Reason #1 I like Bovada:

Play for free
with no hassles

Most online casinos insult you with popups and spam, and they give you the hard sell even if you just want to try their free-play games.  Fortunately there's Bovada, which is the opposite.  That's the primary reason they're the only online casino I accept advertising from.

  • No registration required.  Most casinos let you play for free with fake money, but there's a catch: They make you register an account first.   That's not just a hassle: after you register you can expect them to badger you by email trying to get you to deposit real money.  But Bovada lets you play right away without forcing you to register an account.  Just close any registration boxes that appear, and then you can play without registering.  Here, try it.
  • Plays right in your browser.  If you'd rather not download the casino software to your hard disk, you don't have to.  The games play right in your web browser.  Nice.
  • Works on Macs.  The play-in-browser games are MacOS compatible!  Before Bovada, Mac users were pretty much out of luck for gambling online, even for free-play.  Not any more.

Bovada's not perfect, but there's no better site serving most of the U.S.

Visit Bovada

Gambling problem?
  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

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Gambling problem?
  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

How to calculate the house edge

Last update:  August 2019

In a separate article we saw how the house edge is the casino's average profit per bet, in percentage terms.  In this article we'll see how to calculate it.  The main point is to see that when you win, the casino always pays you less than true odds.  That's their built-in advantage over you, and why you can never be a long-term winner.

We'll start with coin flips, because they're easy to understand.  We'll bet $1 on the flip of a coin, winning on heads and losing on tails.  Here's how that looks:

Fair Coin Flip Game
Event Odds Payout Return
Win 50% $1 +$0.50
Lose 50% -$1 -$0.50

Player loss: $0

House edge:
0%

There's no advantage to the casino in this game, which is why you'd never see this game in a casino.  So let's casino-ize it:  In this version, you get paid only 90¢ when you win:

Casino Coin Flip Game
Event Odds Payout Return
Win 50% $0.90 +$0.45
Lose 50% -$1 -$0.50

Player loss (casino profit) -$0.05

House edge ($0.05 ÷ $1)
5%

Ta-da, house edge for the casino of 5%.  If you thought it should be 10%, remember, the 10¢ penalty kicks in only when you win, which is half of the flips.

Casino games are all based on the same principle, paying you less than the true odds of winning.  The games are just more complicated than our coin flip game, both to make them more interesting, and to make it less obvious that the odds are stacked against you.  Sure, we know the games are stacked against us, but if you can't easily see the inequality then you're more likely to play.  After all, how attractive did the 90¢ coin flip game seem to you?  Probably almost no one would play such a game.  But they'll play casino games, even though they're based on the exact same concept.

Let's look at the house edge in roulette.  There are 18 reds, 18 blacks, and two greens.  So if you bet on red, you have an 18/38 chance of winning.  If the casino were paying fair odds, they'd pay you the inverse, or 38/18, minus 1 (1 representing your bet, which you get back).  So, a fair payout on a winning bet would be38181818 =2018.  That means on an $18 bet, they should pay us $20.  Let's see how that looks, with an $18 bet on red.

Fair Roulette Game
Event Odds Payout Return
Win 18/38 (0.4737) $20 +$9.47
Lose 20/38 (0.5263) -$18 -$9.47

Player loss (casino profit) $0.00

House Edge 0%

But, of course, the casino won't pay you fair odds.  Instead of paying you 20/18 on your win, they pay you only even money.  Let's see how that looks:

Casino Roulette Game
Event Odds Payout Return
Win 18/38 (0.4737) $18 +$8.53
Lose 20/38 (0.5263) -$18 -$9.47

Player loss (casino profit) -$0.94

House Edge ($0.94÷$18)
5.2%

Now let's look at a bet that you're likely to win.  Let's say you bet on two columns in roulette, or 24 numbers.  Your odds of winning this bet are pretty good, 24/38 = 63.2%.  If the casino were paying fair odds, they'd pay you the inverse, or 38/24, minus 1 (1 representing your bet, which you get back).  For this example, we're gonna up our bet to $100 to make the house edge percentage easier to see.

 Fair Roulette 2-column bet 
Event Odds Payout Return
Win 24/38  (63.157%) $100 x (38/24 -1)
= $58.33
+$36.84
Lose 14/38  (36.843%) -$100 -$36.84

Player loss (casino profit): $0.00

House edge: 0%

But, as we know, the casino always pays us less than fair odds.  They're not gonna pay us (38/24)-1 = 0.5833 of our bet, they're gonna pay us only 0.5 times our bet.  That is, we're gonna get 0 on the losing column, and 1 on the winning column, which averages to 0.5.  Let's see it in action:


Casino Roulette 2-column bet 
Event Odds Payout Return
Win 24/38  (63.157%) $50 +$31.58
Lose 14/38  (36.843%) -$100 -$36.84

Player loss (casino profit): -$5.26

House edge ($5.26÷$100)
5.26%

If the math was hard to follow, just remember, when you win, the casino pays you less than true odds.  That's their edge over you, and that's why you can never be a long-term winner.  It's also why betting systems don't work:  the sum of various negative-expectation bets can never be positive.


Related articles:


Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

I like Bovada's practice games the best, because you can play right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's why Bovada is the only online casino that gets space on my site.  I hope other casinos will eventually start treating their visitors like human beings rather than walking wallets, but until they do, there's Bovada.  One click and you're in.

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