Problem Gambling Help SA

Insider's Guide to Gambling

Do you really know how gambling works?

Do you know what you're up against when playing a pokie machine, playing BlackJack or buying a lotto ticket? It's true that the 'house' always has the 'edge' and this is for a reason. In every betting game, the odds are against the player. There is no skill involved, chance is what determines whether you win or lose. And one thing is certain – you can always expect to lose.

It's good to understand the choices you make when you decide to gamble so here is an insider's guide to gambling.

Understanding probability and odds

The terms 'probability' and 'odds' are two common ways used to describe how likely it is that a certain event will happen. In gambling, both terms tell you how likely you are to win, but they do this in different ways.

  • Probability is the number of winning outcomes divided by the total number of possible outcomes
  • Odds compare the number of losing outcomes to the number of winning outcomes, in ratio form

Think of a rolling dice and hoping for a "4" to come up. In this case there are 6 possible outcomes, 1 winning outcome and 5 losing outcomes.

  • The probability of rolling a "4" would be shown as 1/6, or 1 in 6
  • The odds of rolling a "4" would be shown as 5:1

The maths of poker machines is simply an extension of this. Each reel has a number of symbols. The number of symbols depends upon the game, its paytable and its return to player. The reels also have different numbers of symbols e.g. reel one may have 32 symbols but reel two may have 39 symbols and reel five may have 40 symbols. Also, symbols often appear more than once on a reel and this changes the likelihood of that symbol being selected. If we go back to our dice and it has two "4s" on it instead of only one, the probability of rolling a "4" would change to 2/6 (simplified to 1/3). That is, it would become more likely than if there was only one "4".

How do pokies work?

Casino Games*

When you step into a casino to gamble it's easy to be overwhelmed by the number of options in front of you. With rooms of pokies, card tables, dice games and spinning wheels it's a good idea to find out how each game works before you play. Otherwise, you may find yourself losing more money than you imagined.

Each game has a "house margin" which is the overall percentage of money bet that is kept by the casino or house. Skilled players may be able to reduce the house margin slightly to be in their favour in games of skill, but in games of chance, the margin always remains the same.

Skill-based games are never an assurance of winning and the odds are always in favour of the house.

BLACKJACK is a card game of chance and skill where players may improve their chance of winning by using a better strategy. After receiving two cards from the dealer, the player can choose to be dealt more cards so as to have a total score closer to 21 than the dealer's total – without going over 21. Face (picture) cards count as 10, aces count as 1 or 11 and the cards 1 to 10 count as their face value. The house margin for Blackjack is generally less than 1% for skilled players.

CARIBBEAN STUD POKER is a game of chance and skill where an initial "ante" or "stake" is bet and players receive five cards face down. The dealer receives four cards face down and one face up. If a player thinks they can beat the dealer's hand they must double their original bet. If they don't think they can beat the hand, then they forfeit their original bet. The best poker hand between the player and the dealer wins. Jackpot bets are also available, but even with an allowance for the jackpot, the house margin is around 5.5 percent.

BACCARAT is a game of chance in which cards of 10 and below count as their face value, aces count as 1, and 10s and "face cards", such as Queens and Kings count for 0. Two cards are dealt to each of the players and the banker with an optional third. The total of the hand's value works by dropping the first digit (a hand totalling 15 would be counted as 5) the aim being to get a hand value closest to 9. Bets can be placed on the player's or the banker's hand, or on the hands being tied. The house margin for Baccarat is around 1.2 percent.

SIC BO is a dice game of chance in which three dice are rolled and players try to predict possible outcomes and totals of the dice rolls. Players can bet on the dice rolls amounting to particular totals, combinations of two dice, single numbers being rolled through to specific triple rolls. There are no betting strategies to reduce the margins of Sic Bo. Depending on the bet placed, the house margin remains between 2.8 and 16.2 percent.

ROULETTE is a game of chance. In Australia, roulette wheels have 37 numbers on them: 18 red, 18 black and one zero. Double Zero Roulette has an additional zero to make 38 numbers. The wheel is spun and a small ball is sent spinning in the opposite direction. Bets can be placed on the ball landing on specific numbers or colours (red or black), on odd/even outcomes or on "low" or "high" numbers. The house margin is 2.7 percent for roulette and 5.26 percent for Double Zero Roulette.

BIG WHEEL is a game of chance in which a wheel is divided into 52 compartments, each one showing one of seven different symbols. Players simply bet on a symbol and win if the wheel lands on that symbol. The house margin for Big Wheel remains consistently at 7.7 percent.

* Sourced via Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation and Gamble Aware, June 2013.


Your chance of winning a lottery game varies depending on the game you're playing and the amount of games (or lines) on the ticket you have purchased. What are the chances of winning a division one prize based on a one-game entry? Check out your odds:

    Played Saturday, Monday & Wednesday
    1: 8,145,060
    Played Tuesday
    1: 45,379,620
    Played Thursday
    1: 76,767,600
  • KENO
    Spot 10
    1: 8,911,711
    Spot 9
    1: 1,380,687
    Spot 8
    1: 230,115
    1: 1,000,000
    1: 500,000
    $3 Crossword
    1: 1,000,000
    $3 Other
    1: 500,000
    $5 Jumbo Crossword
    1: 500,000
    $5 Other
    1: 400,000
    1: 450,000
  • SUPER 66
    Played Saturday
    1: 1,000,000
    Played Saturday
    1: 2,760,681

* Sourced via SA Lotteries, June 2013

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