Whether it be the challenge of blackjack, the solitary of video poker and slots, or the allure of the roulette wheel (no matter how many zeroes are added), we all have that one game we can’t seem to pull ourselves away from.
And if there’s one common thread among these games, it’s this: They all offer a dizzying array of betting options. Horn bets, Envy bonuses, Lucky Ladies — if there’s a way to suck in the player, the casino has probably already envisioned it.
Some of these betting options are fantastic for the player, offering a house edge that’s next to nil. Others will leave you mumbling to yourself on the car ride home, bemoaning your horrible luck.
The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to give up your game of choice to generate more EV. Just switch up the bets.
At first glance, you’d hardly think that Craps was a game where skill is a non-factor. The felt looks more difficult to navigate than MetLife Stadium after a few beers.
Yet, the only knowledge you really require is what the bets are, and what pays what. The quick and dirty rule is that everything in the middle, the so-called proposition bets, have extremely high house edges compared to the bets on either side.
Prop bets include hard ways, horn bets (a bet on 2,3,11,12), any seven, any craps, and others. If you’re making these wagers, you’re giving up between roughly 11 – 17% to the house.
Alternatively, for Pass/Come bets, where you only wager on the outcome of the current point, the house edge dips to a mere 1.36%. Players can also “back up” there pass line bets, with most casinos offering 3x/4x/5x odds, and a select few going as high as 100x. These wagers offer true odds (meaning there’s no house edge) and drop the overall house edge to 0.4% on 3x/4x/5x odds, down to 0.02% if you’re lucky enough to find a 100x table.
Do you want to give the house 40 cents or 17 bucks per $100 wagered? It seems like an easy choice, yet players get suckered by the proposition bets because they’re fun and volatile. And fair enough, only placing Pass Line bets is about as fun as watching other people drink. So if you have to have more action, considering the following wagers:
- Field (if 12 pays 3:1): 2.78% house edge
- Place 6,8: 1.52%
- Place (to lose) 4,10: 3.03%
These bets aren’t terrific, but they’ll keep you engaged in every roll of the dice. And if you absolutely must bet those hard ways, keep the bets tiny, no more than 1/10th of your pass line wager.
Penny slots dominate the casino floor these days. They are most identifiable by their larger cabinets, overall gaudiness, and seizure-inducing animations. That and the bet sizes are based on multiples of a copper penny.
There’s no easy way to tell what the return on a penny slot is. What we do know, is that overall these slots return significantly less than those at higher denominations. Whereas penny slots return in the vicinity of 85-88%, a $1 denomination slot trends closer to 93-95%. $25 slots may return as much as 98%.
The exception here is online, where penny slots payout an average of 95-96% and players can often find the exact return-to-player in the game’s info tab.
As far as land-based casinos go, slot players will definitely want to avoid slots with skyscraper cabinets that are branded after movies, bands, or cartoon dogs…whatever. These slots are both costly to manufacture and require that royalties be paid back to the brand. That high cost is justified by a lower return.
Instead, trade up to nickel, quarter, and dollar slots. Now, I know what you might be thinking: Don’t higher denomination slots cost more per spin? You’d think, but that’s not always the case. Sure, on an hourly basis, you’ll lose less playing a Willy Wonka penny slot than a $50 Wheel of Fortune machine, but keep in mind that penny slots don’t actually cost $0.01 to play.
You’re paying 1 cent per line, and there can be 10, 25, or even 50 lines. In addition, multiplier bets of 2x, 5x, and even 10x are often allowed, and you may need to play a max bet for the progressives to unlock. So yea, penny slots can cost $5 or more a pop.
By contrast, a quarter machine with 9 lines costs $2.25 per spin. Now you’re both paying less per spin, and more importantly, losing less. If you’re a high multiplier penny slot player, it’s time to trade up.
Upping your Baccarat game is pretty straightforward, yet many are resistant to the idea. Ideally, players would just bet on the banker every time (assuming a 5% commission), for a house edge of 1.06%. Player bets aren’t much worse, coming in at a 1.24% advantage for the house.
Then there’s the Tie. Although the house advantage on a Tie isn’t written in plain sight, it’s pretty obvious that a bet that pays 8-to-1 on one outcome, when there are 10 possible outcomes, belongs in the toilet.
The Tie has a house edge of 14.36%, and while most players only throw a small percentage of their overall wagers on it, it adds up.
If you absolutely have to have more action, then consider the Dragon Bonus. This popular side bet pays out when one side crushes the other. For instance, if you bet the Banker side, and it wins with a non-natural 9 against a 0, it pays out 30-1. Here’s the twist, the house edge on the Dragon Bonus varies dramatically depending on which side you bet.
Bet the Banker and it’s a house edge of 9.37%. For the Player, only 2.65%. You already know which one we recommend.
On a side (bet)
You may be noticing a common thread by now. The more volatile and exciting the bet, the higher the house edge. That’s in part because casinos don’t like to expose themselves. They’re willing to offer a 1% house edge on a game they can’t get beat up too badly on, but if the max payout is a massive multiplier, not so much.
They’re also preying on unsuspecting and “action” gamblers with these bets, who don’t see the odds, only the lottery sized payouts. You’ve been warned.
The Big Wheel
No discussion on lousy casino bets is complete without a discussion of the Big Wheel, aka. Big Six, Money Wheel, Dream Catcher, Stuff Of Nightmares.
The Big Wheel is the most casual of casual casino games. Plunk down a few bucks on a number, and hope it comes up. Get paid in accordance with that number. So if you bet on $1 you get even-money, $5 then 5-1, and so forth.
Never play the Big Wheel. We don’t care how many times the Joker has come up this hour, or how drunk you can get on a $50 buy-in. There are better options.
That said, if you insist, know that the house edge on the different numbers varies more than you’d think. Once again, the edge is lowest on the most boring bet: The $1 is a relative bargain, returning 88.9 cents on the dollar. The worst bets, are (you guessed it), the numbers that are the hardest to hit: $20, and the two special logos, which pay 40-1.
The casino advantage on these wagers is a jaw-dropping 22.2-24.1%. Still think those free drinks are worth it?
This is one instance where we highly encourage players to pick a different poison. If you like spinning wheels so much, go over to roulette, where the house edge on low limit tables is 5.26% across the board — assuming you stick with Double Zero roulette. Even Triple Zero Roulette (7.69% edge) is miles better than the Big Wheel.
Note: It’s worth mentioning that under AC rules, the two logos pay 45-1 and have a much lower house edge of 14.8%. Still horrible, but not as….no, still horrible.
Double Double Bonus Poker
I’m only putting this one in because I’m a video poker snob. 9/6 Double Double Bonus returns 98.98%, which is fine.
But by making the switch to 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.54%) or Bonus Poker (99.17%), you’ll be saving a few bucks every session. Your swings won’t be as wild either, which for some players will be welcome, and for others a deterrent.
The real video poker no-no is playing an inferior paytable. Roughly every coin that a flush or full house pays is worth 1% in equity. So if you play 8/5 Double Double Bonus thinking that it’s not a big difference, you’re wrong. It triples the house edge.
Also, you wouldn’t believe how many players I see betting less than the maximum amount of coins. They’ll be playing one coin on a $5 machine when they could be playing max coins (five) on a $1. The payouts are exactly the same except that they’ll win 800-1 instead of 250-1 on royals. This one mistake is adding roughly 1.4% to the house edge.
Hell, you won’t even avoid the taxman, as a $1 denomination royal pays $4,000 at max coins, and a single coin $5 bet pays $1,250.