One of my favorite ways to learn about a new subject is to look at the various subdivisions of that subject. For example, I’m writing a blog about gambling, so that leads me to wonder what the different types of gambling games are. If I were writing a blog about literature, I might look at how literature experts categorize that subject.
I’ll start by offering a definition of “gambling”, and I’ll follow that with a definition of “game”:
My favorite online dictionary, Merriam Webster, says that the word “gamble” has 2 definitions:
- To play a game for money or property
- To bet on an uncertain outcome
I saw an interesting discussion in the Wikipedia article about poker that relates to this, in fact. A well-meaning editor had removed the phrase “gambling game” from the page’s lede, claiming that poker was a game of skill, not chance, and therefore it wasn’t a gambling game.
But according to the definition from Merriam Webster, poker qualifies for sure. After all, you’re playing a game for money. And the outcome of an individual hand in poker is uncertain, even when the odds are in your favor.
The legal definition of gambling might be another matter. USLegal.com has a page about the legal definition of gambling, and it’s also illuminating:
The legal definition agrees that risking money on an uncertain outcome is gambling, but it seems to make an exception for something that’s not under a person’s control or influence. This leads me to believe that a bet on a sporting contest that you’re involved in wouldn’t constitute gambling–at least not in a legal sense. Playing a game of billiards, darts, or golf (just to name 3 examples) for $20 with your drinking buddy wouldn’t count.
That site also specifies that buying securities or commodities doesn’t constitute gambling, even though the future price of those securities or commodities might be uncertain. In fact, anything that would qualify as a “bona fide business transaction” would be considered “not gambling.”
That seems to be a reasonably complete coverage of the definition of the word gambling, at least for this post’s purpose.
Now what’s a game?
Merriam-Webster’s definition of “game” is lengthier than its definition of “gambling.” The main definition is simple enough, though:
A game is any activity you’re participating in for purposes of fun or diversion. The concept of competition is mentioned in one of the other definitions, too.
In fact, “poker and other gambling games” is the 1st example of the word used in a sentence in that definition.
The Wikipedia defines a game as a “structured form of play.” The page goes on to list some key components of an activity that constitutes a game:
I think most of these components apply to almost any gambling activity you can think of.
What’s your goal playing a slot machine?
You try to get certain symbols lined up on a pay line.
Blackjack has specific rules about what values the playing cards have.
The challenge in any gambling game is to win more money than you lose.
And you’re interacting with someone or something every time you place a bet.
How Do You Categorize Gambling Games, Then?
I’m a simple man. I use simple strategies to find the information I want. To find categories of gambling games, I started with a Google search.
And one of the first pages I found included a great set of broad categories for gambling games:
- Pure chance games
- Mostly chance games
- Mostly skill games
1- Games of Pure Chance
2- Games of Mostly Chance
Craps is a game that’s mostly about chance. You need some skill at choosing the right bets, though. The odds change dramatically from the basics bets to the proposition bets. And some players believe in dice setting or dice control.
3- Games of Mostly Skill
Blackjack and poker are games of mostly skill. How you play your cards have a big role in determining your outcome. Card counters get an edge against the house. Skilled poker players also operate with a mathematical advantage.
But that’s not the only way to categorize gambling games.
The California Council of Problem Gambling lists the following types of gambling games:
- Casino card games
- Other card games
- Dice games
- Electronic games
- Sports betting
- Pitching quarters
- Lottery games
- Games of skill
- Cultural games
I disagree with some of their categorizations, but here are some insights into each category:
4- Casino Card Games
Casino card games include games like blackjack and Texas holdem. I wouldn’t include traditional poker as as casino-style game, though. Poker games played against other players are dramatically different from games played in the casino proper.
In a real poker game, you’re competing with the other players for money. In a casino card game, you’re competing with the house for money. If you lose a hand of blackjack, the casino wins your money. If you lose a hand of poker, the other player at the table wins your money.
The house does bank some poker games, though. Caribbean Stud, for example, is a game you play in a casino versus the dealer. The actions of the other players at the table have no effect on your outcome.
5- Other Card Games
The California Council on Problem Gambling’s page lists some of the following card games as examples of “other” card games:
I’d agree with their categorization, but I’d include all poker games played against other players in this category instead of the “casino card games” category.
6- Dice Games
Any gambling game using dice to determine outcomes qualifies. Craps is the obvious example. Sic Bo is another, less well-known example. You could even gamble on Yahtzee if you wanted to.
7- Electronic Games
The site lists the following games as examples:
- Online keno
- Internet poker
- Web-based slots
It seems as if the California problem gambling site considers any game played on the internet to be an “electronic gambling game,” and I get that. I’d probably include slot machines and video poker games played in brick and mortar casinos, though. That would also include the less common games, video blackjack and video roulette.
8- Sports Betting
This is where you bet on the outcome of a sporting event that you’re not participating in. Place a bet on a baseball or football game, and you’re a sports bettor.
Sports betting is one of the more legally suspect gambling activities on this list. The Wire Act is a federal law that prohibits the running of a sports betting operation over the phone. For purposes of the law, this includes placing bets over the internet.
But the law only applies to the party taking the action. Placing the bet isn’t a crime. Taking the bet is.
Companies (or individuals) who take sports bets as a business are called “sports books.” They’re also sometimes just called “books” or “bookies.”
You can bet on sports with multiple offshore companies, even if you live in the United States. The companies accepting those bets can get in a lot of trouble if they get caught. You’re pretty safe, legally, though.
Betting on sports can be one of the most profitable betting games for the skilled bettor.
9- Pitching Quarters
They don’t have to be quarters. In fact, the Wikipedia article calls it “pitching pennies.” The concept is the same, though:
You throw a coin at the wall. So do your competitors. The person whose coin lands closest to the wall wins the coins.
It’s an ancient game. I’ve never thought of it when I wrote about lists of gambling games before, though.
I doubt there’s a lot of action in the quarter pitching market segment anymore. I do remember seeing The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Danny Aiello’s character was pitching pennies in that movie.
10- Lottery Games
Lotteries have become ubiquitous in the United States. I think only 2 or 3 states have no lottery at the time of this writing.
Even when lotteries weren’t commonplace, private individuals ran lottery style games. These are the gangsters you hear about in the movies who are “running numbers.”
A number running game might work like this:
You pick 3 numbers between 0 and 9. The next day, the last 3 digits of the Dow Jones Industrial Average determine the winner. The individual running the numbers keeps a cut, of course.
But probably not as big a cut as the states who are running the lotteries keep. The mathematical expectation for these games is 50 cents on the dollar.
If you started with $1 million, bought a million lottery tickets with the money, and kept reinvesting your winnings, you’d go broke much faster than you think:
- $1 million
You’d go broke in 3 weeks.
My best advice about gambling?
Skip the lottery altogether–even the seemingly-harmless scratch-off tickets.
I don’t usually think of a raffle as a gambling game. But I guess it qualifies.
A raffle is when an organization wants to raise some money for some purpose. They offer some kind of prize, and they sell tickets for a drawing to win that prize.
Raffles resemble lotteries, but they’re privately held. Depending where you live, a raffle might be illegal.
Bingo resembles keno, lottery, and raffle games. The difference is the shape and makeup of the card. In the United States, a bingo card is a 5X5 grid. The word “BINGO” is printed across the top. The numbers are in the 25 squares.
Depending on the game, you win money based on getting a straight line or some other shape.
Bingo is the most socially accepted type of gambling in the world. Churches often host bingo games on a regular basis. People play bingo in elementary schools and nursing homes, although the prizes might not be cash.
But bingo isn’t legal in every jurisdiction, either.
13- Games of Skill
I discussed this category earlier. These are personal games of skill, like darts or billiards. I played in a weekly shuffleboard tournament at my local bar for 10 years. You paid $10 to play. You drew your partner at random.
The winners got the prize pool, and 2nd place got to play in the next week’s tournament free.
And if you don’t think shuffleboard is a game of skill, let me tell you this:
I didn’t win a tournament, no matter how strong a partner I had, for the 1st 9 years I participated.
14- Cultural Games
The California site mentions Native American stick games and Mahjong as examples. I know that in some Middle Eastern countries, it’s common to bet on kite fighting. Participants create kites with blades on them and try to take out their opponents’ kites.
This is an odd category. It seems like all gambling games are cultural games for someone.
These are just examples of the types of gambling games you might consider playing. I used 2 different websites’ opinions about how they should be categorized. But I had problems with both their categorization schemes.
I could create lists of games where your decisions matter versus games where your decisions don’t matter. I could also list games that use spinning wheels, like roulette or Wheel of Fortune. (Don’t confuse that 2nd one with the popular TV game show.)
I’ve done some work on a previous post that hopes to eventually be the most complete list of casino games on the internet. I’ll probably return to that post soon to update it. I doubt it will ever be finished, though. Gambling game creators are hard at work looking for new and exciting ways to separate you from your money all the time.