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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Give Those "Lay" Bets a Second Thought

21 October 2003

Most casino action involves small to moderate bets offering equal or, more often these days, much greater returns. The especial popularity of jackpot-oriented wagers has a lot to do with "utility." Folks risk money they figure they can always get, seeking fortunes they realize they'll never amass the hard way.

Everyone knows, or should, that the money multiples are offset by the probabilities. Higher payoff ratios, lower chances. But the throwaway nature of typical bets, the richness of the possible rewards, and the fantasy that the next round might just be "it," drive the remoteness of the prospects off the radar.

Conversely, nobody would make a huge bet to win a pittance even with little likelihood of failure. Say $10,000 to win $1 at only one chance in 100,000 of losing. A dollar isn't worth risking $10,000 to win, notwithstanding the principles of probability pronouncing this particular proposition profoundly propitious.

Bets players are favored to win, but which return less than the amount at risk, are called "Lays." Solid citizens avoid not only extreme Lays, where utility raises a bright red flag, but moderate bets of this type as well. An example would be to give a craps dealer $40 to Lay the nine for $39 and pay $1 vigorish; the bettor is favored 3-to-2 to net $25. The opposite situation, Placing the nine for $40, fights odds of 3-to-2 for a $56 profit.

Yet, despite the allure of being favored to win, and even when the edge is less on a Lay than on the Place counterpart, Lays are relatively rare. In monetary terms, the bite is $1.60 Placing the nine for $40 and $1.00 Laying behind it for $39. Volatility, the magnitude of the bankroll swings you can expect, is comparable either way. What changes is session "skewness." For equal loss limits, Place bets afford smaller chance of greater profit, while Lays offer more likelihood of less gain.

Many craps players who bet on Don't Pass are similarly averse to Laying Odds after the come-out roll. Most craps aficionados find "Taking" Odds on Pass bets eminently logical since the original "flat" portion of a wager only pays 1-to-1 while the Odds return 6-to-5, 3-to-2, and 2-to-1 on points of six or eight, five or nine, and four or 10, respectively. However, Laying odds on Don't Pass bets after the come-out strikes many as counter-intuitive.

The bugaboo with Don't Pass is that flat bets pay 1-to-1 while Odds pay less: $6 gets you $5, $4, or $3 for sixes and eights, fives and nines, or fours and 10s, respectively. The secondary bets not only pay less than the primary, but you can lose more than you can win. So, the argument goes, if $17 bet flat pays $17 on Don't Pass, why start with $5 and add $12 later if it will only bring a total of $15, $13, or $11, depending on the point?

The justification for Laying Odds gets buried in the bowels of the math. You must surmount an 8-to-3 handicap coming out with the initial $5, to earn the right to collect even money when you're favored thereafter. Overall, the house charges a theoretical $0.07 fee for banking the action. Laying Odds is an opportunity for an additional bet from which the casino squeezes no juice. When you Lay that $12 on the $5, for instance, the bosses still only filch an average of $0.07 from your fanny pack.

What if you bet $17 at the outset? You'd give the house $0.24 instead of $0.07 worth of edge. Not that you'd notice the $0.17 difference (which helps explain why gamblers keep coming back). More evidently, $17 rather than $5 is vulnerable when you're the underdog on the come-out, and the price you pay is being up to win only $15, $13, or $11 when you're favored on the point roll.

And, don't be deluded by the impression that come-outs are merely preludes to the real game, the point rolls. It's not how long your bets sit in one mode or the other. It's your shot of winning or losing this or that, sooner or later. Akin to the prescription of the patient Parnassian, the punters' poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

Engaging idle time constructively,
Keeps life from passing unproductively.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.