Gambling Basics 101

Poker Table

What you Play Makes A Difference

Gambling 101

Game Selection and Strategy

What do you enjoy playing?  Slots, Keno, Blackjack, Craps, Video Poker?  I’m going to tell you about the best plays in the casino. I’ll be very brief, but I’ll provide links so you can do more reading and research if you’d like.

In most casinos (not all) there are some good plays, games where the casino has a 1.5% edge or less (98.5% payback or better).  These include (in alphabetical order) Baccarat, Blackjack, Craps, Pai Gow Poker, Roulette (European Rules), Spanish 21, Super Fun 21, and Video Poker.  Occasionally, you’ll also find other good games, but these are the most common.  Slots can “occasionally” be counted in this group.

Basic Rule #1:  Know what you’re playing! The player return on these games of 98.5% or better assumes two things:

  1. You play the correct version of the game, and…
  2. You play correct basic strategy.

This can’t be over emphasized.  One of the worst plays in a casino is to play a game that you don’t understand.  For example, Blackjack can easily return 99.5% or better, but if you fail to play correct basic strategy you can reduce that to 96% or worse.  Craps can be played at under 1% casino advantage, but it also has bets with a double digit house edge!  Yep, 11% or even worse.

Basic Rule #2: No matter what game you choose to play, be sure you always use your players club card so you will earn comps!  However, note that some casinos won’t comp you for playing very low limit table games.

Basic Rule #3: Set a budget and stick to it.  Read my section on Money Management for more details.

I’ve included a session bankroll guide below.  For each game it indicates a minimum recommended buy-in to enjoy the game with a low risk of going broke quickly.  If this is too much for your bankroll you should pick another game.  You’ll rarely have any fun sitting down at a $10 BJ table with $30 in your hand



Most large Baccarat tables are high stakes, the minimum bet is often $100.  “Mini-Bac” sometimes is offered with minimum stakes in the $25 range.  The house advantage is under 1.5%, and the best bet (Banker) gives you a 98.94% payback.

I don’t personally play Baccarat because I find it boring.  However, if you have a couple thousand dollars to play with, and you want to experience one of the “high class” games at a casino, then you might give it a try.  The dealer does everything for you, and you can’t make a mistake as long as you remember to bet on the Banker.  Just let the dealer know it’s your first time playing and they’ll help you out.

Recommended Buy-in: Ten to fifteen times the table minimum, or your initial bet if higher.

Click this link for More info on Baccarat


It’s the most popular table game in the casino, and one of the best bets for the player.  House edge varies but is typically 0.37% to 0.9%.  Blackjack is a fun game!  Some skill is required to learn basic strategy, but it’s not really that tough, and you can carry a cheat sheet to the table – no kidding!  It’s also a very social game, where you can have a good time.  If you find yourself at a “serious” table with grouchy people MOVE.  This is supposed to be fun!

You don’t need to be a high-roller to play Blackjack.  You can usually find a table with $5 minimum bet, and some as low as $1.  However, on Friday or Saturday, at any major property on the Las Vegas Strip, you’ll be challenged to find an open seat at a table that’s $10 or less.

There are many variations of blackjack “rules”.  For example, how many decks are used, does the dealer stand or hit “soft 17” (Ace-6), can you split any pair, can you double on any two cards, etc.?  These rule variations can favor the player, or the house, so you need to learn which are best for you so you can pick a table that will give you a high return.  One thing to avoid like the plague is any table that pays 6 to 5 on a Blackjack.  The standard payoff is 3 to 2, and a 6 to 5 game is a rip-off by comparison.  However, if you find yourself in a small casino with nothing but 6 to 5 Blackjack and slots, you’re still better off playing Blackjack.  The link below will give you more details.

Recommended Buyin: 15 times the table minimum wager or your initial bet if higher.  So, buy in for $75 on a $5 table, $375 on a $25 table, etc.

More Info on Blackjack This link takes you to the Wizard of Odds web site.  One of the best for learning about Blackjack.


If you walk into a casino and hear a bunch of people shouting and cheering it’s a good bet it’s coming from the Crap table.  Craps is an exciting game; however, it’s also somewhat complicated and that often keeps people from playing.  The crap table contains some of the best and worst bets in the casino, so you do need to have some basic knowledge before you walk up.  Finally, there is a unique etiquette at the crap table, much of which is based on the numerous superstitions of crap players.

In my personal opinion, craps is fun, and it’s worth taking the time to learn. It also offers you a basic bet with a house advantage of only 1.41%, and you can often improve this to under 1/2 of one percent, a better than 99.5% payback.

Concerning superstitions at the crap table, some players take these very seriously, so it’s wise to be aware of them.  Here are a few that will keep you from making enemies:

  1. NEVER say the number “Seven” at a crap table after the point is established (large white button is placed on a point number).  The superstition is that saying the number will cause it to appear on the dice, and when it does just about everyone will lose!
  2. Keep your hands up, out of the way, after the dice are out (passed to the thrower by the stick man).  The superstition; if the dice hit your hands they will land on Seven.
  3. Don’t touch, or talk to, the shooter (person throwing the dice), especially if they’re on a good roll, and especially after they pick up the dice.  It’s bad luck to do so.
  4. If you’re a man, and have never played Craps before, don’t tell the table this.  A “virgin” male player is considered bad luck, especially when you’re throwing the dice.  On the other hand, if you’re a female “virgin” that’s good luck, and it’s OK to announce it when you start to play.  I’ve even seen a high roller place a $25 bet for the rookie female on her first roll.

More info on Craps This link takes you to the Wizard of Odds web site.  You may have recognized a trend here.   In my opinion, this is one of the best sites on the web for good, reliable gambling information without any scams or useless “systems” for sale.

More info on Craps also has some good information, but I’ll warn you that there’s a lot of advertising.  Don’t be suckered in to paying anyone for a “winning craps system”.  It doesn’t exist.

Recommended Buy-in: Ten times your initial bets.  On a $5 table, if you play the pass line and 2x odds that’s $15 so you should buy in for $150.  If you intend to place multiple bets, buy in for ten times the total of your initial bets.  For example, if you plan to bet $5 pass line with 2x odds, and two come bets with 2x odds, that’s $45, so you should buy in for $450.

Pai Gow Poker

If you’re looking for a game that’s a little more relaxed and easy-going than Blackjack or Craps then Pai Gow Poker may be your choice.  It’s a variation on the Chinese tile game of Pai Gow, and is played with a 53 card deck (one joker).  The overall house advantage if you play correct basic strategy is 1.46%, and sometimes better

I don’t play Pai Gow Poker myself, so I won’t try to give you any advice other than this: learn basic strategy!  (Do I sound like a broken record).  Here’s a link to more information on Pai Gow Poker.


Roulette Wheel

Roulette is an old, classic casino game.  It’s simple, sometimes interesting, sometimes boring (to be honest) and often gives you a really nice payout when you win.  It’s a social game, and you have time to talk with the other players, enjoy your cocktail, flirt with the pretty girls (handsome boys), etc.

You’ll also enjoy a house edge of only 1.35% if you search and find a single zero wheel with European Rules.  Otherwise, you’re giving up 2.7% on an American single zero wheel, or a whopping 5.26% on a double zero wheel.  The only problem is, most of these European wheels are in high-roller areas on the strip where the lowest table minimum you’ll find is likely to be $25 or more.  However, if your bankroll allows you to budget for a $250 session, it may be fun to waltz into the highroller area of Mirage and plop down at the roulette table.  Or take $1000 to the Bellagio as the minimum bet was $100 there when this was written.

PLEASE, PLEASE, whatever you do.  DON’T pay anyone for a Roulette “system”.  None of them are winners, you can’t beat this game.  The link I provide below will help you understand the game and learn basic .

Recommended Buy-in: Ten times your total bets for one spin.

Here’s a link to more information on Roulette.

Spanish 21

If you enjoy blackjack, but are getting bored with it, I highly recommend trying Spanish 21.  Even if you’ve never played a table game this might be fun, especially since you can carry your basic strategy “cheat sheet” to the table with you (in most casinos).

After all the tightening of rules for traditional Blackjack, you’ll find some casinos where the Spanish 21 odds are better for the player (most Atlantic City casinos for example).  The house edge is only 0.76% when the dealer hits soft 17 and redoubling isn’t allowed.  This improves to 0.38% if redoubling IS allowed.  The house edge is only 0.40% when the dealer stands on soft 17.

This link will tell you all about the game and give you good basic strategy guidelines.

Recommended Buy-in: 15 times your initial bet.

Super Fun 21

This is another blackjack variation, and the house has an edge of about 0.95% to 1.15%.  Some scoff at this game and say it’s “Super Fun” for the house, because the edge is so much better than some traditional blackjack games.  I think it depends on what’s being offered at the casino you’re at.  Remember the old song “if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with”?  Ok, so I’m showing my age.

Given a choice, I’d rather play a good traditional Blackjack game with half of one percent house edge, but in some casinos Super Fun 21 is the best game available, and at least it’s fun!

Click here to get more info and basic strategy.

Video Poker

Video Poker

I could write a book on Video Poker, but that’s already been done a few dozen times.  So I’ll keep this brief and give you several links to more info.

VP is the only game where a person with average skills and average dedication can teach themselves a basic strategy that actually has an advantage over the casino.  Yep, a slight statistical advantage of under 1%.  But think about it, one percent is all the casino needs to clean you out over time!  So having that edge over them is a good thing.

But don’t rush out and drop a grand into the nearest Video Poker machine!  First you need to learn to differentiate the GOOD machines, (and the GREAT ones) from the mediocre and lousy ones.  Then, you need to take the time to study basic strategy and be able to play perfectly.  Only then can you storm the walls of the casino castle!

Yes, I know, some people find Video Poker boring.  If you’re one of those, then I recommend picking from the better table games listed above.

Free Online Resources

  • First, as with the other games on the page, I’ll refer you to the Wizard of Odds site
  • vpFREE is one of the best sources of free video poker information on the web.  I link to their database for all my casino reviews in this web site.  They have an extensive listing of links to additional information too.  In addition, they have a very active Yahoo! group.  Jean Scott, Skip Hughes, Bob Dancer, and other top VP writers hang out here to answer questions and socialize with the masses.
  • 5-Card’s video poker pages give you a wealth of information about the odds and costs of playing specific games.

Recommended books, software, and subscription web sites

  • Jean Scott’s Frugal Video Poker is a complete video poker learning system in two parts.  Each of them is good alone, but I recommend having both.  1) The FVP software will let you learn to play video poker on your home computer.  It also includes a valuable feature — you can create and print strategy cards for any game and carry these with you to the casino.  2) Jean also has a book out by the same name Frugal Video Poker, and it’s an excellent video poker textbook for both new players and experienced alike.
  • WinPoker version 6.0 This is another training software for your computer, the one we started out using many years ago and still have and use often. It has an attractive video interface, and you can customize the machine payouts.  However, it doesn’t have a feature to print out strategy cards, so you’ll need to purchase that separately.
  • This is a paid membership site, but has some good free stuff too.  I was a paying member for several years.  If you get serious about VP it’s probably a good investment for at least one year.
  • Comps are also an important part of any strategy.  They help offset your losses, and can turn a slight disadvantage into a break even situation.  If you want to learn about comps, and other ways to get the most out of a casino, then read two books by Jean Scott.  The Frugal Gambler, and More Frugal Gambling. You’ll find these and more information on her web site:

What about live Poker?

 Poker isn’t gambling.  It’s a game of skill, and you’re competing against other players, not the house.

General Gambling Information

For any and all general subjects related to gambling and Las Vegas the “Master Site” in my opinion is  Some content is free, and membership is only $39/yr.  You get an excellent coupon book that will more than pay for the cost of membership with just one coupon used!  Check the LVA out free for 5 days.  Click on the following link: FYI, I have no financial ties to the LVA, I’ve been a member since 2000 and it’s a great deal.