People will always look to casinos as a way to earn quick cash, especially during an economic downturn like the one we are facing now.
But is this the best way to boost your income? What percentage of gamblers win at casinos and how much do they earn in profits?
Here is what statistics and casino maths have to say about winning odds and probability.
How Many Gamblers Win in Casinos?
Not that many.
While it is hard to give an exact number, a study published by the Wall Street Journal suggests that just 13.5% of players walk away with a profit. From those, few had winnings over $150.
Actually, on an individual level, the study found that more than 217 gamblers lost over $5,000, whereas only 7 players won more than $5,000.
Winning Odds and Probability
The house always wins—the phrase is popular because it is true.
Casinos follow a very simple business model at their core—each casino game has a statistical probability against you winning, regardless of how often, how much and when you play, ensuring that the casino always has the upper hand.
After all, gambling is a profitable business—the Canadian gambling industry alone earned $2.64 billion in revenue in 2021, $1.2 billion of which came from online gambling. It is estimated that 75% of Canadians gamble and that they spend around $6.75 a month on this activity.
What is the house edge?
The house advantage, also known as the house edge, describes the mathematical advantage that a certain game and the casino have over the player. It is the opposite of the Return to Player rate and it is calculated as the average gross profit that the casino can expect to earn from each game.
The house edge is not the same for every game—some games with a low house edge can earn the casino just under 2% in profit, while others can rake in up to 40% per game.
For instance, if a game has a low house edge of 0.28%, the casino can expect to make 28 cents on a $100 wager. On the other hand, a game with a house edge of 4% would earn $4 for the casino on the same bet.
This might seem like very little but remember three things:
- Casinos get thousands of players daily so 28 cents or $4 can quickly turn into hundreds of dollars a day from one game only.
- Casinos need returning players. A gambler who feels that a game eats away at their bankroll too quickly or that the chances of winning are incredibly low will not want to repeat the experience.
- The goal of the casino is not to clean out gamblers—gambling establishments simply want players to leave with less money than they came in with.
Does playing more increase the odds of winning?
No, since the house has a built-in advantage in each game, the longer and more often you play, the lower your chances of winning are.
According to the above-mentioned study, the probability of winning for those who don’t play as often is 33% compared to just 6% for those who spend a lot of time gambling. What’s more, the 10% of players who gamble the least have the highest winning percentage of 17%.
This also means that casinos make most of their money from players trying to recover what they lost—the more a gambler struggles to get ahead, the more losses pile on. As a matter of fact, research by Bwin shows that almost half of a casino’s revenue comes from just 2% of frequent customers, while 10% of players who gamble often make up 80% of a casino’s profits.
The House Edge in Popular Casino Games
Some games are up to pure luck, meaning you can have all the skills in the world, but the chances of hitting the jackpot are the same for everyone.
Actually, slots, despite being one of the most beginner-friendly casino games to play, generally have the worst odds, ranging from one-in-5,000 to one-in-about-34-million chance. The odds in American roulette are similarly low (this roulette variant has a high house edge of 5.26%), whereas the house advantage for sic bo and a game of Keno is even higher, around 25% to 29%.
Other games, like poker (including the popular table casino games like Caribbean Stud, Three Card Poker and Texas Hold Em), blackjack and video poker do involve an element of skill and tend to have a house edge under 3%.
Here is a summary of the house advantage in the most popular games
- Blackjack: 0.5%+ (with favourable rules)
- 1.06% banker
- 1.24% player
- European: 2.70%
- American: 5.26%
- Craps (pass/come): 1.41%
- Caribbean Stud: 5.2%
- Three Card Poker: 3.4%
- Slots: 5-10%
Sometimes, players themselves increase the house edge through deviations from strategy or distractions. For example, in blackjack, skilled players get the best odds, i.e. a low house edge of just 0.5%, which can go up to 2% if the gambler makes mistakes.
Why do people gamble if almost 90% of players lose?
Well, gambling is not always about winning. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest appeals of gambling is entertainment—whether you play in a glitzy land-based casino or you spin the reels on your favourite online slot, gambling is a lot of fun. So, in terms of entertainment provided, playing at a casino always offers a win—earning a little extra cash in the process is just a bonus.
However, if gambling stops being fun and you start betting and losing more than you can afford, it might be time to take a break. Gambling addiction is a serious issue and if you or anyone you know is experiencing problems, it is in their best interest to seek professional help.
Pros can make a living out of gambling, even though the odds are stacked against them. This, however, is only possible in games where you use your skills and strategies to beat other players rather than the house itself.
In poker, for instance, skills account for 10% of the outcome while the remaining 90% is up to luck. That’s why it is estimated that about 30% of poker players are winners over the long term, more than the average of 11 to 13% of gamblers who walk away with a profit. It’s also one of the reasons why poker players are listed among the most successful gamblers, raking in $169,460 from tournaments alone.
This depends on the type of game you play, how often you play and how much you bet. Some games like blackjack have good winning odds, while others like slots have a house edge of about 10%. The odds of winning are better when you play games of skill, but even then most of the time people leave casinos with less money than when they walked in.
Casinos have a very simple business model—each game has a statistical probability against you each and every single time you play. At the same time, casino maths makes sure that there are winners, provided their number and winnings are not higher than the players who lose. This ensures that casinos don’t lose all their money and stay in business.
Sports bettors have a higher chance of winning than casino gamblers, but they tend to win less money.
In sports betting, the opening lines are set to make for 50-50 odds either way (for most sports bets). There is a way to get an advantage, albeit a slight one, by researching and analyzing past stats and performances of players. This will give you an edge over the odds which is not possible with many casino games such as slots and craps where strategies may make a small difference, but the outcome is mostly up to luck.
The problem with sports betting is that you won’t win as much money as you would in a casino. When you bet on sports, you wager $11 to win $10, so you only win 90% of the original bet.
The house advantage is not insurmountable and people do sometimes win big in casinos. To boost your chances make sure you choose games with a low house edge, pick a casino that offers high and fast payouts, and make small wagers.