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Smart Bets

Aug 10, 2004 5:29 AM

Last week, we examined the casino’s "house edge," which quantifies the casino’s advantage on every bet. This week, we’ll compare the house edge of some of the most popular casino games.

Although the house percentage may not be practical in predicting the outcome of a game of chance, it is useful as a guide in deciding which games give you the best opportunity of winning. Keno, for instance, has a house advantage of more than 25 percent, while the Pass Line craps bets have a house advantage of only 1.4 percent. Obviously, your chances of winning at craps are significantly greater than at keno. But people continue to play keno with its poor chance of winning because it holds out the possibility of lottery-like jackpots.

Blackjack, or "21," is the casino’s most popular table game. The rules are simple to learn, and, if sound, basic strategy is followed, the player can greatly reduce the casino’s edge and possibly swing it in his favor.

The basic winning strategy for blackjack, based on computer-generated studies, is not a deep dark secret. Any number of books will list the choices. But it’s important for the player to follow the strategy, and not be swayed by "hunches" or other deviants.

Craps also provides a chance to win large sums of money in relatively short periods of play. But it’s important to avoid the myriad of "sucker" bets that have a high house advantage. Most of these are located in the center of the craps layout under proposition bets.

As with other casino games, the goal in craps is to capitalize on the relatively short cycle of streaks that invariably occur. These are marked by prolonged passes of the dice by a given shooter. That is, the shooter continues to roll, often times for many minutes, without sevening out. You can take advantage of these hot streaks by playing the Pass Line, backing that bet with free odds bets and placing multiple Come bets, also with free odds.

Baccarat is also among the games with a low house advantage, but players don’t decide when to draw cards, so there is no skill involved in playing the game. It is purely a game of chance. However, streaks do occur, and a winning strategy can take advantage of these cycles.

A sound winning strategy calls for placing bets on the bank hands. This surprises many players because bank bets are subject to a 5 percent commission for the house. However, the bank should win 50.7 percent of the time. And the 5 percent commission is paid only on winnings and not on losing bets. So, a player has a slightly better advantage by playing the bank.

For those who simply must play the machines, video poker has the lowest house advantage. The three best types of games to play are Jacks or Better, Double Bonus and full-pay Deuces Wild. By playing these types of machines and following "optimal strategy," the house edge can be as little as 1-2 percent.

No other casino game has gained the popularity that video poker has enjoyed over the past few years. In Las Vegas, video poker machines are especially popular at so-called locals casinos, where you’ll find a multitude of choices, both in variety of games and denominations.

There are several reasons for video poker’s popularity. The first is that people can play at their own pace, without pressure from dealers, croupiers or other players. Secondly, there’s an element of skill in video poker: Decisions must be made which, unlike slot machines, will determine whether and how much you can win. And, most important, there’s always the chance of hitting a lottery-like jackpot.