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Best of John Grochowski

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The house edge at Bally's Roulette

25 March 2008

Every casino game has its little variations that can be used to raise or lower the house edge. Jacks or Better video poker might pay 6-for-1 or 5-for-1 on flushes. Craps tables might allow you to back your pass or come bets with anything from single odds to 100x odds, with the lowest house edge on the most odds. Blackjack, among its number of rules variations, might have the dealer stand on all 17s or raise the house edge by hitting soft 17.

In roulette, the traditional method of adjusting the house edge is by varying the number of zeroes on the wheel. With a single zero, the house edge is 2.7%, but with both zero and double-zero, that soars to 5.26% on all wagers but the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3, where the house edge is 7.89%.

I've seen charity games with triple-zero wheels, and I've been told of wheels at Mexican fairs that have not only zero and double-zero, but also a couple of cactus spaces that function as zeroes. Each additional space raises the house edge.

There's another way of raising the house edge at roulette, one that I've not seen at tables but which a reader tells me is being used on some of Bally Technologies' single-player touchscreen Roulette machines. The elongated Bally V32 screen includes a representation of a single-zero roulette wheel at the top, with the layout below. You touch the layout to place your bets.

Bally's Roulette is available in denominations as low as a penny, and as high as $100. If single-zero roulette had the same payoffs as the table game, it would be a 97.3% game. That's fine for high-denomination games, but far above the mid-'80s that most casinos offer penny players.

So Roulette takes a page out of the video poker book and adjusts the pay table. An operator can choose to put a game on the floor that pays 32-for-1 on single-number bets, instead of the usual 35-to-1.

There's a difference between "for-1" and "to-1" payoffs. When you're told your getting a payoff "for-1," your payoff includes the return of your wager. When the payoff is "to-1" you get the advertised payoff, plus the return of your wager. When you're paid 35-to-1 at a table, you get your bet back, plus 35 chips in winnings for a total of 36 chips. If a machine paid 35-FOR-1, you would just get back 35 chips, one shy of the table norm.

At 32-for-1, your return is four credits shy of what you would expect at the table.

How does that affect the house edge? Let's figure it out.

Imagine a perfect sequence of 37 numbers, including the zero, turns up once. Let's say you wager one credit on the same single number each time, risking a total of 37 credits. On your one winning spin, a 35-to-1 payoff would leave you with 36 credits. The house take is a single credit. Divide that one credit by the 37 you've risked, multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you come up with 2.7% as the house edge.

But if you're paid 32-for-1, then your one winning spin brings you only 32 credits, and the house keeps 5. Divide those five by the 37 you've risked, and you come up with 0.1351. Multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and the house edge is 13.51%.

That's an enormous leap in the house edge by roulette standards, and if a table game with its higher minimum bets offered that pay table, you'd be wise to walk away. On a slot game, however, that converts to an 86.49% payback percentage, and that's right in line with what you can expect on penny slot games.

If you want the best return out of an electronic roulette game, you'll need to adopt the same method video poker players have used for a couple of decades now: Check the pay table before you play.

** ** **

Comparing house edges between table games and electronic games is never the full story, because of the enormous differences in speed of play and minimum wagers.

Let's say you're in a casino with double-zero roulette tables — the more common version — at $5 minimum bets, and with penny electronic roulette with the 32-for-1 payoff on single numbers. Can a player on a budget, looking to pass the time, expect lower average losses on the 5.26% house edge on the table or the 13.51 with the lower minimum on the machine?

It depends. If we assume $5 in wagers per spin at 40 spins per hour on the table, we can expect average losses of $10.50 per hour on the table. If the machine player wagers as little as 20 cents per spin at 400 spins per hour, average losses per hour reach $10.80. Which to play depends on your budget, method of play and whether you prefer the interaction with others at the table or playing on your own at the machine.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> 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