What constitutes a bad bet in a casino? Now there’s a loaded question. From a purely mathematical standpoint, any and all bets where the player doesn’t have an advantage are bad. Why? Because it costs money (gambling losses) to play. The renowned blackjack author, Peter Griffin, puts it this way: “After analyzing a casino proposition, I decide whether or not to play based on one thing–whether the sign preceding the figure on the bottom line is positive or negative. If the number has a negative sign, say -1.41 percent for the pass line bet at craps, I’m not interested.”
Eminently logical, but there’s one little problem. Griffin’s criterion eliminates every bet in the casino. Why? Because the house effectively has the advantage on every bet a typical gambler makes.
Does that mean they’re all bad? I’d say no.
Anyone who’s read earlier Casino Player articles I’ve written knows that I acknowledge the fact that people enjoy the activity of gambling. As such, I prefer to evaluate gambling propositions on a cost-to-return basis. Yes, it costs money to play, but the enjoyment, excitement and stimulation that’s generated represents a fair return. Usually, that is. Some bets simply impose too high a tax. When we know which bets are the expensive ones, we can avoid them, which benefits the most important bottom line of all–our own.
So what’s a bad bet? That’s tough. After all, one man’s bad bet is another man’s free T-shirt (see Sports Betting). Take slot machines. Which of the following wagers is a bad bet: a two-coin dollar machine that returns a lofty 98.2 percent, or a five-coin nickel machine that returns a lowly 89 percent? Surprise. A quick calculation tells us that the dollar machine costs 3.6ý per pull to play, while the nickel costs only 2.75ý.
How about the following comparison? Which is the bad bet: red dog with a casino edge of 2.5 percent, or double-zero roulette where the ligaz888 casino advantage is more than double that at 5.26 percent? The answer here depends on how long you play, because red dog moves at nearly five times the speed of roulette. Over the course of an hour of $5 wagers, your expected loss at red dog is $25, compared to only $10.50 at roulette. The bad-bet dynamic changes due to the influence of speed.
Skill level also comes into play. Let’s look at red dog again. An uninformed player who never raises his bet forks over a hefty 8 percent to the casino. Meanwhile, a player who employs the simple “rule of 7” option–raising with a gap of seven or less–slashes the edge to the 2.5 percent mentioned above. Red dog becomes less of a bad bet as a player’s skill level increases.
So let’s set some ground rules for membership in this particular bad-bet club. First, we’ll consider the casino edge for a single wager only. That means speed of play will not be considered. Second, we’ll assume skill levels of an average recreational gambler. And third, we have to set some fixed standard for bad, so let’s go with what I’ll call the “double-digit ding.” That is, a bet must have a casino edge of 10 percent or more to be included (thus leaving out Megabucks, which squeaks under the barrier at about a 9 percent edge for the casinos).
I’m tempted to include situations where an option is similar, but inferior to another that is readily available. An example would be the 5-number bet at double-zero roulette, which costs 7.89 percent, as opposed to 5.26 percent for every other wager on the layout. Or even crapless craps, which has a casino advantage for the pass line wager of 5.4 percent, as opposed to the normal game’s 1.4 percent. However, this would open up another can of worms that can remain closed until another day.
So with our parameters defined, let’s go down the list and shine a light on the bad guys. You’ll see patterns develop. Side bets, new bets, bonus bets, “specials,” and off-beat games are the primary candidates for inclusion in this infamous club.
By far, the most likely place to find an exceedingly bad bet is in a proposition that offers a big jackpot. Gambling expert Stanford Wong, who monitors all the new gambling-game developments for Current Blackjack News, concurs. “Any time there’s a chance for a high payoff for a low investment, you need to be careful.” The examples are legion, because the casinos have learned that they can get away with it. A big lure for gamblers is the possibility of a life-changing score, and most don’t mind betting a dollar here and there for a shot at it.
The two most prominent examples are the $1 side bets in Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride (both the table-game and video versions). Except in the rarest of circumstances (when the progressives climb very high), these bets are among the worst you will ever encounter in a casino. How bad are they? On the table games, casino advantages in excess of 40 percent are not uncommon.
This modus operandi of charging a high premium for a shot at a big score surfaces again and again as you’ll see below. Beware.