Q&A: Best/Worst Casino Games for Noobs?

Q: I’m a reasonably experienced gambler but my new wife isn’t. We’re going to Las Vegas next month and she wants to know the best casino games for novices?

Great question–and I’m going to not only answer it but give you the *worst* game for casino noobs at no additional charge. My wives and/or girlfriends have never had much interest in gambling of any sort but in my line of work I’ve spent a lot of time in and around casinos. The smart money play remains the ‘spa visit or shopping trip’ during your casino gaming sessions. Las Vegas is also one of the great food cities of the world now but you don’t want to send your wife off to eat somewhere good without you. You might float the idea of the spa visit or shopping trip–the big upside is you know what it’s going to cost you in advance. That’s not always the case when you let a novice gambler loose in a casino for the first time. Without knowing your wife or what she likes it’s tough to make a specific recommendation here but don’t forget that Las Vegas is a legit big city now with all of the amenities that come with it. It’s also seriously underrated for it’s natural beauty–if that’s something your wife would enjoy she could head up to Mount Charleston or go for a hike in Red Rock Canyon.

From the tone of your question, however, I’m going to assume that she wants to familiarize herself with the casino gaming process. The first obvious question–is she a sports fan? If so, she might enjoy betting on sports. She doesn’t need to hang in the sportsbook if she doesn’t want to. She can watch the games elsewhere in the casino or do what I would do–luxuriate by the pool or enjoy a fine cigar and a cocktail somewhere while I monitor scores on my tablet.

Same goes for the racebook–there’s always been a strong contingent of female horse racing enthusiasts and she might enjoy playing the ponies. Not only is there a significant intellectual component to both disciplines they’re excellent for the prospect of turning a profit or at the very least not blowing through a bunch of money in a short amount of time. Even for a novice. I’d add poker to this list as well. It’s a game with a solid female representation both at the recreational and professional level. Get her a few good poker books plus Annie Duke’s excellent Thinking In Bets and by the time you get to the 702 she’ll be ready to go. The great thing about the three aforementioned options is they’re things that she can actually get better at if she’s interested in doing so unlike slot machines or other negative ev casino games.

In the actual casino there are a few good choices. For table games blackjack aka ’21’ and baccarat come to mind. It’s pretty easy to find a mini baccarat table these days and it’s a fairly simple game to pick up. Personally, I don’t find it as entertaining to play as blackjack but she might. The house edge for banker bets is just 1.06% while the edge for player bets is 1.24%. If she stays away from betting on the tie (14.36%) she’ll be OK. Blackjack is a good choice though she’ll want to bone up on basic strategy before she sits down at a table. The exact house edge will vary depending on the rules at a specific table but it usually ranks among the best bets in the casino. If she shows an inclination towards slot play try to steer her toward the video poker machines. Once again, the specific house edge varies from game to game one place to another but it’s not hard to find machines with 98% or higher payback–even on The Strip. She can start with ‘Jacks or Better’ and progress to ‘Deuces Wild’. Like blackjack, she’ll want to learn some strategic basics but they’re not hard to pick up.

The worst games in any casino will be the ‘Big Six’ wheel though fortunately it’s not something that will hold your wife (or anyone’s) interest for long. The house edge on ‘Big Six’ starts at 11.11% for the $1 bet all the way up to 20% or more for the $20 bet. Craps could actually be on both a ‘best’ and ‘worst’ list. If you play line bets (‘Pass’, ‘Don’t Pass’, etc.) it’s a edge of just under 1.5%. Odds bets are actual even money. The field or proposition bets, however, are a different story and depending on the specific bet have a house edge of up to 16.67% for the ‘any seven’ play. Slot machines have a wide range of payback percentages with the highest being well over 10%. Live keno has the dubious distinction of being the worst bet in the casino with a house edge of 25% or higher. Video keno has a much lower house edge–around 10% depending on the casino–but there are significantly better options available.

About the Author: Jim Murphy

For more than 25 years, Jim Murphy has written extensively on gambling theory and practice. Jim Murphy has been quoted in media from the Wall Street Journal to REASON Magazine. Murphy worked as a radio and podcasting host broadcasting to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice.