Most people know that taking a trip to the casino usually means losing money -- but you still want to do well enough that you enjoy yourself and can chalk up a few minimal losses as an entertainment expense. The casino always comes out ahead in the long run, but the house edge on certain games -- craps, blackjack, or baccarat, for example -- can actually be so slight that if you play them right, your odds of winning are close to 50-50. Some other games and bets, however, are there just for suckers, with an edge to the house of as much as 15 to 25 percent. Those losses pile up fast. Check out this advice, and don’t be a sucker.
Watch out for tables that don’t pay 3:2 for a blackjack
Blackjack is the archetypal “cool” casino game. Sip a cocktail while tallying those cards hoping to get close to 21 without the dreaded “bust.” It’s also a great game for the player with a nice chance to overcome what is only a very slight house edge. But many Vegas casinos are tilting the odds further in their own favor by going away from 3:2 payouts for a blackjack, with payouts of 6:5 becoming common. You should simply say "No thank you" to these games. According to Blackjackinfo.com, "Changing that one rule, reducing blackjack payouts from 3:2 to 6:5 adds a substantial 1.39 percent to the casino’s advantage." Check for payout rules posted at the table before you sit down, or if you are uncertain, just ask the dealer.
Beware of the dealer’s soft 17
Another Blackjack move casinos are making to nudge the odds further in their favor is to allow a dealer to hit a soft 17 (a “soft” hand is any that includes an ace, which can be valued as an 11 or a one), rather than standing, giving the dealer an advantage in the long run. “Assuming the dealer can hit, they’ll be able to get a higher score total (on average), which gives the house an extra 0.2 percent edge,” according to BlackjackLife.com. That tiny edge for the house adds up to millions of dollars for the casino, at your expense. Again, check the table rules or ask the dealer to make sure you’re getting a fair game before you sit down.
Don’t split those 10s
Splitting 10s might be one of the worst plays you can make in the casino, yet blackjack players still do it all the time. Most experts on the topic say keeping those 10s together for a nice 20 is the best play to make in the long run no matter what the dealer is holding.
Never buy insurance
Taking “Insurance” at the Blackjack table is always a bad idea. If the dealer has an Ace up, bettors can take an “Insurance” bet in case the dealer has a 10 in the hole for Blackjack. But this bet adds up to 7 percent to the house edge. All this play can do is ensure even more losses.
Don’t ante up at tribal casinos
Some tribal casinos charge an ante of 50 cents or $1 for every hand of blackjack you play. At about 60 hands an hour, that $30-60 the bettor is in the hole regardless of how the cards shake out -- and a hefty built-in house edge to overcome. The best bet is to skip this style of table altogether. Many craps tables feature a similar ante, but it is at least only before come-out rolls.
Don’t bet the center of the table
The craps table seems to be where all the fun is -- loud cheering, high fives, drinks sipped between each big roll. And those bets in the center of the craps table sure look cool. They have cool names -- hard ways, C&E, the World Bet. But from a pure strategy angle, all those bets that look like they offer such big payouts are actually big winners for the casinos, “topping out at a 16.67 percent casino edge for ‘Any Seven,” according to Anthony Curtis, the man behind Las Vegas Advisor, and co-author of the book The Art of Gambling. Use your cash more wisely and play that $5 chip as pass line odds or some other value bet.
Big 6/Big 8 = small wins
These two even-money bets originated as easy introductory bets for women when craps was considered too complicated for females. Thankfully, this sexist attitude has mostly gone away, but these bad bets still remain on many tables as a simple and easy way to lure in inexperienced players. Why is this a bad bet? By simply making a place bet on the 6 or 5, the bettor wins at a rate of 7-6 rather than even money. Or, a come bet that lands on the 6 or 5 will earn an even better 6-5 payout. So the Big 6 and Big 8 are just offering you worse odds for a bet you can make elsewhere on the table.
Watch out for casinos that cap pass line bets
At the craps tables, the best bet is the odds bet on the Pass Line or Don’t Pass Line. Why is this? Players are paid in the true odds of rolling that point number (the number being rolled hopefully before crapping out). For that reason, smart players maximize the amount they bet on the odds and avoid bets like the Field and prop bets. However, many casinos are a bit stingy about what can be placed to back up that Pass Line bet. Some casinos may offer only double or triple odds. The best bet? If you’re in Vegas, try Downtown casinos where odds are usually better. There are also two nice options on the Strip for those looking to really maximize those odds. “There are only two casinos that offer 100x odds and both are on the Strip -- Casino Royale and Cromwell,” according to Curtis. “Though Downtown generally has better odds on all games.”
Watch out for high house rakes
Poker is a great game with a real chance to win, since the game is skill-based and you play against other players, instead of betting directly against the house. At the poker table, the house simply takes a “rake” of each pot -- in essence a fee for each hand from the pot depending on its size -- so to come out ahead, poker players have to beat the other players badly enough to cover the margin you lose to the house rake. At most casinos, the rake is capped at $3 or $4 per pot. But some casinos have been known to charge as much as $5 or even more with a dollar taken from the pot for jackpots. The lower the rake, the better chance a player has at profits, so look for those smaller rakes.
Don’t be a Side Bet Sucker
Caribbean Stud offers a poker-themed game for gamblers, but players are solely playing against the dealer. The game features a house edge of about 5 percent but the side bet for a progressive jackpot features an even bigger advantage -- up to 25 percent for the house. There is a similar side bet in Let It Ride, which gives the casino an advantage of up to 36 percent. Side bets are not the way to win in the casinos. Look for better odds, for a better chance.
Keno is a killer
Video Keno offers an easy gamble. Pick a few numbers and wait for the lottery-style numbers to appear. It’s a laid-back bet, it’s fun -- but it’s also a very bad bet. Even with optimal play, you still give away a 25% edge to the house, making it one of the worst games in the casino.
Don’t parlay those sports bets
An afternoon in a sports book can be a fun way to pass some time, cheer on your favorite team, and plunk down some action on a few games. And parlays seem like the perfect bet: a small bet can get you a big payout, and you get action on a number of games -- which is more fun than just action on one game. The bad news is that parlays keep you blinded to the bad odds you’re getting. Overcoming point spreads is difficult enough, but getting four or six contests correct to hit a parlay is extremely difficult and certainly favors the house. Experts say it’s a better option to bet each game individually, and rolling some of those winnings into other wagers. Also, when betting on sports, try shopping around to multiple sports books -- you’ll often find the exact same bets with more favorable odds.
Stay away from inside bets at the roulette wheel
The roulette wheel is popular for its elegance and simplicity. It’s an easy game to play with a promise of making some big bucks if that little ball hits your lucky number. But the casinos have a nice edge of more than 5 percent on that fancy spinning wheel and most bets on the board are a bad bet. Stick to red, black, even, odd, low numbers, and high numbers, columns, and sectors when placing a bet. These even-money and lower-payout wagers offer a better option than those “inside bets” on individual numbers or groups of numbers, which are frequent losers and offer little chance to walk away a winner.
Slots: where the losses rack up fast
In general, slot machines are a bad bet. There’s a reason the casinos have so many of them -- the house edge reaches up to a whopping 17 percent, and with the action moving so quickly they offer a chance to lose money at a much faster rate.
There’s only one bad bet in baccarat
Baccarat can be a great game for players looking for a game with only a small house edge. Betting on the banker offers only a house edge of about 1 percent and a real chance at winning some money. However, betting on the “Tie” gives the house a huge advantage of over 14 percent. This is really the lone bad bet at the baccarat table and should be avoided for those looking to win some cash. And who isn’t, right?
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.