Been dreaming of that one lucky win that changes your life?? When many people plan their inaugural Vegas trip, they look forward to their First Vegas Gaming Experience, with excitement. We probably have all had those fantasies. Gambling can be a lot of fun!
But, the old adages should remind you to keep the truth in the back of your mind. "Vegas wasn't built on winners." "The house always wins." Think of it this way: all of the luxury that surrounds you in Las Vegas, was paid for by the money lost by gambling visitors.
I am not saying you shouldn't do it, or that you should never gamble in Vegas. I am saying to learn a few tricks of the trade, or at least the necessary information, and know what you are getting into.
We can offer a bit of guidance!
There are dozens of other things to do in Vegas. Make sure to check our article Las Vegas 101 Things to Do so you know all your options and can make a great plan! But if you are going to gamble, read on.
What You Should Know Before Your First Vegas Gaming Experience
Your Gaming Budget
The Casino Atmosphere
Where the Best Odds Are
Your Gaming Budget
Gambling is a game, and it is entertainment. Like other forms of entertainment, it should have strict budget limits. Always make the assumption that the money used for gambling will be lost, because frankly, that is the MOST LIKELY SCENARIO. Or think of it the same way you think of purchasing an event ticket, and that when the event is over, the money will be gone. Flip it around, and think of what you would expect to experience for the same amount of money doing any other activity. That should help you remember that you want to stretch it, and make the most of your gaming evening.
- The typical Las Vegas tourist gaming budget is $100 per day. When you think about it, it is a lot to lose for most regular people. Heck, that is my car insurance payment, on two cars. When you go into the casino, the best option is to carry only that budget, and no more. Do not carry all of your trip money with you. Lock that up in your room safe!
- Whatever your budget is, keep that in mind. Don't sit down somewhere to make $20 bets with a $100 budget. Your money will be gone in 10 minutes. Once you lose your budget, your entertainment for the evening is done. It is time to pick another activity, perhaps a free one, for the rest of the night. Do not go to the room for more money. Do not go to the ATM to withdraw. Stick to the budget
- If you have periods of winning, it will extend your playing time. If you get lucky for the night, then good for you! the best option is to put your winnings away for other activities, or for when you get back home. But, in all honesty, many people will keep their winnings in their gambling budget pool, to use on another day. I can't criticize..
The Casino Atmosphere
As a Las Vegas first timer, you need to be prepared for the casino set up. They are big. They are spread out. They have what some might call a confusing layout.
- You can get lost, and you can lose your companions. I am not exaggerating. I spent an hour walking circles, looking for my companions one afternoon. This is not the result of bad planning, or multiple add-ons. In fact, it is the result of some very strategic plans, and psychology. The longer you wander around the more likely you are to drop a few more dollars.
- Casinos are relatively dark. There are no windows to the outside world, so you cannot see the sun going down, or coming up, as it may be. There are overhead lights, but they are dim. This keeps the variety of other possible activities from coming into your view, and luring you elsewhere. It also enables you to lose track of time quite easily. Keep your watch or phone handy! And of course, it also ensures that the flashing lights of the slots all the more attractive.
- There is constant noise from the machines, with various bells, whistles and alarms that give the impression that someone is winning some amazing amount of money, all of the time. If you pay attention, you notice that these winner bells go off on some machines, whether someone is playing them or not. It still caught me, after several days. But hey, maybe you will walk over and stick another ten in there!
- One other point of note is that the cash out machines, and ATMS give out $100 bills for any amount in excess of that. This again is a subtle maneuver to ensure you feel as if you have plenty of money in your hand, and can afford to put more into a machine. I highly advise that you stay away from the ATMS, BUT in many casinos, the ATM and the cash-out machine, are one in the same.
Where Are the Best Gambling Odds?
Mathematically speaking, Black Jack has far and away the best odds for the player. It is often referred to as a game of skill, rather than a game of chance, and the odds fluctuate a lot, specifically based upon the player's skill. If a player makes the correct choices, 100% of the time, the house only has about a 1% advantage. That is as good as it gets. On the other hand, Black Jack is not exactly a cheap game, with $5 being the minimum bet in many locations, although there are a few casinos with a $3 minimum.
Before making Black Jack your go to game, make sure you fully understand the rules, and have gotten some practice. Experienced players can become quite angry and demonstrative when an inexperienced, or just bad, player makes "dumb" choices and negatively impacts the game for others. Don't be that guy! Read up on the rules, and practice up before your first trip.
Your next best odds would be Craps. It looks like a lot of fun! Almost everyone has seen video of s shooter, rolling the dice in front of a crowd, followed by a round of cheering. Some of us have probably even wished that was us before.
Craps is actually a simple game. Every player gets a chance to roll the dice. The first roll is called the "come out roll." Rolling a 7 or an 11 on the first toss, is a win. Rolling a 2, 3 or 12 on the first roll, is crapping out, thus a lose. Any other number rolled becomes the "box point." The shooter then continues to roll until they get their box point number again, and wins, or they get a 7, and lose.
There are a number of very complicated bets that can be made. However, those with the best odds are actually the simplest, and really, the only ones you need to know. The Pass line bet has a house advantage of less than 1.5%. The bet is simply betting that the shooter will get the win, either on the come out roll, or through getting the box point. The taking odds bet is making the same bet, after seeing the come out roll. There is absolutely no house advantage on this bet, so casinos actually limit the amount that can be wagered, and the pay outs are smaller.
There are dozens of other possible bets in craps. However, the odds dramatically decrease, and for some bets, the house has as much as a 14% advantage. A new gambler with a budget, does not need to know any of those bets. We found this clip, that puts it as clearly as possible. Business Insider, How to Play Craps.
Need Some Know-How? These books and videos may help.
One Armed Bandits
Most new, or nervous gamblers, head straight for the slot machines. This is unfortunate, and it is also where the casinos make their money.
Yes, slots have the smallest minimum bets. That $100 budget can be stretched out for a long period of time making small bets. If you realize you are likely to lose, they can be entertaining, and give you a good evening of chances, lights and whistles.
- As a player, your odds of winning on a slot machine are almost the worst there are. Pay outs on slot machines are random luck. There is no such thing as a machine being "ready to hit." It is statistically and mathematically not possible.
- All the slots are operated by computer chips, with a pre-programmed pay out percentage. There is a government regulated required minimum pay out percentage that all casinos must maintain. Many casinos actually exceed the regulated amount. That should tell you something.
- It is said that on average the machine payout is 95%. This does not mean that every machine pays out 95%. There are some chintzy machines, and some more generous. Usually those that are programmed more generously are placed in very strategic locations. Some will be in locations that garner a LOT of attention, as in, you might trip over them coming in the door. Others are hidden in back corners, where few people find them to reap that higher payout percentage.
- The calculated percentage is specific to the individual machine, and set based upon 10 million "spins," or button pushes. Yes, 10 million. There is no getting it warmed up, or ready. The previous players losses does not make your win any more likely. Perhaps if the previous 1,000 people lost, that might be the case, if they all spun 1,000 times.
- "They" say, that the slots in the casinos downtown are set to a slightly looser percentage. When I say "they"" I mean that I have read it on about 50 different webpages, from casino pages, to the city pages, to travel blogs. (Personally had absolutely no luck downtown. Literally not a single ticket for more than change.)
- Locals say that the slots at the "local casinos," outside of town, are again, even looser, and MAY be at a 96.5% pay out. They state that this adjustment was made because too many residents were losing their paychecks, and something had to be done.
- I have also frequently read that the fancier, more luxurious casinos, pay out less. I have not found any statistics about this. However, I will say, they were far more crowded, with what appeared to be a lot more money going through the machines. More money going through does result in more money coming out. (Personally again, the upscale casinos were the only place I won any money, and my frequent Vegas visiting friends say they experience the same thing.)
- Either way, the house always makes more than it pays out, and winning is entirely RANDOM. The only possible influence you have to up your chances is by making max bet on the machine. Generally, every machine is also programmed to pay out at a higher percentage than normal, when the maximum bet is made.
Join the Rewards Program
If you are going to play, many resorts and casinos have a rewards programs. In some locations, you may have to go to a desk to sign up for the program. In other resorts, there will be someone walking around signing people up, right at the machines. Signing up for these programs costs absolutely nothing. All of them have various associated perks.
- Some cards automatically offer $5 or $10 machine credit. It may not seem like much, but hey, maybe you will get a lucky spin with that $5! Others offer free meals or discounted meals, as points accumulate. During my recent Tuesday through Saturday visit, I ate 3 free buffets, because of the points accumulate on my cards.
- Also, pay attention to the associated establishments when you sign up for the card. For example, MGM owns the Bellagio, Aria, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo and New York New York. So, the rewards points accumulate any time you use your card in any of the resorts, and they can also be used at any of them.
- Likewise, Caesers also owns Harrahs, Rio, Balleys, Paris, Flamingo, and Planet Hollywood. Those are the big name players.
- Also owned by the same companies are the Venetian and the Palazzo, and the Wynn and the Encore.
- In all fairness, I must let you know that you will get occasional emails, and Postal mail, when you join rewards. They are not excessive though. In one month, I have received 5 total emails from my 3 rewards program memberships.
By the way, the last 2 emails offered me one free night out of a three-day stay, and believe me, I did not spend a lot at any of the associated casinos. If you know people who go to Vegas a lot, who talk about their free hotel rooms, the rewards programs are where those free rooms are coming from.
Last Thoughts on Gaming
Stay away from Roulette, and in particular double zero Roulette, and Kino. The house advantage on these games is in a manner of speaking, greater than it is on the slots. You are not likely to win, ever.
We mentioned it in some of our other Vegas articles, but if you are gambling, drinks are free while you are doing so. If you leave your machine and go to the bar, you will be charged full price. But if you flag down a waitress while on the machine, your drinks, whether bottled water, pop, or alcoholic, are free. The cocktail server is covering a lot of area, so your tips will encourage more visits to where you are playing.
On a more humorous not, in most casinos, hats are not allowed while playing machines. It is allowed at card tables. I am not sure I understand the intent, but most of the time, if you where a hat at a machine, you will be asked to remove it.
Enjoy your First Vegas Gaming Experience
If you are planning your first trip to Vegas, don't get caught paying more than you should. Be sure to read our Vegas First Timers Guide for the inside tips.
Make sure you get out and see everything this amazing city has to offer. Our Las Vegas 101 Things to Do will give you more options than you could ever need!