The Ultimate Guide to Casinos


Advantage Play

Every game in a casino is designed to earn profits for the House, not the player. But that certainly doesn’t mean it is impossible to win. In fact, players who are particularly observant and skillful in playing certain games can actually put themselves in the position of having an advantage over the casino. They practice what is known as “advantage play,” referring to the use of legal ways to gain a mathematical edge while gambling.

Avoiding Bad Bets

Some casino games, like Keno and Big Six, have such poor odds of winning that they should probably be ignored completely. There are no strategies that can give the player an edge. Other games offer “sucker bets” with such high margins for the House that they make it almost impossible to win.

Baccarat, for instance, features a relatively low advantage for the House, as long as bets are confined to backing either the Player hand or the Banker hand. But wagering on a Tie carries a stiff penalty; the House Edge shoots up to a whopping 14.36%. Similarly, betting on the Tie when playing Casino War gives the House an insurmountable 18.65% advantage.

At the Sic Bo table, some bets come with a House Edge as low as 2.78%, while others win so infrequently that the House gets a 33.33% advantage. When playing Craps, prop bets give the House an edge of 11.11% to 16.67%.  And although the Ante & Play bets at the Three-Card Poker table carry a 3.37% margin for the House, the optional Pair Plus wager comes with a 7.28% edge. In general, high odds wagers and side bets are simply bad bets, so advantage players avoid them.

Seeking out Favorable Rules

Most casino games feature rule modifications that can greatly affect the House Edge. Advantage players will always seek out the variations that optimize the possibility of winning by putting the casino’s profit margin as close to zero as possible.

For example, American Roulette played with a Double Zero has a built-in House Edge of 5.26%, while European Roulette without it features just a 2.7% advantage for the House. Spanish 21 favors the House by 0.76% when the dealer must hit on Soft 17, but that percentage drops to 0.4% if the dealer stands on all totals of 17. For traditional Blackjack, more opportunities to double down and split, fewer decks in play and the option to take late surrender are all rules that help the player gain an advantage

An advantage player will know that betting on the Player hand at Baccarat gives the House a 1.24% edge compared to 1.06% when the Banker hand is backed. Wagers on Pass/Come at the Craps table carry a House margin of 1.41%, but Taking Odds on a subsequent roll is the one bet in the entire casino that has no advantage for the House whatsoever and it should always be made when available.

A shrewd advantage player will carefully follow the growth of Progressive jackpots for slot games, too. At some point the top prize may become so big that it actually shifts the advantage from the House to the Player’s favor—i.e., the potential payout becomes bigger that the odds against winning it.

Creating an Advantage

In land-based casinos, advantage play includes a variety of actions a player can take to benefit from human or mechanical faults. These range from “hole carding” and “shuffle tracking” at the Blackjack table to “wheel clocking” at Roulette and “angle shooting” at Poker. At online casinos, the mechanics of the games are somewhat different, but there are still steps a player can take to create an advantage, such as the following:

  • Card Counting – At the Blackjack table, when playing in a live dealer game or at a multi-hand automated table, it may be possible to use card counting techniques to flip the odds from the casino to the player’s favor. The key factors are how many decks are in play and how often the cards are shuffled. In games that use continuous shuffling, card counting is rendered ineffective.
  • Freerolls – Almost all online casinos offer occasional chances to win something for nothing. It doesn’t matter whether the occasion is a Blackjack tournament, a new Slots promotion or even a complimentary Keno card to celebrate a birthday. If there is no cost or entry fee, an advantage player will almost always welcome the opportunity.
  • Bonus Chips – Especially as part of an enrollment promotion, many casinos give new players a certain number of non-redeemable “bonus chips” to use at their table games. Although the chips may not be exchanged for cash or counted as part of winnings, any amounts won as a result of betting with them may be redeemable for cash, so it is always to the player’s advantage to use such chips before the promotion expires.
  • Points for Play – All major online casinos have some form of Loyalty Program for players, typically with points awarded for play. The points can be used to obtain bonus chips or merchandise and for cash redemption. Points are also accumulated to determine a player’s “status” within the casino’s hierarchy of benefits, including eligibility for cash rebates, deposit matching and reduced requirements for redeeming points. If points are worth, say, $0.01 and accumulate at a rate of one per dollar spent, that’s roughly equivalent to shaving a full percent off the House Edge.