It’s a fact of casino gambling that the house always has an edge. There are a few exceptions if you stick to some variants of video poker. But all of the table games have a house advantage.
When my father Lenny Frome first came up with his strategies for video poker, he called the expected value of the whole game by the term “payback.” Essentially, this is the converse of the house advantage. As an example, the game of Jacks or Better has a payback of about 99.6 percent and a house advantage (or edge) of 0.4 percent.
This concept was all one really needed to compare video poker machines because virtually all video poker machines operate on the same denominations and max coins. Thus, the total amount wagered was the same from one machine to the next. If you are playing max coin, which you should, you are putting in five coins regardless of whether you are playing Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild or Double Bonus. Unfortunately, this is not true if you are trying to compare table games.
When it came to table games, my father used the term payback to refer to the amount of money the player can expect to have returned to him divided by the total amount he wagers, assuming he uses Expert Strategy. So, if a game has a 99 percent payback, you can expect to lose 1 percent of the total amount you wager over time. If you are a $5 player, this does not mean you will lose five cents per hand, on average. There are very few games in which your initial wager is your only wager.
So, to really figure out how much you can expect to lose playing a game, you have to take into account the average wager. Below is a table with many of the common games and the approximate average wager and payback.
Game Average Wager Payback
Pai Gow Poker 1.00 97.3%
Blackjack 1.15 99.5%
Casino War 1.07 97.8%
Let It Ride 1.23 97.2%
Three Card Poker 1.67 98.0%
Caribbean Stud Poker 2.10 97.3%
Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker 4.21 99.3%
There is not a lot of variation in our paybacks. They vary from 97.2 percent up to about 99.5 percent. But in order to really compare apples to apples, we need to multiply the average wager by the house advantage to arrive at the amount a player can expect to lose per hand. These values are shown in the table below:
Game Average Loss Per Hand
Pai Gow Poker 0.027
Casino War 0.024
Let It Ride 0.034
Three Card Poker 0.033
Caribbean Stud Poker 0.057
Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker 0.029
In many respects, these numbers are even less spread out than the paybacks. Blackjack, with the highest payback and one of the lower average wagers per hand is clearly the easiest on your bankroll. Caribbean Stud is at the other end of the spectrum. The rest are in a very narrow band.
Of course, we also need to take into consideration the average number of hands per hour, which can vary from table to table and game to game. I’ll leave that for another day.
The last consideration is that everything that is in this column is meaningless if you start playing using a different strategy. We know the paybacks will go down if you do and it’s possible that your average wager will go up if you play overly aggressive.