Poker is unique among casino table games. Although the casino supplies the room, the dealer, and the basic equipment from cards to chips, it has no vested interest in the outcome of the hands that are played. That is because the players compete against one another, not against the House. So unlike Blackjack, Baccarat, Craps, or Roulette, Poker offers the casino no House edge, which means no advantage over the players from which to derive income.
Instead, a casino’s revenues from Poker are almost entirely dependent on a convention called the “rake.” In the simplest sense, this is a commission charged on each pot that is played for. Apart from charging tournament entry fees, the rake is the only way a casino Poker Room can earn the income it needs to pay for labour and overheads plus a small profit.
But there is another reason the rake is important to players. For those casinos, online or off, which have a loyalty program based upon “points,” the rake is the determining factor for how many points are received. The bigger the rake, the more points are awarded, and the more points accumulated, the more rewards are earned.
Calculating the Rake
It would easy to calculate the rake if it were simple a flat fee, such as £1 per hand, or a fixed commission like 5% of the amount in the final pot. Unfortunately, casinos use much more complicated systems of determining the proper amount for the dealer to withdraw.
In most ring games (cash games), the House takes a fixed percentage of each pot within certain limits. There is a maximum set so that big pots are not discouraged. Quite often, the minimum is set according to the size of the blinds, the table stakes, and/or the number of active participants.
For example, in a 5p/10p game No Limit game, the rake might be 1p for every 20p in the pot at the conclusion of the hand, with a maximum rake of £1.50. On a Fixed Limit £2/£4 game, the rake might be 25p for every £5 in the pot, up to a maximum of £3. This is complicated by how many players are at the table. The maximum rake may be lower for tables with fewer than 5 players or higher for those with full seating of 10.
Fortunately, every Poker Room must maintain a list of charges called the “Rake Structure.” Players are well advised to take a look at it before joining a table. Nowadays, many Poker Rooms operate under a “No Flop - No Drop” policy. That means that no rake is taken from hands that do not reach the flop.
For tournaments, the system is different. The rake is usually built into the entry fee, and it is commonly 10%. The remaining 90% goes toward the prize pool.
Applying the Rake
Two of the most common ways of applying the rake are the “dealt method” and the “contributed method.” Which one is used does not affect the amount of rake taken, but it can have an impact on loyalty points awarded for play.
Under the dealt method, credit for the total rake is divided between the players that were dealt into the hand. This may seem a bit unfair, because players who drop out pre-flop get the same credit for the hand as those who compete in the final showdown. In effect, players are rewarded for the number of hands they “see” not the number they actually play.
Under the contributed method, credit is based upon how much of the total rake was added by each player. This is a more equitable system, because it more fairly credits players who put more money in the pot. This method also encourages tight aggressive play, because the less one plays, the less one pays.
Those who wish to avoid paying out much of their winnings as rakes are well advised to choose tables with the highest limit for a given rake structure, such as £2/£4 instead of £1/£2 if the maximum rake is £3 at both. Tables offering the highest ratio between bet size and rake will minimise the impact that the rake has on player winnings.