You’ve been looking forward to this for months — you’re off to Vegas for what you hope will be a week of winning, good eats and good fun. You’ve been saving your pennies for this trip and throwing them away just isn’t in the cards. So how do you make them go further when you’ve got endless casinos and games that will be more than happy to take them off your hands? How do you find the best odds in Vegas?
Avoid the slots.
“They’re an awful form of gambling. The odds are terrible,” says Michael Shackleford,
“That’s why 60% of the casino floor is devoted to slots. People like them, but the rate at which you lose money is quite fast.”
He’d know. He’s made a career of analyzing casino games to gauge their value to a player and runs the numbers on new games for casinos and game developers. He has also helped design many of the popular slot machines on the internet. So for the best odds in Vegas, he’s our man.
He launched his site, The Wizard of Odds, more than 20 years ago while working as a government actuary in Baltimore.
“There were no good gambling sites in 1996,” he says. “They were banner farms for internet casinos. I think in one day I made the best gaming site on the internet.”
He’d always enjoyed gambling — and is the first to admit he’ll bet on anything, and it doesn’t have to be in a casino. Case in point: as an American, he often likes to make bets with his dinner companions about whether their waitress will be able to name the capital of Canada.
He knows the odds are in his favour that they can’t.
“I’m good in math and computers, so I have the perfect skills to analyze casino games. I felt it was like my destiny choosing me.”
He quit his government job in 2000 to turn to the site full time and has called Las Vegas home since 2001. His site offers up mathematically correct strategies and information for the best odds in Vegas casino games like blackjack, craps, roulette and hundreds of others that can be played at online casinos.
No surprise, it’s become one of the most recognized authorities in the world for accurate playing strategies.
So do people realize how bad their odds are while playing slots?
For the most part, no, Shackleford says.
“And when you tell them, they just don’t care. They like slots and they don’t care if they lose more. They’re there for the enjoyment. I have been preaching ‘don’t play slots’ for 20 years now and I don’t think I’ve made a single convert.”
Since its inception, the site’s philosophy has been that if you’re going to gamble you should have the best information possible so you can have the best chances of winning — and can minimize your losses if you do lose.
To that end, the good news is that when it comes to the best odds in Vegas, not all slots are created equal. Some ARE better than others.
“If you must play slots, you should play a nice simple slot machine like Cleopatra, Let’s Go Fish’n, Fiesta Chihuahua or Da Vinci Diamonds. Your money will last longer if you stick to a more simple game.”
Where the odds get awful is with big, brand name games like Breaking Bad, Wonder Woman and Sex and the City.
“Those machines are set to pay back about 85%, whereas with the more generic machines, its between 90% and 92%,” says Shackleford, who has taught casino math at the University of Nevada.
“They have huge monitors, seats that vibrate — they’re works of engineering, I give them credit. But ultimately it’s the player that pays for that. With so many people looking for a piece of the pie, it leaves less pie for the player.”
When it comes to the best odds in Vegas, practically everything depends on the game, he says. But lately it also depends on where you are and the amount you’re betting.
“As a rule of thumb, the nicer the casino, the tighter the slots. And the more you’re betting at a time, the better the odds.”
Wherever you choose to play, getting the best odds in Vegas means you can’t believe what you’re telling yourself in the process. You can’t know when a machine is about to hit — no matter what your gut might be saying. Nor are your odds aren’t going to get better the longer you sit there — so by all means, don’t hold off on bathroom breaks.
As it turns out, your odds are the same every time you pull the lever or push the bet button.
“I think 99% of slots players believe that (the longer they play the better their chances). That’s what keeps them at the machine,” Shackleford says.
“It’s called the gamblers fallacy. It’s probably the biggest myth in a game of independent trials that if something hasn’t happened, it’s overdue. The past doesn’t matter and it has no sympathy.”
Want to up your chances of winning? The best odds in vegas are found playing blackjack, video poker or Ultimate Texas Hold’em. Shackleford says on average, the typical blackjack player is going to give back one half of a percent of their original bet.
“It’s what’s called the house advantage and it’s a lot thinner, so your money lasts a long time.”
By comparison, that advantage rises to 5.62% playing roulette.
With video poker, it’s not hard to find games where the house advantage is less than 1% in large competitive markets like Las Vegas. But again, it all depends on the game and the pay table.
If poker or craps are your cup of tea, it turns out some of the best odds in Vegas are at those games when they’re played properly.
“Most people play terribly,” Shackleford says. “Gut feelings? They don’t help you. I don’t believe in premonitions. Bet on whatever number you want to, but they’re not going to help you.”
If you’re not interested in the best odds in Vegas and are in a hurry to burn through your money, video Keno is where it’s at.
“They’re the worst. With these machines you can bet so quickly. At least with a table game a human being has certain steps to go through (so it slows things down),” he says.
While the return of video Keno is about 90%, compared to about 70% in live Keno, the rate of play is much faster in video Keno and the losses per hour are probably greater, depending on the exact speed and amount bet per game.
Despite the bad odds people are up against, ultimately, Shackleford thinks people get addicted to the adrenaline of it all or they’re there to escape the real world for a little while. They get drawn into the machine and don’t want to be bothered.
Moderation is key, he notes, but there’s no magic system to determine when to call it a day — or improve your odds, for that matter.
“But when it’s no longer fun, that’s a good time to walk away.”