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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Dropping zeroes drops the house edge

31 March 2006

Dear Mark,
For years I’ve been trying to convince my wife that playing on a single-zero roulette table, which, by the way, our local casino offers, is a much better play than on a double-zero wheel. She sort of believes me but it’s just that the 00 is her favorite number on the layout. Besides, she believes that splitting the 0/00 reduces the house edge to that of a single-wheel game. I don’t believe she is correct and we have dinner in the casino buffet riding on your reply. Who wins? Eugene T.

The feeding frenzy at the trough is on your wife, Eugene.

Placing a split bet on the 0 and 00 in roulette makes zero difference to the house edge. The casino advantage of 5.26% applies when splitting the 0 and 00, just as it would on any other split bet on the layout. All split wagers, single-number bets, as well as all outside wagers with the exception of one (the 1, 2, 3, 0, 00) carry that same steep 5.26% house edge. What would drop the house edge would be dropping zeroes.

Most players don’t realize this, but the casino advantage of 5.26% in roulette comes from the presence of the 0 and 00 on the layout. The casino pays all wagers according to how the odds would be if there were just 36 numbers on the wheel, even though by adding the 0 and 00, there are now 38 numbers. The true odds of hitting your number are 1/38, yet winners are paid only 35-1. By playing on a single-zero game, which when given the choice you and wife should always do, you cut the house edge in half; the house will still pay you 35-1, even though the true odds are improved for you to 1/37.

Here’s a bit of roulette trivia your significant other would probably appreciate. Originally, the single-zero wheel began in America and the double-zero wheel in Europe. But Europeans eventually prized the single-zero wheel more, while the double-zero wheel became more popular in America, so they switched. Today, the European wheel, also known as the French wheel, and the single-zero wheel are synonymous, all having 37 betting spots.

I can personally attest to this oddball lunacy brightening the late '80s. I dealt roulette at Bill’s Lake Tahoe Casino, where at that time we had the only single-zero wheel at South Lake Tahoe — the best deal for the customer, yet we ended up yanking it after nine months, not because management was whining about the house edge being reduced to 2.63% across the layout, but because of the drone of customer complaints generated by uneducated players who couldn’t bet the 00 anymore. Go figure, because those misguided gamblers sure couldn’t.

Dear Mark,
A friend of mine and I were talking about the maximum amount of players at Texas Hold'em. I said 22 players and he said only 21 could be the maximum because by tradition you can't use the last card in the deck. Please settle this argument. John M.

Unlike blackjack, John, in Texas Hold’em, you do not discard the top card of the deck prior to dealing a round. So, theoretically, Texas Hold’em can be played by up to 22 players (44 player cards, three burn cards, and five community cards).

As to some unwritten law of not using the last card, I’ve never heard of it. Also, since Hold'em is generally played among 2 to 10 people, you'll only see a spread larger than that late at night when the poker room is short a dealer, or in tournaments when they occasionally combine two tables.

As for myself, I've never sat in on anything larger than a 12-handed game.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Even the most cunning strategist is helpless in the face of an ice-cold run of cards or someone else's idiotic good fortune." --Phil Gordon

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.