They say Las Vegas wasn’t built on winners, and judging from the most expensive casino properties, gaming resorts in the rest of the world weren't either.
So what does pay for those spectacular dancing fountains, brilliant lights, and hotel towers reaching up to the clouds? Although luxury amenities like gourmet restaurants, exclusive spas, retail boutiques, and plush hotel suites are increasingly important parts of a modern casino-resort’s revenue, gambling winnings still drive the bulk of casino profitability.
The casino is home to a dizzying array of slot machines, table games, cocktail waitresses, and customers from all walks of life. The casino floor is an exciting collage of sights and sounds, buzzing with the energy of winners and losers alike. That’s why it’s important to know as much as you can about your game of choice before making your next trip to gamble. Trying to learn the strategies and odds on the fly, with slot machines chirping and chiming, and scantily clad waitresses calling for drink orders, can be costly.
While blackjack is the most popular game in the United States, and baccarat the most played table game in the world, neither of those venerable games give the house its biggest edge. You might enjoy betting the pass line and rolling the dice at craps, or trying your luck in the poker room, but those games are downright bargains compared to the most expensive bets you can make in the casino.
The way to judge a casino game is not by its colorful sign or exciting name, but by its house edge — or the advantage the casino has on each bet. Simply put, the house edge is what you can expect to lose for every dollar you bet at the game. If you play a game with a 2 percent house edge, you can expect to lose $2 for every $100 you bet.
If you see your favorite game on the following list of the most expensive bets you can make in the casino, keep in mind; you may have to be in it to win it, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
5 Roulette - House Edge: 5.26%
Roulette is part of the “core-four” original casino games, alongside blackjack, baccarat, and craps. However, unlike those three games, roulette comes with one of the highest house advantages in the casino that ends up being over five percent. You may be dazzled by the colors of the spinning wheel, or impressed by the game’s old-money, European heritage, but playing can get expensive, fast.
The game is simple. Pick a number on the wheel, there are 38, and if you hit your number, the house pays off at 35 to 1. But that big payout comes at a cost. Although you had to pick one out of 38 numbers, you only get back 36 chips. The two chips they don’t pay out might not get noticed by the casual player, but they have filled casino coffers since the heyday of Monte Carlo.
Best Bet: Look for a European-style wheel with one zero instead of two, for half the house edge on all bets.
4 Craps “Any Seven” Bet - House Edge: 16.67%
Craps is the loudest game in the casino by a long shot. It’s not uncommon to hear a dozen players yelling in excitement when a shooter rolls the dice and makes his or her point. While almost anything goes at the rambunctious craps table, there’s one word superstitious gamblers never want to hear; “seven”, and for good reason. A roll of seven clears the craps layout of all wagers. While it may be the unluckiest number for players, the casino will still let you bet on it.
To play the any seven bet, just toss your chips to the center of the table, right in front of the stickman, and tell the dealer you want the “big red.” Yes, the seven is such an unlucky number, betting on it requires a code word, so as not to upset other gamblers. If seven rolls immediately, you just made a cool 4 to 1 payout on your bet, but not cool enough. True odds are 5 to 1, and the bet costs you almost 17 percent in house edge.
Best Bet: Follow the crowd and play the pass line, one of the best bets in the whole casino, with a house edge of just over 1 percent.
3 Big Six Wheel - House Edge: 24%
If you walk through any casino, the big six wheel will be the easiest game to spot. Just look for a giant, vertically mounted spinning wheel, manned by a dealer.
Anyone who has been to a carnival is already familiar with the game. Just put your money down on a number, and hope the wheel’s spindle lands on your choice. As with many games in the casino, the simpler it is to learn, the more expensive it is to play.
When playing the big six wheel, you have several options. You can “play it safe,” betting on the $1 spots, which make up 24 of the 54 slots on the wheel. However, if you win, you’ll only be paid off at even money. Going for the big bucks by betting on the joker slot might get your heart pumping, but you’re paying a whopping 24 percent house edge chasing that 40 to 1 payout.
Best Bet: Stick to the $1 spots, which check in at a comparatively modest 11% house edge.
2 Keno - House Edge: 35%
Many gamblers know the game keno from the movie Vegas Vacation, where (spoiler alert!) a kindly old man finally hits the jackpot he’s been chasing his whole life, only to die from the excitement. The Griswold family, who have been down on their luck, use the man’s winning ticket to finance their trip home.
The movie does not exaggerate. The odds in keno are so slim that hitting a jackpot in the game truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Keno is a lottery-type game where players select their lucky numbers and hope the casino matches them in a random drawing. There are hundreds of betting options, but all of them are expensive. House edges for the game range from 20 to 35 percent.
Best Bet: Bet small and enjoy your keno drawing remotely while sitting out by the pool.
1 Sic Bo - House Edge: 47%
So you’ve finally made that trip to Macau, Asia’s gambling headquarters. You want to get a feel for some of the Asian-style casino games, and your eyes wander to sic bo, with its backlit tabletop and big bowl of dice. What is going on with this game?
Sic bo is a game where the dealer shakes a bowl containing three dice, and then pays out on various bets players can make on the three winning numbers.
You can stick to simple bets like small and big, which are paid when the dice total below 10 or above 11, respectively, but be careful. The house pockets all bets when three of a kind is rolled, and that makes for a house edge of 2.78 percent.
Much more expensive are the long shots. You can win 150 times your original bet if you correctly predict a triple, but you’ll lose an average of 30 percent for the privilege. Should your favorite number be 5 or 16, watch out. In Macau, betting on those totals carries a prohibitive house edge of 47 percent.
Best Bet: Betting on small and big may not be exciting, but they’re the best bets on the sic bo table.
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