I see a lot of traffic based on the phrase “how much does the average person lose in a casino.”
I’m not sure exactly why people search for this phrase. Maybe they’re trying to create a budget for a casino trip or looking to compare their recent losses to a standard. Either way, I can come up with a few numbers that answer the question as well as it can be answered.
Here’s my best guess at how much people lose on casino trips, along with some analysis of the numbers.
A Fermi Estimate of Average Casino Losses
Enrico Fermi was a famous physicist and the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor. He was known among colleagues for his uncanny ability to approximate calculations with little or no actual data.
An example – he calculated the mass of all automobiles scrapped in the United States in March 1938 to within a few hundred kilograms with nothing but a few assumptions and a pencil and paper.
Let’s do a Fermi estimate to calculate average casino losses.
How many people go to a casino?
Let’s say there are 320 million people in America, and I’d guess that about 70% of them are of legal age to gamble. That’s 224 million Americans eligible to go into a casino.
But how many really make a visit?
Let’s say it’s 1 in 4. That gives us a figure of 56 million Americans visiting casinos each year.
Each year has 52 weeks. How often do those 56 million Americans gamble?
I’d guess it’s no more than a half dozen times and no fewer than four. Let’s settle on five for a nice round number.
We’ve got 56 million people visiting casinos 5 times a year each. How much are they spending each time they go?
If we say it’s $100 each visit, that gives us a total US casino revenue of $28 billion. That number seems soft, so let’s make it $125 per visit. That’s a total of $625 in losses for each gambling adult.
If that’s right, US casinos made revenues around $35 billion for 2021.
Actual US Casino Losses Per Person
How’d I do with my Fermi estimate?
I looked it up.
It turns out that my guess was close to correct, even though some of my calculations were off.
Total US casino revenue in 2021 was at an all-time high of $53 billion and change. That blows my Fermi estimate of $35 billion way out of the water.
It also indicates a big jump in revenue of more than 20% over 2020.
It turns out that around 33% of adults of legal gambling age visited a casino in 2021 – that’s around 83,725,000 people. It’s way more adults than I thought. This is the beginning of where my estimate went awry. I didn’t have enough people gambling in casinos to begin with.
Based on that number of guests, and the $53 billion in reported revenue, the average American who gambled in 2021 lost $633.02 to the casinos.
My Fermi estimate was off by just $8.02. If I’d guessed that a few more million adults visited casinos, I would’ve been even closer. It’s eerie how close a Fermi estimate can come, which is probably why Fermi Problems have a Wikipedia page devoted to them.
Based solely on revenue numbers and estimates of guest visits by various tourist bureaus, a typical American gambler lost $633.02 in casinos in 2021.
Interpreting Average US Casino Losses
That record revenue figure of $53 billion might be a fluke, or it might represent the future of the industry. As Americans gain new access to legal online betting and sportsbook action, are people going to be more or less likely to visit casinos? In 2021, as people emerged from a year of pandemic shutdowns and contingencies, the answer seems to have been “more.”
How big is that $53 billion figure?
Just ten years prior, in 2011, total casino revenue was around $37 billion. That year, the average gambler lost about $528 to casinos. The reasons people are losing more than $100 more per year in casinos have something to do with changing game odds and something to do with changing social relationships with gambling in general.
Remember, when you’re dealing in averages, you’re dealing in soft numbers.
Just as many people lost more than $633.02 as lost less. In fact, you’re less likely to find a person who lost exactly $633.02 than you are to find someone who lost more or less than that number. That’s just part of the weirdness of averages.
Another important point – it isn’t clear from the figures that are available exactly how many times the average person visited a casino. If someone lost $633.02 from a single casino visit, that’s a totally different context than a person who lost $633.02 over the course of 100 or 200 casino play sessions. That information would give some new insight into the average losses question.
Other Average Gambling Losses
I can come up with some other basic numbers related to gambling losses in America based on freely-available information.
For example, the median US household income in 2021 was $36,099.92. The average American spends $232.64 on lottery games each year. That means this made-up average American spends about 0.42% of his income on lottery games.
It’s also interesting to compare average casino losses ($633.02) to average lottery expenses ($232.64). This is probably due to the higher cost of a game in the casino compared to a lottery ticket. Most lottery ticket sales are firmly in the “under $5” category. Few people spend just $5 in the casino.
Information from various polls tells us that about 12% of Americans placed a legal bet on sports in 2021. That’s about half the number of Americans that played any kind of casino game. It’s a growing segment of the gambling population.
Sportsbooks reported revenues totaling $5 billion. Interestingly, average sportsbook losses per person are far smaller than casino gambling. The average American sports bettor lost about $142 in legal sportsbook bets in 2021. That’s only about 1/3 of casino gambling losses.
Are sports bettors that much better at gambling than casino players?
Not necessarily. Sportsbook margins are smaller than a typical casino game or slot machine. Vegas sportsbooks have a win rate of around 4% on most sports bets. Vegas casinos win against slots players at an average rate of 7.14%, nearly twice what sportsbooks earn.
Problem Gambling Statistics
Here’s a sobering statistic – a survey by the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling found that callers to a 24-hour gambling helpline lose an average of $21,500 a year. These losses come mostly from slots, casino, and lottery games, in that order.
These callers are people who, on average, earn less than $35,000 a year. That means they’re gambling about 62% of their total income. Even worse, about 1 in 5 of these callers are totally unemployed. Most admit to having a problem with more than one form of gambling. Most say their gambling has affected their personal relationships and work habits.
Clearly, betting with well over half your total income is irresponsible, and nobody should be putting their personal finances at risk to that degree. Gambling is a form of entertainment that offers a small chance of reward. The majority of games of chance favor the host over time.
Responsible gambling involves creating a budget and sticking to it. That budget is composed of entirely expendable money. That means if you lose the entire stack, you can still pay your bills and keep food on the table.
Conclusion: How Much Does the Average Person Lose in a Casino?
Averages are soft numbers. Your real-world results may vary.
It’s clear that the average casino guests loses hundreds of dollars to the house. Exactly how many hundreds is still up for debate, mainly because of missing information in the calculations.
Losing at the casino isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s expected. All casino games, with the exception of a few versions of video poker and blackjack when counting cards, are designed to take all of your money.
When casino spending goes beyond what you can afford, it becomes a problem.
If you’re concerned about your casino losses, it may be time to take a break and reevaluate your budget. There’s no reason to spend more than you can afford to lose. If it helps, gamble with a partner that can help you stay accountable to your bankroll.