There are plenty of ways to legally beat casino games. I know people who play slot machines advantageously, crush baccarat by having one profitable move per shoe, carve out edges at video poker, and beat Mississippi stud by hunting down sloppy dealers who give up their hole cards. Hell, I played on a pretty big card-counting team. The edge was minuscule, and the variance was dreadful. But, still, I played at an advantage and that is better than the other.

All that said, however, if you are reading this article, I have to assume that you are not what’s known as an advantage player – that is, a gambler who plays advantageously against the casino. But that’s okay. Most people who venture to gaming tables, swap hard-earned cash for stacks of compression-molded casino chips and take their chances. The majority have no clue what they are up against and that prevents them from doing their best to manage daunting odds while having fun and taking flyers. After all, for most casino customers (and they very much are customers) those two things are what it’s all about.

Before You Start Betting

For starters, before making a single bet, it helps to get a casino host. They’re the guys hired by casinos to bring in gamblers. Since one casino’s games are pretty much the same as the next, hosts generate loyalty by giving free stuff, or comps, to people who gamble. You can generally expect to get five-percent of your theoretical loss in comps. It works like this: If the casino has a seven-percent advantage on a game, you’re expected to lose $7 per $100 wagered, which gives you 35-cents worth of comps per wager; it doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up over the course of a weekend.

You can generally expect to get five-percent of your theoretical loss in comps.

Bet gargantuan sums, become known as “a whale,” and the casino’s bosses will happily load you and your friends into one of their Gulfstream jets. Assuming you are not betting thousands of dollars per hand, you will not get this perk. But even if you bet small, you might snag a free dinner or a windbreaker or some household goods. Back in my card counting days, before the casino knew I was playing at an advantage, I was gifted a set of Emeril Lagasse cookware, just for showing up. I still have it!

honest casino guide for beginners

Casino Bankroll Management

When it comes to the actual gambling, it’s a good idea to control how much you are willing to lose and to go in with the attitude that you probably will lose. The math works against you and the math never lies. Setting a max loss and a max win is not a terrible idea. You might get lucky, go on a mad rush, and double your money. That’s probably a good time to color up, cash out, log the win, and angle for a comp at the steakhouse. If the opposite happens, set a loss-number that you can live with. Bring that much money to the table and be willing to blow it. Still ask for that steakhouse comp; lost enough and the five-percent rule, outlined above, can go out the window.

Going for Blackjack

Blackjack ranks among the most popular games in the casino. Not coincidentally, the house edge is moderate under the right circumstances. First, though, you have to find a game with decent rules. Most importantly, you want a game where blackjacks pay 3-2. Games with 6-5 are rampant and a rip-off. Please, make the most of your blackjacks. You also want the dealer to stand on a soft 17, you want to be able to double down on any two cards, and split non-Ace hands at least three times. If you find a joint that lets you re-split Aces, please let me know about it.
Learning to card count will have you playing at around a one-percent advantage.

Splitting eights against a dealer’s 10 will seem painful, but it is the right thing to do.

Playing flawless basic strategy will give the house around a .65 percent advantage against you. The great thing is that you can play basic strategy without giving it much thought. Most casinos sell basic strategy cards in their gift shops or you can find one online and print it out. Either way, follow the rules as if they are gospel. Splitting eights against a dealer’s 10 will seem painful, but it is the right thing to do. And don’t worry if other players think you are a nit for looking at the basic-strategy card before making a move. You will be losing less than them.

Playing Craps

Craps is another game that everyone loves. And for good reason. It’s got crazy action and people at the table root for shooters with hot hands while they spray chips across the felt. Seasoned craps gamblers make all kinds of longshot bets and shout things like “downtown,” “two the hard way,” and (my personal favorite to hear) “the shocker.” Resist that temptation.

Make a $10 passline bet and follow it with a $50 odds bet.

The best bet on the table is a passline bet, followed by a second bet in which you take odds. So, if you make a $10 passline you bet, you can follow it with a $50 odds bet. The odds bet has no casino advantage. It pays at the true odds of the point hitting. With that wager you are almost playing an even money game. While you might not seem to have as much fun as the chip sprayers, you will lose less money. And if you can’t take it anymore, sure, throw a minimum bet down on 6 and 8. The house edge per bet resolved for the six and eight is 1.52 percent. Conversely, bet on the four and 10, and the house edge per bet resolved is a more abusive 6.67 percent. Avoid that one.

Three-Cards Poker

Craps is not alone in offering rotten odds for players who make the wrong bet or play with a bottom-drawer strategy. Three card poker, which gaming genius James Grosjean characterizes as a “carnival game,” so named because the odds are as tilted as those of a gambit located behind a Ferris wheel, can be costly for unwitting gamblers. Basic strategy for this game is simple. At the outset, you get dealt three cards and the idea is to have a hand that is superior to the dealer’s three-card hand. If you fold, you give up your ante bet. If you want to play, you make a second bet equal to that of the ante bet. According to Grosjean’s recently published guide to carnival games, “The Ultimate Report,” if you only play hands of Queen, 6, 4 or better, you will cut the bleeding to as little as 3.37 percent in the house’s favor.

If the dealer encourages you to play blind, tell him that you like to see your cards before betting on them.

Play blind, as some people do, which results in them betting every single hand, and having the thrill of seeing their cards revealed after those of the dealer, writes Grosjean, and you will play at a deficit of as much as 7.65 percent. Though it’s easy to remember basic strategy for this game, Grosjean writes that too many gamblers are seduced by the suspense-factor or else they get suckered in by talk of a person who plays blind and wins big. Grosjean’s response to such ludicrous comments: a condescending, “Sure he does.” If the dealer encourages you to play blind – as some will – tell him that you like to see your cards before betting on them.

Put It to the Test

While these simple strategies will not put you ahead of the games, they will provide you with opportunities to have fun, lose as little money as possible, and maybe even get lucky enough to have a windfall come your way before you go bust. Sometimes, when it comes to gambling, that is the best we can hope for.