We know that it’s stating the obvious, but casinos are businesses that need to make money—when players lose games, the casino makes money. But have you ever wondered how casinos make money when players try to beat each other? Poker is one of the best examples of these games, and a rake is a system they use to monetize it.
Rake in poker is the amount of money that casinos take from the player who wins the pot in each game. It’s called pot rake, the typical rake structure you’ll see in casinos. However, some casinos use other rake structures to make money, such as timed collection, dead drop, and fixed fee.
Poker is unlike other games where the casino plays against you, making it one of the most complicated ways to make money. We’ll discuss everything about rake in great detail and help you understand the different types of rake you’ll have to pay when playing at a casino.
Poker in Casinos Explained
One of the metrics that players use when ranking casinos is their cardroom. Generally, the better it looks, the better service you can get, and the more prestige you can expect. However, unlike most card games, poker doesn’t have a straightforward way for casinos to make money because players are playing against each other.
Unlike blackjack and baccarat, where the players are trying to beat the house, poker players’ goal is to take their opponents’ chips. When a player loses in blackjack or baccarat, the casino makes money. But when someone loses in poker, another player makes money, not the house.
On top of poker’s unique gameplay, a casino also needs to invest more for their poker rooms to provide the best experience for their players. They need more chairs, more chips, a dedicated shuffler, and the best dealer to ensure every game’s smooth flow. If you’re playing in an online casino, they need to make money to fund their operation and keep their system safe and secure from fraudulent transactions.
How Casinos Make Money in Most Games
Almost every game in a casino has a house edge. It refers to the amount of money that the casino expects to make over a long period. Simply put, when you’re playing a game that has a 1% house edge, the casino expects to make $1 for every $100 worth of bets in that game.
It’s not easy to spot the house edge if you don’t calculate your odds to win. Some players beat the house by winning far more than what they should. On the other hand, some players lose more than just a dollar for every $100. However, if you’ll look at the results and take the average, the casino gets close to their expected profit.
Using a house edge in poker is impossible because players are playing against each other. The casino can’t have a house edge if they’re not part of the game. That’s why in the early days, having a poker room was more of an afterthought than something that casinos would invest millions just to improve.
How Casinos Make Money in Poker
Rake is a method that casinos created to ensure that poker will be profitable for them.
The simplest form of rake that we usually see in casinos is the “pot rake”—a percentage that casinos take whenever someone wins the pot. It’s the fee that the player pays for using the premises of the casino to play poker.
This method of making money through poker is highly profitable; that’s why many casinos make more money in poker than other card games. Since they make money whenever someone wins, they have more reason to promote their poker room to be sure that more players win at their tables.
Different Types of Rake In Poker
Pot rake is only one of the types of rakes that casinos use to make money in poker, and it’s only ideal for long cash games. There are game formats that require less time for players, which means there’ll be more winners, making it less favorable for players. Today, different casinos use different rake structures, while others use a combination to provide their players with the best option to play poker.
Here are the most common types of rake that casinos will charge you whenever you use their poker room:
As mentioned, pot rake is the most common rake structure that you’ll find in casinos. It usually costs anywhere from 2.5% to 10% of the pot. Most cardrooms take this percentage until it reaches a certain amount or a cap. You’ll see this structure when casinos post a 5% rake capped at $5, which creates a limit for the amount you have to pay, ultimately affecting the way you play games.
However, some tables charge the same percentage regardless of the pot the player won. For example, casinos may take 5%, whether the pot is $10 or $1,000. Although it’s not common, you should look out for these casinos because these are the ones where it’ll be harder for you to grind and build your bankroll.
Although most casinos collect pot rakes whenever someone wins, whether in preflop or post-flop, some offer no rake if the game didn’t reach the flop. It’s what we call “no flop no drop.”
This is where you should aim to steal more blinds. When playing in a no flop no drop table, it’ll be easier to build your bankroll if you’re playing aggressively preflop.
A fixed fee is another rake structure that casinos use when hosting high stakes games. Instead of taking a percentage from every pot, which can be substantial when playing against deep-pocketed players, the casino will collect a predetermined amount every time someone wins.
It’s a bit similar to pot rake except for the percentage. Some casinos also offer no flop no drop for fixed fee tables, making it even more rewarding to steal or re-steal the blinds. Remember, stealing the blinds is one of the keys to offset your losses, and it’ll be even better if you’re not paying rake every time you succeed in stealing them.
Although fixed fees are more manageable than pot rakes, it doesn’t mean that it’s a better option for every game format. There are only a handful of games where this structure is applicable, and in many cases, pot rake will make it easier for you to adjust your games. However, if you’re planning to participate in high-stakes tables, it would be best to look for a casino that offers this type of rake.
When you participate in tournaments, 100% of the entry fee goes to the prize pool. When you win games, the chips you earned don’t have any monetary value. Aside from that, casinos can’t use pot rake because there are multiple winners in every tournament. That’s why when players register at an event, they pay a certain fee to enter.
A typical fee for joining tournaments is usually at around 10% of the entry fee.
For example, if the entry fee is $100, players need to pay $10 as a tournament fee. However, some organizers adjust their tournament fee, depending on the entry fee. This structure is one of the many reasons professionals prefer MTTs over cash games, despite the longer time spent playing the game.
In its most straightforward calculation, winning $10,000 in a cash game would mean that you’ll pay anywhere from $250 to $1,000 in rake. We’re not even calculating the games where you lost some chips, which also adds up to the rake because you need to win it back to offset your losses. When you’re in a tournament, you can win $10,000 even if you only pay a $25 fee in a $250 event.
A dead drop is a less popular rake structure that casinos collect from players. Instead of collecting rake after the game, the player on the button pays a predetermined amount before the game starts. It’s relative to the blinds, and also rotates across the table to ensure parity between players.
In cash games, the player on the button is a unique position because he is always the last to bet, except on preflop. It gives him the chance to evaluate the table before committing to the game, minimizing his risks without putting too much equity. To balance this advantage, some casinos charge the player on the button for having that position.
If you’re playing at a table that uses dead drop as its form of rake, you need to be very careful with your plays and defend your position. This rake creates a third “blind” in the game, but instead of the chips serving as a bet, it’s a forced payment that he needs to make to join the table. Unlike the small and big blinds, the player on the button doesn’t have a “discount” whenever someone on the table raises or re-raises.
A timed collection is an even more complicated form of rake because it collects a fee from every player for a certain period that they are at the table. It’s not as common as other rake structures that we’ve discussed, but it has a significant impact on the strategies you should use. If a casino collects $25 per hour, you have to pay that amount even if you’ve already lost most of your chips.
When you’re playing with a timed collection rake, stealing blinds can help keep you offset the cost of being on the table, but you have to be more aggressive than you would on a regular table. That’s because aside from the forced bets you need to make, you also need to pay for sitting at the table. Folding 90% of your hands wouldn’t work for this rake structure because your chips will bleed out even if you’re not playing anything.
The key in timed collection rake is to apply aggression and risk calculation properly.
The timed collection is the least popular type of rake because it adds up to poker’s complexity, but some casinos, especially the smaller ones, use it to speed up the tables.
Some Online Casinos Offer No Rake Promo
Rake is the only way for casinos to make money in poker, but some online casinos take a different approach in charging their clients. If you’ve been looking at various sites, you’ll notice that some offer no rake promos for their tables. Most are offering it for a limited time, while others offer it indefinitely.
One of the reasons they can offer no rake to all of their players is to promote their poker tables or attract more people into their platform. The more players there are on their site, the easier it’ll be to get them to play at other games.
Since the maintenance for online poker is only a fraction of what off-site casinos need to maintain everything in their cardroom, it’s easier for them to waive the fees. It’s one of the main contributors to the success of online poker. Heavy grinders also prefer to play in these sites, so if you’re only starting to learn the fundamentals of poker, it would be best to stay away from those that offer no rake to all of their members.
Most of the online casinos also offer rakeback. This simply means that a casino would give you some of the money as a back to the players. usually more you play the bigger will the be the percentage that you get back. If you want to know more about rakeback, I have a detailed article for you.
How Rake Affects the Strategies You Use
Although rake is the norm whenever you play cash games, many players fail to realize that it has a significant impact on how they should play games. In fact, it is one of the most significant contributors that will determine whether you will be profitable with your game or not. If you want to increase your profits without increasing the number of games you’re playing, it would be best to learn how to take advantage of rake.
Strategy When Playing Pot Rake or Fixed Fees
When you’re playing at tables that use pot rake or fixed fees, you need to play tighter and focus on playing premium hands. 10% may seem too small for the amount you’re winning, but if you play more hands, it’ll be easier for you to lose more chips and more challenging to offset them whenever you win a game.
You’ll notice this strategy when watching professionals play poker. Most of them play tight and fold most of the hands they draw. If you play fewer games and only focus on premium hands that have the best chance to win, paying 10% of the rake won’t be a problem because there aren’t that many losses you need to overcome to be profitable.
Strategy When Playing Dead Drop
If you’re at a table that uses a dead drop, managing your chips will be much easier because the button rotates across the table. The only time that you have to adjust your strategies is when you’re in position. Remember, it’ll give you the best position throughout the game, but it’ll be more expensive to join the pot.
Be more aggressive when you’re at the button because you have to defend your position and make sure that you can get value from it. With a dead drop, the player on the button becomes a more valuable position because not only does it have the positional advantage, the player also pays for it. So, it would only make sense that they’ll defend it, even with marginally playable hands.
Strategy When Playing Timed Collection
In a timed collection, the strategy that you’ll use will be the opposite. The casino wants the game to be fast-paced, so you need to be a bit more aggressive in this table. Sometimes, even when playing with marginal ranges, a player might end up profitable because of the rake that each player needs to pay.
When you’re at a typical table with a pot rake or fixed fee, the higher the rake gets, the lower your EV (Expected Value) gets. Remember, the rake should be one of the factors that will determine your strategy. The higher it gets, the tighter you should play. It’ll save you a lot of chips and make you last longer at the table. Always wait for premium hands, and make sure you make the most out of it to overcome your losses.
The last thing you need to remember is that rake will always take a chunk out of all your earnings, so you need to consider it when placing your bets. It’ll always force you to play aggressively and extract value from the best hands to turn a profit and be a more effective grinder.
You should also consider how you play games when you’re looking for a casino. If you prefer to play live games, it would only make sense to pay 10% of the pot because of all the amenities and services you’re getting. However, if you’re planning to grind and build your bankroll online, it would be best if you can look for the ones that offer the lowest rake.
Rake is a way for casinos to make money in poker and provide their customers with better gaming experience. Different casinos use different types of rake, which can affect the strategies that you use. That’s why learning rake is crucial for players who want to be more competitive and make their games more profitable.
One thing you need to remember when you’re playing cash games is you can never escape rake. Although the percentage that casinos charge differs, it still affects your EV (Expected Value)—an important metric that you need to consider when sizing your bets and planning your strategies.