Your Money in a Casino

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Your Money in a Casino

I usually write about casino games, their rules, and the probabilities behind such games. I like to get down into the nitty-gritty of those games. But it’s also a good idea to step back from time to time and look at the bigger picture.

In this case, I want to look at casino gamblers’ attitudes toward money – what I think they ought to be versus what they really are.

Maximum Game Fun

Like most people, I’m not one-dimensional. I have other interests besides casinos, gambling, and poker.

One of those interests is the hobby of traditional roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. I like to tell my kids I was playing D&D before it was cool.

When writing about such roleplaying games set in the world of Glorantha, Loren Miller and Michael O’Brien suggested that one rule should trump any other in any RPG:

What’s going to be the most fun in this situation?

I’ve seen the principle turned into an acronym – MGF. But I think it’s a principle that relates closely to money and the casino Your goal when visiting a casino, online or off, should be to get the most fun out of the experience that you can.

Regardless of the sometimes over-the-top headlines you’ll see in various blog posts, there are no real secrets to winning money in the casino. Your best bet is to use common sense when dealing with your money in the casino.

Most gamblers don’t. That’s what most of the rest of this post is going to focus on, trying to get the most fun in return for your money at the casino.

You Should Be Thinking in Terms of VALUE

My goal with this post is to give you some advice that will save you some heartache at the casino. If you don’t understand the games you’re playing and the math behind the bets, you’re in trouble before you even get started.

But that’s just part of it.

The other big part of managing your money in the casino is what Stephen Covey calls “the private victory.” This is the battle you wage with yourself. This is where you demonstrate self-discipline.

The big idea is to understand what’s going on in your head so that you don’t make awful decisions based on bad ideas.

Here’s What I Want for You:

To be an intelligent, well-educated, sensible gambler who gets a fair amount of entertainment in exchange for your money.

And money is the gasoline that makes all this excitement in the casino go.

Look at Casino Gambling as a Recreational Activity With a Monetary Cost

Casino gambling is an excellent hobby and can be a lot of fun for people with a sensible approach.

But you must never forget that cold hard cash is what it’s all about.

Yeah, money’s how you keep score. It’s also how you access the fun of the casino.

But it’s also something you trade hours of your life for. For most of us, money is hard-earned. I don’t want to see you waste it at a casino by being ignorant. (And I’m not using “ignorant” as a pejorative. I’m being clinical when I use the word to describe the behavior of most gamblers – they just don’t know what they’re doing.)

One tactic the casino uses to maximize its profits is to do things to make money lose its actual meaning for you. And if you fall for that, you can lose tremendous, significant amounts of money. I have a relative who used to own a couple of hotels. He lost both of them at the craps tables.

It can happen to you, too. You might think that most people aren’t careless with their money.  But they are – ESPECIALLY in a casino environment.

In fact, some people who are prudent with their money in the rest of their lives make big mistakes with their money in the casinos.

Evaluating and Judging the Bets in the Casino

One of the questions you should ask yourself before making a bet in a casino is this one:

  • Is this a good bet?
  • Is it a bad bet?

If you’re like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, you might think that any bet with a negative mathematical expectation is a lousy bet. I know poker players who actually have that attitude, too. I even see the merits of that argument.

The problem is that it eliminates all the bets in the casino.

A better way of looking at whether a bet is good or bad is to think about how much value you’re getting in exchange for the money you can expect to lose from that bet.

If your goal is a big win that will solve all your problems, you’re thinking about the question all wrong, too. You’re not being realistic at all.

On the other hand, you can evaluate a bet based on how exciting it is. You can assess whether it’s a test of skill. You can judge whether you enjoy interacting with other gamblers while playing.

And I can’t decide for you which of those judgments are important to you. You’ll need to do some thinking and soul-searching of your own.

Evaluating the House Edge of a Specific Casino Game

Here’s my suggestion:

  • Never play a casino game where the house edge is over 2%.
  • This eliminates a lot of games, by the way.
  • This would eliminate standard American roulette because it has a house edge of 5.26%.
  • It would also eliminate European roulette with its house edge of 2.70%.

The only roulette game you could play would be one with a single zero and the en prison rule in effect because the house edge for that game is only 1.35%.

Those guidelines also eliminate all the slot machine games. Theoretically, it’s possible that you could find a slot machine game with a house edge of less than 2%.

But it’s unlikely enough that it’s not worth your time to try to find one – especially when you consider how easy it is to find games with a house edge lower than that.

Blackjack, for example, has a house edge of between 0.25% and 1% in most casinos. Just avoid the blackjack games with a 6/5 payout for a blackjack, as the house edge skyrockets above 2% with only that one rules change.

Also, keep in mind that to achieve the low house edge figures that you read about in blackjack, it’s necessary to memorize and implement basic strategy. It’s not that hard to do, and it’s well worth the effort.

Craps has bets with sky-high house edges, but it also has wagers with a more reasonable house edge. The rule of thumb with craps is to stick with the most straightforward bets at the table, like pass/don’t pass, come/don’t come, and the odds bet.

Ignore the bets at the craps table that the stickman keeps pitching. Those are a terrible idea.

Some video poker machines offer a high payback percentage, too, but that depends on 2 factors:

  1. The paytable
  2. Your ability to play well

You can’t do much about the paytable other than trying to find one that offers the theoretical return to player (RTP) that you’re hoping for.

But you can affect your ability to play well.

Every time you get a video poker hand, you get to decide which cards to keep and which cards to discard. Make good decisions related to this, and the house edge plummets. Make bad decisions, and the house edge skyrockets.

Evaluating the Average Cost per Hour of Playing a Casino Game

You can’t compare how much fun you’re having with how much money you’re going to spend playing the game unless you can estimate how much it’s going to cost to play that game on average over time.

Luckily, that calculation is easier than you think.

You multiply your average bet size by the house edge to find out how much you expect to lose per bet. You then multiply how many bets you make per hour by how much you expect to lose per bet.

Here’s an example:

You find a blackjack game with a house edge of 0.28%, and you’ve mastered basic blackjack strategy. You’re playing heads-up with the dealer, so you’re averaging 200 hands per hour. And you’re on a budget, so you’re only playing for $5 per hand.

  • Your average loss per hand is $5 X 0.28%, or 1.4 cents per hand.
  • Lose 1.4 cents per hand over 200 hands, and you have an average hourly loss of $2.80.
  • That’s cheap recreation for anyone.

But let’s contrast that with an average slot machine game where you’re playing for $3 per spin. I’ll be generous and assume that this slot machine game only has a house edge of 4%, which is loose by most standards.

  • Your average loss per bet is $3 X 4%, or 12 cents per spin.
  • That doesn’t sound bad, but an average slot machine player makes 500 spins per hour.
  • That equates to an average hourly loss of $60.

Are you really going to have 30 times as much fun playing slots than blackjack?

I know I won’t.


Money might not make the world go round, but it sure does drive the action at the casino. When you start thinking about your casino gambling in terms of trading money for recreation, you’re going to start making different, better decisions when you’re at the casino.

You work hard for your money. Be smart with it everywhere, not everywhere BUT the casino.

Michael Stevens

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 since early 2016. ...

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