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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Laying the Numbers: Conservative Craps for Bold Bettors

29 December 1997

Lay bets at craps are wagers that a shooter will roll a seven rather than the selected number. They're the opposite of place bets. Yet, placing numbers is well understood and quite common, while few players know about - let alone use - the lay option.

The basis of lay betting is simple. 1) Payoffs precisely mirror the odds of winning. 2) In most casinos, you must lay enough to win at least $20, even if this exceeds the nominal table minimum. 3) When you make a lay bet, you add a "vig" equal to 5 percent of the potential win, rounded down to the next lowest whole dollar; the casino keeps this fee, regardless of outcome.

Say you want to lay the minimum. Against four or 10, you're favored to win, 2-to-1, so you lay $40 to win $20; you give the dealer $41, the extra dollar - the vig which you don't get back if you win - being the 5 percent of the $20 you hope to collect. Likewise, against five or nine, you lay $30 to win $20 because the odds are 3-to-2 in your favor, and you give the dealer $31. For six or eight, you lay $24 to win $20 because the odds are 6?to-5 in your favor, and you give the dealer $25. Effectively, you're risking $41 to win $19 on the four or 10, $31 to win $19 on the five or nine, and $25 to win $19 on the six or eight.

If you can afford to lay more than the minimum, you can trim the fraction of the bet you pay as vig. This exploits the fact that the casino rounds down to the nearest dollar.

For instance, lay the four or 10 for $78 to win $39; 5 percent of $39 is $1.95, which rounds down to $1 - for an effective vig of 1/39 or 2.56 percent. At $80 to win $40, the benefit is lost because the charge is 5 percent of $40 or $2. Similarly, lay the five or nine for $57 to win $38; 5 percent of $38 is $1.90, which rounds down to $1 - for an effective vig of 1/38 or 2.63 percent. And lay the six or eight for $42 to win $35; 5 percent of $35 is $1.75, which rounds down to $1 - for an effective vig of 1/35 or 2.86 percent.

Some solid citizens avoid lay bets because they dislike wagers paying less than the amount at risk, despite favorable odds. Other players shun the "dark side" of craps, disdaining the disgrace they discern dumped on misanthropes who "bet against the shooter." And, of course, mere mortals accustomed to placing three inside boxes for $17 at a $5 table may get sweaty palms tossing out $25 to $41 against a single number or $113 for a minimum lay against a combination like the four, five, and 10.

Laying has several attractive features that can offset these limitations, depending on your gambling goals and predilections. First, the favorable odds means that each lay bet is more likely to win than lose, while the opposite holds for place bets. Second, if a player has multiple lay bets active simultaneously, they may lose individually during a hand but will win all at once when the shooter throws the seven; multiple place bets win one at a time and lose all at once. And, third, since every shooter finally misses-out, keeping lay bets in action eventually leads to a win while maintaining place bets on the layout ultimately leads to a loss.

Statistically, over an extended period and allowing for differences in effective house advantage, lay and place bets yield equivalent results. The approaches diverge in the short term. Laying against one or two numbers favors multiple small wins balanced by occasional large losses; placing one or two numbers is more apt to produce a few large wins counteracted by many small losses. The effect reverses as more numbers are involved.

Which is best? It depends on you. Your individual hopes, dreams, ability to handle success and failure, bankroll. Anyway, if I had an answer to that question, I'd be writing a sequel to Freud's The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, not a newspaper column for gamblers seeking information to help them make the most of the casino experience. Still, I can point you for inspiration to the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, whose sonnets gave even Sigmund the slip:


Casinos poorly serve us,
With bets that make us nervous.

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.