Separating the good gambles from the sucker bets
by Frank Scoblete
This article began innocently enough. My editor emailed me and asked me to write a story for Casino Player magazine. The topic: the 10 best and worst bets to be found in casinos.
This should be a snap, I thought. I can write this in my sleep. I immediately thought of the worst game, keno, where the house edge is about 25 percent—which means you lose about 25 cents for every dollar you bet at the game. Surely that would be at the top of the list for the worst bets you can make in a casino.
So I started writing, but then it dawned on me that something was amiss. In keno, playing every game, maybe four games an hour at some casinos, betting one dollar, you lose about a dollar per hour. Now if we take a good bet like mini-baccarat’s “bank” bet (which has a 1.06 percent house edge) and you bet $10 per decision, and play 150 decisions (which is not unheard of), then you’d lose a whopping $15.90.
So which is the worse bet? In terms of the house edge, it’s keno. But speed-wise, mini-baccarat is worse. Then I realized there’s another consideration. Some games are just not found in a lot of casinos. Some of the worst bets in all of casino history are at Sic Bo—where the house edge can soar into the 40 percent range. Should I count these bets among the worst, even if you might never see a Sic Bo game in your life?
And what about video poker, where there are so many different variations that the entire article could be about bad video poker games?
To keep things simple, in this article I will use the house edge as the primary criteria of judgment—but I will factor in the speed of the games as well, to give you a more complete picture. And I will limit my list to games that are found in almost all casinos. There are even worse bets out there, but they’re games that haven’t made it to most casinos (thankfully).
As for video poker, I’m not going to mention it among the “best bets,” even though some video poker machines can be positive expectation games if played properly, and others have house edges of between one-half and one percent or so. I’m limiting this list to table games. Finding and playing the right video poker machines is another story unto itself.
Finally, I’m not going to bother mentioning the various “side bets” you’ll occasionally see at the tables. These bets come in many different forms, and they’re almost always—by definition—a bad idea. Simply avoid them.
With that said, here we go—the worst first.
The 10 Worst Bets
Yes, this is probably the worst bet you will find in most casinos. The average house edge hovers around 25 percent, which is better than state lotteries, but that’s not saying much. Still, the pace of the game is slow and if you only make one bet per game you won’t lose much money.
- Any Seven (Craps)
This is a one-roll bet that the next number rolled will be a seven. The house edge is a monstrous 16.67 percent. If you make this bet on every roll, even if you only wager a measly dollar, you can lose about $20 per hour!
- Progressive Slot Machines
Yes, those gigantic multimillion-dollar jackpots sure are tempting, but progressive games are the very worst machines in the casino—no matter what the denomination is. The house edge ranges from 12 to 17 percent. This means you lose between $12 and $17 for every $100 you wager in the long run. Making the situation even more brutal is the fact that people tend to play these games very fast. How much can a $1 slot player lose on an inter-casino linked progressive? Almost $400 per hour. Yikes!
- Tie Bet at Baccarat
This bet comes with a house edge of around 14 percent. With traditional baccarat, played in the high roller rooms, the game is relatively slow; at mini-baccarat, however, the speed of the game is very fast. This bet is bad in both games.
- 2 & 12 (Craps)
Snake eyes (2) and boxcars (12) have house edges of 13.89 percent. These are one-roll bets for the unwary and unwise craps player.
- Whirl or World (Craps)
This is a multiple number (2, 3, 7, 11, 12), one-roll bet that has a house edge of 13.33 percent. Steer clear of this one.
- The Horn (Craps)
Another multiple number (2, 3, 11, 12) one-roll bet that comes in with a house edge of 12.5 percent. There is a saying, “See a horn, bet a horn.” The real saying should be, “You’d have to be an idiot to bet the horn.”
- 3 & 11; Hard 4 & Hard 10; Any Craps (Craps)
Ironically, the 11 has an 11.11 percent house edge, as do the rest of these bets. These bets should hold no interest for you, since making them on each and every roll will cost you $11.11 per $100 wagered.
- 5-Cent Slot Machines
The low denomination, non-progressive slot machines also have high house edges—around 10 to 12 percent—and most people play them fast, causing their losses to add up quickly.
- Hard 6 & Hard 8 (Craps)
At this point we’ve left the double-digit house edges behind us, but these two bets are still pretty bad with a house edge of 9.09 percent. They are not active on every roll, which helps a little.
The10 Best Bets
- The Pass, Don’t Pass, Come, Don’t Come with Odds (Craps)
Some casinos in America are still offering craps games with 100X, 20X, 10X and 5X odds. Here, the house edge is a small fraction of a percent on these games if you utilize the odds bets. Without odds, the house edge on the above bets is about 1.4 percent—still very good. Also, not every roll impacts you, so that’s a good thing too. Most players will be on about 50 percent of the decisions betting this way.
- Blackjack Basic Strategy
If you are playing a traditional blackjack game with the house paying 3 to 2 for blackjacks, with the dealer standing on soft 17, and with the right to double on any first two cards, split and double after splits, the casino will have about a half percent house edge. That means you lose about 50 cents for every $100 wagered—a very good bet indeed. Blackjack is a moderately fast game, but with such a low house edge you still have a very good shot at winning some money on any given session.
- Blackjack Pays 6 to 5 for Natural (Basic Strategy)
This new game is three times worse than traditional blackjack, as it pays only $12 to $10 for a blackjack as opposed to $15 to $10. Usually these games also have the dealers hitting their soft 17s. The house edge on these games is around 1.5 percent, depending on the casino’s rules.
- The Bank Bet at Baccarat
The house edge at this bet is 1.06 percent. Remember that traditional, high-roller room baccarat, where the players deal the cards, is a slow game. Mini-baccarat is a fast game.
- The Player Bet at Baccarat
The house edge on this bet is a mere 1.24 percent. See #4.
- Place the 6 or 8 (Craps)
This bet must be made in multiples of $6. It pays $7 on a win since the house has a 6 to 5 edge on the bet. The house edge is 1.52 percent and the bet is active on 11 of 36 decisions, which means most of the time you will not have your money acted upon.
- Spanish 21 (Basic Strategy)
In this variation of blackjack, the 10-spot cards are removed, but there are all sorts of special awards for premium hands built into the rules. With the proper basic strategy, the house edge is around 1.8 percent, give or take, depending on rules of the casino.
- Three Card Poker
There are two games in one here. The main game of ante and wager has about a 2 percent house edge. The secondary game, called Pair Plus, has about a 2.3 percent house edge. The game is relatively fast, so you might want to sit out some hands every so often.
- Lay the 4 & 10 (Craps)
Here, you are betting that the 7 will appear before the 4 or 10. The house edge is 2.44 percent.
- Caribbean Stud & Pai Gow Poker
Two of the first “carnival” card games are still going strong in casinos. The house edge is about 2.5 percent if you play your hands properly. These are relatively slow games.
So there you have it—the worst bets and the best bets you’ll encounter during your next trip to the casino. Good luck, and play smart. ´