Each year, roughly one in four Americans over age 21 gambles in a casino. Which of them walks away a winner depends in part on which casinos they select.
Here’s how to choose casinos in the major American gambling centers of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno and Mississippi, where you are likely to win the most when playing four popular games.
Helpful: Although Connecticut has two popular casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun (technically, three, because there are two casinos at the Foxwoods complex), they offer very similar odds. Occasionally, however, there is reason to choose one over the other, as noted below.
Play blackjack only in casinos and at tables offering 3-to-2 payouts when you make a blackjack (21 on the first two cards)—$7.50 on a five-dollar bet, for example—never at those paying 6-to-5. Also, favor casinos where the dealer must stand on a soft 17—that is, the dealer does not take an additional card when the house has a 17 that includes an ace being counted as an 11. Blackjack played with a single deck offers better odds than six- or eight-deck games, but if the payout is just 6-to-5, it’s not worth playing, even with a single deck.
Great casinos for blackjack include…
In Las Vegas: El Cortez features single-deck games with $5 minimums, 3-to-2 payouts when you make a blackjack and other player-friendly rules that reduce the overall house edge to just 0.2%—that is, the house makes an average of about two cents for each $10 bet—compared with up to 1.5% at other casinos. www.ElCortezHotelCasino.com
In Atlantic City: Dealers at some tables, generally indicated by a placard, stand on soft 17 at Borgata (www.TheBorgata.com) and Trump Plaza (www.TrumpPlaza.com), lowering the house advantage to around 0.4%, compared with the standard 0.7% in Atlantic City.
Warning: Avoid a $1-minimum blackjack table if it charges a 25-cent-per-hand fee—common in Atlantic City.
Near Reno: The Alamo, a small casino in Sparks, Nevada, just east of Reno, offers perhaps the most favorable casino blackjack in the US. It features single-deck, 3-to-2 games with a wide range of player-friendly rules, including the right to split and resplit any pair (turning one hand into two and doubling your bet when you have two cards of the same number)…late surrender (the option of discarding a hand inexpensively when the dealer does not have a blackjack)…and even a six-card Charley (an automatic win for players who reach six cards without busting). Play well, and the house advantage is just 0.1%. www.TheAlamo.com
In Mississippi: The Isle of Capri in Biloxi offers double-deck 3-to-2 games where dealers stand on a soft 17, for a house advantage of just 0.2%. www.Biloxi.IsleOfCapriCasinos.com
Video poker machines display their pay tables—the number of coins returned if specific hands are made. Gamblers who learn how to interpret these tables, which are displayed right on the screens, can find the casinos and machines that offer the best odds. Two types of video poker machines particularly worth seeking out…
9/6 Jacks or Better. With these machines, players win if they get at least a pair of jacks, and the payout is nine coins for every coin bet when the player gets a full house and six coins for a flush, among other payouts. Play well, and the casino’s edge is less than 0.5%.
Full-Pay Deuces Wild. Deuces Wild video poker machines are considered full pay if they pay three coins for a full house, five for four of a kind, nine for a straight flush and 15 for five of a kind, among other payouts. Play well, and you have an edge of nearly 0.8%—one of the rare times when the gambler has an advantage over the casino.
The Web site vpFREE2 (www.VPFree2.com) offers feedback from gamblers about the video poker games and odds offered by casinos around the US.
Warning: In New York State and Washington State, video poker is not a game of skill at all, merely a game of chance, like a lottery scratch-off ticket. The machines simply spit out winning hands a certain percentage of the time.
Among the best casinos for video poker…
In Atlantic City: Borgata and Bally’s (www.BallysLasVegas.com) have some 9/6-Jacks-or-Better machines that can be played for as little as 25 cents.
In Mississippi: Island View (www.IslandViewCasino.com) and the Isle of Capri offer some 9/6-Jacks-or-Better machines that accept bets as low as a quarter.
In Reno: John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks (www.JANugget.com) and Peppermill (www.PeppermillReno.com) have 9/6-Jacks-or-Better machines that take bets as low as a penny. Silver Legacy (www.SilverLegacyReno.com), a nice downtown casino, has 9/6-Jacks-or-Better machines that take bets as low as a quarter.
Warning: Even casinos that offer 9/6-Jacks-or-Better or full-pay Deuces Wild machines usually scatter these among other Jacks-or-Better or Deuces Wild machines that offer lower odds.
Slot machines tend to pay out at least 85% of the money they take in, but higher-denomination slots tend to pay a greater percentage, as much as 97% for some $25-and-up machines. See my Web site for statistics on payouts (www.AmericanCasinoGuide.com, click on “Slot Payback Info”).
In Atlantic City: Borgata offers the city’s highest slots payouts, at an average of 91.7% of the total money bet.
In Connecticut: Mohegan Sun offers a slightly higher payout than Foxwoods—92.0% to 91.7%. Both match or exceed any casino in Atlantic City for slots odds.
Outside Atlantic City and Connecticut, slots players should favor casinos that offer the best odds to video poker players. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests casinos that provide the best odds to video poker players tend to offer relatively good odds to slots players, too.
The best way to improve your odds at roulette is to find a wheel that has just a single 0, not a 00 space as well. That reduces the casino’s edge from nearly 5.3% to 2.7%. Unfortunately, single-0 wheels are becoming extremely hard to find in the US outside of high-limit rooms, where minimum bets typically are $100 per spin. When single-0 wheels do appear on the main casino floor, they usually have still-steep $25 minimums. Recently I did find one -single-0 wheel with a modest minimum…
In Las Vegas: The Riviera offers a single-0 wheel with a $5 minimum on occasion (www.RivieraHotel.com).
In Atlantic City: Make even-money bets, such as red/black, even/odd or high/low, rather than bet on a specific number. Under Atlantic City’s roulette rules, the casino takes only half of the money lost on even-money bets when the ball lands on 0 or 00, halving the house advantage, compared with casinos elsewhere in the country.
Three rules of thumb for choosing a casino when gambling outside Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City or Mississippi…
The fewer casinos in the area, the worse the odds. Competition drives down prices at casinos just as it does in most other businesses. The farther an Indian casino, a riverboat casino or a racetrack slots and video poker parlor are from other casinos, the worse the odds gamblers likely face there. Cruise ship casinos tend to offer poor odds, too.
The more a state taxes casino revenue, the worse the odds. Casinos facing steep taxes pass this expense along to gamblers through poor odds.
Example: Pennsylvania takes 55% of gambling revenues, so gamblers there generally face terrible odds. In comparison, Nevada claims 6.75%.
The more glamorous a casino, the worse the odds. It is gamblers’ losses that pay for all those sparkling chandeliers. Relatively plain casinos often rely on business from locals, not tourists, and often offer better odds to encourage repeat business