There are tons of fantastic gambling sites out there on the web, most of which are run by people with a far stronger statistical acumen than I. That said, I wanted to put together somewhat of a one-stop-shop for the very basics of casino table games. Think of this as a good place to send people that are learning the games or play them so casually that they just want to know how to put themselves in the best position to win without learning advanced techniques.
See those boxes over there on the right -----> Those are my short explanations for each game with some basic strategy as well as tips on game play and etiquette. Click one and it will open up this information. Close it and click others. You're smart, you probably already figured all this out. I'm going to shut up now because we have a new shooter coming out!
Flag down the waitress, grab yourself a watered down cocktail, and let's get right to it.
Gambling pics from the trenches
Welcome to the Gambling Module! Confession: I really just wanted an opportunity to use the word "Module." In this module you will find information on the most popular wagers in the casino, including table games, slot machines, sports and horse wagering, and poker. The information is not exhaustive, but for each game you'll learn (1) the basic rules, (2) the house edge, and (3) the best strategy to employ when playing that game to take advantage of the lowest house edge possible (unless you're counting or advantage-ing).
So click around! Maybe you'll find a game you were previously not willing to try because you didn't know the rules. And maybe you'll even win! But you probably won't. But that's ok because you'll have fun and you'll also hopefully consume several free drinks. And you'll know that you did not lose because you made a wrong move. Cheers!
"I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semi-circle." - Mitch Hedberg
Blackjack is a terrific table game with some great fast-paced action and table camaraderie. It's you vs. the house (the dealer). To beat the dealer you must first not bust (go over 21) and second either outscore the dealer or have the dealer bust. I will not go into the details about every single aspect of the game, but I do think it's important to touch on a few important tips.
(1) Choose the right table. Find a table with limits that are commiserate with your bankroll. If you only have $200 to spend, don't sit down at a $25 table. Try to find a $5 or $10 table. Also, look for tables that pay Blackjack at 3:2 (not 6:5). They're tough to find these days, but they are available. And they lower the house edge by almost half (assuming optimal strategy is played).
(2) Learn basic strategy (see below). Practice a bit before sitting down. Blackjack is a game with a very low house edge, but this is only the case when the player is making the "correct" moves. Playing on intuition is gambling, but playing with basic strategy...well, shit, it's also gambling. But smarter gambling.
(3) Avoid the carnival games. More and more, you can't find a basic game of 21 or Blackjack. It always has some carnival game attached to it such as 21+3 (3 card poker), Super 21, Blackjack Switch, etc. If you can help it, avoid side bets and other wagers. Those are available because they have a great house edge.
(4) Be respectful and have fun. Blackjack can be a fickle game. And those not playing the strategy you like may get on your nerves, especially if a poor play "changes" the game's outcome. Here's the thing. In the long run, other players at the table have no effect on your cards. Don't yell at some drunk 22 year old girl that she shouldn't hit 14 against a 4. It's not her fault she's dumb and hates her money. Or maybe it is. Regardless, relax and have a good time. If those people bug you, switch tables. Don't let one person alter your enjoyment of the game.
CLICK ME FOR A BASIC STRATEGY CALCULATOR (Wizard of Odds)
"They say life's a gamble, hit my joint and roll the dice. When you living this high, you can't be afraid of heights." - Wiz Khalifa
I must admit that Craps is my favorite casino game other than poker. I learned how to play on my parents' pool table, when my dad constructed the table using playing cards to represent the respective numbers and masking tape to rope off the various bets. It's one of the best games from a house edge perspective, and has by far the most table camaraderie of any game in the casino. When the table is hot, you can hear it from anywhere in the building.
Craps can appear to be a daunting game, but it's actually quite simple at its core. A "come out roll" establishes the "point" number. Let's call it a 6. A white "ON" button will be placed on the 6 ("SIX") on the table signifying that the "shooter" must hit that number before a seven in order to win. In the interim, there are several other bets which may be wagered that are also dependent on the outcome of the rolls.
In order to understand the basic strategies for Craps, it's important to go back to basic math. I was never all that into numbers, but I can dig some graphs. See below:
This table shows us all the ways a number can be thrown. You'll notice that 7 is the most common number, which is what the entire game is predicated on. Now let's talk about two basic strategies -- the Pass Line/Come and Place Bets. Let's say we are at a $5 table with 10x odds.
Pass Line: Look up at the craps table image above. You'll see a "Pass Line" going around the outside of the table. This is where all the action begins. Before the dice are handed to a new shooter, we'll put our first $5 bet down on this Pass Line. If the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 on the first roll, we win $5 (1:1). If he rolls 2, 3, or 12 (called "Craps" numbers), we lose our $5 and must replace it before the next roll. If he rolls a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, then we have established our "Point." For our purposes, let's say the point is 6. As mentioned above, the point of the game is to roll this "Point" number (6) again before rolling a 7. If a 7 is rolled before a 6, we lose. If a 6 is rolled before a 7, we win (1:1). Pretty easy, right?
Odds: So far, no big deal. But you might be thinking that this a stupid bet considering how big the house edge must be. Look how many combinations can roll a 7 vs. the other numbers! You're right. This is why we have the "Odds" bet, which is a bet that is tied to our Pass Line bet. Also, it's the best bet in the casino unless you're counting cards in Blackjack. Because the "Odds" bet is truly EVEN ODDS. You have no edge, the casino has no edge. This is why it's such an important part of Craps. It is also why most casinos limit the amount you can put down as an Odds bet. Let's break this down with another graphic:
The 4-10, 5-9, and 6-8 all have the same "odds" because they have the same number of ways to roll the number (as we saw above). As a result, we only need to memorize three sets of numbers -- the "True Odds" column on the far right for 4/10, 5/9, and 6/8. Let's get back to our game. Like we did above, we'll put $5 down on the Pass Line. The come out roll yields a 4. We'll place an odds bet of $10 directly behind our Pass Line bet. If we hit the 4 before the 7, we win $5 on the pass line (1:1) and $20 on our odds bet (2 to 1). Remember, the odds bet pays TRUE odds. That little 4 just earned us a total of $25 for our bet of $15 (Note: the same odds apply to a 10). New roll. This time a 5 is rolled. We still have our $5 bet on the Pass Line, but we'll back it up once more with a $10 odds bet. If the point of 5 is rolled before the 7, we win $5 on the Pass Line and $15 on our odds bet (3 to 2). We just earned $20 for a bet of $15 (Note: the same odds apply to a 9). Last, the point is 6. We put $10 odds behind the Pass Line bet. The point hits 6 and we're paid $5 for the pass line and $12 for our odds bet (6 to 5). Our bet of $15 earned us $17 (Note: the same odds apply to an 8). Here is what an odds bet might look like on the table:
Notice how the payouts decrease with the numbers closer to 7 because there are more combinations of those numbers. In other words, it's harder to hit a 4 or 10, so the payout should be more than hitting a 6 or 8.
Come Bets: Now that you have Pass Line and Odds bets mastered, let's look at Come Bets, which are very similar to what you already know. Think of a Come Bet as a second come out roll. In order to bet the Come bet, put a $5 bet in the area labeled "COME" right in front of you on the table. If a 7 or 11 is rolled, you win $5 on this bet. If a 2, 3, or 12 is rolled, you lose the $5 bet. Just like on the first come out roll on your pass line bet. But if a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 is rolled, that $5 COME bet will travel to the number and now you'll have a second number working for you. At that point, you can apply odds to the bet just like you did at the Pass Line.
Let's do an example. As we mentioned above, you have a pass line bet and the come out roll yielded an 8. You placed the come bet down and the second roll is 9. The $5 chip travels to the 9 (or "Comes" to the 9) and you now have an 8 and a 9 working for you, with the same rules applied (now you want to roll an 8 or 9 before 7 to get paid). Similar to the Pass Line bet, you can put your "True Odds" behind a Come Bet too. When the 9 is rolled, just lay down $10 in front of your dealer and say "Odds on the 9." He'll place the odds on the number, and if the 9 hits before the 7, you'll get paid just like you would if the 9 was your pass line bet. You can repeat this process and get as many numbers as you wish, but I prefer to have 3 numbers working for me (with odds) at one time. It limits my exposure, but also gives me an opportunity to win during a good roll.
Place Bets: Let's say you're not into all that math and garbage listed above. You just want to play some dice. You don't want to think. You just want to bet the numbers you like without having to roll the number twice to get paid. I get it. You may be a place bettor. Similar to the odds bets above, though, you'll need to know a tiny bit of math to understand place betting.
Let's say you want to bet the 6 and 8. In order to "Place" your bet, you need to put down an increment of $6. The reason being that "Place" betting the 6 and 8 has a payout of 7:6. So for every $6 you put out there, you'll win $7 every time a 6 or 8 hits. If you place the 5 or 9, then you can put increments of $5 out there because the payout is 7:5 ($7 for every $5 you bet). Last, if you place the 4 or 10, you can put increments of $5 out there because the payout is 9:5 ($9 for every $5 you bet). Just remember that if you're placing the 6 or 8 (or both), you need to give the dealer an increment of $6. For all other place bets, you can give an increment of $5 (assuming it's a $5 table...if it's a $10 table, your $6 becomes $12 and your $5 becomes $10).
The nice thing about Place betting is that you can take your place bets down whenever you want. They are also not affected if a come out roll is 7 after hitting a point (whereas a come bet will be forfeited, though the odds will be returned to you). The payouts are less than odds on the Pass Line and Come, but the house edge is still relatively small, especially with placing the 6 and 8.
Conclusion: There's also a gazillion other bets on the table I could discuss, but they're not near as good for the player as the ones listed above. Start with this and then move on to new bets if you want to have a little entertainment. For more information about the house edge in craps as well as other strategy information, check out the Wizard of Odds Craps Page.
Three Card Poker is a fairly slow-paced table game that is very simple to learn. The house edge isn't as bad as some games (optimal strategy is around 3.4%), and it's a good opportunity to sit down and drink for free. I'm not a huge fan of this game, yet I find myself playing it often as it's a crowd pleaser with several of my friends.
Let's get into some basic rules. When you sit down, you'll make an "Ante" bet. You are then dealt three cards and the dealer is dealt three cards. You can look at your cards, but the dealer's cards are dealt face down. You only have one decision after looking at your cards -- either RAISE or FOLD. If you fold, you forfeit your ante bet. If you raise, you must place a bet equal to your ante bet in the RAISE circle on the table. The dealer will now compare cards with you. If the dealer does not have Queen-high or better, you win even money on your Ante bet, and push on your Raise bet. If the dealer does have Queen-high or better, you compare your cards to the dealer's cards, and the highest poker hand will win (even money on both the Ante and Raise bets). If the Player and Dealer tie, it is generally a push. It is also worth noting that if the dealer "qualifies" (Queen or higher) and you are dealt a straight or better, you'll win a premium amount on your RAISE bet (Straight (1:1), Three of a Kind (4:1), Straight Flush (5:1).
Our friends at Wizard of Odds tell us that the optimal strategy in this game is to raise with any hand of Queen-Six-Four or higher and fold any hand lower. In other words, if you have Queen-Six-Three, you should fold. We presume they use computers and robots and math to arrive at this strategy. As a result, we trust it intrinsically, and so should you. As mentioned above, the house edge is just under 3.4% if you play with this strategy and avoid the side bets.
Speaking of side bets...
There are several side bets involved in this game, the most common of which is the "Pair Plus" bet. The vast majority of players play this bet, and the dealer will also encourage you to play it. In fact, if you fail to bet it, the players at the table will look at you funny. It has almost become a given. That said, I avoid it, and here is why. The payout for Pair Plus in most casinos is as follows: Pair (1:1), Flush (3:1), Straight (6:1), 3 of a kind (30:1), and Straight Flush (40:1). The Wizard puts the house edge on this bet at over 7.2%. Not great. You might be wondering about those people (everyone) that play both the Ante bet AND the Pair Plus bet. The house edge on the combined strategy is 5.32%. Meanwhile, I'm the guy playing the basic Ante bet sitting over here at 3.37%. I like my chances to win over theirs.
That said, I never ever ever judge people that play carnival bets. Most of them are on vacation and looking for entertainment. Go for it! Just know it's a gamble and not as "smart" of a bet as playing the Ante bet by itself. That .002% chance of a straight flush may be worth the gamble for the joy of jumping up and down hitting 40:1 on the Pair Plus. There are other iterations of side bets on Three Card Poker, many specific to individual casinos. The smart play is to avoid them unless you feel like a gamble.
For more information, including an explanation of the House Edge, see the Wizard of Odds 3-Card Page.
Are you the kind of person that enjoys a table game experience in the casino but doesn't like the fast action of a craps table or blackjack table? Or perhaps you're looking for a table game that will allow you to stretch your gambling session for as long as possible giving you the opportunity to consume several free cocktails.
Let me introduce you to Pai Gow Poker, one of the slowest (and least "risky") games in the casino.
First some interesting background: Pai Gow Poker was first dealt at Bell Card Club in California. Sam Torosian was the owner of the club and was looking for a game to revitalize his struggling casino. He combined a blend of ancient Asian influences (Chinese dominos) and good old fashioned stud poker to create a game that was an immediate success. Unfortunately, Torosian got some bad advice from his attorney, who told him that card games based on a 52 card deck could not be patented. As a result, despite the game's widespread success, Torosian did not earn a penny from his creation. (For more on the background, check out this LA Times article).
Now for the nuts and bolts of the game. Each player is dealt seven cards which will eventually be split into two poker hands -- a five card poker hand and a two card poker hand. The only rule of the game is that the five card hand must "rank" higher than the two card hand. You will place each hand in its designated position on the table. The dealer will then turn her cards over and will set her two hands in a manner required by the casino. The dealer will then compare both of her hands against your hands. If you win both, you win your bet (less a 5% commission). If you lose both, you lose your bet. If you win one hand and lose one hand, there is a push and no wager is taken. Note: If one hand exactly ties the dealer, it is considered a win for the dealer.
You can probably surmise that pushes are fairly common in this game (over 40% of the time, to be not exact). This is what keeps the game slow, not to mention the actual time it takes to deal and set the hands.
As for strategy, I definitely recommend you check out Wizard of Odds Pai Gow page. That said, this post is called Pai Gow Poker 101, so I'll give you some beginner tips to get you started at the table.
First off, note that the game is played with a standard 52 card deck, including one joker. This joker can be used in only a set number of ways, though. In the 5-card hand, it can only be used as a "wild card" to complete a flush or a straight. Otherwise, it is considered to be an Ace. So if you don't have 4 cards to a flush or straight, just consider the Joker to be an Ace and set your hands accordingly. The joker can also be used to represent an Ace in the 2-card hand.
So what is meant by setting the hands? This can be a little tricky at first, so it's worth noting that most dealers will set your cards for you if you're not sure what to do (but they will use the "house way" to do so). Once you get the hang of it, though, you'll be happy to set your own. Let's look at a few examples.
In the above hand, we were dealt a pair as well as an Ace and King. As we mentioned above, the 2-card poker hand must be lower ranked than the 5-card poker hand. Since we're competing against the dealer's two hands, we want to give ourselves the best chance of at least a push, and hopefully a win. Here, we'll split the pair on one side and put the A-K on the other. While the pair isn't great, the A-K will probably be competitive.
The above example was simple. Things get a little more confusing when you are dealt two pairs or a great 5-card hand, but shit for the second hand. I follow the following "two-pair" rule (developed by Mike Shackleford), which lowers the house edge from the "house way" by .04%. Generally, you should split up the two pairs (put the lowest pair in the low hand) unless:
1. The sum of the ranks is 9 or less and you have a king or ace singleton, or
2. The sum of the ranks is 15 or less and you have an ace singleton.
You might be asking what "sum of the ranks" is. Just add the value of each pair. For example a two pair consisting of 4s and 8s would have a sum of ranks of 4+8=12. Face cards and aces have a value according to their poker value, for example an ace would be highest at 14. If we had 4s and 8s plus an Ace, we'd split the pairs up, with the 4s going to the 2-card hand.
There are a ton more examples for how to set your hand on the Wizard of Odds Pai Gow strategy page, which I encourage you to check out. The good news is that once you learn some basic rules, the game is actually quite simple, and quite a bit of fun.
I must admit that "Let it Ride" has a dear place in my heart. It was the very first "carnival poker game" I ever played and on the first time I played it, I hit a full house and won a considerable amount of money. I later learned the house edge (approximately 3.5%) doesn't exactly make it an advantage play, but it's still a fun little game. The good news is that it is very easy to play and is a fairly slow milking game, allowing you to take advantage of Vegas' fine drink services. Unfortunately, the game isn't near as popular as it used to be and it is getting harder and harder to find.
Consistent with the other gambling modules in this section, I want to explain the game as if you're a new player walking up to the table for the first time. That's the way I wish I had been taught, so I want to bring the same to you.
Take a look at the Let it Ride Table pictured. You'll see three circles in front of each player. When you sit down to play, you'll make make three equal bets and place them in those circles. For our purposes, let's say we're at a $10 minimum table, so we'll be placing $10 in each circle. The dealer will then deal each player at the table 3 cards, face down. After review of our cards, we will have the option to take back one of the bets in the circles. If we like our cards, we can decide to "let the bet ride."
The dealer will then turn one community card over, which will be placed in front of the dealer. Similar to a Texas Hold 'Em game, this card is used by all players at the table, adding it to their existing three cards to make a poker hand. After the dealer turns the first card over, we are again afforded the opportunity to take a bet back, or "let it ride." The dealer will then turn over a second and final community card, which will be used to finalize our 5-card poker hand. We are a winner if we have made a hand that contains a pair of 10s or better. We are a loser if we don't have 10s or better.
If you know basic poker hand ranks, the game is very easy to learn. The "letting it ride" concept is what makes it interesting. Let's say we are dealt Jack-Jack-Five to start. We already have a winner, so we'll tuck our cards under the first chip and "let it ride" because our hand can only improve from here. Conversely, let's say we are dealt King-Eight-Four. Letting our first bet ride would be silly because we will need a lot of help from the two community cards in order to have a winner. In that situation, we'd take a bet back and hope we get a King on the first community card. If we don't, we'll rake back again.
The game is slow because of all the actions that must be taken. And while it may feel like we have a big bet out to begin ($30), by the time we are finished with the hand, it could be $10. As a result, the game allows you to "take advantage" of made starting hands (and good drawing hands), and "surrender" when you don't.
But what about payouts? I thought you'd never ask. See right for a common pay table. Note that these can fluctuate from casino to casino. If we are not betting any of the side bets, our $10 bet has the possibility of getting paid out at 1:1 for a pair of 10s or better, 2:1 for two pair, 3:1 for three of a kind, 5:1 for a straight, 8:1 for a flush, 11:1 for a full house, 50:1 for four of a kind, 200:1 for a straight flush, and 1000:1 for a royal flush!
I noted above that the first time I played the game, I hit a full house on a $10 table at 11:1. But I had three bets out, meaning I was paid 11:1 3x, which resulted in a $330 payout. Having never played the game, I was pretty ecstatic.
As for strategy in this game, I will turn to my favorite resource on the Internet when it comes to odds, and that is the Wizard of Odds Let It Ride Page. On that page, we learn several tips for strategy, which I'll rehash here, but encourage you to check out Wizard of Odds for more information.
With a starting 3-card hand, you should only "Let it Ride" when you have:
- Any paying hand (tens or better, three of a kind)
- Any three to a royal flush
- Three suited cards in a row except 2-3-4, and ace-2-3
- Three to a straight flush, spread 4, with at least one high card (E.g., 8s-9s-Js)
- Three to a straight flush, spread 5, with at least two high cards (E.g. 9s-10s-Ks)
With a 4-card hand (one community card added), you should only "Let it Ride when you have:
- Any paying hand (tens or better, two pair, three of a kind)
- Any four cards of the same suit
- Any four to an outside straight with at least one high card (E.g., 7-8-9-10)
- Any four to an outside straight with no high cards (E.g., 6-7-8-9)
- Any four to an inside straight with 4 high cards (E.g., 10-J-K-A)
Otherwise, you should pull your bet back.
Consistent with every single game in the casino these days, casinos have introduced a variety of side bets that run concurrently with the game above. The most common is the $1 bonus bet, which you'll recognize as the single red circle above your bets on the picture to the side. Almost every player at the table plays this bet, and you will be encouraged to do so as well. It pays out an extra "bonus" for made 5-card hands. This bet has a huge house edge (depending on the pay table which varies from casino to casino). Should you hit a high hand, you will be sad that you didn't play this bet. Under just about every other circumstance, you'll be happy you didn't milk a dollar a hand into a bet with a 13% -- 36% house edge (Again, depending on the casino).
Another common side bet is an optional "3 card bonus" bet, which is the little diamond-y looking bet directly above the three betting circles. Similar to the above bet, just about everyone at the table will be playing this one as well, and will judge you for not playing it. Don't listen to them. This bet will cost you the table minimum most likely (so you're putting an extra $10 on this bet which you can't rake back). Generally, this bet pays 1:1 for a pair, 3:1 for a flush, 6:1 for a straight, 3o:1 for three of a kind, 40:1 for a straight flush, and 50:1 for a mini royal flush. This bet (assuming the pay table above) has a 7% house edge, roughly double the house edge of the regular game of Let it Ride.
This is a fun drinking game. A game that you can expect to lose most of the time, but still has a jackpot function (by hitting a high hand). My wife loves this game because it's easy, slow, and fun. Those words pretty much describe me too. Probably why we're married.
Albert Einstein once said of roulette: No one can possibly beat it “unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking.”
That pretty much sums it up.
Roulette is a very easy game, one that requires little more than guessing and watching. But like many casino games, not all roulette tables are created equal. There are a few very easy observations the player can make before sitting down in order to immediately understand the house edge.
But let's first start with the rules. When you approach the roulette table, you will first need to purchase "chips" from the dealer. Note that the chips you receive have no denomination, and are worthless outside of the roulette table. Also note that when someone refers to "casino chips" they are technically talking about roulette tokens. The other tokens you see throughout the casino are technically called checks or cheques.
Each player at the table has his or her own color of chips. Once the dealer pays off all winning wagers from the previous spin of the wheel, it is time to place your chips on the table and guess where the ball will land on the wheel. There are several options to bet. See the image below for those options and payout. Note that this is the "American Roulette" table, which is the most prevalent table in America, with some exceptions (which will be explained in a bit).
The house edge for every bet on the American Roulette table is 5.26%. The only exception is the Basket Bet (See bet "E" on the table), which includes the first three numbers as well as the 0 and 00. The house edge is 7.89% on the Basket Bet, and it should be avoided. Otherwise, go to town on the other bets because the house edge is exactly the same whether you bet a single 13 or ODD (but note the difference in payouts).
If you're lucky, perhaps you will come across a "European Roulette" table. It will be very easy to know the difference between an American Roulette table and European Roulette table because the European table only has one single 0 instead of two (0 and 00). This lowers the house edge to 2.70%. There are not very many European tables easily accessible in Vegas, but they can be found in high limit rooms at some of the Strip's biggest properties, including the Mirage, MGM Grand, Wynn, and Venetian. Note that the hours these tables are open vary from day to day and casino to casino (but be on the lookout, because these things change often).
What Else Do I Need to Know?
- If you win, don't touch your winnings until the dealer removes the dolly from the winning number.
- Don't be afraid to ask the dealer to place the bet for you if you can't reach it. Also feel free to put your chips on top of other chips. It will all get sorted out once the ball lands.
- Once the dealer waives "no more bets" don't be the guy that tries to throw another bet down.
- There is no such thing as a winning betting system in roulette. Similarly, there's really no such thing as optimal strategy considering the house edge is similar for nearly all bets on the table.
- Each roll is independent of every other roll. It does not matter that red hit 10 times in a row. I repeat: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE LAST SPIN OR LAST TEN SPINS YIELDED.
- There is a reason this is the easiest game in the casino to play. Avoid it unless you're looking for entertainment and aren't concerned with profitability. That said, it is a really fun game.
- Be on the look out for double ball roulette, a new iteration of the classic game of roulette. Currently testing at Tropicana, it looks like it could be even more entertaining (and maybe even less profitable).
"You know what's been driving me crazy? Those Goddamn Baccarat tables!" - Nick Papagiorgio (Yuma, AZ)
Baccarat is one of those games that none of your friends really play. They've all tried their hand at blackjack. Some at roulette and others at craps. They're even more likely to have played some of the carnival poker games like Let it Ride and 3 Card Poker than Baccarat. They might have heard of it, but they don't even know where the table is in the casino -- which is somewhat by design, of course.
Baccarat tables are usually tucked away somewhere in the casino where only people with personal assistants can play. You might accidentally walk by the Baccarat Room on your way to the bathroom or when you're stumbling to the elevator. Here's what you might see: Rich people (mostly Asians) seated at a large table with pieces of paper and pencils calculating what appears to be really fancy and difficult equations and numerals and other math-y things on little sheets of paper.
So what are they doing? They're playing one of the oldest casino games in the world -- one that dominates Asian casinos. It's baccarat (Italian for zero), and it's honestly one of the easiest games in the casino to sit down and play.
Let's start with the basics. As always, I'll explain the game as if you have never played it and you feel like walking up to a table to give it a shot. So there you are, walking into the Baccarat Room (or, if you're looking for lower limits, you're walking up to a Mini-Baccarat Table on the casino floor), and you sit down and purchase your cheques. Someone may offer you a score card and pencil. Politely decline. You'll probably get some looks from others at the table. They might even call you a novice (probably in a different language). Ignore them. I'll tell you why in a bit.
Take a look at the table pictured to the right. Let's say you're seated in Seat 1. You have three options -- bet on the Player, the Banker, or a Tie. That's it. This isn't craps with 400 different circus bets. It isn't blackjack where there's optimal strategy you should memorize. It isn't even roulette where you have to choose from 1-36. There's three options. And really, there's only two. And hell, if you're smart, there's really only one.
Before we get too far, let's just get the optimal strategy out of the way right now. Bet the Banker every time for a small 1.06% house edge. Not too shabby. The Player Bet carries a 1.24% house edge, so it's your next best bet if you're feeling like handing the casino your money 0.18% more often. As for the Tie Bet? It's pretty ugly. Try a 14.36% house edge. Remember those people who judged you for not taking a score card earlier? Some of them are inevitably betting the Tie Bet. Now you get to judge them. Oh, and for the record, those pieces of paper they are meticulously writing on are also worthless.
So we're at this big fancy table. We've now got our bet out there. For fun, let's say it's a $25.00 minimum bet and we have our little green cheque in the Banker spot. Note that a bet for the Banker is not a bet for the house, nor is a bet for the Player a bet for any person on the table. They are simply names of the two hands dealt. Let's deal some cards.
Similar to craps, the deal will rotate around the table, and that person will continue to deal as long as the Banker continues to win (Note: if it's a Mini Baccarat Table, there will be an all-time dealer). Two cards will be dealt face down under the shoe and two will be dealt face down to the bettor who has the largest Player bet. The bettor will then look at the Player's cards and turn them over. The results of the two hands will be announced by the casino dealers. Depending on the results of the cards, there may be an additional card dealt by the dealer as instructed by the casino dealers. Winning wagers will be paid and losing wagers collected.
So how do you win or lose? On one hand, scoring rules are extremely easy in Baccarat. On the other hand, there are several little rules that you can either decide to learn or ignore and hope the casino dealers know what they're doing. Let's start with the basics.
Tens and Face Cards are all worth 0 points. Aces are worth 1 point. All other cards are worth their face amount. If the total of the two cards dealt exceeds 10, the second digit will be the value of the hand. For example, a deal of 8 and 7 obviously equals 15. However, the result for Baccarat will be 5 (removing the first digit). The hand that is closest to 9 wins.
If in the two cards dealt, a "natural" is dealt for the Player or Banker, then the game ends and bets are paid. A natural is a total of either 8 or 9. If no natural is dealt, then there may be a situation where a third card will be dealt, depending on the following rules:
- If the Player's total is 5 or less, then the Player hits, otherwise the Player stands (on 6 or 7).
- If the Player stands, then the Banker hits on a total of 5 or less. If the Player does hit, then use the chart below to determine if the Banker hits (H) or stands (S). Let's do an example so you can understand the chart. Let's say the Player's third card is a King of Hearts (which counts for 0) and the Banker has a total of 3. The Banker must take a hit. However, if the Dealer has 4-7, the Dealer must stand.
- Once all cards are dealt and totals are added, the winner is the hand that is greater. Winning bets that are placed on the Banker result in a 1:1 payment minus a 5% commission. A $100 bet will pay $95. In our situation, a $25 bet will pay $23.75. Winning bets to the Player are paid 1:1 and winning bets on the Tie pay 8:1, with some exceptions. If there is a Tie, the Banker and Player bets push.
- Often, instead of requiring the 5% commission payment on a Banker bet, the Casino Dealer will keep track of how much you owe in commissions and have you pay it at the end of your session. That's at the fancy tables, anyway.
Some Etiquette Tips:
(1) Observe the table for a few minutes before sitting down so you understand the flow of the game.
(2) Similar to craps, don't jump in during a hand. Wait until there's a break in play.
(3) If you're playing Mini Baccarat, you can't touch the cards.
(4) If you're going to splash a bunch of cash on the table, go to the cage first. It slows down play when someone throws $20k in $100 bills on the table.
(5) Some players won't bet "against" other players they know at the table. If everyone is betting Player and you bet Banker, you may get some looks, but don't feel like you're going against the table. It's much more similar to betting Red when some people bet Black in Roulette than playing Don't Pass vs. Pass in Craps. That said, the most fun tables are those that develop camaraderie in bets.
(6) Don't touch anyone. No pats on the back. No high fives. It's bad etiquette for some Asian players.
(7) If you're in a real fancy room, there may be a dress code. Seriously.
(8) If you don't feel comfortable handling the cards when you're the dealer, politely pass the deal. It's very common.
(9) If you're at a large table in a private gaming room, you will be able to touch the cards if you're the largest betting Player. Be respectful of the House rules for bending, folding, and flipping the cards. Some casinos allow you to pretty much destroy the cards because they're only used once.
(10) Tip the crew.
Baccarat is a very simple game. It looks sophisticated. It isn't. Go give it a try. Don't let the haters at the table keep you away either. Bet the Banker every time for the lowest house edge. Avoid the Tie completely. Memorize the basic rules to feel more comfortable at the table. Or don't and just enjoy a simple drinking game.
There are not many games in the casino that willingly offer you information about the exact house edge on the game you are about to play. In fact, there's really only one such game. And by now you've probably guessed what it is based on the title above and the nice pictures and whatnot. This game is video poker.
Nuts and bolts of video poker
I'm sure you already have a decent understanding of regular 5-card draw poker, so I'm not going to go too much into that. You don't have to be a regular in the poker room to know the ranking of poker hands, such as high card, a pair, two pair, three of a kind, a straight, a flush, a full house, etc. Video poker takes that classic draw poker game and, well, you know, puts it on a video.
There are a gazillion different video poker games out there now, but nearly all follow the same basic rules: You bet 1-5 coins at a time, you're dealt 5 cards, you hold the cards you wish to hold and discard the others, you're dealt the number you discarded to get you back to 5 cards, and then the machine pays you relative to the value of your hand. That's it. No additional betting. No raising. No bluffing. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?
This is why the game has had great staying power since it was introduced back in 1979. Its popularity in large part increased because it was a nice alternative to slot machines without the intimidation of a table game. It also has strategy, a low house edge, the opportunity for a jackpot, and constant game interaction.
Let's get back to that house edge discussion. Remember when I said earlier that the casino offers you information about the exact house edge of a video poker machine? Well, that's sorta true, but the casino doesn't come right out and say "There is a .05% house edge on this machine." That'd be too easy. Instead, it offers you the pay tables applicable to that game, which give you all the information you need.
You're probably all like, can you give me an example? And I'm all like, sure. See below.
The pay table for this Jacks or Better machine (one of the most popular video poker games) is what is considered a "Full Pay" pay table. This game, when played perfectly and at max coins, returns 99.54% for a little tiny house edge. In reality, though, the general public plays it around a 97% return due to mistakes and playing for less than max coins. Remember, you can play up to 5 coins per bet. So if you're betting quarters, it's $1.25 per hand. If you're betting dollars, it's $5 per hand.
So how do casinos fluctuate house edge? It's not like slot machines where they can just dictate how loose the machine is. The casino also can't alter how often high hands are hit. It's all random. The only thing they can do is change this pay table to make it pay less for those random hands. We mentioned earlier this pay table returns 99.54% when played with the correct strategy. Let's assume we're betting max coins (5) and we hit a flush. We get paid 30 credits for that. Now we get up and move to another machine and on our first hand we get a flush. This time, though, we only get paid 25 credits. What happened? We sat down at a machine with a worse pay table, probably one that pays back closer to 96% than 99.54%.
For a good resource on pay tables and what to look for, check out vpfree2. Unfortunately, on the Vegas Strip, it's nearly impossible to find a really good pay table. You'll have better luck downtown or an off-strip property catering more to locals.
Playing a game that is different from Jacks or Better, such as Deuces Wild, will also have a completely different pay table. Again, vpfree2 is a great resource to check pay tables for all your games so that you know you're sitting down at a machine giving you the best chance to win.
Take some time to review how pay tables work so that when you get to the casino, you know what machines to avoid and what machines to stalk. Even a small percentage change in house edge between two machines will have a large impact in the long run.
QUICK NOTE ON COINS
We'll get to strategy later, but as a general rule, you should always play max bet. If you can't afford max bet, find a lower denomination (e.g., if you can't afford $5 a hand, play quarters where it's $1.25 a hand). Let me explain why max bet is important: See the pay table above. If you get a straight flush, you get 50 for one coin, 100 for two, 150 for three, 200 for four and 250 for five. All equal in steps up per coin. The same goes for all other paying hands except for the royal flush. It jumps from 250-500-750-1000 all the way to 4000 for the royal flush with max bet. This difference, while seemingly small, affects the house edge considerably. Always play max bet.
DOs AND DONTs
1. Practice makes perfect! Download a smart phone app that corrects your play as you go so you can learn optimal strategy for the games you'll be playing. (My favorite iPhone app is WinPoker, but there are several options out there).
2. Once you get to the casino, shop around. Don't just sit down at the first machine you see. Look at pay tables for the games so you can find your best chance of winning.
3. Always bet max coins, as we discussed above.
4. When you're playing, always use a slot or promotional card for that casino. Often, because the return for video poker is so high (assuming you're sitting at a good machine) combined with the casino's promotion, you might be playing a positive expectancy game (over 100% return).
5. Start slow. Don't sacrifice good play because you're trying to speed through your selections. Some people fly through hands without really making sure the moves they're making are accurate. Your speed will increase with time.
6. There's always video poker around the casino bar. Order an expensive drink and ask what level of play you need to have going on the video poker machine for it to be comped. Sometimes losing $20 in a video poker machine but getting a $15 cocktail for free makes it all sorta worth it.
SOME NOTES ON STRATEGY
Because there are so many different video poker games out there with different pay tables and other variations, it is impossible to provide enough information related to optimal strategy in this Video Poker 101 blog post. However, what I can do is point you in the direction of some very smart folks that have put together optimal play cheat sheets for all the different video poker games.
For instance, take a visit to Wizard of Odds' page on Jacks or Better Simple Strategy to get an idea of how to start playing video poker and get a 99%+ return without memorizing every single rule. If you're playing a different video poker iteration, visit the Wizard's main video poker strategy page to help you get where you need to go.
Have you ever walked by a Sports Book in a Las Vegas casino and wondered what all those huge displays with words and numbers mean? You know, the ones that kinda look like Lite Brite screens. Surrounding them are massive television screens displaying sports action and a bunch of dudes yelling at those screens. Anyway, if you have wondered what all those screens mean and how you, too, can become one of those dudes yelling, you've come to the right place.
Let's talk Sports Betting.
In this post, we are going to talk about what all those words and numbers mean up on the Sports Book wall. We're also going to discuss the various bets available to the player, the house edge, and some basic tips on strategy. As always, we'll approach this subject as if you've never walked up to a window and placed a bet before. The goal is that once you have read this, you should have no problem wading into the Sports Book, reading available wagers, and placing your bets.
THE MONEY LINE
Let's start with the easiest bet in the sports book. It's the money line. This is the easiest because it's the one most people can understand -- simply, who is going to win the game? If Kansas is playing North Carolina in the Final Four, and you think Kansas is going to win, you might bet the money line. But what if odds makers believe Kansas is the better team? In that case, you will not get paid equal money for your winning wager. Let's put this into a real example. Look to the right. Let's look at the Vikings/Rams line. It reads:
401 VIKINGS -10 -600
402 RAMS 41 +400
Those numbers to the far right represent the Money Lines. In this example the Vikings are heavy favorites. The "-600" number means that for every $600 you spend, you'll make $100. Similarly, since the Rams are heavy underdogs, if you bet $100 on the Rams, you'll win $400. All money lines are based on the premise that you're wagering $100. It's the easiest way to express the numbers.
What about the "line" or the "spread" bet? It's the one you often see in the newspapers in the morning. This number represents the handicap one team will have against the other to make it an even game. Similar to golf or bowling, you have a handicap so you can compete with other people at various skill levels. The same goes for sports betting -- every game has a line that represents the breaking point between the two teams. If the teams played each other 100 times, 50 would go one way and 50 the other. At least that's the idea.
Let's look at our example above again. The "-10" number next to the Vikings is the spread on the game. This number means that the Vikings are favored by 10 points in the game. Conversely, the Rams are a 10 point underdog (+10).
If you bet on the Vikings -10, you would need the Vikings to win by 11 or more points to win your wager. If you bet on the Rams +10, you will need the Rams to either win the game outright or lose by 9 points or less in order to win your wager. Should the game finish with an exact Vikings 10 point victory, the bet is a push and you get your wagered money back.
The "Total" or "Over/Under" is another very popular bet in the sports book. It simply requires you to add all the points scored by both teams together to form the "total" for that game. Oddsmakers will set the total line and you will bet either the "Over" or "Under" on that line.
Let's look at our example again. As we mentioned in the "Spread" discussion, the Vikings are -10. As a result, there's no need to write Rams +10 because we already know that if one team is -10, the other is +10. That leaves room for the Total or Over/Under number, which is 41 (listed next to the Rams). There is no significance of it being listed next to the Rams, so don't worry about that. It's for the whole game.
The total in our example above is 41. If you bet the over, you need both teams' combined score to be 42 or more. If you bet the under, you need the total to be 40 or less. For example, if the Vikings win 24-20, the over will pay because the combined score is 44. If the Vikings win 17-14, the under will pay because the combined score is 31. Pretty easy.
YEAH, BUT HOW DO I BET?
First, some tips for betting etiquette are in order. When you walk into the sports book, look around for the paper sheets. They'll normally be by the betting windows and they are print outs of all the day's wagers as well as several future wagers (e.g., Super Bowl 2016 odds, Masters Golf Tournament, etc.). On those daily wager sheets, you'll find the same wagers as you see on the boards above, except the numbers on the board above may be slightly different due to the line moving one way or the other.
Once you find those sheets, use them to take some notes and prepare your bets. Look at the example above once again. The top line reads "401 Vikings -10 -600" and we already know what all the numbers mean except the 401. That's the number the casino puts on the Vikings for that day. Similarly, the Rams are 402. Especially if you're placing multiple wagers at once, write down all these numbers before you approach the counter so you aren't having to look up at the boards and search for the numbers.
Alright, let's make some wagers. Using our same example above, let's say we want to bet on the Rams +10, the Rams Money Line, and the Over, each for $100. When we approach the window, we'll say the following:
"402 for $100" and "402 Over for $100" and"402 Rams Money Line for $100"
The first line just shows the teller that you want to take the Rams on the spread. The second indicates that you want to be the over/under. Note that you can use 401 or 402 and just say over or under for either one. The last line shows that you want to bet the money line and adding the team in there for good measure doesn't hurt.
The teller will ask for $300 and will print off three tickets. REVIEW THE TICKETS AT THE WINDOW. If the teller has made a mistake, you must correct it at this point, or forever hold your peace. The casino isn't going to allow you to come back and correct a bet once you leave the window.
There are many different variations of sports bets available to the bettor beyond the spread, total, and money line bets explained above (though those are the most popular). Many of these variations are detailed and probably outside the scope of the Sports Betting 101 blog post. That said, there is one variation that I would be remiss not to mention, and that is the sports parlay bet.
The best way to explain a parlay bet is by example. Looking at the board above, let's say you really like the Vikings -10 and you also really like the Cowboys -8 and the Raiders +15. You could bet each game individually for $100 and win $100 (minus the vig) for each bet won. Or, you could parlay all three bets into one bet. If all three bets win, you win the parlay bet. If you win 2 out of 3, 1 out of 3, or 0 out of 3, your parlay bet loses.
Because this bet is obviously much harder to win than betting one individual game, the casino will pay at much higher odds for a winning wager. You can bet a 2 team parlay (usually paying around 13/5) all the way up to a 10 team parlay (usually paying around 400/1) or even higher in some cases. Understandably, these are more "lottery ticket" type bets and the casinos love them for that reason.
In our example above, let's say we bet a $100 parlay on those three teams. The payout would be 6/1 or $600, which is more than the $300 we would have made individually had all three bets been made. Note, you can combine money lines, totals, and spread bets into parlays as well, so long as they aren't for the same game.
Betting a parlay is easy and very similar to normal bets. Just announce to the teller that you would like a 3-team parlay of 401, 403, and 408 for $100.00. That's it. He'll print your ticket and make sure to check that all three teams are correct.
Betting parlays is very fun, but also very stupid in the long run. Betting individual games is usually the way to go, but I won't judge you if you throw out a parlay every now and then. So long as you don't judge me too.
The vigorish ("vig" or "juice") is the house edge or house take on a sports bet. Remember earlier when we talked about how the line is set by an oddsmaker so that the underdog has a handicap making it a more even game if played to that spread? That's sorta true. But what's more true in setting the line is that the oddsmaker wants to set a line where there is equal betting on both sides of the line. If too much action is put on one side, the sports book is at risk of a loss. But if they're roughly even, the book always wins. Here's how.
Even though it doesn't say so on the board, all winning wagers on spread and total bets do not pay out 1:1. Instead, they generally pay out at -110 (this can vary by game, but that's the standard). In other words, you get paid $100 for every $110 you wager. How about another example.
Let's say you and I walk up to the counter and each bet $110 on the Vikings game. I bet the Vikings -10 and you bet the Rams +10. Let's now say that the Vikings win by 13. I win my wager and I'll get paid $210 (my original $110 bet plus $100). Meanwhile, you lost the $110. The casino made $110 off you and lost $100 to me. It thus made $10 on our combined wagers. If both of us had bet the Vikings, the Casino would have lost $200. You can now see why the casino will try to set a line that encourages action on both sides.
We all have a basic understanding of horse racing. Whether it's tuning in for the Kentucky Derby, playing Sigma Derby in The D or MGM Grand, or watching that shitty Toby Maguire movie, you at least know how it works. Bet on the horse you think is going to do well in the race. But how do you do that? And what bets are available to you other than "I bet Seabiscuit wins the race in spite of that shitty jockey."
Well I'm here to help.
In this post, we'll talk about the various betting options available to the bettor and how to go about making those wagers. We will not get into more advanced horse racing topics or terminology in this post. Maybe another time. I'm just going to introduce you to the basics and the bets and then you can develop your own strategies about the bug rider and the horse's blinkers and how alive the feet look in the paddock before post position and blah blah blah.
Take a look at the adjacent photo. This is what the odds might look like for a particular race. We'll use this as an example throughout this post. Now take off that goofy hat and put your mint julep down. We've got some bets to talk about.
WIN, PLACE, SHOW
Win, Place and Show bets are known as "Straight Bets" because you're betting on the horse to finish the race in a specific fashion. For a "Win" bet, you will if your horse finishes 1st. For a "Place" bet, you win if your horse finishes 1st or 2nd. For a "Show" bet, you win if your horse finishes 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.
Let's say you want to bet on the horse named "Hansen" in the above table. You'll see he's 10/1 to win the race and you think he'll finish somewhere in the top 3 and you want to cover your bases. Here's how you would approach betting Hansen at the window:
How to Bet
(1) Track: Tell the attendant what track you're betting. E.g., "Churchill Downs."
(2) Race Number: Tell the attendant what the race number is. Let's say it's "Race 5."
(3) Betting Amount: Say how much you want to bet. Generally, minimum for straight bets is $2.00 and is less for some of the exotic bets. For our example, we'll say "$2.00."
(4) Bet Type: Tell the clerk the type of bet you want -- "Win, Place Show" or "Across the Board" (means the same thing). If you want an exotic bet, look at that section to the right for how to bet it.
(5) Horse Number: Say the horse number, not the horse name. "14."
All together now: "Churchill Downs, Race 5, $2 Win Place Show, horse 14."
At this point, the clerk would print you out a ticket. Make sure the ticket says what you are expecting it to say because once you walk away, there's no changing it.
This ticket would cost you $6.00 in total -- $2 on each bet of win, place and show. All three bets would pay off if Hansen wins the race. If he finishes 2nd, the Place and Show bets would win. If he finishes 3rd, only the Show bet would win.
How Payoffs are Determined
It's important to remember that you are not betting against the house in horse wagering. This is because horse wagering uses a parimutuel system for betting. In French, it translates to "to bet amongst us." The easy explanation is that all bets of the same bet type are pooled together. The money bet in each of the pools (win-place-show) is divided among those with winning bets, after deductions for to the track and taxes. Payoffs for place and show bets are less than win because the money in those pools has to be divided either twice for place (1st and 2nd place horses) or three times for show (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place horses).
Each day, the odds of each horse to win are set by the track and appear in the track's program. If you're in Vegas, you can usually find programs for all the tracks in the sports book. Once the wagers begin to come in, the odds will change to reflect the money coming in on the different horses. For instance a horse may start the day at 6/1 chance to win, but because the public bet heavy on that horse, it may move down to 4/1 before the race actually starts.
This is why some people are able to make a living at horse wagering. They don't have to beat the house with odds stacked against them. They just need to be consistently smarter than their horse wagering peers. Because when you win, that means someone else has lost.
Now that we have a good grasp on the straight bets, let's get into some of the more exotic wagers available to the horse bettor.
The following bets are also very popular in horse wagering because they present the opportunity to bet a small amount and turn it into a large amount. I'll go through the most common of exotic bets and how they work:
Exacta: An exacta bet will pay off only if you pick the 1st AND 2nd horses in a race in the EXACT order that they finish. Hence, exacta. Usually the minimum bet is $2.00. How do you bet it? You walk up to the clerk and say the track and race number, then say $2.00 exacta and then the horse numbers. Since the order matters, be sure the ticket reads correctly before leaving.
Exacta Box: This is like an exacta except you play those same two horses from the "exacta" except you bet both orders of them and double your bet. This means that either horse could finish 1st or 2nd so long as both finish 1-2. You can actually bet multiple horses in an exacta box, but just note that the more horses you add to your pool of 1-2 winners, the more combinations it will be and the more expensive your ticket will be. How do you bet it? You walk up to the clerk and say the track and race number, then say $2.00 exacta box and the horse numbers. The order doesn't matter, but make sure the horses are right before leaving. See below picture of an exacta box on 3 horses with a $2.00 bet ("$2 exacta box, horses 2, 4, 11").
Note that the ticket below has 3 horses bet, but that doesn't matter. Any combination of those three horses must finish 1-2 for it to be a winning ticket. The third horse doesn't matter. Generally, the minimum bet is $1 for an exacta box, but some tracks still require $2. Based on a $1 exacta box, a 2 horse box is $2, 3 horse box is $6, 4 horse box is $12, 5 horse box is $20 and it goes up from there.
Sidenote: Some people confuse exacta box bets with quinella bets. The quinella bet is one bet that two horses will finish in some combination of first and second. The exacta box is actually two exacta bets, so a $2.00 exacta box with two horses will cost $4.00. Meanwhile, you could bet a $2.00 quinella. This used to matter more when minimum bets were different between the exacta and quinella.
Trifecta: You will win a trifecta bet if you select the 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd place horses in the correct order of finish. Generally the minimum bet is $1.00. How do you bet? You go to the clerk and say the track and race number, then say $1.00 trifecta and the horse numbers. Since the order matters, be sure the ticket is correct before leaving the window. $1.00 is the minimum bet, but I have heard of $2.00 in some places.
Trifecta Box: Similar to exacta box, this is the same as "trifecta" except you bet (box) all combinations of 1-2-3. Similar to above, to make this bet, you'll need to tell the clerk the track and race number, then say $1.00 trifecta box and the horse numbers. The more horses you add, the more expensive your ticket will be. A 3 horse box is $6 ($1 for each combination: 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2, 3-2-1), a 4 horse box is $24, a 5 horse box is $60 and you get the idea. Some tracks may allow less than $1.00 minimum bet on a trifecta box, but it varies. See below ticket for an example of a $1.00 trifecta box on horses 3, 4 and 7.
Superfecta: You win a Superfecta bet if you pick the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, AND 4th place horses in correct order of their finish. See above for how you bet and how it works, except substitute in an additional horse that must be in order.
Superfecta Box: You get it by now. This is a bet of all combinations of 1-2-3-4 in any order. See above for how to bet a superfecta, except sub in an additional horse that must finish in order. Also, many tracks lower the minimum bet for a superfecta due to the number of different wagers that must be made for a superfecta. A $1 superfecta box would be $24 (represented by 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 or 4!). The below is a 5 horse $1 superfecta box (5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 or 5! = 120). Most tracks have a lower minimum bet (some even as low as $0.10) for a superfecta box. For instance, a $0.10 superfecta box of 4 horses would cost $2.40.
SOME LONGSHOT BETS
The Pick 3 and Pick 4: The Pick 3 bet requires you to pick the winners of 3 consecutive races. Some tracks have a rolling Pick 3, which means the player must pick 3 races in a row and then that continues for the next 3 races. Some tracks have Pick 4 wagers on their betting menu as well. It's the same as the Pick 3, except it requires you to pick the winner of 4 consecutive races.
Pick 6: The Pick 6 is the ultimate prize in horse betting. It requires hitting SIX winners in a row. Sometimes, a winning Pick 6 wager can be a huge payout because there are days when there are no winning tickets, causing the money in the pool to carry over to the next day. Payouts can be huge on this bet -- into the 6 and 7 figures -- which is why they are so popular at the track.
Betting the Pick 6: When you go to the window, tell the clerk the track and say $1.00 pick 6 instead of the race number. It should go something like: "Santa Anita, $1.00 Pick 6, 1 with 5 with 10, 11 with 4 with 9 with 11." That means for race 1 - you need horse 1 to win, race 2 - horse 5, race 3 - horses 10 or 11, race 4 - 4, race 5 - 9, and race 6 - 11. Note that for Race 3 we picked two winners, which you can do. It just raises your bet size. Make sure it all looks correct before leaving the window. It should also be noted that you can pick multiple horses per race to win, but your wager will increase. Last, some tracks have a minimum bet of $1, but others may be $2.
Daily Double: A bettor will select two horses, one in the first race and one in the second race. To collect, both horses must win.
SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS
(1) Always have your bets and money ready when you get to the window. Write down your wagers on a piece of paper or in the program before you go up to the window. That way you don't have to think. Just have to read it -- "Santa Anita, Race 5, $2, Across the Board, Horse 5."
(2) Know what the bets are called before you get to the window. If you're new to horse betting, write out the bet on paper before you get up there. "Santa Anita, Race 3, $2 Exacta Box, Horses 2, 4, 11"
(3) Always pay attention to the "Minutes to Post" or "MTP" on the screen. This represents the time left before the horses post and the race begins. If you don't intend to bet on the next race and there are less than 2 or 3 MTP, wait to cash your winning ticket. Let those that want to get in on that race use the window.
(4) Have your money ready at the counter.
(5) Enjoy listening to all the crazy people tell you their strategies and their favorite ponies and their favorite jocks and all that good stuff. It's all part of the experience.
I have been playing casino poker for longer than I'd like to admit. What started as a fun hobby in college turned into an absolute love for the game. As with most people, I started playing poker with friends and family members. Then I dabbled in online poker and eventually found my way to a casino. There's nothing quite like casino poker.
For all my other gambling blog posts I have talked about game strategy, house edge, and making the most profitable plays. Because poker is far too detailed and nuanced to discuss in a blog post, I decided to make it all about casino poker and what you can expect when you take your game from the living room to the poker room. The hope is that after you read this post you'll feel much more comfortable walking into a poker room and sitting down to play.
Let's get started.
THE POKER ROOM
Once you get to the poker room, you'll inevitably see a video board that displays all the games that are spread and a waiting list for each game, if any. There will generally be a desk at the front with an attendant ready and willing to help you get seated. Usually the person behind the desk is very helpful answering any questions about the room, the minimum and maximum buy-ins, any specific poker room rules, and questions about comps. There will be several tables in the room, spreading a variety of games and limits. Before going up to the tables, you'll need to check in with the desk and let them know what game you would like to play and how much you want to buy in for.
SITTING DOWN AT THE TABLE
Once you get checked in and you have your buy in, you'll be told what table to go to. Often the attendant will walk you over, introduce you and help you get seated. The dealer will welcome you to the game and ask if you have a players card. It is important to use the players card if you want poker room comps, but if you're a big player in the casino, it may be smart not to use your card because it may affect your theoretical. If you have a good host, you should ask how to handle using your players card in the poker room.
Once seated at the table, feel free to tell the dealer you're new to the game or the casino. Tell the dealer that you want him or her to look out for you to make sure you're doing everything correctly. They will be happy to do so (and you'll probably get more action at the table if people know you're "new"). Simple things you don't think much about in your home poker game come into play much more in the casino poker room -- things such as minimum bets, blinds, rules for showdowns, string bets, verbal actions, and more. The dealer will be happy to help you get started.
POKER ROOM DOS AND DON'TS
Seemingly small things in your home game matter more in the casino. The casino has its rules posted somewhere in the room and should probably be read for some background. There's also plenty of etiquette tips that apply in the poker room. Here's some DOs and DON'Ts
- Do pay attention to the "bad beat jackpot" or "high hand" rules in the poker room. Most rooms have some iteration of a jackpot for bad beat pots (where a high hand such as 4 of a kind gets beat by a higher 4 of a kind) or they have a high hand pot (4 Aces gets an additional jackpot pot). Know the rules before starting so you don't accidentally muck a jackpot hand.
- Pay attention to the blinds. Once in a while someone forgets a blind. That's fine. Don't be the guy that does it every time.
- Tip the dealer. In a lower limit game, the customary tip is $1 per winning hand. I generally tip anywhere from $1 to $5 depending on the size of the pot.
- Act only when it's your turn. Don't fold you hand out of turn. Don't call or raise out of turn. Wait for the action to come to you before acting.
- Protect your cards. You may not be used to playing with an all time dealer and if your cards are out away from your chip stack, they may get swept up by the dealer on accident. Put a marker or a chip on top of your cards when you're in a hand to prevent it.
- Do remember that you're at the poker table, not the craps table. I sometimes get to Vegas and want ACTION right away. The poker room is not the place for that. Poker is a grind. The quicker you settle in and remember the grind, the better you'll do in the long run.
- Don't splash the pot. Put your bets directly in front of you at all times. The dealer is in charge of pulling the bets in to create the pot when the round of betting is complete.
- Don't be a jerk to the dealer. It's not his or her fault you made the wrong play or the river 1-outed you.
- Don't buy in for more than you're prepared to lose. While poker is a much better game than most of the ones on the casino floor, it still has an element of luck. Wager only what you are comfortable with.
- After you are out of the hand, don't react to the cards laid as if to indicate what you folded. If you folded 3-6 off suit and the flop comes 3-3-6, don't gasp and act like a fool. Your actions affect the other players' ability to make their own plays.
- Don't take forever to make a call. Once in a while it's ok to take a minute to make a big decision, but don't do it all the time. The slow play on TV is maddening to see in the poker room.
- Don't win a massive pot and then jump up from the table and leave. It's not against the rules, just bad form.
Best and Worst Bets in the Casino (By House Edge)
This one is pretty obvious considering the player is not playing against an established house edge, but instead against other players. The house gets its cut by taking a small percentage from each pot (called “the rake”). If you are a skillful poker player, the expectancy is positive when you sit down at a poker table. This is different from being a skillful 3-Card poker player, because the established house edge makes it impossible to win consistently over the long haul.
RACE AND SPORTS BOOK
This is another obvious one. If you know your ponies or your sports, you can gain an edge over the house. However, unlike poker, there is somewhat of a “house edge” to overcome in the sports book. Every bet has what is called the vigorish (or “vig” for short) built in. All bets are different, but consider the following example to help explain the vig. Say you bet Kansas -5.5 (-110) over Duke. This means that you would need Kansas to win by 6 points or more to win. The (-110) means that you’d need to wager $110 to win $100. If you lose, you pay no vig. The vig only pays on the win.
Most sports bettors will tell you that in order to have a positive expectancy over the house, you need to win at least 53% of your bets. This is to cover the cost of the vig. Let’s use another example from Professional Gambler:
Say two bettors each risk $110 with the same bookmaker on opposite sides of the same proposition, each bettor trying to win $100: The bookmaker receives a total of $220 from the two bettors. One bettor wins, one bettor loses, and the winner picks up a total of $210 — the $110 he put at risk, plus his $100 profit. That leaves the bookmaker with $10 gross profit as his vigorish on the deal. The bookmaker kept $10 of the $220 total amount risked.
As a result, you need to be an especially skillful handicapper in order to beat the built in vig, but it is definitely possible if you know what you are doing.
COUNTING CARDS AT BLACKJACK
This goes without much explanation, but if you are able to count cards, you have the possibility of making the game of Blackjack a positive expectancy game. That said, the margin is very slim and can only be realized over the long haul, similar to how the casino eventually makes its money. Counting cards is a grind, but if you want to tip the odds back in your favor, it is one advantaged play available to you.
It can be debated that in some cases Video Poker can be a positive expectancy game when full pay tables are found and played with perfect strategy. There are still some of these games out there, including Full Pay Deuces Wild, which played at perfect strategy has a 100.76% expectancy. The problem is that it’s very difficult to find full pay machines in most Vegas properties (your best bet is to visit off-strip and locals casinos). As a result, I put this under negative expectancy, though the game itself is still a solid bet if you can find Not So Ugly Deuces (99.73%) or full pay Jacks or Better (99.54%), both of which can be found with some searching. Beware of bad pay tables, as even a small change in payouts can change the house edge considerably. For more information, check out Bob Dancer’s site as well as the Wizard of Odds VP page.
Like many games in the casino, the house edge varies in blackjack depending on the rules of the game as well as the payout for a player blackjack. However, with the most liberal rules, blackjack has a very low house edge of approximately 0.28%. As rules are adjusted in favor of the house, this house edge changes. Check out the Wizard of Odds blackjack odds calculator to find out how the odds change with specific rule changes. The good news is that even with conservative rules, the house edge generally doesn’t go over 2%. This change is still relatively large compared to the .28% house edge explained above.
Also note that the house edge is figured assuming the player plays perfect strategy. This means that you can’t stay on 16 against that 10 no matter how much your intuition tells you otherwise (if you hit, you’ll still lose 75% of the time…but if you don’t hit, you lose 77% of the time. In a game in which the dealer shouldn’t beat you more than 51 hands in 100, giving up 2 winning hands is a huge margin!). For more on Blackjack, check out my Blackjack 101 Page.
CRAPS PASS/COME BET
The Pass Line and Come bets have the same house edge of 1.41%, a relatively low number. However this number decreases with the free odds you’re able to place behind or with your bet. Single odds lowers the house edge to 0.08%, double odds to 0.06%, 3-4-5x odds to .037%, 10x odds to 0.018%, and 100x odds to 0.0021%!
It should also be noted that the “Don’t Pass” and “Dont’t Come” bets actually offer an even lower house edge (1.35%) than the Pass/Come, but this means you’re betting against the dice, which isn’t quite as fun as cheering for the dice. But go for it if you hate mankind. And fun. For a short explanation of Craps, check out my Craps 101 Page and for more explanation of the house edge in craps, check out the Wizard of Odds Craps Page.
PAI GOW POKER (BANKER)
In order to understand this bet, it’s important you understand the game of Pai Gow Poker, so if you don’t know it, check out my Pai Gow 101 page. In Pai Gow Poker, the dealer generally deals the cards and acts as “Banker” by covering all the bets on the table. When the dealer is the banker, the house edge is around 2.68%. However, the game allows for individual players to bank the bets, too. This means that you will have to have enough of a bankroll to cover all the wagers on the table among your fellow players. You’ll then play “banker” which gives you an advantage because hands that tie (or “copies”) go to the banker.
So why not play banker every hand, especially when you’re heads up against the dealer? The casino doesn’t allow it. In fact, the most a player will be able to bank is every other hand, resulting in a house edge around 1.46%. If the casino doesn’t allow banking every other hand, the house edge will rise slightly. But if you have the bankroll, I recommend banking! More on Pai Gow from Wizard of Odds.
BACCARAT (BANKER, THEN PLAYER)
Baccarat is a super easy game to bet. You only have three choices — (1) Banker, (2) Player, or (3) Tie. That’s it. Betting the banker is one of the lowest house edge bets in the casino (1.06%), but just know that you have to pay a 5% commission on all wins. Betting the “Player” on baccarat isn’t too bad, either. The house edge is 1.24% and no commission will be paid. Note: Avoid the Tie bet (more on that later).
CRAPS (PLACE SIX AND EIGHT)
It doesn’t matter whether you place the 6 or 8 or both because the house edge is the same (same number of times the dice will roll 6 or 8). The house edge on these bets is 1.52%. These bets are different from the Pass/Come listed above and have a lesser payout than true odds. That said, these two bets are the next best bets on the table and are among the best in the whole casino.
Do yourself a favor and just don’t even approach a Keno parlor. The game is a true lottery, with house edges from 25% to 29%. Seriously just go put everything you wanted to bet on keno on one hand of blackjack. Or give it to me. Or throw it away. But don’t bet it on Keno. More on the house edge.
BIG 6/WHEEL OF FORTUNE
You know this game. It’s the big ass wheel in the middle of the casino that looks super flashy and easy because it’s just a wheel that spins and wins you money. Don’t approach. Back away. The house edge differs by bet, but ranges from 11.5% ($1) to 24% (casino logo).
TIE IN CASINO WAR
Generally avoid tie bets. Especially in casino war, where the house edge is 18.65%.
ANY SEVEN (CRAPS)
You would think the casino would reward those betting on the bad number, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The house edge is 16.67%, which makes those people throwing in bets on “red” dumb faces. Plus they deserve to lose for cheering against the dice (can you tell I don’t play the Don’t?).
TIE IN BACCARAT
As explained above, baccarat has a very low house edge on the Banker and Player bets. This is not the case for the Tie bet, which carries a house edge of 14.36%. Enjoy baccarat. Just don’t bet the tie.
LET IT RIDE BONUS BET
If you have played Let it Ride, you know what I’m talking about. That little $1 bet on the red circle seems so small, but it builds up as a significant loss over time, especially with a house edge anywhere from 13.77% to a whopping 36.52% at New York New York. For more, check out WoO Let it Ride page.
This is probably also a good time to note that pretty much every “side bet” on any table game is a bad one. I won’t get into every single one, but just know they are all bad bets over the long run. All of them. Yet every player at the table plays them and will judge you for not playing them too. Don’t succumb to their judging, those judging judgers.
CRAPS 2/12/HARD HOPS/ANY CRAPS/HARD 4 & 10
It is advisable to avoid every bet in the center of the craps table, especially the 2/12/hard hops which result in a house edge of 13.89%. The Any Craps/Hard 4 & 10 all have a house edge of 11.11%, and should also be avoided.
You knew it was coming. The problem is that it’s very difficult to put an accurate house edge estimate on all slot machines. What we do know is that the lower the limit, the higher the edge. As a result, penny machines have a lower expectancy than dollar machines. It has been estimated that the house edge in slots can reach all the way to 15%.
The following resources are great for checking the house edge on games, looking for news on new gaming developments, or figuring out the optimal strategy for games you already play or would like to try.
Gambling with an Edge (Podcast)
UNLV Center for Gaming Research