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Best of John Grochowski

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Should You Chuck Chuck-A-Luck?

3 December 2002

There's more than a touch of the old carnival huckster in any casino operation, pulling in the customers to play games that are weighted against them.

Of course, the house edges that we talk about today in blackjack, craps and baccarat are slim indeed compared to some old carnival games. Still, the stickman at craps resembles nothing so much as a barker with a patter meant to draw players' attention to some of the less favorable bets on the table. And every now and then, you'll find a game that comes straight from the carnival booths.

The September issue of the monthly Las Vegas Advisor newsletter drew my attention to one such game. Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas has added chuck-a-luck, also known as bird cage. New York New York is the only Las Vegas casino other than Horseshoe to offer the game.

Chuck-a-luck was a carnival standard in the days when the law would look the other way at games of chance on the midway. It once was fairly easy to find in casinos, but today is mainly played at charity casino nights.

The game is played with three dice inside an oversized, hourglass-shaped cage on a pivot. The cage is large to attract attention from passers-by who might stop and make a bet on an impulse. The dealer turns the cage upside down, the dice tumble through the narrow portion and land on the new floor of the cage.

Players can bet on any of several options. On a single-number bet, player wins even money if one die lands on the number, 2-1 if the number appears on two dice and 3-1 if it's on all three. The barkers ... er, dealers ... can make this bet seem strangely attractive. "Watch this," they'll say, putting a chip or marker on each of the six numbers, then setting the dice on a 1, 2 and 3. "I pay 1, 2 and 3, and take 4, 5 and 6. Three win, three lose. What could be more fair than that?"

And if the dice were assured of landing on three different numbers every time, the single-number wagers would be even bets, with no house edge. But sometimes two dice, or all three will land on the same number.

There are 216 possible combinations of three dice. Let's say you bet $1 per roll on 3 in a perfect sequence in which each combination shows up once. You risk a total of $216. On 75 combinations, there will be one 3, meaning you get your wager back, plus $1 each in winnings, for a total of $150. On 15 rolls, there will be two 5s, and on these you'll get your buck back plus $2 each in winnings, for a total of $45. One combination has three 3s, and on that one you'll get the bet back plus $3 in winnings, for $4.

So at the end of our sequence, you have $199. The house has kept $17 of your $216 in wagers, leaving a house edge of 7.9 percent.

That's far worse than you'll find on other casino games, such as the 0.5 percent against a basic strategy player and 2 to 2.5 percent against an average player in blackjack; 1.4 percent on pass and don't pass in craps; 1.17 percent on banker and 1.36 percent on player in baccarat, or even the 5.26 percent in roulette. But the single-number bet isn't as bad as it gets in chuck-a-luck.

There's the field bet, which pays even money if the three-dice total is 3 to 7 or 13 to 18. House edge: 15.7 percent. There's the under-10 bet--the total has to be less than 10, the 10 itself is a loser. House edge: 25 percent. And there's over 11, for totals of 12 and up. House edge: 25 percent.

Edges like those, with the house keeping as much as a quarter out of every dollar wagered, are reminiscent of that other old carnival game that made its way into casinos, the Big Six wheel, or money wheel.

Big Six is not as rare as chuck-a-luck, and it is licensed for casino play in Illinois and Indiana, although the only current money wheel in the Chicago area is at Majestic Star in Gary.

A vertical gaming wheel is divided into slots in which currency is placed, and the player can bet on the wheel landing on any denomination. There are 24 stops with a $1 bill, which pay even money; 15 with $2, which pay 2-1; seven with $5, which pay 5-1; four with $10, which pay 10-1; two with $20, which pay 2-1, and two with special symbols, such as a joker and a casino logo, which pay 40-1.

House edges are out of sight--11.1 percent on $1, 16.7 percent on $2, 18.5 percent on $10, 22.2 percent on either $5 or $20, and 24.1 percent on the special symbols.

That's not a game a percentage player would choose. But maybe those house edges go down easier with a little cotton candy.

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