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The progressive side bet at Caribbean Stud

29 November 2011

It had been ages since I last sat down to play Caribbean Stud poker, but on a lazy Wednesday morning, I spotted an acquaintance named Rich at a half-full table, and decided it was time to catch up.

I bought in for $100, divided into $90 in red $5 chips and $10 in white $1 chips, put down a red to ante and a white on the progressive jackpot, and settled in to play.

Rich and I exchanged greetings, then he asked, "Let me ask you something. Have you ever won anything on that progressive bet?"

I told him I'd had a few flushes, and one memorable four of a kind — they were sixes — but had never won the big money. The most common progressive pay table in the United States pays the entire progressive jackpot on a royal flush, then either 10% of the jackpot or $5,000 on a straight flush, $100 on four of a kind, $75 on a full house and $50 on a flush.

"That's kind of what I figured," he said. "I play this game a lot more than you do, and four of a kind is my best, too. I've had seven or eight of those, but never a straight flush."

He looked at the other two players, a man in his late 20s or early 30s with a shaved head, goatee and glasses, and a woman who appeared to be about 40, with short, dark hair. She said she'd only played a few times, but that her husband had once been dealt a straight flush and cashed a check for a few dollars more than $11,000. The man said he thought he remembered some flushes, maybe a full house, but wasn't really sure.

Rich looked at the dealer, whose name badge said "Ellen." "What about you? Have you dealt many progressive winners?"

Ellen said of course, she sees a lot of players and a lot of hands, and had dealt a few royal flushes. One was for more than $300,000. The dealers had split a nice tip after that one.

But, Rich suggested, hours go by without any player taking anything out of the progressive jackpot, don't they?

Ellen agreed that there are long streaks with no payoffs on the side bet. "But it's only a dollar, and you have the chance to win big," she said.

I pointed out that we were talking about uncommon hands here. The most frequent side-bet winner in Caribbean Stud, a flush, turns up an average of once per 509 hands. For a single player at a full table moving at about 50 hands an hour that means a dealt flush about once per 10 hours of play. Add in full houses (1 hand in 694), four of a kind (1 in 4,165), straight flushes (1 in 72,193) and royals (1 in 649, 740), and it's roughly a winner per five-to-six hours of play.

With seven players in action, a dealer could expect to pay off a side bet a little more than once an hour.

"So we're all agreed," Rich said. "The winners are rare. So why do we all make the side bet instead of just playing the main Caribbean Stud game?"

I looked around the table. Everyone had made the side bet. Everyone chuckled, including Rich.

Ellen spoke up. "When that big hand comes, you're going to want the money," she said. "You'll kick yourself if you miss out on the big jackpot because you didn't bet a buck."

The fellow with the shaved head asked if she'd ever seen that happen.

"Not very often," Ellen said. "Most who play this game make the side bet. I've had a few where I didn't pay them a flush or full house, I suppose, but never a royal. They told me in dealer's school about a guy who didn't bet the dollar and got the royal flush. Then the dealer didn't have a qualifying hand. So he didn't get the progressive jackpot, he didn't get the 100-1 payoff on his main bet. All he got was even money on his ante. He won five bucks on a royal flush. You guys don't want to risk that happening, do you?"

That brought grimaces and chorus of, "Ouch," "That has to hurt," and "Unbelievable" around the table.

Rich asked about the house edge, and I told him that it depended on how much was in the jackpot. The average was about 25%, but that there's a break-even point at a little over $260,000 when there is no house edge. The house edge on the base game is lower, at about 5.2% of your ante or 2.6% of your total wagers, depending on player strategy.

Still, the decision on making the progressive bet comes down to why you play the game, I suggested. If the experience you want is the best chance at a profitable session, grinding it out one bet at a time, you're going to play blackjack, baccarat or stick to the best bets at craps, not play Caribbean Stud. Caribbean Stud players are willing to spot the house longer odds for that chance at one big strike.

Rich nodded. "I know," he said. "That chance of a jackpot keeps reeling me in. I just wondered about everyone else."

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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