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Best of John Grochowski
Time is money, as much when visiting the casino as in the work world.
And when we're deciding how to spend our time in the casinos, how much time it takes to play a hand or spin the reels is a factor to be weighed right along with the house edge.
So let's take a unit of time --- one hour --- combine it with the house edges on the most popular casino games and take into account the speed of play, and rank the games by average losses per hour. This week we'll tackle table games, and next week look at electronic games and come up with an overall ranking. We'll assume a $5 wager --- if you're a $100-a-hand high roller, multiply the average cost per hour by 20.
Basic strategy blackjack, full table: $1.25. There'll be some variation depending on number of decks and house rules, but let's assume a no-frills, six-deck game with a house edge of about 0.5 percent. At about 50 hands per hour, you risk $250.
Craps, pass or don't pass: $2.10. We'll assume 100 rolls per hour here --- craps moves pretty fast. The house edge of 1.41 percent on pass and 1.4 percent on don't pass are fairly low, and it requires an average of 3.4 rolls to decide the wagers.
Basic strategy blackjack, one-on-one: $6.25. Head-to-head with the dealer, you'll play about 250 hands per hour, giving the house edge more chance to work against you.
Average blackjack player, full table: $6.25. If you don't know your basic strategy or don't stick to it, if you play by feel or hunch, if you take insurance or split 10s sometimes or any of the odd things average players do, the house edge climbs to about 2.5 percent.
Three Card Poker, Pair Plus, $5.75: This is pay table dependent. On the game's original pay table, Pair Plus has a house edge of 2.3 percent. But pay tables are available with house edges up to 7.3 percent. Beware.
Three Card Poker, play against the dealer: $8.50. House edge is 3.4 percent of the ante, or 2 percent of total action, including the additional bets we make if our cards are good enough. That's one of the best among newer table games.
Let It Ride, $8.75. Here, we'll figure that our starting point is three $5 wagers, of which we may pull back two during the course of play. That leaves the same basic $5 risk as in other examples. With a house edge of 3.5 percent of one wager and $250 hands per hour, that leaves an $8.75 average loss. Our cards are good enough to leave the other bets on the table often enough to reduce the overall house edge to 2.8 percent.
Roulette, $10.52: Other than the bad bets at craps, roulette has one of the highest house edges on the tables, at 5.26 percent. It also moves more slowly than other table games, so the cost here is based on 40 spins of the wheel per hour.
Mini baccarat, $10.60 (banker) or $12.40 (player): Baccarat has one of the lowest house edges of games in which skill doesn't matter. When ties, on which we get our money back, are taken into account, the house edge at 1.06 percent on banker and 1.24 percent on player. Even though the house edge is low, the cost is high because mini baccarat motors along at 200 hands per hour. Big baccarat can be much, as low as 15 hands per hour in rooms that cater to high rollers. At that speed, average losses would drop to 80 cents on banker or $93 cents --- except we won't find any slow-moving big baccarat games that take wagers as low as $5.
Caribbean Stud, $13. We're assuming an ante of $5 at Caribbean Stud, with 50 hands per hour. If you learn an easy basic strategy, the house edge is 5.2 percent of the ante, or 2.6 percent of total action --- we'll have cards good enough to make the additional bet of twice our ante often enough to push our total wagers to about $500 an hour. I'll not list the side bet on the progressive jackpot here. The house edge depends on the size of the jackpot, but with the pay table starting at a flush or better, you'll get a winner of any kind only about once per two hours.
Average blackjack player, one-on-one: $31.25. Compare this to the basic strategy player at a full table. Learning basic strategy is an important skill. So is knowing enough to play at the slower table unless you're a card counter who has an edge on the game. Speed favors whoever has the edge. Most of the time, that's the house.
Craps, any 7: $83.35: Let's take a really bad craps bet to contrast with the pass and don't pass wagers. On those, we lose only $2.10 per hour. But here, the house edge is much higher, at 16.67 percent, and bets are decided on every roll instead of once every 3.4 rolls. That's why smart bettors stay away from one-roll propositions.
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
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