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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Winners, not losers, pay the electric bills

17 September 1999

Dear Mark,
I've heard from other individuals and read from you about the "house edge" when it comes to certain casino games. So, if you wouldn't mind, can you explain to me how the house advantage on a roulette table is determined? Michael K.

The casino's edge or advantage is different from game to game and from the distinct wagers on those games.

The best way to understand the concept of the casino advantage is to think of it as a hidden tax when you win a bet, NOT when you lose your wager. Yes, Michael, you are reading this correctly! It is when you win that the casino reaches for your wallet. By not receiving a fair payout for a winning wager, you are charged this secret levy that you probably don't realize you're paying.

In roulette, a fair payout on a $1 winning number is $37. However, the casino only pays you $35. It retains the extra $2, giving the house its 5.26% advantage. It is that $2 into the casino's coffers that gives the casino its profits.

Your goal as a smart casino player is to lessen this concealed charge. By reducing the casino advantage with bets that carry a low house edge, you will minimize your losses and have a much better chance of winning.

Dear Mark,
I played a game called Bayou BlackJack in Louisiana where the dealer shows both of his cards before you take your first hit. Do you know where this game is played in Las Vegas? Hal G.

A place you don't want to be. Also called Double Exposure blackjack, this is yet another variation of blackjack in which the rule changes are not always in the player's best interest. The biggest modification from conventional blackjack is that both the dealer cards are dealt face-up. However, because you view both of the dealer's up-cards, the playing rules are adjusted to favor the casino more than standard blackjack. This includes paying blackjacks at even money, doubling down permitted only on 9, 10, 11; and insurance, re-splits and surrender are not allowed. Also, all tie hands result in a loss with the exception of a player's blackjack. It beats a dealer's snapper.

Because of these rule changes, Hal, Bayou Blackjack is not as auspicious as traditional casino blackjack. It's a game worth avoiding.

Dear Mark,
Are there any advantages to playing on a video blackjack machine versus a live action game? P. J.

Sure, if you split 10s against a dealer 6 on a video game, no fellow player can verbally violate you.
Seriously, unless you find a machine that pays you the true value of a blackjack (3 for 2), look at most video blackjack machines with a jaundiced eye. Most machines pay even money on natural 21s. Because you can expect a snapper every 21 hands in live play, the loss of that bonus will cost you an additional 2.3 percent. Considering that blackjack has a house advantage of less than .5 percent to a knowledgeable player, you are giving away the farm here.

Other machines round down on blackjack payoffs. If you do happen to find a machine that pays the bonus for a blackjack, make wagers in even amounts so you can get the maximum value of a blackjack (a payoff of $3 for every $2 wagered). And what will a dollar wagered get you for a blackjack? Just a buck, so always bet in two-unit increments.

The advantage of a video blackjack machine vs. a live game is the low minimum bankroll requirement needed to play. I've seen 5¢ and many 25¢ video blackjack games on the casino floor. They also lack the intimidation factor of a live game, plus they make excellent practice session mates where you can work on perfect basic strategy.

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.