Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of John Grochowski
The Best Games to Play22 April 2003
When readers ask me the best casino game to play, I often answer with a question: What game do you enjoy most?
Let's face it. Most people who are in casinos are there for a little entertainment. There's no point in playing a game you don't enjoy.
But when readers ask which game gives them the best run for their money, well, that's a different question. Chasing slot jackpots may be fun, but it's also a much faster road to losses than most table games.
Taking into account house edge and speed of play, let's stack up the casino games that give players the best run for their money:
BLACKJACK: Few players have enough skill, discipline and bankroll to gain an edge on the house by counting cards. But nearly anyone with a little dedication can learn basic strategy, and basic strategy cuts the house edge to a half-percent or so in a six-deck game, give or take a few tenths of a percent depending on house rules. At a full table, you can expect to play about 50 hands per hour. So if you're betting $10 a hand, you risk $500 an hour, of which the casino keeps an average of about $2.50. Play speeds up when there are fewer players. Playing head-to-head with the dealer, you can expect 200 or more hands per hour, with a corresponding increase in risk and average losses.
For players who don't take the time to learn basic strategy, blackjack doesn't yield quite as good a run for the money. The house edge against an average player is about 2 to 2.5 percent, leaving average hourly losses of $10 to $12.50 per hour for our $10 bettor.
CRAPS: If you stick with the good bets--pass, don't pass, come and don't come--you can expect about 30 decisions an hour. With a 1.41 percent house edge on pass and come, and 1.4 percent on don't pass, a $10 bettor can expect average hourly losses of about $4.20 per hour. If you back those bets with free odds but leave the size of the basic bet the same, the overall house edge drops but average losses stay the same. On the other hand, if you drop your basic bet to $5 and reserve $5 for free odds to make up your total $10 wager, average hourly losses drop to $2.10. Realistically, few craps players stick with a single wager at any one time, and the more numbers you have working at once, the higher your average loss. With a $10 bet on the pass line followed by two $10 come bets, a common low-edge system, average losses climb to $12.60 per hour.
BACCARAT: One of the best no-brainer bets in the casino, baccarat has a house edge of 1.17 percent if you bet on banker, and 1.36 percent if you bet on player. Although the playing rules are the same in mini-baccarat as in baccarat, mini-baccarat plays much faster. Expect to play 150 hands per hour in mini-baccarat. A $10 bettor risks $1,500, with average losses of $17.55 when betting on banker. Baccarat at a full-sized table, especially in its full ceremonial version in which players deal the cards, is much slower, with about 30 to 60 hands per hour. You're not likely to find $10 betting minimums at big baccarat tables. Figure at least $25 a hand. At $25 a hand and 30 hands per hour, you risk $750, with average losses of about $8.77.
THREE CARD POKER: Of newer, poker-based table games, this one has the lowest house edge if you stick to the Pair Plus option. The house edge on Pair Plus is about 2.3 percent. At 50 hands per hour at a full table, a $10 bettor risks $500 per hour, with average losses of $11.50. The other option, play against the dealer, has a house edge of 3.4 percent of the ante. A player who antes $10 per hand loses an average of $15.70 per hour. Bet $10 on each option, and you're up to $27.20 per hour, but if you keep the total initial wager to $10 by betting $5 on Pair Plus and anteing $5 on play against the dealer, average losses are $13.60 per hour.
VIDEO POKER: Here's where speed of play really makes a difference. In video poker, we're not talking about 50 hands an hour or even 150 hands an hour. FIVE HUNDRED hands an hour is an easy pace, and fast players get in 800 hands an hour or more.
A select few video poker games allow a skilled player to gain a mathematical edge. More common are games with 99-percent-plus paybacks. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes pay 6-for-1, expert strategy is no more difficult to learn than basic strategy in blackjack, and leaves a house edge of about 0.5 percent that is roughly equivalent to the house edge in six-deck blackjack. If we stay with our $10 bet pattern--meaning a maximum five-coin bet on a $2 machine--a good video poker player who lopes along at 500 hands an hour risks $5,000, with average losses of $25. That's 10 times the hourly losses on blackjack, even though the house edges are the same.
There aren't that many $2 machines. Most video poker players will be on dollar games (average loss: $12.50 per hour) or quarter machines (average loss: $3.12 per hour). Average losses mount much faster on games with lower pay tables. The lowest pay tables are tough enough to make the worst bets list that will be coming in a couple of weeks. On either good games or bad, the house edge is only part of the story. On machine games, it's the speed that kills.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
Best of John Grochowski