Read about any casino game on the internet and one thing comes up almost every time: winning and somehow beating the odds. Of course, if you’re at all familiar with games like blackjack, slots, and baccarat, you’ll know that it’s impossible to play any of these in such a way that you win every time you place a bet. There’d simply be no point in a casino existing if the odds were always stacked against the house.
Having said that, a handful of casino games do allow the use of certain strategies at the table. These tricks vary between effective bankroll management, different ways of betting, and ensuring that a player has at least a basic level of skill before any serious bets are made. Applying these things is the only way that odds can be shifted towards a certain outcome - other than choosing a game with naturally good odds.
Let’s look at the mechanics of casino odds and all the things you need to be aware of when choosing a game.
Defining Casino Odds
At their most basic, the odds used in casinos are identical to those used everywhere else in the world. They simply describe the likelihood of a particular event occurring. However, as casino games like blackjack tend to offer a range of bets and even more than one possible outcome, odds can sometimes seem like an exercise in futile mathematics - a complex calculation of two or more numbers.
The House Edge
Odds are set by the casino itself to ensure that the house will always have a better chance of winning than the player. This is known as the house edge and it’s set in stone. Once again, no casino is going to drop their edge in favour of the player. The one good thing about this advantage is that it rarely changes from one operator to another, so, with a bit of practice, you should always know what you’re getting yourself into.
As a golden rule, you will generally have a less than 50% chance of winning a table game. Blackjack usually has a house edge of just 0.5% but only if you’re aware of the basic strategy. The less you know about blackjack when starting out, the lower your effective odds of winning will be. Of course, neither the table nor the dealer has any idea how experienced you are but poor decision-making is a factor. A game that provides a perfect example of this is poker, where even your expression can give you away.
The Role of Random Number Generation (RNG)
Regardless of the strategy used or the house edge applied, all casino games contain a large amount of luck. This important factor is represented as a number that is called whenever something on the game board needs to be decided, such as which pocket on a roulette wheel the ball will eventually land in. The system behind this process is known as a Random Number Generator.
RNG generally only applies to online casinos, as land-based establishments have all their outcomes determined by thrown dice or shuffled cards. It’s how casinos ensure fairness but it’s not really an influence on your chances of winning like the house edge is - it’s just a computer program that continually spits out numbers. RNG needs to be combined with something else - RTP - to determine outcomes.
To elucidate a bit further, plenty of video games use RNG, as well, usually to make decisions such as the contents of a loot box or the chances of a magic attack landing.
The Return to Player (RTP) Value
You’ll notice this figure on slots games far more often than anywhere else. A popular slot like Starburst has an RTP of 96.09%. What does that mean? RTP is how much money you will get back from your bets over a vast amount of plays. So, to once again use the example of Starburst, you’ll receive an average of $0.96 back per $1 spent over about a million plays. Due to the size of that sample, RTP isn’t something that’s really noticeable to players.
The RTP of a particular slot game can usually be found on the casino’s slot information page or through the game interface itself.
See more: How RTP works in online slots
See more: Why RTP is the best metric to use
Despite its association with slots, all casino games have an RTP value. Blackjack’s RTP varies between 97.5% and 99.58% depending on the player’s ability and the game variant played. Similarly, French roulette has a very high RTP of 98.65%. Note that different gameplay elements can have a minor effect on RTP values. For instance, using a single deck over eight decks in blackjack adds 0.59% to RTP. This is what makes RTP slightly confusing, as it's a total made up of other values.
Simple vs. Complex Odds: What Should I Play?
All the above combined - the house edge, player skill, RNG and RTP, and the game variant played - determine a player’s odds of winning at a casino game. To add a bit more relevance to all the numbers, let’s discuss the games that are the most likely to pay out the biggest and most frequent wins. We’ll also explain the factors that can influence a player’s odds of success, as well as the casino experiences that are the most suited to beginners and/or experts.
Blackjack - Potentially All-Consuming
Despite being widely recognized as one of the friendliest casino games as far as odds, RTP, and ease of play are concerned, there’s an awful lot to learn about blackjack before you can truly consider yourself a competent player. We touched on this earlier but knowing what to do when presented with any particular scenario is part of the basic strategy. Understanding these guidelines (or not) can increase or decrease RTP by 2%.
For the beginner, it’s easy to view blackjack as a simple 50/50 game. You either win or you don’t. However, there’s a small (smaller than 10%) chance of a tie, so, coupled with the other factors we’ve already discussed, the rules can start to seem a little obnoxious. For example, it’s possible to boil blackjack odds right down to the likelihood of being dealt any one card in particular (1.92%). Overall, though, your chances of winning in blackjack are around 44%.
If you’d like to get really advanced, it’s even possible to predict when losing or winning streaks might snap - although, we’d like to point out that you’re never owed a win, a false belief that’s otherwise known as the gambler’s fallacy. Your chances of winning after two wins fall by about half on each consecutive attempt, so winning on a two-streak has odds of 20%, which becomes 10% on a three, 5% on a four, and so on.
Slots - Simple but Uncontrollable
Slots are a little bit strange as far as odds are concerned, as they are often built around frequent, small wins over rare, large ones. As a reminder, slot odds are usually addressed in RTP figures - and this number is usually easy to find. Let’s examine the odds attached to the popular progressive jackpot slot Mega Moolah, as it tends to be an exception to some of the more established rules.
For one, the game has a very low RTP of 88%, which is to be expected given the size of its jackpot, which can increase by as much as $2-3m a month. There are plenty of slots out there with RTPs above 99% ("loose" slots). Mega Moolah also pays out rarely, which brings us to another important term called variance (or volatility). Variance determines payout size or, to put that another way, which winning combination you’re the most likely to get.
A lot of this may seem academic as there is absolutely nothing you can do to influence the odds of a slot machine, regardless of which game you’re playing or who made it. Still, terms like variance and RTP can be a useful guide for gauging the overall risk/reward nature of a slot machine and, therefore, whether it’s the kind of game you’d like to play. A low RTP slot with high variance is a poor combination for penny slot players but great for high-rollers.
Baccarat - One Extreme to the Other
Baccarat isn’t the most popular game at Western casinos, despite the fact that its overall objective is very similar to blackjack, specifically, having a hand with a value closer to 9 than the dealer. We’re including it here, though, because it serves a purpose as a way to demonstrate just how truly silly casino odds can get at times. Let us introduce you to the concept of the side bet, one of the more niche ideas in casino gaming.
A side bet is a wager on a stack of (usually) rare outcomes that is placed before a game starts. This kind of bet exists for several casino games but they’re often specific to one particular website, casino, or even developer. For instance, the Big and Small side bet, which wins if either there are five cards or four cards on the baccarat table, is exclusive to Playtech games found online.
So, about those odds. One example of the Dragon Bonus side bet has a probability of 0.003683% for a non-natural win by a total of 9 points. This is a bit of an outlier as far as extreme odds are concerned, as something like the Either Pair bet, another Playtech invention, has the comparatively friendly odds of 0.142439% for a six-deck game and 0.143817% for an eight-deck one.
Roulette - As Easy as it Gets
Roulette, like slots, is another game that relies heavily on luck. There are plenty of different betting options in this casino experience that can make matters a little tough for beginners to understand, though. If you only want to play a so-called evens bet - which is based on a 50/50 outcome like red or black, or even or odd numbers - all you need to know is that the odds and house edge depend on whether you’re playing European or American roulette.
In the former case, an evens bet has a 48.65% chance of occurring and a house edge of 2.70%. For players of American roulette, the numbers are slightly less favourable to the player, at 47.37% and 5.26%, respectively. Be aware that roulette is one of the most experimented-upon casino games out there, so variants like mini roulette and multi-wheel roulette may have different odds altogether.
As a quick guide, here are some of the odds attached to other roulette bets, using the European ruleset: Lows or Highs (48.65%), Square (10.91%), Street (8.11%), and Straight (2.70%). As a final note on roulette odds, La Partage and En Prison rules can modify the structure of the game, so it’s important to make sure you’re playing a version of roulette you’re comfortable with before placing a bet.
Of course, there are plenty of other casino games out there. Craps, like blackjack, usually has odds close to 50/50, as the most basic bet (on the shooter) is quite literally on a player winning or losing. In contrast, poker and TV game show-style experiences like Wheel of Fortune have odds that vary wildly, but in the case of poker, skill can at least partly compensate for the burden of bad luck.
As a final comment, it can be unrewarding to play purely to beat the odds, as some of the bets we've discussed have such low probabilities that they might as well not exist at all. However, understanding exactly what you're getting yourself into is a great way to stay within the limits of your bankroll, increase your affection for the challenge, and improve your performance at the table. The house always wins in some way or another, though...
If you'd like to read more about casino games, we also have an in-depth guide for beginners, as well as a more detailed introduction to slots variance at SlotsOnlineCanda. We only ever recommend licensed and/or eCOGRA-certified casinos to our visitors so you can be assured of fairness and security when playing casino games online.