31 Jul

What it Really Means to ‘Play Against the House’

What is the casino house edge and why does it hate me?

Why is it they call the casino a ‘house‘? No one lives there. Yet the moniker has derived so many relevant terms over the years; house rules, house advantage, beat the house, etc. There’s actually a simple reason for it, and it’s not that the owners want their propensity to win your money to sound less abrasive.

What is the Casino House Edge and Why Does it Hate Me?

The first known “casino” appeared in Venice, Italy in 1636, called Ridotto (meaning The Private Room). Europeans didn’t call it a casino, but rather a “gambling house”. In Italian, the root word “casa” means house, which easily evolved into “casinò”. Thus, casino gamblers always play against the house.

What it Means to Play Against the House

If you were paying attention above, this may be self-explanatory by now, but it’s still worth delving further into, because not every gambling game pits players against the house.

In a casino, most games are house-banked. This means your only key to winning is to beat the casino’s odds. In blackjack, there may be 6 players seated around the table, all competing at once. But they don’t compete against each other; only against the dealer (i.e. the house).

A poker game, however, is not house banked. In poker, players compete against each other. The house only makes a small profit off these games by collecting a cut from each pot, called the rake.

Simply put, if you’re playing against other players—if you have a chance to win their money, and they have a chance to win yours—it’s not a house banked game. If you can only win from, or lose to, the casino, you’re playing against the house.

What is the Casino House Edge (and Why Does it Hate Me?!)

The “house edge” (aka house advantage) is the casino’s odds of beating the player. The casino always has the advantage, based on house rules. In blackjack, the fact that the player can bust before the dealer’s hand is decided gives the casino an edge. In roulette, it’s the presence of the zero (and double-zero in American roulette) that gives the casino the advantage. In baccarat, the commission on the Banker hand gets the job done.

A house edge exists in every game. In those where there’s no dealer, such as video poker and slot machines, it’s the pay table that determine the house edge. In video poker, your odds of getting a winning hand are offset by the payout for receiving that hand, which are always set just slightly below the payout. For instance, one winning hand might have 1/10 odds of being dealt, but only pay 9-to-1 for doing so. If you get this hand 1 out of 10 plays, and only win 9x the bet, you’re losing 1 bet unit per 10 hands.

Slot machines are a bit different. They operate on a theoretical return to player, or RTP. The RTP is a percentage of what the machine will pay out, compared to what it takes in. It is, quite simply, the opposite of the house edge.

A 97% RTP will guarantee the house a 3% profit over time. Some players will win, but more players will lose, and in the long term—usually over 20-25 years—the machine will meet its RTP. The house will earn its 3% profit.

But rest assured, the house edge does not hate you. It is the essence of indifference. The house knows it will bank more than it pays out, and doesn’t care which players win or lose. The truth is, in order to beat any casino game, you’re going to need a little luck.

Strategies are great, yes, but they will only get you so far. No strategy will push the casino house edge into your favor. Therefore, luck is the most important thing you can bring with you into any casino.

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