Aces Guide to Gambling

About The Author

John Grochowski is the author of four gaming books including The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Casino Answer Book.

Grochowski was recently named by Casino Player magazine as one of the 100 best gaming authors of the 20th century.

He also runs a gaming column in the Detroit News and the Chicago Sun-Times, which examines issues ranging from blackjack and video poker strategy to casino etiquette.

No-skill games can lighten your wallet quickly

John Grochowski

There are casino games in which a little skill goes a long way. Learn basic strategy in blackjack or the best drawing strategies on some video poker games--the games in which your decisions affect the outcome of play--and you cut the house advantage to less than 1 percent--in the long run, you spot the house less than $1 for every $100 a bet.
There are casino games in which just a little knowledge will give you a good run for your money. It's difficult at best, and impossible for most, to influence the outcome at craps or baccarat, but if craps players know to stick to pass, don't pass, come and don't come, they never face a house edge of more than 1.41 percent. And if baccarat players steer clear of the wager on ties and stick to bets on banker and player, they never buck a house edge of more than 1.36 percent.

Then there are games that nothing can save. Neither skill nor knowledge can prevent a player from squandering his bankroll if he insists on betting on the Big Six wheel.

Big Six is played on a vertical wheel with 54 slots, each of which contains either U.S. currency or a special symbol. There is some variation, but typically the 54 spaces have 24 $1 bills, 15 $2 bills, seven $5 bills, four $10 bills, two $20 bills and two special symbols.

Often one special symbol is a casino logo, while the other is an eagle or a joker.

On the table top in front of the wheel are betting spots corresponding to the denominations on the wheel. Place a chip or chips on the $1 space on the table, and you're betting that the wheel is going to stop on one of the spaces with a $1 bill. Place a chip or chips on the casino logo and you're betting the wheel stops on the logo space.

On the money spaces, winning bets are paid according to the bill on the winning space--the $1 spaces pay even money, $2 spaces pay 2-1, $5 spaces pay 5-1, $10 spaces pay 10-1 and $20 spaces pay 20-1. The spaces with the special symbols pay 40-1.

Simple enough? It's supposed to be. It's a variation on an old carnival game, meant to draw in customers who are just out to have a good time and neither know nor care about house edges. That makes it a simple, surefire way to lighten your wallet. The house edges are 11.1 percent on $1, 16.7 percent on $2, 18.5 percent on $10, 22.2 percent on $5 or $20 and 24 percent on the special symbols. For every $100 you wager on the $1 spaces, you lose $11.10--and that's the best bet on the table.

With house edges that high, it doesn't take much experience for players to learn to avoid Big Six. But it's not the only game with high house edges that the player can do nothing about. Take roulette. On an American double-zero wheel, the house keeps an average of $5.26 of every $100 wagered on every bet except one. It doesn't matter if you're betting single numbers, 12-number columns or 18-number reds, the house edge is 5.26 percent. That's roughly 10 times as high as the house edge faced by a blackjack basic strategy player.

The one exception to the 5.26 percent house edge is the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3, and it's worse than the rest. The house edge there is 8.89 percent.

Are these the fastest drains on your bankroll? No. Slot machines take your money far faster because they're far faster to play. You might play 30 spins an hour at Big Six or 40 spins an hour at roulette. Bet $5 a spin on $1 spaces at the Big Six wheel, and you might wager $150 per hour. With the 11.1 percent house edge, your average expected losses are $16.65. Bet $5 a spin on red at roulette, and you risk about $200 an hour. The 5.26 percent house edge leaves expected hourly losses of $10.52.

But on the slots, it's easy to get in 500 reel spins per hour, and 1,000 are possible. Play a quarter machine, betting two quarters at a time, for 500 spins, and you risk $250--more than an hour's play at either Big Six or roulette. With about an 8 percent house edge on quarter slots typical in the Chicago area, that leaves expected hourly losses of $20.

What do Big Six, roulette and the slots have in common? They're easy to play, with no decisions to make. That's typical of casino games. If there are no strategies to learn, no knowledge essential to play the game well, watch your pocketbook.

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