to grind out the slimmest of edges, I could plop myself down at a Jacks or Better video poker machine and apply the strictest of optimal strategy at all times.
Or I might play blackjack for hours on end, combining the arduous task of mental card counting with another application of perfect strategy. And these approaches would surely keep me on the right side of variance, effectively erasing the house’s edge and even turning the game into a positive expectation experience.
But I’ve done that before, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s about as boring as any 9 to 5 cubicle gig you can imagine. They say it’s not work when you love what you do, but even the most seasoned gamblers out there who actually derive a profit from the games have little love for the grind of true advantage play.
Instead, my personal gambling game-plan attempts to strike a balance between backing the best bets and having a good time. I know by now which games offer the best odds, but I also know that some of those low expectation games are also among the most fun you can find on the casino floor. By balancing my sessions with the right doses of entertainment and earnings, I wind up leaving with a smile on my face every time – winning or losing be damned.
With that said, I’m still a winner and I’ll always do my best to play even the worst games with a modicum of common sense and gambling savvy. Just because I’ll enjoy the occasional spin on the roulette wheel doesn’t mean I’m splashing chips around with reckless abandon – on the contrary. I use my knowledge of the game’s mathematical foundation to inform my decision making processes, sound bankroll management to avoid big losses, and the discipline needed to avoid the temptation offered by “systems” and “strategies” purporting to help gamblers win consistently at games of chance.
Without further ado, I present to you my 7-point gambling game-plan, which touches on the seven best casino games – both by the numbers and for the sake of fun – that I advise all new gamblers to experience and enjoy.
My first stop on every trip to the casino is the roulette wheel. Not because it’s a great game from the perspective of probability, and not because I plan to win a ton of money there.
No, I start my session with a few spins simply because I have more fun at the roulette table than I do some of the other destinations on the list. And having fun is what casino gambling should always be about, first and foremost.
Unlike many casino games, roulette is structured elegantly enough to make understanding the odds against players as basic as can be. All wagers on the board (but one “exotic” bet that most players ignore) offer the exact same house edge: 2.70 percent or 5.26 percent.
The or in that statement is based on one crucial factor: the roulette wheel itself.
For the most part, casinos in North America spin the so called “American” or double zero wheel, which contains the usual 1 36 numbered spaces in alternating black and red, along with two green “0” and “00” spaces that work for the house. In Europe and elsewhere around the world, most roulette games use the “European” or single zero wheel, which follows the same construction but only contains one green “0” space for the house.
The American wheel carries that higher house edge of 5.26 percent, which is actually quite steep when compared to other classic casino games. But when you can find a European wheel the house edge against you drops down to a more reasonable 2.70 percent.
For visitors to Las Vegas, Nevada’s modern gambling mecca, you’ll be forced to make do with American double zero wheels when playing at the low to medium stakes, with European single zero wheels offered only to high rollers risking $100 minimum per spin. However, casinos like the Mirage, the Aria, and the MGM Grand all offer European roulette within their main casinos with a $25 minimum wager.
Personally, the first part of my gambling game plan is to take $100 over to the first European roulette wheel I can find. From there, I avoid the usual “strategy” used by recreational roulette players, who like sprinkling chips on the lucrative (but extremely low odds) single number wagers using birthdays, anniversaries, or Michael Jordan’s jersey number.
Instead, my betting style involves putting $15 on one of the three “column” bets – which cover a full column of numbers on the betting layout (1, 4, 7, 10…; 2, 5, 8, 11…; 3, 6, 9, 12…). These column bets offer a 2 to 1 payout if the ball lands on any of the numbers found in your chosen column – which almost perfectly matches the 2 to 1 odds against that happening when you choose a single column.
To spice things up, I use the other $10 needed to meet the $25 minimum bet and spread $2 each on a variety of random single number bets. I like to confine these riskier bets to the numbers outside of my current column bet, which serves as an offset of sort.
As a result, every spin offers one of three outcomes:
I miss both the column bet and single number bets; losing my $25 on that spin
I hit the column bet but miss the single number bets; winning $30 at 2 to 1 on a $15 bet while losing the other $10 in bets. That’s good for a $30 win and a $10 loss, totaling $20 in profit
I hit one of my single number bets but miss the column bet; winning $70 at 35 to 1 on a $2 bet while losing the other $24 in bets. That’s good for a $70 win and a $24 loss, totaling $56 in profit
If math isn’t your strong suit, these numbers add up to mean a few important things. On every spin, I have a roughly 66 percent chance to lose the whole $25, but I also have a 33 percent chance to win $20 in profit, and a longshot 2.85 percent of hitting a nice $56 profit.
More often than not, I’ll alternate between a few outright losses and a few small saves on the column bet. But sometimes, the wheel spins in my favor and a few single number hits in short order start the night off in fine style. In any event, I tend to cash out from the table after accumulating any sort of winnings – double my $100 stake or above – while realizing that roulette is best played in short spurts.
And on some occasions, the inevitable occurs and the ball bounces the wrong way four straight times, leading to a quick burn through of a $100 bill.
No matter what happens though, I enjoy the camaraderie of sweating a roulette wheel’s result alongside new friends at the table, along with observing the rituals of recreational gamblers. Here, the action is pressure free and players are simply having a good time, so for me anyway, it’s as good of a place as any to start my journey through the casino floor.
After trying my luck in the pure game of chance that is roulette, I usually head straight to the blackjack tables to chase the appetizer with a game that has more meat on its bones.
Blackjack is the classic “thinking player’s” game, because rather than rely on random luck, players are free to apply the precepts of proper strategy. Simply put, blackjack is a partial information gambling game that allows players to make decisions, so those who make the best decisions on a consistent basis will lose far less over the long run.
Additionally, by combining the perfectly legal and acceptable concept of basic strategy with the perfectly legal but often unaccepted practice of card counting, many blackjack players can actually turn the tables and enjoy an edge over the house.
As the numbers go, a player using nothing but gut instinct alone – that is, a blackjack rookie making easily avoidable errors – sits with an average house edge of 1.50 percent working against them. In terms of the full range of casino games, this is actually quite reasonable, so even the proverbial drunk playing by the seat of their pants can still stretch out a bankroll at the blackjack table.
By applying the memorized rules of basic blackjack strategy (hit on a 12 against the dealer’s 2, double down on a 9 versus a dealer’s 6, etc.), I can instantly shave that house edge down to 0.50 percent or lower – depending on the exact rule configurations.
And finally, those rare players who can mentally track and “count” the exposed cards that flash on every hand are capable of turning blackjack into a beatable, positive expectation game.
I can’t claim to be a proficient card counter, although I do try my best to at least work in a standard High / Low count in a casual sense. In any case, you don’t need to worry about card counting whatsoever in order to use blackjack as a bankroll booster at the casino.
The only real requirement is a commitment to memorizing blackjack’s basic strategy chart(s). That is left plural because the rules of basic strategy can change slightly depending on the game format – multiple or single deck, dealer hitting or standing on soft 17s, etc. If you’re willing to put in the mental study needed to wield basic blackjack strategy at will, that 0.50 percent house edge (and even lower) automatically becomes one of the lowest you’ll find on the casino floor.
Personally speaking, after splashing around at the roulette table, I enjoy switching gears so to speak. The influence of luck was all encompassing while spinning the wheel, but when I battle the dealer with a deck of cards between us, the game becomes in exercise in probability. Sure, I’ll lose a few hands when the odds are overwhelmingly in my favor, and I’ll come from behind to win a few too. That’s the nature of gambling, and every game you’ll every play inside a casino will include some element of luck.
But sharp blackjack players are able to diminish the role of luck to a certain degree, watering it down through sheer discipline and sound strategy. From there, the cards will still decide your fate, but by playing well consistently over the course of a session, most skilled blackjack players can grind out a decent return on their initial buy in without incurring undue levels of risk.
Blackjack can be a demanding game even during the best of times, because memorization and recall expend mental energy.
I can certainly swing it, so no complaining here, but after an hour or two at the blackjack tables, I’m ready to blow off a little steam. More often than not, I’m counting my profits from a successful run of double downs and dealer busts, but even if I finished down on the twenty one game, the next stop is usually the slot machine parlor.
I won’t lie to you and say that slots are my favorite game, or even that I enjoy them, but I have to admit that they’re a regular part of my casino routine.
Why? Because I know the score, and slot players are rewarded by the casino with far more frequency than any other demographic. By joining the Slots Club, Player’s Reward Program, or similar arrangement with my casinos of choice, I can ensure that the full flow of comps, freebies, promotional offers, and other rewards head my way.
The only catch is that I’ve got to grind out an hour or so at the slots whenever I’m in need of a breather from more serious gambling. After inserting my Player’s Card into the machine – usually a five reel, 40 pay line video slot like The Walking Dead – casinos track your play and award certain bonuses when you reach certain thresholds.
These bonuses can run the gamut from free credits to use for further slot play, cash dispensations based on exchanging points, complimentary meals at restaurants or tickets to shows, and a whole assortment of other goodies. Plus, tracked slot players who dabble in other games, of which I am one, are typically offered the best hotel reservation discounts and other enticements to return to that particular casino on their next visit. Overall, a savvy slot player who takes full advantage of their rewards and bonuses can easily subsidize entire Vegas vacations through discounts and comps.
I like to hit the so called “penny” slots, or machines that technically require only $0.01 per play. In reality though, these slots usually come with the 20 or 40 pay lines, or the lines connecting across the reels upon which winning combinations can be landed. For the full video slot experience, which includes bonus games and free spins along with cool video clips and sound effects to fulfill the theme, you’ll need to activate the full amount of pay lines. This puts the minimum “cost to cover” for most slot games at $0.40, so even a small buy in of $40 or so gives you 100 spins to work with.
As a thinking gambler, I also try to do a little research beforehand to identify slots that are offering major progressive jackpots. The progressive concept is quite an eye catcher for casual gamblers, because a small investment of $1 or so can lead to life changing money. A quick Google search for “progressive slot jackpots” will return dozens of stories involving major progressive slots paying out millions of dollars to lucky winners.
I’m a realist by nature, so I don’t humor ideas of winning the seven or even eight figure sums flashing on the screens overhead. But knowing that I’m only playing slots for a limited duration, purely to accumulate rewards points, taking a shot at the big money is a fun way to kill an hour.
For the mathematically inclined, you should know that every slot machine is configured by the manufacturer to offer its own “payback percentage,” which is the inverse of house edge. In other words, based on the preprogrammed probabilities of winning relative to the payouts awarded, each slot machine carries its own theoretical return to player (RTP) rate. In gambling parlance, RTP and payback percentage are used interchangeably, and the figure can be used to determine the house edge as well.
My favorite slot is The Walking Dead, a themed video slot released by Australian slot titan Aristocrat Leisure in 2014 to capitalize on AMC’s hit zombie series of the same name. That game offers an RTP of 97.05 percent, meaning for every $100 I wager on it over the infinite long run, I can expect to “win” $97.05 back. In terms of house edge, I can simply subtract 97.05 from 100 to arrive at the figure, which is 2.95 percent in this case.
Like I said though, every slot machine has its own RTP and house edge rates, so do a little research and find a few of the lower ones that you like the look of. One thing to remember is that progressive slots, by and large, carry a higher house edge than their non progressive counterparts, so unless you have the bankroll to manage, stick to the more player friendly non progressive games.
Once you’ve found a favorite slot title, the next step is simply to join your casino’s Slots Club – and make sure to insert your Player’s Card for tracking purposes whenever playing – to reap the full benefits of the rewards program.
4. No Limit Texas Holdem
The next stop on my gambling game plan is an optional route, and it all depends on the mood I’m in at the moment.
If things are running well and the night seems to be going in my favor – which means I likely have a few hundred bucks more than I walked in with – I love nothing more than hitting the poker room.
We’ve all seen the game of no limit Texas holdem (NLHE) on our TV screens, maybe not so much nowadays, but the game received wall to wall coverage for a few years there. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, NLHE is played between yourself and between one and nine opponents, using traditional poker rules and gameplay.
You start with two hole cards that nobody else can see, before betting, raising, calling, or folding based on the strength of those cards, bluffs notwithstanding.
From there, the dealer puts three community cards face up on the felt (the “flop”), a second betting round occurs, and the process repeats itself through the fourth (the “turn”) and fifth (the “river”) community cards. By using any combination of your hole cards and the community cards, the objective of NLHE is to form a better five card poker hand – one pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, or royal flush – than your opponent(s).
But as anybody who has watched superstar poker pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey on the small screen knows, NLHE might be more about the players than the cards. The game involves bluffing, trapping, posturing, and a whole range of personality driven skills, adding moxie to the usual requirements of math and card sense.
Thus, the game isn’t for everybody, and we’re not encouraging readers to strike out as poker pros anytime soon. Instead, we enthusiastically recommend taking your shot in a small stakes game of NLHE at least once, if only for the unique experience only a poker game can provide. You’ll test your mettle against a wide range of opponents, from retirees enjoying their sunset years to young “grinders” who think they’re the next coming of Phil Hellmuth.
I like sitting in the smallest NLHE game available, which is almost always the basic $1/$2 game that requires blind bets of $1 and $2 during every orbit. Search up a quick NLHE tutorial online if the concept of blind bets escapes you, and trust me, you’ll get the hang of things in no time. The old saying about NLHE holds that the game takes “a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master,” and truer words have never been spoken.
You’ll be able to play NLHE without much study, so take a flier on the game and sit with $100 or $200 – whatever you feel comfortable losing, because that will be the most likely result. All poker games are heavily reliant on skill, so I can’t promise that you’ll wind up a winner on your first go, but you’d be surprised by how often “beginner’s luck” benefits new players.
The best part about NLHE and other poker games, from my perspective at least, is that the game isn’t played against the house – so there’s no house edge to fade. Instead, you’ll be fading the skill edge held by better players, while the house collects a small percentage of each pot played as “rake.”
At the lower stakes, that skill edge isn’t insurmountable by any means, so I tend to hold my own playing NLHE – and you can too. Take the game seriously and try your best, while paying close attention to what the winning players do. If you can accomplish that, you’ll probably discover that NLHE provides one of the most consistently entertaining, and challenging for that matter, casino games around.
I don’t fancy myself as a craps aficionado by any means, and in fact, it’s probably the game I play least of all.
I included the classic dice game for one reason then: it’s a one of a kind gambling experience that everyone should try at least once.
Every gambler walking the floor can’t help but notice the craps table, which is invariably the scene of a raucous good time, as strangers turned best buds congratulate one another on wins while cheering on a hot shooter. Craps games are always the loudest place in any casino (aside from the nightclub), and for those who have never rolled the dice, the whole scene can combine to be intimidating and complicated.
And it’s true, craps does involve more complexity than other casino games – what with three of four staff members (dealers, stickmen, pit bosses, etc.) running things under a watchful eye, and a dozen players ringing a table lined out with what seems to be hundreds of bets.
You can make a wide variety of bets when playing craps, and many players will be splashing chips all around the felt, but the game can also be boiled down to a binary affair: Pass or Don’t Pass.
You can dig deeper into the rules of craps at your leisure, but to make a long story short, the basic craps bet is known as the Pass Line bet. Here, you’re betting on the shooter to roll a 7 or an 11 before rolling a 2, 3, or 12. Any other number rolled is essentially neutral, so your bet stays in place and you’re now hoping to see that same number (known as the “point”) rolled again before a 7 appears.
This ultra low risk proposition is the standard play for most seasoned craps players, as it offers the second lowest house edge of 1.41 percent.
I play it safe during my rare trips to the craps table, sticking to the Pass Line bet and the subsequent “odds” bets (which carry no house edge at all). You may be wondering why I back the second most favorable bet, and not the best bet on the board, and that would be a great question.
The reason I don’t take the Don’t Pass bet, and its slightly better house edge of 1.36 percent, as that this wager essentially has me betting against the shooter – and thus the entire table. Craps players are a superstitious bunch, so betting against the shooter is a definite faux pas among that crowd. But even if it wasn’t frowned upon, there’s not much fun in celebrating big wins just a few feet away from somebody else who just lost as a result – aside from the NLHE table of course.
You’ll know right away whether craps is the game for you, and some players swear by their own system of Pass Line and odds bets as a proven moneymaker. I can’t attest to those systems myself, but I do know that a 1.41 percent house edge is very reasonable, and a hot shooter rolling the right numbers can easily turn a small stack of red $5 chips into a growing cradle of green $25 and black $100 replacements.
6. Three Card Poker
If you ask your local casino manager about the largest non slot jackpots hit under their roof, the Three Card Poker table will likely be the setting.
This classic table game is about as simple as it gets, with the dealer doling out three cards face up to players, and three cards face down to themselves. Based on the poker hand strength of those three cards – one pair beats ace high, three of a kind beats two pair, etc. – either the player hand or dealer hand winds up the winner.
The game involves a basic decision point, so players can either continue and double their Ante bet or fold and forfeit it to the house based on the strength of their own hole cards. As for strategy, Three Card Poker is about as easy as it gets, with only one rule to remember: Raise on Q 6 4 or higher and fold on Q 6 3 or lower. Using this one guideline will keep you on the right side of variance at all times.
But by adding in a progressive jackpot element, Three Card Poker includes an unbeatable element of suspense and anticipation. Every single bet contributes a tiny percentage to the house’s progressive jackpot for the game, many of which top the million dollar mark.
As the player, your job is simply to hope against hope for the perfect runout of a “super royal flush” – or a six card royal running from 9 10 J Q K A in the same suit. You only have three cards of course, so this monster hand is formed by combining your hand with the dealer’s. Smaller jackpot payouts are also awarded for premium six card hands like straight flushes and so on, so Three Card Poker offers plenty of potential for small risk / high reward scenarios.
The house edge isn’t all that attractive, at 3.37 percent for the basic Ante/Play bets and a whopping 7.28 percent for the optional Pair Plus wager, which is why I don’t play Three Card Poker for longer than an hour at a time. I’m not trying to whittle my bankroll away chasing bad odds, so I limit my action on this exciting game, but I also recognize that the higher frequency of “pushed” bets works to reduce variance.
Three Card Poker isn’t my favorite game by any stretch, but I do have a soft spot for action packed, luck based table games.
Don’t entertain any visions of becoming a Three Card Poker expert, and take the game for what it is: a mostly luck based gamble with a slight level of skill involved. Have a few shots at the progressive jackpot, or a decent base game score, and if the cards aren’t cooperating, move on to the next game without a second thought.
7. Video Poker
My last stop during any casino session is the video poker parlor, which provides the perfect setting to unwind from a long day in the pits.
Video poker is a mechanical game in more ways than one, meaning I can approach the strategic elements using nothing more than memorization. In many ways, video poker is blackjack’s close cousin, because both games involve a 52 card deck of playing cards that can be boiled down on a mathematical basis to form a perfect strategy.
No matter what five cards flash on my screen during a game of Jacks or Better – or Deuces Wild if I’m feeling froggy – I can rely on basic strategy charts to determine which ones to hold and which to discard. Some decisions are obvious, and in fact, most video poker plays will be as straightforward as can be. Others require a little more thought to crack the puzzle, which is where those charts come in handy.
There are no rules on the books preventing players from using basic strategy charts while playing video poker – or blackjack for that matter. You might catch a stray glance or some chuckles from veteran gamblers, but it’s completely acceptable to scan the screen, check your chart, and make the perfect play heading to the draw. From there, it’s all up to the luck of the draw, but at least you can make correct plays that offer the highest probability of winning.
For that reason, video poker games generally offer very low house edge rates, with the standard Jacks or Better game using the “full pay” 9/6 pay table offering a generous 0.42 percent house edge. If you remember, that’s even better than blackjack using optimal strategy, which is why many grizzled gambling vets stick to those two games alone.
Video poker is a great game to grind with, so I usually deposit a couple hundred bucks and play the $0.25 level – while always max betting the full five coins for a $1.25 wager. Video poker machines are set up to reward maximum bettors with a higher premium payout for making royal flushes, four aces, and other premium hands, so you should always be prepared to bet the max.
While doing so, the plan for perfect strategy players is patience. Keep making the right plays and sustaining your bankroll through upswings and downswings. Eventually, the cards will align to trigger a big payout, and your patience will be rewarded with a nice jackpot score.
Of course, those first couple hundred bucks can also be eaten up in a hurry during a bad run on the video poker machine, so discipline is another key to this classic game. When I bust out on my first buy in playing Jacks or Better, the next stop for me is a foregone conclusion: back home to plan my next casino gambling session.
Casinos are filled with dozens of games and hundreds of variations, so it can be overwhelming to try to pick a game to start with. Use the games on this list to start. Once you play all of these you can start looking for others that might interest you.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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