In this blog, we look at the history of gambling, from ancient times up to modern online casino games. We also discuss different forms of gambling, assess the various levels of skill and luck involved and explain house edge and the concept of “return to player” (RTP.)
The Evolution of Gambling Games
The ability to play at a casino online may be new, but gambling is as old as time. Primitive dice have been found in China, the Middle East and Greece, all dating back more than 2000 years BC.
In the 9th century, the development of early playing cards gave gambling games a new lease on life. In 17th-century Europe, standardization of the modern 52-card deck was underway at the same time that casinos started to emerge. The Ridotto in Venice, Italy, is generally accepted to have been the first legal casino in the world and opened in 1638.
Slot machines emerged in the late 19th century, thanks to Charles Fey and his Liberty Bell game. And, of course, the late 20th century revolutionized gambling as the internet took off and the first online casinos emerged.
Virtual and augmented reality technology, along with fast and reliable internet connections, has produced some incredible live dealer casino games and the possibility of future developments remains exciting, thanks to the emergence of the metaverse and blockchains.
Luck or Skill?
Not all gambling games are created equally. A simple dice game involves nothing more than chance. You’re hoping to guess the outcome; if you do, you’ll earn a prize. The human brain is wired to spot patterns — it’s no surprise that we’d love to convince ourselves a number may be ‘due’ to appear. But this belief is nothing more than the well-known “gambler’s fallacy.”
Some casino table games, such as roulette, are more elaborate versions of the same premise. They’re designed to give you a feeling of control since you can choose the numbers. But ultimately, the results are determined by luck alone.
On the other hand, games such as poker or blackjack are heavily reliant on skill. Yes, you can simply turn up and hope to get lucky, but if you dedicate some time to studying the game, you could make a handsome profit. Of course, during any given session, bad luck can still cause a loss, even if you play perfectly. Therein lies the beauty of these games.
House Edge and RTP
One of the most important concepts in casino online betting is that of the house edge. All games in the casino, from online slots to craps, have an in-built advantage that helps the casino turn a profit in the long term.
We know that a casino is not a charity and they’re out to make money. But trying to beat the house edge is a big part of gambling’s appeal. We can give ourselves somewhat of a better chance by choosing games or at least specific bets with the lowest possible house edge.
Baccarat offers some good examples. The Banker bet has an edge of just 1.06%. So, in theory, if you were to place $100 worth of bets, the house would profit $1.06 on your wagers. Your returns would be $98.94.
Betting on Player has a similarly low house edge of just 1.24%. In contrast, the Any 7 bet in craps has one of the worst edges of all, at 16.67%!
In reality, all games are random. So, in a short period of time, it’s possible to win — or lose — more than the expected return. If you were to play the game to infinity, your returns would match the house edge exactly.
Let’s take a closer look at some specific casino games.
Slots are completely based on luck. They may contain features that present the illusion of skill, but all outcomes are determined by Random Number Generator (RNG) software.
In the world of slots, we don’t talk about a house edge. Instead, we refer to the Return To Player (RTP) rate. The average RTP of a casino slot is around 96%, so anything higher is good value. It’s possible to play casino online slots for real money with RTP rates as high as 99%, meaning a very low house edge of just 1%.
By contrast, blackjack involves a lot of skill. This game is rare in the sense that we’ve solved it completely. Computer simulations can show the correct strategy to maximize returns and minimize losses in every possible situation.
If you follow the perfect strategy, the house edge of blackjack can be reduced to less than 1%. Additionally, if you learn card-counting techniques, you can adjust your bet sizes when the deck is in your favor. And similarly, you can leave the table when it’s not.
By counting cards and using optimal strategy, you can beat blackjack over a long period of time. However, be warned that it’s almost impossible to count cards when playing live dealer blackjack because they shuffle very frequently.
One of the most popular casino games online, roulette is a game of pure chance. Its appeal lies in the wide variety of betting options, offering something to suit all tastes. There are 50–50 options, such as Red or Black, which offer a high chance of winning but smaller payouts. On the other hand, it’s possible to win as much as 35 to 1 from a single number.
On a standard US roulette wheel, the house edge is a hefty 5.25%. It’s a better idea to play on a European wheel, which doesn’t have the 00 pocket. This lowers the casino’s advantage to a much friendlier 2.70%.
Many casino games offer a progressive jackpot prize. As such, the RTP tends to be lower since a portion of each bet is taken and added to the prize pool. The trade-off is the opportunity to win a potentially life-changing amount of money with no effort involved.
The biggest progressive jackpot slots, such as the Mega Moolah series, can pay eight-figure sums, while table games sometimes offer jackpots of five and even six figures. But be careful if you’re playing with casino bonuses, as these are often ineligible to win progressive jackpots.
Games like Texas Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud and Omaha are very much games of skill. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it.
However, you’ll also find games such as Mississippi Stud, Three Card Poker or Ultimate Texas Hold’em. These have a built-in house edge (just like any other table game,) so your results depend on luck.
Many casinos offer variety games: a category that includes scratchcards, bingo and keno. These games are all completely random, with no skill involved whatsoever. But they appeal to a certain type of gambler because they are easy to understand and fun to play.
Scratchcards are colorful, engaging and offer instant rewards. But they have a particularly high house edge and are usually avoided by serious gamblers.
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