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Get the Edge on the House

August 1, 2019

A quick online search and you’ll find there’s no shortage of videos and articles claiming to have the secrets to beating the casino, whether it’s at the slot machines, playing roulette, or craps. But do these tricks work? Is there a way to outsmart the house?

Casinos are a business

And the goal of every business is to make a profit. Casinos make money because their games are set up, or played in a way that gives them, on average, a statistical advantage. Think about it: the reason it’s a thrill to win in gambling is that most bets will lose. Taking in many bets from many players allows the casino to collect enough money to pay out the winning jackpots and cover the costs associated with providing the game, including paying staff, maintaining the venue and making a profit. But even when players win, that doesn’t mean the casino loses. How does that work? Let’s take a closer look at how casinos make their money.

Understanding house edge

The house edge is a statistical advantage that the casino has over players. Essentially, it’s an expected percentage return to the casino and stems from the relationship between “true odds” and “payout odds”:

  • True odds: the likelihood of an event happening
  • Payout odds: the rate that a casino will pay out if an event happens

Let’s look at an example of how these two interact to create the house edge, using roulette:

In standard American roulette, a ball is spun around a wheel with 38 numbered pockets, landing randomly in one of them. The true odds of the ball landing on any one number are 38 to 1. The typical payout odds a casino will give on a one-number bet however, are 35 to 1.

So, imagine if 38 players each placed a $1 bet on a different roulette number. The casino would take in $38, but since it only needs to pay out $35 to one winning number, it would earn a profit of $3.

That $3 dollars is an example of the house edge. In real life, the house edge is much more complex, calculated across all the different bets possible. What matters is that the difference between the true odds and payout odds help the casino earn a profit while still letting players hit large payouts.

All games at the casino, like slot machines, poker, craps and more, work off this same idea. Depending on the design of the game and how it works, the house edge can vary from one game to another.

Players win too: Return-to-player, explained

Even though there is a house edge, most of the money collected is returned to players. For example, in Ontario, a minimum of 85% of the money wagered on slots must be paid out to players as winnings. How much a casino pays out in winnings, on average over the lifecycle of the game, is what is referred to as the return-to-player (RTP) percentage. So, when you subtract the house edge percentage from 100%, what remains represents statistically what players get back over time.

For example, if the RTP percentage of a game or bet is 85%, then, over time, the house keeps 15% as the house edge. In simple terms, over a long-term period, the casino will pay out on average 85% of its earnings to the winners and keep just 15%.

While the house edge varies by game, and sometimes by bet within a game, it remains somewhat standard across all casinos. One way you can find out the house edge on your favourite games is to calculate it, but you’ll need to know the probabilities associated with each potential outcome. And that can get a bit complicated. Here’s a look at the house edge on some more popular games.

  • American Roulette: 5.26%
  • Craps: 0%-16.67% (varies based on your bet)
  • Blackjack: 0.50%
  • Baccarat:
    • Banker: 1.06%
    • Player: 1.24%
    • Tie: 14.36%
  • Slot machines: 2%-15% (varies by machine)
  • Sic Bo: 2.78%-18.98% (varies based on your bet)

Just remember that house edge and RTP on each game is averaged across the long-term for all players and doesn’t determine a single player’s likelihood of winning for a specific bet or session.

Did you know that in the case of OLG, 100% of all profits are invested back into Ontario communities? Learn more about OLG community initiatives.

It’s not personal, it’s just business

When you begin to realize that casinos are in the business of providing entertainment, it’s easier to understand why the odds favour the house. Casino games need to bring in enough cash to pay out winning jackpots, and that means some players will lose. And that’s OK, because gambling shouldn’t be about making money. It’s about having fun and experiencing the thrill of possibility! Keep that in mind and the house will never get the better of you.

Learn more about Roulette odds & house edge