Blackjack and roulette are the 2 most popular table games in any casino. Both seem to offer bets that are more-or-less 50/50 shots. After all, if you beat the dealer in blackjack, you win the amount you bet. The same is true for the even-money bets at the roulette table.
But which game has better odds?
Blackjack or roulette?
How Do You Measure a Casino Game’s Odds?
“Odds” is a term that’s often used as a synonym for probability. This is true to an extent, but it’s more complicated than that.
You CAN express an event’s probability in odds format. Most people understand that if an event has 2 to 1 odds, that there are 2 ways to lose and a single way to win. It’s easy to convert that into 1/3 or 33.33%.
But you can also express the payout for a bet in terms of odds. That’s easily understood, too. If I tell you that you’re going to get paid at odds of 2 to 1 if you win, you understand that for every $1 you bet, you win $2 if you win.
And, if you’re betting on something with a probability of 2 to 1 and a payout of 2 to 1, in the long run you’ll break even.
That’s not how casino games work, though.
The casino guarantees itself a profit by paying off bets at odds that are lower than the odds of winning. The difference between those odds is the house edge, and it’s usually expressed as a percentage.
If you’re playing a game where you blindly pick a marble from a bucket, and you win if you draw the red marble, you can easily calculate the odds of winning. All you need to know is how many marbles are red and how many marbles aren’t.
If you have 3 white marbles and a single red marble, your odds of winning that bet are 3 to 1. (You have 3 white marbles versus 1 red marble.) If that bet pays off at 2 to 1, what’s the house edge? Let’s say you bet $100 in a theoretically perfect set of 4 trials.
You’ll lose 3 times, at $100 each, for a total of $300 lost. You’ll win once, and you’ll get a profit of $200. Your net loss is $300 minus $200, or $100. You divide that by the number of bets (4) to get an average loss of $25.
This means that the house edge for this hypothetical game is 25%. Over the long run, you’ll expect to lose 25 cents for every dollar you bet on it.
Generally, casino games with a lower house edge are better than casino games with a higher house edge. But not always.
What Are the Odds of Winning in Blackjack?
Every casino game has a gimmick of sorts that gives the house its edge. In real money blackjack, the casino makes you play your hand out before they play their hand out. If you bust, you lose your bet immediately. Even if the dealer busts when it’s her turn to play, you’ve already lost – in a fair game, this would be considered a tie.
The probability of actually winning a blackjack hand – even if you play perfectly – is only 42%.
In a fair game, your probability would be 50%.
In spite of this, the house edge for the game is only about 0.5% if you play with perfect strategy.
Why is the house edge so low when the odds of winning a hand are so low?
It’s because once in a while you get a blackjack, or natural – a 2-card hand that totals 21. In that event, you get paid off at 3 to 2 odds.
You only get that hand about 5% of the time, though, but it’s enough to shave some of that massive house edge off the game.
What Are the Odds of Winning in Roulette?
In roulette, you have a wide variety of bets you can make, although most real money roulette players I know place even-money bets. An even-money bet in roulette is a bet on odd, or a bet on even. Alternatively, it could be a bet on red or a bet on black.
Since almost half the numbers on the wheel are red and almost half are black, it would seem like this is a fair bet. The same for even/odd.
The gimmick in this case is the inclusion on the wheel of 2 additional numbers which are neither even nor odds, neither red nor black.
The standard American roulette wheel has a green 0 and another green 00.
You have a total of 38 numbers on the wheel. 18 of them are red, 18 are black, and 2 of them are green.
So you don’t really have an even chance of winning by betting on red, or by betting on black. The probability is actually 47.37%.
It doesn’t take a math professor to figure out that winning a bet 47.37% when you’re getting paid even-money doesn’t turn out to be a break-even bet.
In fact, it results in the house having an edge of 5.26%.
How does that compare to the house edge of 0.5% in blackjack?
Bet $100 on a game with a 5.26% edge, and you’ll lose an average of $5.26 over the long run every time you place that bet.
Bet $100 on a game with a 0.5% edge, and you’ll lose an average of 50 cents over the long run every time you place the bet.
Here’s the question:
Would you rather lose $5.26 in that situation, or would you prefer to lose 50 cents?
The answer seems obvious, but there’s more to this little math problem than you might think.
The Concept of Average Hourly Losses in Casino Gambling
Casinos use a simple formula to estimate how profitable a game will be. They multiply the number of bets the average makes per hour by the average size of their bet. This gives them the average hourly action for the game.
When you multiply the average hourly action by the house edge, you get the expected loss per hour for the game.
The average blackjack player makes 100 bets per hour. (This varies based on how many other players are at the table, how fast the dealer is, and how fast the player makes decisions.)
If you assume a $5 bet per hand, the average hourly action for that player is $500.
With a house edge of 0.5%, that’s an expected loss per hour of $2.50.
The average roulette player makes 50 bets per hour, but this also varies based on how fast the croupier is and how many players are at the table.
If you assume a $5 per spin of the wheel, the average hourly action for that player is $250.
With a house edge of 5.26% the average expected hourly loss for roulette is $13.15.
You’d expect the average loss to be 10 times as much because the house edge is 10 times higher.
But it’s not 10 times higher because the average hourly action is lower. It’s not so low as to make the games the same kind of deal.
Blackjack still has better odds than roulette even when you adjust for the slower pace of the game.
What About Different Roulette Variations?
Of course, for my example, I used American roulette.
But you can also find roulette games – called “European” roulette – which only have a single 0 on the wheel.
This reduces the house edge to 2.7%.
The average hourly loss goes down to $6.75.
That’s still not comparable to the expected loss of $2.50 at the blackjack table, but it’s closer.
You find further variations, though. In some European roulette games, you have an option called “en prison.” This is only available on the even-money bets, and here’s how en prison works:
If you bet on black and the ball lands on red or green instead, you don’t lose your bet immediately. It goes into prison until the next bet. If it loses on the 2nd bet, you lose your bet. Otherwise, it’s returned to you with no winnings.
This cuts the house edge in half again, to 1.35%.
The average hourly loss drops in half, too – to $3.38.
That’s still a lot close to $2.50 than it was, but blackjack still has better odds.
What About Blackjack Rules Variations?
The hold percentage – the amount the casino actually makes on blackjack – is significantly higher than 0.5%. It’s closer to 2.5% — 4% at some casinos.
That’s because blackjack’s house edge assumes that you’re making the mathematically optimal decision on every hand.
Also, some blackjack tables only pay off at 6 to 5 for a natural.
In that case, the casino adds more than 1.5% to its edge.
You should pass on 6/5 blackjack games, but if you play them, you might as well play roulette.
Also, keep in mind that roulette doesn’t require you to make good decisions to achieve that edge. You just risk your money and take your chances.
If you’re looking for the game with the better odds, blackjack is your game – not roulette.
This doesn’t mean you should never play roulette. You might have your own reasons for preferring roulette to blackjack.
It just means you should consider the difference in odds from one game to the other.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …