Aces Guide to Gambling

Poker Strategy & Rules :

A progressive look at Caribbean Stud

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.

John Grochowski

Next time you're in a casino, look around the Caribbean Stud tables and you'll see that nearly every player makes the $1 side bet on the progressive jackpot.
Most gaming analysts will tell you that's a no-no. The progressive bet is one of the worst in the house, one with house edges of 60 percent, 70 percent, even 80 percent, depending on the size of the jackpot. Even when the jackpot gets big enough that the progressive bet becomes a break-even proposition, payoffs are so rare that your chances are essentially zero.

But when players ask me if they should make the progressive bet, I answer with questions of my own: What is your goal? Why are you playing?

For some players, the goal of a trip to the casino is to cut the house edge to the bone, to take the best chance on grinding out a profit. Those players don't play Caribbean Stud at all, let alone make the optional progressive bet.

The house edge of 5.2 percent of the ante on the basic game is just too high. Percentage players will go for blackjack (house edge against a basic strategy player of about 0.5 percent) or craps (0.6 percent house edge on a pass-double odds combination).

Caribbean Stud players flock to the tables for two reasons. First, it's an easy, relaxed game, played at one of the slower paces in the house. Second, the progressive bet gives them a chance at a big, lifestyle-changing jackpot not available at other table games. Blackjack is a better percentage bet, but a blackjack player is never going to walk away with $10,000, $100,000 or even $712,070--the record Caribbean Stud jackpot--for a single $1 bet.

Jackpot hunters make the progressive bet at the same time they ante on the basic game. Most Caribbean Stud tables have a slot at the front of each player's betting area. The player places a $1 chip in the slot, standing on edge, before the deal. When the dealer keys into a processor which players are making the bet, the chips drop through the slots.

After the cards are dealt, players decide whether to back their antes with bets on the basic game. As the dealer flips up the cards of players who make bets to stay in the hand, thosewho have made the progressive bet and have a flush or better are paid out of the progressive pool. Winning on the progressive bet does not require beating the dealer's hand.

In the Midwest, dealers will flip the players' cards face up and check for progressive winners even if the dealer hand does not qualify in the regular game.

But in some Nevada casinos, dealers without qualifying hands simply pay antes at even money and clear away the cards without checking for progressive winners unless the player declares he has a winner. If you have a flush or better, be sure to stop the dealer before he clears your cards away.

Progressive winners are paid according to a video-pokerlike pay table. At most casinos, that $1 side bet brings $50 on a flush, $75 on a full house, $100 on four of a kind, either 10 percent of the jackpot or a flat $5,000 on a straight flush or the full jackpot on a royal flush. Those are minimum payoffs set by game distributor Mikohn Gaming. Casinos are allowed to increase payoffs. That makes no difference in the house edge, since anything won on lower hands is taken out of the pool that eventually goes to a royal flush winner.

All of those winning hands are difficult to come by in five-card stud poker. Flushes occur only about once per 509 hands; full houses once per 694; four of a kind once per 4,165 and royal flushes once per 649,740.

Altogether, winners on the progressive bet occur only once per 273 hands. You can watch that dollar token drop hand after hand for an average of seven to eight hours between returns on your bet.

The higher the jackpot, the lower the house edge. When the jackpot hits $261,950, the progressive bet becomes a break-even wager. That doesn't mean you should jump at the chance to get your money down. You'll still pull a winner only once per 273 hands. The break-even point just means that if you played Caribbean Stud from here to eternity, betting only when the jackpot was at $261,950, after millions of hands the most likely result is that you would break even.

Even at that, you'd break even only on the progressive bet, while still losing 5.2 percent of your antes on the basic game. To overcome that house edge at a table with a $5 minimum ante, the jackpot needs to be at least $351,200.

To get back to the original question, should Caribbean Stud players make the progressive bet?

It depends. At low jackpot levels, the house edge is enormous, and at any level, wins are rare. If you're watching your money, this is no place to put it.

But if you take the slot players', jackpot chasers' view and trade off frequent losses for a shot at a really big hit, that's exactly what Caribbean Stud brings to the table.

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