Is the 3 Card Bonus Bet Worth It?
A few years ago, while doing an interview with a senior-level casino executive at one of the largest gaming organizations in the U.S., he went “off record” with a startling moment of candor. He said that Let It Ride had been having trouble attracting business at his casinos. He didn’t know why. But according to this executive, “They put the 3 Card Bonus [side bet] on it, and now it’s popular again.” He said Let It Ride “got new life”.
He didn’t know why the side bet helped, but in reality, it’s simple math. 3 Card Bonus is one of the few recommended side bets because it actually makes Let It Ride more playable. Here’s why.
Too Much Volatility
Let It Ride is a fun game with a relatively low house edge, typically about 3.5% depending on the pay table. That’s good compared to some other casino games, but the base contest contains a tricky psychological hurdle that sometimes takes a while to reveal itself. The game has high volatility. Players sometimes lose a lot before they win a lot.
The goal in the base contest of Let It Ride is to make a five-card poker hand with a pair of tens or better. Unfortunately, only about 24% of hands end with a win. That means the dealer takes your money 3 out of 4 times. It’s a drag to lose so frequently. And it tends to bust players with smaller bankrolls.
When Let It Ride was first introduced back in 1993, the novelty of the contest including the unusual option to withdraw bets, and the occasional big payouts, overcame this aesthetic disadvantage. Let It Ride was very popular. But games with lower volatility, such as Three Card Poker, eventually attracted more action.
Since Shuffle Master (now part of Scientific Games) owns Let It Ride and also owns Three Card Poker, they simply borrowed a bet from the latter game and grafted it onto the former. The bet is called Pair Plus in Three Card Poker, and it was renamed 3 Card Bonus for Let It Ride. Wager it on the side and…Voila! Lower volatility!
Smoothing the Big Bumps
3 Card Bonus pays for a pair or better in the first three cards. That happens only about 1 in 4 hands, but it often happens for cards that would otherwise lose the base game. Combinations such as a pair of 9s, or a very pretty three-card flush (which is fairly common) usually turn out to be worthless in regular Let It Ride. But they’re a nice payday when you bet 3 Card Bonus.
In the base game, only about 7% of hands are clear winners after seeing the first three cards. The side bet boosts that to about 25% of starting hands that will either win or deliver a net push when all 5 cards are out. A push vs. a win depends on the size of your side bet in relation to your base bets.
Then an additional 1 in 6 hands (about 17%) go on to win something else in the base game. Total win frequency increases to a respectable 42% (including hands with a net push), and the game becomes more playable.
When you wager 3 Card Bonus in some casinos, the house edge on the extra action is a reasonable 2.1%. Unfortunately, other casinos jigger their pay tables and boost the edge to 5% or even 7%. You should try to play games that pay 6 for a straight and 4 for a flush. Dropping the flush to 3 takes a huge bite.
Table 1: 3 Card Bonus Pay Table
|3 Card Bonus||Payout ver. 1||Payout ver. 2||Payout ver. 3||Payout ver. 4||Percent Probability|
|Three of a Kind||30:1||30:1||30:1||30:1||0.24%|
|Less than a pair||Lose||Lose||Lose||Lose||74.4%|
So what happens if your local casino has a pay table for 3 Card Bonus with an edge over 7%? This is a situation where optimal strategies tell us to avoid the side bet and tolerate the higher volatility of the base game so we can get a lower edge of 3.5%, but aesthetic senses say the game will be more pleasurable (and may require a smaller bankroll) if we bet on the side. The combined edge on both bets is about 5% when you play the least-favorable pay tables.
Keep in mind that a smaller bankroll is possible only when you don’t bet more overall, but instead you shift action from the base bets to the side bet. A higher edge means you lose more over time, but lower volatility will make the downward swings less severe. Luck will have an easier time squeezing through, giving you more chances to earn a modest profit.
By the way, whatever you do, don’t bet $1 on the 5 Card Bonus side bet. That’s for suckers. It has an edge that begins at 13% and stretches up to the stratosphere, depending on the pay table. Remember that most side bets are bad bets. Generally, you should avoid them, but 3 Card Bonus is an unusual exception.