How to get an edge when gambling at the casino
I have always considered casino gambling the ultimate hospitality business.
To paraphrase Bob Stupak, a former casino operator in Las Vegas, the goal of any casino is to extract as much money from the customer as they can, and send you home with a smile on your face.
If, like me, you believe this motto, then you easily grasp that casinos are green-felt jungles, and you are at war.
Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that the casino can and will win every battle.
The way you fight back is by only making bets that have a 2 percent house advantage or less. By becoming what I call a 2 percent foot soldier, you're on your way to becoming a true Guerrilla Gambler.
Only then do you have a good chance of turning the tables in your favor, staying in action longer, start smiling and, yes, stopping the flow of your hard-earned cash going to the opposing forces (aka casino owners).
Casinos do offer some decent wagers. Certain games, like blackjack or video poker, involve some skill. Others involve placing the correct bet in the right place on the layout.
Identifying the good wagers is step one. Now, it becomes your responsibility to play your favorite game or bet as smart as possible.
Below are games and wagers that most — if not all — Guerrilla Gamblers are playing.
Blackjack: Blackjack is very popular game that many play, but so few play well.
Solution: Learn perfect basic strategy. Basic strategy is nothing more than how you play your hand against the dealer "up card." Playing each hand correctly will bring the house edge down to well under 1 percent.
Do's: Comparison shop for the best rules and playing conditions. Use a strategy card right on the game for those uncertain scenarios. Set loss limits and win goals.
Don'ts: Avoid all gimmick bets, and any game that offers 6/5 for a blackjack.
Summary: All players should know the rules before they sit down and play. If you don't know the rules or any of the playing strategies of blackjack, learn the game on a 25-cent video blackjack machine. A $10 blackjack game should never be your classroom.
Craps: There is no need to be intimidated on a craps table, as you only need to learn two wagers. A pass-line bet, and placing the 6 or 8. Both have a house advantage of lower than 1.5 percent.
If you are a newbie to the game, just ask your dealer how to make these wagers.
Do's: Become acquainted with a pass-line bet, placing the 6 and 8, educate yourself about odds, and finally, familiarize yourself with the don't-pass bet with odds.
Don'ts: Don't consider any of those proposition bets (hard ways, field bets, one-number rolls, etc.) that the stickman with a rattan rake in his hand is barking out. Some can have a house advantage as high as 16 percent. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions.
Summary: Do not deny yourself what many consider the most engaging, exhilarating game the casino has to offer. Just stick with the above mention wagers, which can easily be learned in under two minutes.
Video poker: There is no such thing as a bad video poker machine, only bad pay tables.
Here is another opportunity where playing perfect basic strategy on a machine with a decent pay schedule can reduce the house advantage to well under 1 percent.
Look for a 9/6 (nine for the full house, six for a flush) non-progressive machine or 8/5 (same as above) with a progressive meter attached that reads at least $440 on a nickel, $2,200 on a quarter and $8,800 on a $1 video poker machine.
Do's: Bet the maximum amount of coins on a progressive machine to get the bonus for royal flushes. Play on the lowest-denomination machine until your level of expertise rises.
Don'ts: Wing it when it comes to your play. Each video poker machine has different paytables needing distinct playing strategies. Learn and limit your play to two, such as Deuces Wild and Jacks or Better.
Summary: In video poker, only 21 percent of the hands dealt are winning hands of Jacks or Better, and 79 percent are downright duds.
Herein lies the difference between the winning and the losing player: What you do with those 79 percent of the hands. Your best chance of victory at video poker is learning perfect basic strategy for the game that you are playing.
Baccarat: Baccarat is one of the easiest casino games to play. You don't even have to know the rules because the correct hitting sequence is predetermined.
Additionally, stakes can be relatively low when you play on a mini-baccarat table. The house advantage is either 1.17 percent when betting the bank hand, or 1.36 percent with a player-hand wager.
Do's: Just sit back and enjoy the game favored by James Bond, and a game with some of the best odds for the player that the casino has to offer.
Don'ts: Skip the tie bet — the house advantage is 14 percent.
Summary: Here is a game so popular in Macau that baccarat brings in more than 90 percent of the casino-game action. Unfortunately, the average minimum bet on non-VIP tables there is around $250. For the casual gambler in Reno, the same minimum wager can be had for $10 on a mini-baccarat game.
Slots: Slots are the easiest game to play in the casino. Insert some of your hard-earned money, yank the handle, then reach into your wallet for more money.
But slots, really?
Yes, but I recommend that you only play on "liberal" slot machines. What I mean by liberal slots are those in casinos that market a higher payback percentage — like a 98.5 percent return — on select machines.
Be forewarned, these high-payback slots are usually only found where the casino competition is fierce. Plus, when you do find a casino advertising liberal paybacks, you will then need to ask someone in slot personnel which machines those are.
Do's: Read all the posted material on a slot machine. It is your responsibility to fully understand all printed information concerning the number of coins to insert, lines needed to be lit, prizes or awards.
Also, shop casinos for the best comp value. Find out what your play is worth to them.
Don'ts: Avoid restaurant, bar, supermarket and airport slot machines. They are notorious for being tight. Don't forget to press the cash-out button. Millions are lost each year by gamblers forgetting their winnings and leaving stored credits.
Summary: There is some skill involved besides pressing the spin button when playing slots. It is machine selection.
Money management: Naturally, without sound money-management techniques, you can still end up a causality of war.
So, when I'm out trying to score a little from the big guys, I use a winning progressive method of betting by setting a predetermined percentage increase for each winning bet and sticking to it.
For example, I typically increase my winning bets by 50 percent after the second win. On a blackjack game, that would be $5, $5, $7, $10, $15, $22, etc. I suggest that you continuously flat bet (the table minimum) when losing.
A quick note is in order here about money management: Money management does not affect the casino edge, nor guarantee that you will win more money.
If the house has an advantage before you employ money management, it will still have that same advantage even after you apply money-management techniques.
Do's: Decide ahead of time which games you are going to play and for what stakes. Also, monitor the status of your bankroll. At all times, you should know where you are financially.
Don'ts: Bet over your head but only with what you can afford to lose.
Summary: What good money management principles will do is minimize your losses and protect your winnings.
When combining sound bets with practical money management methods, you can maximize your chances of leaving the casino a winner, and, dare I say it, leave grinning ear-to-ear.