Las Vegas Game Radar

3 years ago
Las Vegas Game Review
03 May

Las Vegas is the ultimate Sin City of the United States, and we know it well. Whether or not you’ve been to the neon strip, I'm sure you know about the flashing lights, the bubbling champagne, the shows, the bells and whistles, and the smokey cigars. Las Vegas is a non-stop haven of gaming and entertainment, and we love it for exactly what it is.

However, Vegas often seems to have a static quality. It doesn't really seem to change. The casinos are the same, the games are the same, and though the clientele is a revolving door of faces, the attitude and the reasons for coming don't change much either, at least, that is the impression. But even though we all experience time stopping when we enters those wide inviting doors, the truth is that Vegas is alive and constantly evolving at a rapid pace.

You may not know this, but the UNLV Center for Gaming Research has some incredibly detailed numbers regarding everything you could possibly want to know about the games in vegas (as well as a whole lot you probably don’t). While it is rarely mentioned, some of the trends over the past few years are quite surprising, and very telling about what games are rising and falling in popularity. This is not to mention how much people are betting, how much people are winning, and how much money each type of game is making for its owner. If this doesn’t immediately pique your interest, consider that knowing who is playing what and why may help you determine where the money lies.

What Are People Playing?

First and foremost, for those who don’t know, there is no bigger game on the Las Vegas strip than Blackjack a.k.a. 21. Seriously, by the hard numbers, no other game even comes close.

There may be a few reasons for this. I like to imagine that the story of those MIT kids and their card counting scheme probably helped inspire such popularity. If you can’t remember the name of that story, the book is called Bringing Down the House, and the movie is simply called 21. These students form a group and used a modestly simple card counting system to win a few million dollars over the course of three years. The best part is, while they got blacklisted from most of the casinos, what they did was completely legal.

While I don’t honestly think that the popularity of this story really influenced too many people to go play blackjack in Vegas, I think it hints at what something that makes for amore solid guess as to this extreme popularity of the game.

I suspect that the development of card counting, in general, has lead a lot of people to realize that blackjack is actually a beatable game. The idea of a gambling game that can statistically be won over time is an incredible thought, and a very tempting option for the fiscally minded and mathematically savvy. As long as one follows a simple system, and counts all of the face up cards on the table, one should win approximately 52% of the time. Now, this doesn't sound like particularly good odds, but any gambler worth their salt knows that any advantage over 10,000 plays should yield some serious results. Hence, even that 2% favor is enough to make blackjack a profitable game.

Recognizing all this, it may seem strange that, although blackjack is still the most popular game in Vegas, the number of players and tables has fallen DRASTICALLY over the past 30 years. When I say drastically I mean that in 1985 blackjack made up almost 80% of the games in Vegas. Today, it makes up a little more than 50%. We’re talking about literally thousands of tables closing up across the state.

I’m going to step back into the world of speculation for a moment. I think what’s going on here also revolves around card counting. You see, when casinos became more aware of card counting and its effect on the game (and their profits) they started blacklisting anyone who appeared to be counting cards. While players love a game they can win, getting blacklisted is bad news for anyone who likes to gamble, not to mention anyone who relies on it for a living. Black Jack isn't worth playing without the counting, but counting isn't worth the risk. Hence, we see declining numbers year after year.

What is on the Rise?

Blackjack is slowly crashing, but if that's true, something else must be taking up the missing percent of games. According to the numbers, craps and roulette have been nearly constant for decades, and baccarat is increasing, but too slowly to make up for this gap. What’s filling the gap is actually a category that casinos consider “other” but I consider to be very interesting.

The “other” category encompasses all of the more unique and newer games that have been introduced to casinos. Keno, Pai Gow, Let it Ride, Sports Betting, and Slots. Yes, those fantastically colorful, flashing, spinning, lightboxes that we call slots fall into the other category, and they are on the rise.

In the state of Nevada there are now nearly 300,000 slot machines up and running in casinos! Even though they are clearly smaller and cheaper to produce, this number still dwarfs the number of other all the other games combined by a whopping 3000%. That’s a big deal. More so because slots are the most popular branch of this “other” category, as well as being one of the bigger visual attractions of any good casino.

Personally, i’m not a huge live slots player. I’d rather spin the wheels online from the comfort of my little laptop because I found a great website to play on. I regularly visit the best online slots curated by The thing about this site is that it lets you play all of the slot games for free so you can find your jam. Then you are able to follow their links to pay-to-play sites after you pick your favorite. Best of all, they usually have a good deal just for clicking through their portal.

The real reason I point out these slots and other games, though, is that considering how many more slot machines there are, the overall casino revenue from this category is surprisingly low. What that means is that although more people are playing, the casino isn’t making a greater sum of money from them. I think you know where I’m going with this, but if not, I’m going to spell it out. People are making money here!

We even have, to some degree, the specifics. For example, since last year, people have won, on average, about 6.5% more money playing slots than they did the previous year. Again, this doesn’t sound like such a high number until you recall that there are 300,000 machines and a whole lot of people playing them. I’m not saying that the casinos are hemorrhaging money here, I’m just saying that it’s been a good year for people who like to pull levers, and this is not a unique trend.

Player profits from slot play have been on a gradual rise for a while now. I suspect that casinos view them as one of their biggest attractions, and nothing attracts more players than seeing someone else hit the big one. If I had to take a shot in the dark, I would say that casinos have upped the win chance a bit so that more players will see others winning and go take a shot for themselves. The attraction potential of someone winning $1000 at penny slots is significantly greater than the cost of that $1000 so it's really a win-win situation for the moment.

What Should You Avoid?

And speaking of where the money is coming from, if you put any stake in these cold hard statistics, let me advise that you stay away from baccarat for a while. While Baccarat makes up only about 11% of the games in vegas, it made up for more than 40% of the revenue last year! That is an incredible margin, and absolutely horrifying for players. Again, this is the Nevada average, but how many people can look me dead in the eye and say “I am significantly better than the average baccarat player.” Not too many, so this advice may be worth something.

If the casinos are making that much money off of that few game tables, they have to be making a lot of money at each table, and we're the ones who are paying out of pocket.

The best games, for players right now, are blackjack and this magical “other” category. If you don’t believe me, check out the Center for Gaming research website. The numbers just don't lie.

Consider all of this next time you walk into a Vegas casino, and you'll probably come out ahead. We all love to gamble, but knowing where to find a winning game is pretty important if you want to walk out with more than the shirt on your back. As always, Pokertube is keeping an eye out for the best games in town, so check back soon for our next game radar.

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Paul Nirenberg is a burgeoning author and long time fan of games of skill and chance. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he has been an avid poker player since he was given The Little Black Book of Poker at age 13. He now spends his time writing freelance while accruing short stories for a science ...Read more


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