Invariably when I get into a discussion with someone about the gaming industry, whether it is someone in the industry or not, the game of War comes up. To be more accurate the name of the game you see in the casino is Casino War. It really isn't much different than the game you used to play as a kid. You get one card, Dealer gets one card. High Card wins. If you tie, you go to war. In the casino version it ends at one war in order to keep the speed up and as a means of creating a house edge. You play for money instead of trying to win the whole deck, which in this case is usually a shoe of 6 or 8 decks of cards.
Everyone laughs at Casino War. No one can believe that people actually play it. Of course the laughing stops when I tell them that I think there are somewhere around 100 tables in casinos. I have no idea what the lease fee is on one, but if we assume on the low end at about $500 per table, this would generate $50,000 per month and $600,000 per year for the owner (which happens to be Scientific Games' Shuffle Master division). Still laughing?
Oh, you mean you were laughing not at the owner of Casino War, but at the people who actually sit down and play it? Well, that's a bit more subjective. I have to admit that I've never played Casino War nor have I had much desire to do so. Then again, I'm not a huge soccer fan and it's one of the most popular sports on the planet. Maybe Casino War is more fun to play then it is to watch. Or maybe, like most successful games, there are a group of people who love it and a group who doesn't.
Despite the simplicity of the game, I can't say that Players of Casino War are making a bad choice from a math perspective. Casino War is one of the lowest volatility games in the casino and has a very competitive payback. You should be able to play for a very long time on a modest bankroll. Let's take a closer look.
To begin play, you make a wager. You get one card and the Dealer gets one card. High Card wins. If the Player wins here, he gets even money on his wager. If he loses, he loses his wager. This will happen about 92.6% of the time. The other 7.4% of the time, a 'War' will occur as the two cards will tie. In this case, the Player must make another wager (or Surrender, which he should never do). Cards are burned and again one card is given to the Player and the Dealer. If the Player wins the war, he is paid for his original wager, but his War wager pushes. If the Dealer wins the war, the Player loses both his wagers. If a war occurs again, the Player is paid even money on both of his wagers and the game ends. A Double War will occur just over 0.5% of the time or about 1 in 180+ hands.
When you add all this up, you come up with a game with a 97.8% payback and absolutely no strategy. Well, technically, you have to remember not to Surrender, but I'm going to assume everyone can learn that quickly. The average wager is just 1.074 units so the loss rate will be minimal. A $5 player playing 40 hands per hour is going to lose about $5 an hour. So you can have four hours of entertainment for $20 so long as you consider playing Casino War to be entertainment.
Given that Casino War is one of the more successful games in the casino (not many have made it to 100) there is obviously a following for the game. Further, as I've covered over the past two weeks, the students over at UNLV have been working on a Casino War variant. This is also not the first time that I've seen attempts at it. If we have Four Card Poker, Three Card Poker, countless games based on five card poker and seven card poker, why not One Card Poker, which is what Casino War essentially is. One this is for sure, it is a non-intimidating and very easy to learn table game that has been quite a success. Certainly, nothing to laugh at.