Sidebets are not best play for table games

Nov 6, 2019 3:00 AM

There is a trend that is starting in table games that I find very unnerving.

To be clear, this does not mean it will not be a successful trend. That is up to you, my readers and the rest of the table game-playing public.

This trend is the addition of relatively low-paying, zero strategy and unknown probability aspects to the sidebets of table games.

Two of these three components are not really new. Sidebets have long had far lower paybacks than base wagers on table games. Blackjack pays 99.5 percent, while the sidebets pay 80-95 percent at best.

The tradeoff has generally been that you have an opportunity to win a much larger amount of money on one hand that a single hand of Blackjack allows. Further, the lack of strategy in almost all sidebets means that the casinos cannot count on any amount of human error to make the real house edge any higher than the theoretical house edge.

For sidebets of Blackjack and Baccarat, the paybacks have to be especially low because most of these sidebets are countable. This means an astute player can avoid the wager when the payback is very low and jump in when the payback goes to a more desirable level — potentially even over 100 percent. Base paybacks of about 85 percent tend to make these occurrences rather rare.

It is the third element that I find the most problematic — the unknown probability. The most common version of this is the random wheel spin. Some event happens — maybe you get a Blackjack or you’re dealt a pair of 3’s. This triggers the spinning of a wheel with several prize amounts on it, but despite what the digital wheel may look like, the probability of each winning occurrence is completely unknown to the player.

The top prize, say $1,000, might appear to be 5 percent of the wheel, but this does not mean that you have a 5 percent chance of winning this prize. At this point, the wager has turned into a slot machine. Making matters worse is that some of these sidebets have an unknown random element built into the triggering event as well. The device will from time to time simply pick a seat as the winning seat.

What is the payback of this sidebet? There is no way to determine this from simply looking at all the known information. You could have two Blackjack tables side to side and one may be programmed for 92 percent and the other 85 percent even though they look completely identical. Does this sound a bit like how slot machines operate?

This should not be confused with the concept of using some random number for determining the prize. For example, if rolling normal die (1 or more) or revealing a number of cards from a standard deck determined the prize, then this is completely different. These events have known or calculatable probabilities and thus we can determine the exact payback.

If we have two tables with the same paytables, then the paybacks must be the same if the winning events are the same.

While I’m still not happy with the relatively low paybacks of these sidebets, at least the player is able to make an informed decision.

As I said earlier, the fate of these sidebets are in the hands of the player. I’ve been surprised so far to see how acceptable they have been. Only time will tell if enough players avoid these types of sidebets to make the casinos come up with ones where the paybacks will be known to the player. 

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