Ask the Wizard: Table Games - FAQ
Great site! I am interested in your thoughts on card clumping. The theories I have read seem to have some merit in regard to the method dealers now use to pick up cards (naturals first, then breaks, and finally standing hands), and then insufficient shuffling of 8-deck shoes to fully mathematically randomize. This would seem to lead to a reduced probability of dealer busting, thus breaking down the Basic Strategy odds. Keep up the great work!
— Bob from Hooksett, New Hampsire
I haven't studied card clumping, but in my opinion it is not a legitimate advantage play. I have never known a professional gambler or writer I respect to give card clumping any respect.
Do the odds at table games change when the number of players change? In other words, if there are more hands dealt, do the odds change? If not, is there anything at all salient (odds wise) about the number of players partaking in a particular game? This will settle a "bet".
— Steve from Detroit, USA
Generally, no, the odds do not change depending on the number of players. The only exception I can think of is side bets like Fortune
in Pai Gow Poker, which feature an envy bonus, and thus pay better according to the number of players.
I enjoy both Caribbean Stud and Blackjack. The element of risk for Stud is 2.56% and Blackjack is 0.38% or a ratio of 6.7. Assume I play $15 Blackjack and $5 ante Stud i.e., $15 at risk when I bet. Since the number of hands dealt per hour is many more for Blackjack versus Stud, does that mean that I will lose the same amount of my bankroll if the ratio of hands dealt per hour is 6.7?
— John from Monsey, USA
No. If you’re interested in comparing expected loses it would be better to use the house edge. My section on the house edge
shows the blackjack house edge to be 0.43% (Atlantic City rules) and that of Caribbean Stud Poker to be 5.22%. The expected loss for 1 hand of Caribbean Stud Poker at a $5 ante is $5 * 5.22% = 26.10 cents. The expected loss for 6.7 hands of blackjack at $15 per initial bet is 6.7 * $15 * 0.43% = 43.22 cents. So given these two options you will lose less in Caribbean Stud Poker. The ratio of the house edge of Caribbean Stud Poker to blackjack is about 12. So the expected loss of a $1 initial Caribbean Stud Poker bet is about the same as a $12 initial blackjack bet.
My friend and I have a side bet going on. I said to him that I think that blackjack has the best odds in a casino, he said to me that he thinks poker has the best odds. In a casino, what game do you have the best odds in winning, blackjack or poker?
— Jeff from Chicago, IL
Although they are hard to compare I say blackjack is the better bet. It is easy to be a good blackjack player by learning the basic strategy. It is difficult to be a good poker player. Casino poker rooms are often full of very good players just waiting for an inexperienced player to fleece. However some people may be naturally gifted at poker, so take my answer with a grain of salt.
What table game has the best odds for winning and is user friendly for a novice gambler? Thanks in advance.
— Dave from Port St. Lucie
For the person with no casino gambling experience who puts an emphasis on something easy to play I would start with baccarat. Just bet on the banker every time.
As I have little experience of casinos and do not think I can memorize all the finer points of the information your site offers, what would you recommend I play on my forthcoming trip to Las Vegas?
— Alastair from London, UK
I’d recommend craps or baccarat. In craps stick to the line bets and the odds. In baccarat bet on the banker every time.
Hi, I just have a general question. It is about the Poker Table Games. Why is it that almost every casino carries "Let it Ride", "Caribbean Stud Poker", and "3 card poker"? Some of those other Poker games I was reading about on your website sound cool, but they aren’t around at the Atlantic City locations. Is it because the above games are more popular, or just because the casino makes more money on them? Just wondering since Bally’s and Caesars in Atlantic City are testing the Boston 5 Poker game, and I like that game the best so far. i hope they keep it there. It is nice when the dealer doesn’t have to qualify (the reason why I try to avoid Caribbean stud poker) Thanks for your time.
Ultimately the games that you see in the casinos are the ones that make the most money for the casino. For a game to make money the players have to like it. So these games you mention are what players find the most fun. It also helps that they are owned by big gaming companies that have the resources to get them out there in the first place.
Which are the most and least volatile games?
Pai gow poker is the least volatile and on average keno is the most.
Great site! I’m a devoted fan who only bets on games with a small house edge.
I was surprised to find on the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s website, that the statewide casino win percentage for baccarat in 2003 was 19.62% and for mini baccarat, the casinos kept 13.81%. Why such a difference if the two games have the same house edge? By comparison, nickel slots (considered to have a lousy house edge) kept only 7.89% statewide! Why would slot machines (with a high house edge) keep less money than table games (with a low house edge)?
Thanks for the kind words. You are far from the only person to be confused about this. The reason is you are comparing the house advantage to the hold. The house advantage is the percentage you will lose on average of each dollar bet. The hold is the ratio of money the casino wins to chips purchased. This is going to be much higher than the house edge because in table games players circulate through the same chips for a while. So that baccarat figure is saying that of all the money dropped in the box in baccarat the casino won 19.62% and gave the players back the other 80.38%. Meanwhile the nickel slot figure is saying that of the total amount bet the casino kept 7.89% and gave players back 92.11%. To make a long answer short you are comparing apples and oranges.
First I want to say many thanks for what I consider to be the best gambling related site on the web. I’m a frequent player at Foxwoods and mostly play Black Jack, Craps, and some Video Poker. However when I look at your House Edge Chart, I see that Catch A Wave has a lower edge than Craps and even Baccarat. This makes me wonder why I only observe $ 5.00 bettors playing the Wave. It seems to me that this would be an excellent game for bigger bettors. Am I missing something?
Thanks. As good as my site it I would doubt if 1 gambler in 1000 has visited it. So the vast majority of players don’t know what a good bet Catch a Wave is, if played correctly.
Love your site! I enjoy casino gambling but generally can only afford a small bankroll (less than $100 per session). What game would you recommend to maximize the life of my bankroll and chances for a winning session?
Thanks. Considering both odds of winning and bankroll preservation I think the choice comes down to blackjack (which favors winning) and pai gow poker (which favors bankroll preservation). If you can find a $5 table in either game I would go with blackjack. If the minimums are $10 then I would go with pai gow poker.
I have some questions on tipping etiquette...
Blackjack: Can I double, split or take insurance for the dealer?
Caribbean Stud Poker: Can I (or do I have to) raise also for the dealer?
Let It Ride Poker: Can I place more than one bet for the dealer (what happens if I decide to take back one of my bets and there was a tip)?
Craps: Can I play a tip everywhere I can play (odds and props included)?
Roulette: Can I play on numbers for him? — Anonymous
As a general rule, you can make any bet for the dealer in any game. In general you should tell the dealer which bets are his, except blackjack where its common practice that any bet outside the betting circle is for the dealer.
Blackjack: Yes to all three. The usual way to bet for the dealer in blackjack is to put the tip on the edge of the betting circle. If you split or double most people also split or double the dealer’s bet, although it is not required.
Caribbean Stud Poker: I asked a dealer and he said raising for the dealer is optional. I haven't studied it but I think this would result in the tip having an advantage.
Let it Ride: I'm told that the player should put out three tips initially but must pull them back in the same manner that they pull back their own bets. Bets that are pulled back go to the player, not the dealer.
Craps: Yes, you can make any bet for the dealer. The most common ones are the yo-11 and the hard ways. If you make a line bet for the dealers and back it up with the odds it is implied the odds are a tip too.
Roulette: As in craps you can make any bet for the dealer. Just tell them in advance.
How does a table game player go about getting comped?
First get a player card, the same kind that go in the slot machines, from the Player’s Club desk. Then when you sit down at a table game take out your player card and give it to the dealer when you buy chips. The dealer will hopefully alert the pit boss that you have a player card and he will start to rate you based on your average bet, length of play, and sometimes your skill level.
In Las Vegas the majority of the casinos I’ve played in require a $100 blackjack bet for 4 hours daily to get a room comped. I’ve calculated that playing with S17,RSA,DOA,LSR assuming 100 hands per hour it is costing me $120 per day if I play basic strategy. Is there another game that I would lose less if I played? I’m mainly concerned with the cost of Pai Gow if I never bank playing $100 a hand 4 hours a day. However, I thought you might know of another game it would be even cheaper for me to play.
— Jay F.
The rule of thumb when it comes to comps is that the casinos give back some percentage, usually one-third. So if your goal is to get the room with as little expected loss as possible then whatever game offers the lowest house edge is what you should play. You will probably earn that room faster and with less bankroll volatility playing pai gow or pai gow poker. However the house edge is higher so your expected loss will be greater than in blackjack. In my opinion you should play whatever you would play if there were no comps at all. Then consider comps as icing on the cake.
How is the spread determined on any given table game? Example, a $5 minimum Blackjack table may have table maximum of $200 why?
The casinos like to corral their bettors according to how much they bet. One reason for this is the higher limit tables have fewer players so the big bettors get in more hands per hour. Another reason is that it is said players like to be around other players of similar bet size. If a player wanted to bet $1000 at a $5 table it might make other $5 players at that table feel nervous or uncomfortable. A third reason is it is a preventative measure against cheating.
Can you use a strategy card at ALL Table games?
Yes. I have never heard of a player being refused to use one.
Was reading through your site and browsing the section on tipping and had a few comments to share. I’ve always found it best to place the tip on top of my bet and have the dealer’s "playing with me" until I lose. Usually you are tipping when you are winning and if you get on a long winning streak a $1 tip can turn into much more for the dealers. Just make sure the dealer knows that the extra chip on top of your own bet is for them! Thanks for all the great information on all the games!
I’ve seen this happen before and I agree that some dealers like it. However in my opinion most don’t care because tips are pooled and shared among all the dealers. In 18 years of playing blackjack I have only once seen a dealer ask a player to do this.
[Bluejay adds: I always ask dealers which method they prefer, because some have a distinct preference. Some like the chip riding on top while others hate it. I like giving dealers the option, because just by asking I establish a small bond with them by showing that I’m considering their feelings.]
I read your article entitled Marketing New Casino Games , and I am a bit discouraged because I just invented a new game and I am actually thinking of marketing it. In your article you mentioned that new table games are rented out to casinos for about $300 to $500 per table per month. I thought that there is big money in this business if you're fortunate enough to invent a really good game. I was told that Derek Webb, the guy who invented 3-card poker made millions from the game. Is this not true?
Truly top games like Three Card Poker can get up to $1,500 to $2,000 per month, from what I hear. I don't know exactly how much Webb made but whatever it was he had to spend a lot of it on lawyers fees defending the game. There is an article about Webb and Three Card Poker in the August 2004 issue of Playboy.
I realize that decisions per hour in games like blackjack and craps can depend heavily on factors like the number of other players at the table, the hand shuffle vs. machine shuffle, shooter and dealer speed. Still, I was curious if you could give me a rough approximation of how many decisions per hour an individual can expect at a mostly-full craps table and a blackjack table with both a hand shuffle and machine shuffle. This would help me estimate my expected loss per hour and weigh it against the comps I am being offered.
The following tables show the number of hands/tosses per hour in blackjack, craps, and roulette. The source of the tables is Casino Operations Management
by Jim Kilby.
|Hands per Hour in Blackjack|
|Players||Hands per hour|
|Rolls per Hour in Craps|
|Players||Rolls per hour|
In craps 29.6% of total rolls are come out rolls, on average.
|Spins per Hour in Roulette|
|Players||Spins per hour|
I have reviewed your site and am looking for casinos in Nevada and Mississippi that have the best pay out schedules for each table game (I prefer 3 card poker). Do you have a listing or link that shows the "loosest table games" casinos?
I have thought about that many times but always shoot down the idea because it would be very high maintenance to keep it up to date. I do know they have full pay 1/4/6/30/40 pay table on the Pairplus in Three Card Poker at the Pioneer in Laughlin. At least they did when I was last there a few months ago. As far as I know every casino in Vegas follows the stingier 1/3/6/30/40 pay table.
Why do casinos predominately use green felt for their layouts? Has there been a study on this and if so where can I look for the results?
— Carol from Reno
I asked Barney Vinson, author of Ask Barney: An Insider’s Guide to Las Vegas
this question. He speculated it is a carry-over from the days of illegal gambling, but had no idea why the illegal tables used green felt. This is just a theory but I believe it is because pool table felt is usually green. The makers of gambling tables probably found green felt in the greatest supply because of the abundance of pool tables. However that begs the question, why do pool tables use green felt? I did some searching and found this explanation:
"The History of billiards is long and very rich. The game has been played by kings and commoners, presidents, mental patients, ladies, gentlemen, and hustlers alike. It evolved from a lawn game similar to the croquet played some-time during the 15th century in Northern Europe and probably in France. Play moved indoors to a wooden table with green cloth to simulate grass, and a simple border was placed around the edges." - Dolly’s Pro Shop
On TV they had a program the Do & Don’ts in Las Vegas. On this program they advised you that when playing Blackjack and win you are not subject to taxes?? I can’t believe this.
You are subject to tax for any gambling winnings. However table games players are basically on the honor system. An exception that a W2G form is generated if a win is 300 for 1 or more odds and is over $600. That is usually only an issue with progressive jackpots. Also, if there is a cash transaction of $10,000 or over the casino is obligated to fill out a CTR, which stands for Cash Transaction Report. Yet these are nothing to worry about, and I think many big bettors are overly paranoid about them.
With the continuing gains in popularity of slots/VP and new table games (3 card poker, let it ride, caribbean stud, etc.), have any (major) casinos stopped offering the "classic" table games (blackjack, roulette, craps, etc.)?
— Dean M. from Toronto, Ontario
Interestingly, the Casino Royale here in Vegas has zero legitimate blackjack games. I believe they have four Blackjack Switch games and one 6 to 5 game. They still have craps and roulette.
I have a free bet coupon from the Mohegan Sun, which can be used on baccarat, sic bo, or big six. If I win I get to keep the winnings but win or lose I must give up the coupon. What is the best bet to use it on in each of these games?
— Mike H. from New Jersey
Generally speaking, you want to put it on a long shot. This is because you don’t get to keep the coupon on a win, which lowers the value by the probability of winning. The less the probability of winning the less the value is reduced. Following are three tables for the three games listed. You’ll see the best bet is a tie between the 12, 30, 60, triple, and any triple in sic bo.
|Free Bet Coupon Value in Baccarat|
|Bet ||Pays ||Probability ||Return |
|Banker wins ||0.95 ||0.458597 ||0.481484 |
|Player wins ||1 ||0.446247 ||0.493175 |
|Tie ||8 ||0.095156 ||0.761248 |
|Free Bet Coupon Value in Big Six|
|Bet ||Pays ||Probability ||Return |
|1 ||1 ||0.444444 ||0.444444 |
|2 ||2 ||0.277778 ||0.555556 |
|5 ||5 ||0.12963 ||0.648148 |
|10 ||10 ||0.074074 ||0.740741 |
|20 ||20 ||0.037037 ||0.740741 |
|Joker ||40 ||0.018519 ||0.740741 |
|Logo ||40 ||0.018519 ||0.740741 |
|Free Bet Coupon Value in Sic Bo|
|Bet ||Pays ||Probability ||Return |
|Small, Big ||1 ||0.486111 ||0.486111 |
|4, 17 ||60 ||0.013889 ||0.833333 |
|5, 16 ||30 ||0.027778 ||0.833333 |
|6, 15 ||17 ||0.046296 ||0.787037 |
|7, 14 ||12 ||0.069444 ||0.833333 |
|8, 13 ||8 ||0.097222 ||0.777778 |
|9, 12 ||6 ||0.115741 ||0.694444 |
|10, 11 ||6 ||0.125 ||0.75 |
|Triple ||180 ||0.00463 ||0.833333 |
|Any triple ||30 ||0.027778 ||0.833333 |
|Double ||10 ||0.074074 ||0.740741 |
My friends and I are planning a weekend trip to Las Vegas. As a college student, I’ve decided the most I can afford to lose (the best way to set a limit when gambling I think) is $500. I was curious what games you thought I should play? What stakes? You could call me slightly risk-seeking, because I’d love to return to Durham with a big stack and I’m mentally ready to lose it all. Thanks so much, your web site is fantastic.
— Ben from Durham
Thanks for the kind words. The three games where you can get the house edge under 0.5% are blackjack, craps, and video poker. Of the three I would recommend blackjack. I would start betting $10 a hand. By playing conservatively at the beginning you won’t go bust too soon and have to beg your friends for a loan. Let’s say you want to double your bankroll or go bust trying, then press your bets as you get close to the end of your trip. Be sure to memorize the basic strategy before you play and don’t accept anything more than a 0.4% house edge.
Hey Wizard - I love the site! My wife and I just returned from Vegas, and I really noticed the proliferation of 6:5 Blackjack games all up and down the strip. Thanks to your site, and the numerous articles that you wrote or linked to, we were able to avoid these games entirely. I did notice, however, that most of these tables seemed to be close to capacity, and I’m wondering how long you think it will take before the ’blissfully ignorant masses’ begin to hear about how insidious this small rule change is? At first glance, it seems like the ’pitch game’ that my wife and I like so much (and could only find downtown in the past) and I think a lot of people just don’t realize the edge they’re giving up. If we hadn’t read your site, we might have thought the casinos were responding to customer demand for pitch games. Keep up the great work.
— Thayer from Atlanta, GA
Thanks. The ratio of 6 to 5 games will only go up, in my prediction. You could ask the same question about lots of games. Why do people play 8/5 jacks or better video poker when a 9/6 game is across the aisle? Why do people play double zero roulette when the same casino has single zero? Why do people bet more than the minimum on the pass line, but then don’t take full odds in craps? Granted, sometimes game limits are an issue but you see people betting large amounts foolishly all the time. My own guess is that it is easier to believe in luck and superstition than to do a little reading about the odds.
"What luck for rulers, that men do not think." - Adolph Hitler
Just wanted to know if you knew where the majority of casinos here in Vegas buy their craps tables. And if these companies sold their tables to the public?
— Dennis from Henderson, NV
Two suppliers of gaming tables I am aware of are TCS John Huxley and Midwest Game Supply. They probably do sell to the public. The price of a craps table at Midwest Game Supply is $3,950. If a used one will suffice, the Gambler's General Store
sells used tables.
From a Casino operators stand point, what factors should be considered when setting table minimums and maximums. What constitutes an even spread without setting yourself up for big swings? Is there a ’rule of thumb’ i:e. 10 x the minimum bet?
— Terry from Corpus Christi
I asked this question of “Brain”, a casino manager. Here is what he said.
Table minimums are basically the price point at which we can "sell" the games. These fluctuate based on the clientele in-house, hotel occupancy, individual customer needs, etc. We use a 10X multiple for our maximum to protect us from large betting swings or counters.
We will get complaints from guests such as: Why don’t you lower this blackjack table to a $5 minimum? They don’t understand that one $10 player is worth more to the casino than two $5 players. Or that one $25 player is worth more than three $10 players.
Most casinos monitor capacity by counting the number of players periodically (e.g., every hour) and comparing it to the number of spots available. This is tricky because there is an actual capacity (total number of spots on a table) and what I consider a comfortable capacity, which is how many people can comfortably sit at a table. Unless there are no options available, most people prefer to play at a table with one or two open spots so they have room to stretch out and aren’t rubbing elbows.
Based on capacity, at any time during the evening we may lower or raise our table limits.
My personal philosophy is to have lower limit tables near the entrances and high traffic areas to give the appearance that we are busier. I rarely raise a minimum on a table in play, but may lower it. If I do raise a minimum, I always "grandfather" the seated players in.
Brian didn’t get into the ratio of the maximum to the minimum bet but a similar question was asked before. I asked an executive with a major Las Vegas casino about it at the time and he said they like to corral their big bettors into the high limit areas.
When do table game winnings become taxable?
— Cliff from Aiea
In the U.S., any gambling winnings of any kind and any amount are taxable. However, with table games, it is on the honor system to report.
Do you think any individual player can beat the odds over the long run in California games that every seated player has the same opportunity to bank, once every round, assuming players have to pay $1 to the house every hand?
— Linda from San Jose
Yes and no. Those games usually have a banker advantage, so if you took it at every opportunity, you would have a long-term advantage. However, there are agreements among the casinos and banking organizations not to let ordinary players do this excessively, as if it were a business, as opposed to recreational gambling.
Why is it that dealers at craps tables are very reluctant to color up your chip stack, unless you are leaving the table? Although I’ve never had a dealer outright refuse to do so, they often begrudgingly comply with a wise or snide comment, as though I were asking too much of them.
— Ron from State College
This is true of all table games, not just craps. The policy against coloring up, except when leaving, comes down from management, so don’t blame the dealers. A good dealer is supposed to keep the player well armed with chips at the level he is betting. Coloring up goes against this purpose. It will lead to chip shortages, causing the player to ask to break down the big chips, which wastes time. There may also be an unstated purpose that the player will be unlikely to bet the big chip.
How high can a person off the street bet in the big high roller lounges?
Las Vegas casinos are surprisingly risk averse; they don’t like taking big bets. For customers off the street, the biggest bet a nice casino will take is usually $150,000 in baccarat, on player or banker. In other traditional table games, the limit is usually $10,000. Limits can be raised upon request by known customers.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas .
Reason #4 why the Wizard likes Bovada:
Bovada offers the triple crown of gambling: casino, poker, and sports. Many other casinos have tacked on poker as an afterthought, and many poker rooms have tacked on a casino as an afterthought, and the lack of attention shows, sometimes painfully. And very few of these sites let you make sports wagers.
But Bovada doesn’t just offer all three, they do each one well, and everything’s integrated. It’s easy to play all three off one deposit, off just one account.
Another nice thing about Bovada is that you don’t need a separate account to play casino games with fake money. In fact you do not even need an account for that at all, you can just click over there and play. Finally, Bovada usernames are only six or seven characters long making them possible to remember. By contrast some competitors’ usernames are extremely long and cumbersome.