Which casino games have the lowest house edge? That seems to be the question most new casino gamblers are interested in when they first learn about the concept of the house edge.
It’s not a bad question, but it ignores nuance. There’s more to deciding on which casino games to play than just finding the lowest house edge. This post explains why.
What Is the House Edge and Why Does It Matter?
If you’re going to play casino games, you should understand the concept of the house edge. If you don’t understand the house edge, you have no business putting any money down on a casino game at all.
The house edge is the reason why casinos stay in business. It’s the difference between your probability of winning and the amount you win when you do win.
Here’s an Exmample
Suppose I offered you an even money bet. You wager $100, and I put up $100 of my own. Now, suppose that we’re betting on the outcome of a coin toss.
We both have the same probability of winning—50%. In the long run, we’ll both break even. But suppose I had a special coin that was weighted on one side so that it came up on the other side 55% of the time instead of 50% of the time?
If I bet on that outcome consistently, I would have a mathematical edge over you. In the long run, I’ll win all the money eventually. That’s how the house edge works.
The classic example is an even money bet on the roulette wheel. You have a 47.37% probability of winning, and you have a 52.63% probability of losing.
In the long run, the casino will eventually win all your money.
What’s an Example of a High House Edge Compared to a Low House Edge?
The house edge is a statistical average. It represents how much of each bet you’re mathematically expected to lose in the long run.
If I say that the house edge is 5%, and you’re betting $100 on each outcome, you’re expected to lose an average of $5 every time you place that bet in the long run.
Casinos are automatically playing in the long run, by the way. They’re dealing blackjack 24 hours a day to eight people per table, and they usually have multiple tables going at the same time.
They’re dealing in thousands and tens of thousands of hands per day, so their results eventually start to resemble the statistically expected results.
You might sit down at a full blackjack table and only play 50 hands. That’s the short run. You might walk away a winner, or you might lose far more than expected. That’s variance. That’s what happens in the short run.
What’s high and what’s low? To some extent, that’s an arbitrary decision that you’ll make about what’s acceptable to you.
The lowest house edge in the casino is 0% on the odds bet in craps. But you can only make that bet if you’ve already placed a pass or don’t pass bet. The next lowest house edge in the casino is usually less than 0.5%.
This is available on some blackjack tables or on some video poker games. But only if you play with the correct strategy. If you make mistakes at blackjack or video poker, the house gets a higher edge against you as much as 2% or more.
The highest house edge in the casino is on games like keno, where the house edge might be 35% or higher. Any bet where the house edge is higher than 10% is unacceptable to me, but you might not care.
I don’t want to place a bet where I’m expected to lose 10% of it on average, though. I need more entertainment for my money.
Sometimes the House Edge in Blackjack Is Under 1%
Every casino game has a simple gimmick that provides the casino with its mathematical edge. In blackjack, this gimmick is simple enough. You must play your hand before the dealer plays her hand.
Why does that matter? It matters because if you bust, you lose your bet immediately.
If it were a fair game, you and the dealer would both resolve your hands after all the action is resolved, like you do in poker. If you bust, you lose your bet, even if the dealer busts, too.
Blackjack also has a bunch of other rules variations that can change from game to game and from casino to casino.
Some blackjack variations are dealt from eight decks instead of just one. This gives the casino a higher house edge.
Some blackjack games pay out a blackjack at 6:5 instead of 3:2, reducing the house edge dramatically.
The most important thing affecting the house edge in blackjack, though, is how you play your hands. Every situation in blackjack has a mathematically optimal solution. In some cases, the correct play gives you a positive expectation. In those cases, you want to choose the decision which maximizes that expectation. In other cases, the correct play minimizes the negative expectation.
A hard hand of 15 or 16 has a negative expectation no matter what, but it gets worse when you make the wrong decision. The correct play in every situation is called basic strategy. Blackjack with basic strategy is one of the lowest house edge games in the casino.
The House Edge in Craps Is Surprisingly Low
One of the things I love about craps is that I don’t need any skill at decision-making to enjoy a low house edge. Well, almost no skill at decision-making… I still need to choose the right bets.
Luckily, the bets with the lowest house edge at the craps table are the most basic bets on the table. The pass line bet, the don’t pass bet, the come bet, and the don’t come bet all have a house edge lower than 1.4%.
And the odds bet has no house edge at all. Many of the other bets at the craps table are awful. The proposition bets often have a house edge greater than 10%, making them some of the worst bets in the casino.
Still, for a game where you don’t need to make decisions about how to play a hand of cards, craps is the best bet in the casino.
Some Video Poker Games Have a Low House Edge, But Not All
Gambling writers often point to video poker as having the best house edge in the casino, but that’s a little more of a generalization than I’m comfortable with.
Some video poker games with the right pay tables DO have a low house edge, but only if you understand and use the optimal strategy for playing each hand.
In that respect, video poker is like blackjack. Video poker, like slot machines, measures its odds with something called “payback percentage” instead of house edge. It’s the mirror image of the house edge, though. It’s the amount of each bet that the casino expects to pay out in winnings.
If you subtract the payback percentage from 100%, you get the house edge for the game.
With the right pay table, you can play video poker games with a house edge of around 99.5% or 99.7%, which means that the house edge is between 0.3% and 0.5%.
That still assumes mathematically optimal play, though. And you must be able to distinguish between pay tables, too. Still, video poker is always a better choice than a slot machine.
Which Games Have the Worst House Edge?
Craps made the list of games with a great house edge, but it also belongs on the list of games with the worst house edge. That’s because many of the prop bets have a house edge of 10%, and some of them come close to 20%.
Keno is notable for having a house edge of 35% or more. It’s basically a privately-run lottery administered by the casino. You would expect it to have a high house edge.
Big Six (aka the Wheel of Fortune, not to be confused with the game show or the slot machine), has a house edge of over 15%, too. Sic bo has a high house edge, but it varies based on which bets you place. None of their bets are good, though.
Roulette, as it’s played in most casinos, has a house edge of 5.26%. Slot machines are the biggest money-grabs. The house edge might only be 5% or 10%, but the amount of action you get in per hour makes that a costly proposition.
Which Casino Games Should You Play?
That’s up to you. Some gambling writers will tell you to only play casino games with a low house edge. But in the long run, philosophically and practically speaking, it probably doesn’t matter much. If you play long enough in a game where the house has an edge, you’ll eventually lose all your money.
Don’t account for just the house edge when choosing a game. Think, too, about how much entertainment a game provides.
It’s easy to tell someone to switch from slot machines to blackjack because blackjack offers better odds. But what if you hate playing cards?
If you’d like to know which casino games have the lowest house edge, just see the numbered list below.
If you’re wondering which casino games have the highest house edge, see the numbered list below.
What does that mean to the average gambler? Well, not as much as you might think. There’s strategy and betting opportunities to consider. Just keep in mind that the house edge is higher for some games and lower for others when you’re gambling online.
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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