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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: Look beyond the payoffs before making side bets

8 April 2009

Bonus or "side bets" are busting out all over tables in casinos across our great country. The double entendre is intended.

These bets typically dangle the carrot of high payoffs for small wagers, overcoming players' need in the underlying games to risk a lot to win a lot. The stick is that most side bets are (sorry but there's no kinder, gentler way to say it) for suckers.

The house generally has a large statistical advantage on side action. The incessant pounding takes a toll on a fanny pack even if the amount bet is small. Further, the odds against winning are heavier than the majority of solid citizens imagine. Both absolutely and relative to the payoff.

Consider Dragon baccarat. In this variation of the classic game, a side bet pays according to the number of points by which the hand on which you make your main wager exceeds its opposite. For instance, say you're betting Banker and win. If Banker has a total of seven and Player has a total on two, the side bet pays according to the difference of five. Your side bet automatically loses if Banker loses. Payoffs in the standard implementation of the game are shown in the first of the accompanying tables.

Side bet payoffs on standard version of Dragon baccarat

result	                                        payoff
win by 9 points (not with a natural 8 or 9)	30-to-1
win by 8 points (not with a natural 8 or 9)	10-to-1
win by 7 points (not with a natural 8 or 9)	6-to-1
win by 6 points (not with a natural 8 or 9)	4-to-1
win by 5 points (not with a natural 8 or 9)	2-to-1
win by 4 points (not with a natural 8 or 9)	1-to-1
win with a natural 8 or 9	                1-to-1
tie with a natural 8 or 9	                push
anything else	                                lose

The edge in the main game is 1.24 percent for bets on Player and 1.06 percent on Banker (ignoring ties). Pretend your wager is $10. These edges represent average takes by the house or losses by the bettor of 12.4 and 10.6 cents for the respective hands.

Edge on the side bet is 2.67 percent for Player and 9.39 percent on Banker. Say you put a $1 on the side bet, figuring a buck is chump change so why not give it a shot? Edge accounts for an average loss of 2.7 and 9.4 cents on the respective hands. The 2.7 cents for Player is moderately high. The 9.4 cents on $1 for Banker is excessive; a $2 side bet, an 18.8-cent fee, would be the tail wagging the dog of 10.6 cents on $10 for the main game.

Think of it in hourly terms. You won't find the Dragon option on the slow-paced high-limit baccarat tables. It'll be at mini-baccarat, where you can expect at least 100 hands per hour. Here are the theoretical commissions you pay the casino to book your action per hour at this rate, assuming $10 per round on the main game and $1 on the side bet. On Player, $12.40 for the main and $2.70 for the side bet $15.10 total. On Banker, $10.60 for the main and $9.40 for the side bet $20.00 in all.

There's something else to think about. The odds against actually winning anything worthwhile for the money you put at risk, round after round, are quite adverse. And that's even if you consider 30-to-1 worthwhile, which most folks making side bets to add a jackpot effect to table games wouldn't. Chances are shown in the second of the accompanying tables. Prospects of winning anything at all are 29.0 percent for Player and 28.3 percent for Banker. And, of those wins, almost two-thirds pay only even 1-to-1.

Will people play this game and make these bets? Some will. Some will even find it remunerative. Those who don't aren't apt to try again on their next casino visit. And those who make a profit the first time are likely to wonder what went wrong the second. For, as that persistently prophetic poet, Sumner A Ingmark, put it:

The danger of beginners' luck, Is that the next time you'll get stuck.

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.