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For the 12-month period from Nov 1, 2011 to Oct 31, 2012 the Nevada casinos only reported a 3.24% win in bingo, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. I don't know how this win percentage is calculated. Many casinos allow players to use points to pay for cards, and this figure may not count cards purchased with points as revenue. The manager of one Las Vegas bingo room told me his hold percentage was about 11%.
Even with an overall 11% house advantage, it is still possible for the player to realize a theoretical advantage in bingo, by using good judgement about what kind of cards to buy, when to buy them, and where to play. Once the game starts it is just a matter of luck, but the player can do a lot to improve his odds by scouting out the locations with the least competition, buying the most cost efficient cards, and avoiding the many sucker bets. Here are some general tips to get you started.
- Buy the right type of card. There is no simple answer to what is the right card. It will depend where you play and the session. For most sessions I find the large rainbow packages offer the best value. However, in sessions where there is a big coverall jackpot, that does not reward for the premium cards, then the cheapest type of card offers the best return.
- Take advantage of quantity discounts. There are lots of packages the player can buy of multiple cards, offering an economy of scale. This is cheaper than buying packs of cards individually. I would avoid the "rainbow" packages and instead focus on large quantities of the lowest level card. For example, at the Coast casino if you buy four blue packs you get 2 free. At the Station casinos I like the "number 8", which is $77 worth of mostly level 1 cards, for $53.
- Keep an eye on the field. Prizes in bingo are fixed. Your odds are inversely proportional to the number of competing cards in the room. Of course you won't know exactly how many cards you are up against, but the more you play the better you will be at estimating the competition. Here are some ways to estimate the number the competing cards in the room.
- Note how many people are in the room.
- Listen to what other people are buying, while waiting in line.
- Glance at other player's receipts for the number of packs purchased.
- Keep records of how much you spend and how much you win at each session, day, and property.
- At least make mental notes of how close you get when you don't win. In particular how often you are cased (just one ball away from winning).
- Listen for the case alert on other players' machines. When playing an electronic unit a beeping sound is made when the player becomes cased. If you hear a lot of beeping while you're a long ways from winning, then it is likely there is a lot of competition.
- Use my bingo calculator to estimate the number of cards in play.
- Play When the Cash Ball Jackpot is Low. The greater the Cash Ball jackpot the more competition you will face. In my opinion you get a better value playing when the Cash Ball Jackpot is low. When the jackpot is low, don't validate. However, if you must play anyway when the jackpot is large, you should validate.
- Avoid Side Bets. This is in my Ten Commandments of Gambling. When I wrote it I was thinking only of table games, but it applies to bingo as well. The only exception I can think of is the Big 3 at Station casinos. Like any progressive game it is possible the odds can swing in the player's favor if the jackpot gets large enough. However you're much better off to never play it than always play it.
If you want to do a careful analysis of your odds in bingo, then you have to know roughly how many cards you are playing against. My new and improved bingo calculator will estimate the number of cards in play for 67 different patterns according to the distribution of balls called (by letter) and the number of players who won.
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- Bingo Pattern Probabilities — Lots of statistics on 56 different bingo patterns. (PDF -- 517K)
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- European Bingo — Bingo game by Rival software.
- 30 Ball Bingo — Bingo game by Rival software.
- American Bingo — Bingo game by Rival software.
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- German translation of this bingo page.
- Game patterns (PDF). Lots of possible patterns and basic statistics for each one.