In a down economy, it's normal to start thinking of alternative ways to generate some extra money, but if you're tempted into thinking gambling is one of those good alternatives, you need to keep reading.

Once you step foot into a casino and exchange your money for chips, you've sold away your only advantage: staying out of the casino to begin with. Casinos can bring great shows, food, and entertainment, but statistically, they won't bring you much more than that.

Key Takeaways

  • Gambling is not a good alternative for earning extra cash.
  • Each game you play at a casino has a statistical probability against you winning.
  • Slot machine odds are some of the worst, ranging from one in 5,000 to one in about 34 million chance of winning the top prize when using the maximum coin play.
  • In 2018, commercial casino gaming revenue amounted to about $41.7 billion; one way to think about all those profits is that they are the result of the accrual of all of the losses from casino patrons each year.

Big Business and Big Profits

To say casino gambling is a lucrative business would be an understatement. In 2018, commercial casino gaming revenue amounted to about $41.7 billion. This was a new record for the U.S. commercial casino industry and represented a 3.5% increase in growth year-over-year. Indian casinos brought in about $33.7 billion in gross revenue—a 4.1% increase in growth year-over-year.

It's no surprise where those profits are coming from; over 42 million people visited Las Vegas last year alone, with some hoping to win more money than they came in with. There are 465 commercial casinos in the U.S., according to the American Gaming Association's State of the States 2019 Report. These casinos generated $9.7 billion in gaming taxes for state and local governments in 2018.

Games of No Chance

Math is the universal language, and it rarely ever lies. Each game you play at a casino has a statistical probability against you winning. (Every single time.) While this house advantage varies for each game, ultimately it helps ensure that over time the casino won't lose money against gamblers.

For people who are really good at Blackjack, the advantage for the casino might only be 0.5%, but certain types of slot machines might have a 35% edge over a player—other games fall somewhere in between.

The slot machine odds are some of the worst, ranging from one in 5,000 to one in about 34 million chance of winning the top prize when using the maximum coin play.

The house advantage obviously doesn't mean that you can't win, because people do win (and sometimes they win substantial amounts). However, it does mean that the more you play, the more the math works against you, and the better the chances are of you walking out of the casino with less money in your wallet than when you came in.

Everyone's (Not) a Winner

All those profits are the result of the accrual of all of the losses from casino patrons each year. Of course, some of the money may come from other venues within the casino, but the breadwinner for this industry is the games.

Now, think of yourself walking into a casino with the feeling that you're going to beat those odds (or profits) because luck (whatever that is) is on your side. Not likely. You can't even bet on winning or losing streaks either. If you'd had a slew of bad hands, the likelihood of that turning into a winning streak simply doesn't exist. It's just not in the cards—or math, for that matter.

The Betting Rip Current

Aside from the entertainment of casinos, some people do get swept into an addiction that far surpasses the entertainment value of the games. Only a small percentage of gamblers reach this point, but unfortunately, it's estimated that their losses make up a quarter of the profits for the casinos. This is all the more reason to understand the house advantage and how it works against a player who has lost a significant sum and is spending lots of time in the casino trying to win it back. The more a player struggles to get ahead, the more they get pulled into additional losses.

The Bottom Line

Almost every time, it's in your best financial interest not to walk into that casino and place the bet—the math simply isn't your friend. For those who want to press their luck anyway, make sure to quit while you're ahead. That "winning streak" you're on is definitely all in your head.