Are Casino Games Rigged? RTP, House Edge, and More

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Anybody that has ever played, and lost, at a casino, whether online or brick and mortar, may have at some point questioned…

Whether or not the game is rigged?

It is a logical question, as anytime that you lose your hard-earned cash, you want to know that the casino is legit and that you weren’t cheated.

So, are casino games rigged?
In this article, we are going to explore that question by better understanding what rigged actually means, explaining how casinos make their money, and how you can ensure that when you are gambling, that you aren’t being taken advantage of by the casino!

First things first, let’s define what the word rigged actually means!

Are Casino Games Rigged?

This question is a bit of a complicated one, as on the surface, yes, all casino games are rigged in favor of the house. We have all heard the term, the house always wins, and that is indeed the case, as the casino holds a mathematical edge on each and every game that they offer.

The casino isn’t gambling when you play, you are! But just because the casino has a mathematical edge, we will go into exactly what that means in more detail here in a minute, doesn’t necessarily mean that the games are rigged.

For me, as long as the casino transparently establishes rules and regulations on the game, and they follow them exactly, I wouldn’t consider any casino game rigged. Now, if the casino offers a game, and they don’t follow those rules and regulations, then it has to come into question as to whether or not it is actually rigged.

For brick and mortar casinos:
An example of this would be if a casino offered a blackjack game, but they took some of the aces out of the deck to limit the number of blackjacks a player might hit. Or they offer a craps game where the dice are manipulated in some way where the rolls were predetermined.

If the exact payouts for a game aren’t listed either on the layout for a table game, or in the options menu of a slot machine, that is a major red flag that things might not be on the up and up.

At an online casino, I would consider a game where the random number generator (RNG) isn’t actually random, as being rigged, as well as any online casino that doesn’t pay out winning bets in a timely or accurate fashion, as being an immediate cause for concern.

Some gamblers might think that one game holding more money than another game might be a sign that the game is rigged, but that just isn’t the case, as each game is designed with a specific house edge, or hold, in mind, and none of these games are going to payout the exact same percentage.

Please Note:
Blackjack holds more than Baccarat, slot machines hold more than Blackjack, and Keno holds more than anything! Just because a game is designed to take a higher percentage of your cash, doesn’t mean that the game is rigged. There are lots of reasons that a player chooses which games to play. Some of these reasons include how much fun it is to play, how easy the game is to learn, how big of a jackpot they could win, amongst millions of other reasons why gamblers pick one game over another. And while house hold is part of that decision for some people, it generally isn’t a driving factor for most players, and it certainly shouldn’t be used to determine if a casino game is rigged or not. \\

As a player, there are lots of resources out there than can tell you what the casino holds on a particular game, and if that is something that you are interested in, I would suggest you look into it before you put your money on the line.

How Do Casino’s Make Their Money?

We have already talked about how each game has a built-in hold, or house edge, and now we are going to dive deeper into that, to make sure you understand exactly what that means.

Where a lot of people get confused when it comes to the casino’s edge, is what math experts call the law of large numbers. To put it simply, the casino deals in VERY large numbers, whereas the gambler, does not. The casino might win or lose on any given bet, but over enough time, all of these games are going to end up making them close to what the mathematical edge of that specific game actually is. As a player, we might play for a couple of hands, rolls, or handle pulls, but the casino has millions of those potential outcomes per year.

And, they get to the long run in a hurry. While there is always going to be short term variance, if you play long enough, the casino is always going to win.

Please Note:
If you have spent any time investigating how casinos make money in the past, you have very likely heard the term casino hold, but one term that you may not have come across is return to player percentage or RTP.

Have you ever seen a slot machine that is advertised as a 99% payback? That is the casino highlighting the RTP of that game.

What Is RTP?
Return to player percentage is the amount of money that a specific slot machine or table game will pay back to the player in the long run. In Nevada for example, the lowest percentage that a regulated casino can pay back to players on a slot machine is 85%. That means that for every $100 wagered, the casino is going to pay back $85 and hold $15.

RTP is basically the exact inverse of casino hold, as it tells you what the casino is going to give back to players instead of telling you how much the casino is going to keep.

But remember:
Casinos operate under the law of large numbers, so an RTP of 99% doesn’t mean that when you put a hundred dollar bill into a slot machine you are going to get $99 back. It means that over millions of handle pulls throughout the life of the machine, with some winners and some losers, that the theoretical payback will be $99. That might sound like the same thing, but in reality, it is not.

One way that casinos can “trick” you when it comes to RTP is progressive jackpots. Progressives are very popular in both online casinos and brick and mortar casinos, as players love an opportunity to make a small wager and win a huge payout!

But remember:
The RTP for that game is based on all potential outcomes, so when you are playing a progressive, you have to take into account that when someone finally does win that million-dollar jackpot, even more money must be lost to fund the payout. I know that it might feel like the casino is rigged when you keep losing, but you have to remember that it can take a very long time for the math to catch up with the variance.

Even if you played the same game every day for a month, you wouldn’t come close to having enough play to get to the long run mathematical hold on a game.
On some progressive games, the machine might overhold for years before a player finally hits the big jackpot, which catches everything up all at once.

The Difference Between Theo and Actual Hold

One last thing to consider when it comes to casino edge and RTP, is that those percentages are based on the theoretical hold, not the actual hold, and that a player’s skill can change those percentages drastically.
Some games have no player decision, and there is no way to play that specific game in a manner that’s better or worse than the next player.
A slot machine is a great example of this, as no matter how you push that spin button, you aren’t going to have any better or worse odds of winning than anyone else.

But in a game like Blackjack, where there is a clear and defined strategy, your decisions make a difference, and the actual hold for one player is going to be different from other players. That does not change the theoretical hold in any way, but it does change the actual hold.

This tends to be another point of confusion for players when it comes to establishing whether or not a casino is rigged, as a game like Blackjack, which has a theoretical hold of around 2%, depending on the specific rule set of the table, has an actual hold of more than 10%.

Some gamblers see that gap between theo and actual, as the casino being rigged, but in reality, that just shows us that the vast majority of Blackjack players don’t play optimum strategy, which leads to significantly higher losses and higher hold for the casino. I know all of this math talk and industry jargon like hold, house advantage, theo, actual, and RTP might be a little confusing, but at the end of the day, if you don’t understand how a casino makes its money when it isn’t rigged, you have no way of knowing when you do run into a casino game that might be rigged.

In this final section, we are going to provide you with some red flags that could signal that a casino is rigged, as well as give you ways to make sure that when you are gambling, that the establishment taking your action is legit.

Are Casinos Rigged? How To Tell

Now that we have established that casinos are set up to take your money, and that doesn’t mean that they are rigged, we are going to highlight some of the red flags that will help you identify when a casino actually is rigged!

As a general rule:
Any licensed and regulated brick and mortar casino is going to be one that you shouldn’t worry about too much in terms of it being rigged. Most of these casinos are regulated by their state or local government, and they are audited constantly to make sure that all of their games are in compliance. But that doesn’t mean that every brick and mortar casino that you will find is legit!

I would hope that all of you out there would avoid playing the 3-card Monte game on the street corner, or a game of dice run by your local criminals, so I won’t spend too much time talking about those types of operations and instead focus on seemingly reputable casinos instead.

I know somebody out there needs to hear this,
If someone is offering you a game of chance outside of a casino, you can be 100% assured that they are about to rip you off!

Red Flags For Brick and Mortar Casinos

  • Pay tables are not posted or clearly defined
  • Rule sets are not available when requested
  • There are limitations on how much and when you are able to cash out
  • The casino is not licensed by any state or local government regulatory board
  • Betting limits are changed during your play based on your results
  • The casino refuses your action when you are winning

While that is certainly not an exhaustive list of everything you need to be on the watch for when you are playing in a brick and mortar casino, it is a good start.

Please Note:
If you see any of these things going on, you are going to want to take your action elsewhere before you get taken advantage of.

Next, we are going to take a look at some red flags for online casinos.

Red Flags For Online Casinos

  • Pay tables are not posted or clearly defined
  • Rule sets are not available when requested
  • There are limitations on how much and when you are able to cash out
  • The online casino is not licensed by any state, local government, or online regulatory board
  • Betting limits are changed during your play based on your results
  • The online casino refuses your action when you are winning
  • The online casino does not honor their promotions or offers
  • The online casino freezes your account or cash out without proper communication or justification
  • The online casino has poor reviews
  • The online casino is on our list of blacklist casinos

As you can see, many of these red flags can be very similar for brick and mortar and online casinos, as a casino is a casino, and many of the ways that they operate are consistent.

But with online gaming being so new compared to traditional brick and mortar casino gaming, we have seen a rash of shady operators out there preying on unsuspecting gamblers.

The best way that you can protect yourself from playing a rigged casino game, is to always check our blacklist casino list before ever making a deposit at an online casino.

If you ever find yourself questioning, are online casino games rigged?

Referencing our blacklist can go a long way toward confirming your suspicion to see if that online casino has a history of being a bad actor.

Wrap Up

Casino gaming can be a lot of fun and as long as you make sure that you are playing with reputable establishments as you can feel a lot better about getting a fair gamble.

Please Note:
That doesn’t mean that you are going to win, but it does mean that you won’t be cheated.

Now that you have a better understanding of how casinos make their money, and that just because they are going to have an edge over you on every bet that you make, that they aren’t rigged, you can make your bets without second-guessing your decisions.

Gavin Lucas / Author

Gavin has been writing about online gambling since 2015. He developed a love for it when it enabled him to travel the world while working from his laptop. Since then, he’s settled down, and his traveling days are over, but his love for casino games never left. Gavin is based in the UK and is a regular slot and roulette player. He’s deeply interested in cryptocurrencies and their intersection with gambling. He also obsessively follows politics and often writes about betting on elections and other political outcomes.

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