Bringing Down the House: A By-Game Countdown of the Best Odds in a Casino


Maybe you read it somewhere, or maybe you overheard it in a crowded diner one morning, but you could’ve sworn somebody told you that if you just played black and the third column you couldn’t help but beat a roulette wheel. So now that you’ve flown all the way to Vegas, Monte Carlo or wherever it is you do your gambling – now that you’re there, why the heck is the house still taking you for every last cent!?

The sad truth is the gambling industry likes to spread rumors about bank-busting wizards just to get folks like you to spread their dough around. With very few exceptions, most games are unwinnable unless you cheat, and casinos have therefore created whole mythologies to keep people playing. Otherwise, most people would probably take one look at a game’s “edge” or “vig” (i.e., a fractional amount charged by the house for each bet made) and tell the dealer where to rack his chips.

This isn’t to say, though, that all gambling strategies are bunk. In fact, a few actually do hold water, and if you want to figure out what they are and how to use them, the first step is to understand how the house edge varies from game to game. Realizing that you might need a crash course in comparative casino odds, then, we here at GP have decided to put together this nifty, little casino-odds countdown. It’s by no means the final word on the subject. But it should give you just enough of a working knowledge to keep you from mistakenly believing you’re the next Ed Thorpe.

A Countdown of the Best Casino Odds by Game

The best way to choose beteween casino games is to learn the odds.

No. 5 –  Online Keno: Keno has, by far, the worst odds of any casino game. Anyone with even the vaguest understanding of statistics will inevitably tell you as much and will usually compare it to the lottery – which features similarly dismal odds. The average casino edge in a game of keno is 25-35 percent! That means that for every $1 you bet, the casino takes 25 cents; for every $2, 50 cents… and so on and so forth because, let’s face it folks, the house is gonna be there all night. The best advice we can give you, then, is to move on from this long-shot game and try something where you aren’t basically throwing your money away. Many people find it easier to wean themselves off keno if they switch to another computerized game, like video poker. Not that video poker is much better, but well, yeah. It kind of is.

No. 4 – Roulette: This casino game’s odds are actually much easier on your wallet than keno, but how big a dent the house edge makes depends entirely on the kind of roulette wheel you’re playing. Double-Zero Roulette, the most popular form in American casinos, has a worse house edge than the second type, Single-Zero (or “French”) Roulette. With Double-Zero Roulette, you’re looking at a total edge of about 5.6 percent. If you can find yourself a Single-Zero wheel, on the other hand, the vig drops to 2.7 percent (or less if you’re playing a wheel with the En Prison rule in effect). Albeit that 1-3 cent loss is still a loss no matter how you slice it, at least the canny player can get hours of enjoyment out of the game before going broke.

No. 3 – Baccarat: Baccarat has a reputation for being a high roller’s game because when you win big at it you can really walk away with an immense pile of money. Doing so isn’t such an impossible prospect either as baccarat’s odds are actually some of the best odds of any modern casino game. Consistently betting on the “banker” carries a house edge of 1.17 percent, while betting on the player position has a house edge of 1.63 percent. Remember, though, that while consistent betting is a good baccarat strategy, the game may get slightly monotonous. The danger, then, is that out of sheer boredom you’ll decide to shake it up and switch bets, thereby enlarging the vig.

No. 2 Craps: Craps is both the most exciting casino game of all time and also one of the fairest as far as odds are concerned. It carries a standard house edge of 1.41 percent if you always place your bet on the pass line/come bet, which is about as low as the house will go without introducing you to Mr. Mallet. Better still, you get to say cool things like “Daddy needs a new yacht” or “Momma needs a new Prada bag” when you’re the shooter, then jump up and down like a maniac when them bones come through for ya’.

No. 1 Blackjack: Blackjack is the absolute best casino game going if you’re worried about odds. In fact, blackjack is the only game in which a skilled player can actually take away the house edge completely or even give himself an edge over the house by counting cards. Besides being difficult to pick up, however, card counting is also highly dangerous, so unless visiting Vegas General is your idea of a great vacation, we suggest you avoid it. Besides, it’s not entirely necessary because with a good understanding of Basic Strategy you can get the house edge to no more than 0.8 percent. Again, that’s not entirely free. But, if you’re paying less than a penny per hand, it does make hitting one of those legendary lucky streaks seem all the more likely.

- Brooke Winger