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Best of John Grochowski

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Roulette's worst bet

30 November 2010

For many years, I've warned roulette players that there's one bet on a double-zero wheel that's more hazardous to the bankroll than the rest.

You can bet a single number and face a house edge of 5.26%. Make a two-number split: 5.26%. A four-number corner, a 12-number column or dozen, an 18-number red or black, or just about anything else, and the house edge is, yes, 5.26%.

There's just one wager where the house edge is different. Make the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3, and the number soars to 7.89%. Instead of the house expecting to keep an average of $5.26 per $100 wagered, it expects to keep $7.89%.

Ouch.

I've cautioned roulette players against making that bet a number of times, but my e-mail recently brought a request for more explanation. The writer wanted to know, "Why is the house edge higher on this one bet?"

There's a question of practicality involved. Casinos can't pay off in whole numbers per dollar and get the same house edge as on other bets on a double-zero game.

Casinos pay 6-1 on the five-number bet. To get the same 5.26% edge as on any other bet, they'd have to pay 6.20-1. They're not going to set up payoffs in a way that would require them to keep small change. It'd be bad enough paying $6.20 for a $1 bet, but at a casino that allows you to break chips down to quarter denominations, a $1.55 payoff for a quarter bet just isn't going to happen.

The other way to take the question is a matter of how the house edge is different given that 6-1 payoff.

You can see it in an example. Let's say you bet $5 on the five-number bet, and let's say the 00 hits. You collect $30 for your 6-1 payoff, and you keep your $5 bet, leaving you with $35.

Now let's say that on the same spin, I bet $1 each on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. I lose my dollar each on 0, 1, 2 and 3, but on 00 I collect $35 on a 35-1 payoff, and I keep my $1 bet, leaving me with $36.

We've bet the same amount of money on the same numbers, but because I bet it on single numbers and you bet it as the five-number bet, I have $1 more than you do. That's the difference in the house edge.

You could also choose to bet the five numbers as a two-number split bet on 0 and 00, and a three-number street on 1, 2 and 3. Let's stay with a $5 total, but as a $2 bet on the 0-00 split and a $3 street on 1-2-3. If 0 or 00 comes up, I win at 17-1 odds. I collect $34 in winnings and keep my $2 bet for a total of $36. If 1, 2 or 3 comes up, I collect at 11-1 odds for a total of $33 in winnings, plus I keep my $3 wager for — you got it — $36. Either way, I have $1 more than you do for betting the same amount of money on the same numbers.

To take it a step further, there are 38 spaces on the wheel. If the wagers were even propositions, you'd have $38 after your winner, and I'd have $38 after mine. My $36 leaves a $2 shortfall. Divide that by $38, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you get a 5.26% house edge. Do the math with your $3 shortfall instead, and the house edge is 7.89%.

Let the bettor beware.

** * ** * **

One thing to keep in mind is that the caution about the five-number bet does not apply if you're playing at a single-zero wheel. If there is no double-zero, the five-number bet does not exist.

The single-zero wheel is a better play than the double-zero version, with a house edge of 2.7% on each wager. Problem is, single-zero roulette is not common in the United States. Most of the single-zero wheels I know of are in high-limit rooms. I don't remember the last time I found a single-zero game that fits a low-roller's budget.

Casinos that cater to high-end roulette players sometimes tack on interesting rules that reduce the house edge even more. In Europe, you'll sometimes find a rule called "en prison." On an even-money bet such as red/black, even/odd or first 18/last 18, if the ball lands in zero you don't lose right away. Instead, your wager is held in prison for another spin. If your wager's a winner on the next spin, you don't get paid, but you get your bet back. That drops the house edge to 1.35%.

A similar play that has been offered in Atlantic City takes only half your even-money bet if the ball lands in zero. Again, the house edge drops to 1.35%.

As always, I caution you not to overbet your bankroll, but if you find such a game that fits your wagering comfort zone, you'll get a better deal than on a double-zero game.

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:

> More Books By John Grochowski