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Best of John Grochowski

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21 + 3 rides high

16 November 2014

QUESTION: I've been surprised at the staying power of 21 + 3. Blackjack side bets come and go, but that one's lasted for years. Do you have any thoughts on why that one and not Royal Match or Over/Under 13, for instance?

ANSWER: Blackjack side bets do usually have short shelf lives, as you note. Usually, that’s because they have very high house edges. The appeal of larger payoffs than you get on the base game wears thin when you lose hand after hand after hand.

Sometimes the appeal is strong enough that the side bet has a second life, and a third and even a fourth. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Royal Match come back, including in electronic versions from Shuffle Master, which became SHFL Entertainment, and which is now part of Bally Technologies.

The most common version, used on six-deck games and paying 2.5-1 on any two suited cards and 25-1 for a King and Queen of the same suit, has a house edge of 6.67 percent. About 75 percent of hands are non-winners, and the royal matches come up only about once per 337 hands. Given enough playing time, that’s not enough positive reinforcement to overcome the constant drain on the bankroll, so after casinos use it for a while, it goes on the backburner.

Over/Under 13 also has a high house edge at 6.6 percent if you bet the over, 10.1 percent if you bet the under, and 8.6 percent if you bet the first two cards will total 13. Again, there’s a constant bankroll drain. There’s also a complicating factor: Over/Under 13 can be counted, and in the 1990s there were players who, depending on the count, were skipping the blackjack bet and just playing the side bet. Casinos had to amend rules to prevent that. So you had players being turned off by a bankroll drain and operators being turned off by advantage play.

Today, 21 + 3 seems have hit a sweet spot. Not every player makes the side bet – in fact, the majority don’t. Those who play get a 9-1 payoff if there’s a pair or better in the player’s first two cards plus the dealer’s up card. The house edge of 3.2 percent is lower than that on most other side bets, and not all that different from the edge hunch players face on the base game – especially if the base game is paying 6-5 on blackjacks.

If I were designing a side bet, that’s what I’d aim for – payoffs high enough to attract initial play, and a house edge close enough to the edge against average blackjack players that they don’t notice the difference.


QUESTION: On the slot machines where you touch the screen and spin the wheel, is there any skill in that? I know you can spin the wheel fast or spin it slow, but can I try to spin it to land on a big number?

ANSWER: Bally Technologies uses the U-Spin format on a number of slot games, from Vegas Hits to Michael Jackson: King of Pop to Titanic, and it’s been tremendously popular. However, the wheel spins are not tests of skill. Where the wheel stops and the size of your bonus are determined by a random number generator.


QUESTION: You’ve explained that the house gets its edge at roulette by paying less than true odds, and that when you bet a single number, you get 35-1 payoffs when the real odds are 37-1 on a double-zero wheel. I saw a single-zero wheel, and it still paid 35-1. Are the real odds there 36-1? What if in adding a zero to the wheel, they also raised the payoff to 36-1, so there was only a difference of one unit between payoffs and real odds, like on a double-zero wheel?

ANSWER: Single numbers do pay 35-1 on a single-zero wheel, and the house edge is 2.7 percent, instead of the 5.26 percent on double-zero wheels. If the house paid 36-1 on single-number bets on a double-zero wheel, the house edge would decrease to 2.63 percent, just a shade lower than the edge at single-zero roulette. Of course, that would defeat the purpose of going to a double-zero wheel, which is designed to increase the house edge.
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski