Don't get hooked by blackjack's Lucky Ladies side bet
When I'm in the casino, my weakness for the Ladies often gets me in trouble.
Not from my wife; she understands it.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I should explain that what's so irresistible is the Lucky Ladies side bet at blackjack. The wager costs as little as $1 and offers payouts from 4-to-1 to as high as 1,000-to-1 for a player who gets a total of 20 on the first two cards.
It's a sucker bet. The house edge is about 17 percent -- meaning a player loses about $17 of every $100 bet during the long run. That edge is about 70 percent higher than on slot machines.
Lucky Ladies is one of nine blackjack side bets approved for Pennsylvania casinos, including three added last month. The Gaming Control Board cites the popularity of side bets as one reason blackjack is so profitable in the state.
One casino is unlikely to offer all the side bets. Former casino executive Bill Zender, now a consultant and author, advises clients to offer no more than three types of side wagers to avoid confusing dealers and players. He says side bets are more popular on Midwestern riverboats and Native American casinos than in destination resorts such as Las Vegas.
Some gamblers approach the blackjack table almost as if the side bet is the main reason for playing. Look at it this way: If side bets were a good deal for players, would casinos keep adding them?
Here's a look at each side bet allowed so far in Pennsylvania, with the house advantage based on calculations by www.WizardOfOdds.com. The house advantage refers to how much the casino will win during the long run; a 10 percent house advantage means the casino will keep about $10 of every $100 that players bet.
Lucky Ladies/King's Bounty
What wins: A total of 20 on the player's first two cards; minimum payout is 4-to-1, with the amount increasing based on what cards are involved. Maximum payout is 1,000-to-1 for player holding two Queens of Hearts (Lucky Ladies) or two Kings of Spades (King's Bounty) when the dealer has a blackjack. House edge: about 17 percent for either game.
Match the dealer
What wins: Either of the player's first two cards match the rank of the dealer's up card. Each matching card of the same suit pays 11-to-1 in a six-deck game and 14-to-1 in an eight-decker; each card that has the same rank but is of a different suit -- for example, a dealer's seven of hearts and a player's seven of clubs -- pays 4-to-1in a six-deck game and 3-to-1 in an eight-deck game. House advantage: about 4 percent in a six-deck game.
What wins: The dealer's up card falls between the ranks of the player's first two cards; for example, if the bettor is dealt a six and a nine, a dealer's up card of seven or eight would win the side bet. For this bet, an Ace is high and deuce is low. Payouts vary by the number of gaps between the player's two cards, from 10-to-1 for a one-card spread to 1-to-1 for a spread of four or more. If all three cards match, the payoff is 30-to-1. House advantage: about 13 percent.
What wins: The player's first two cards are of the same suit; the minimum payout is 2-to-1 in a multiple-deck game, with the maximum at 1,000 for 1 for a "crown treasure," when player and dealer have suited King-Queen. House edge: about 5.7 percent.
Bet the set
What wins: A player's first two cards are a pair or a suited pair. For six- and eight-deck games, payouts start at 10-to-1. Suited pairs pay 12-to-1 or 15-to-1, depending on the casino. House edge: About 10 percent on the 15-to-1 payout schedule, about 15 percent on the 12-to-1 schedule.
Three-Card Poker (21+3)
What wins: The player's first two cards and the dealer's up card form a flush, straight, trips or straight flush. All payouts are 9-to-1. House edge: About 2.8 percent.
Hit and Run Progressive
What wins: The dealer has a blackjack or a hand containing at least five cards. A dealer blackjack pays 4-to-1 on the side bet; the progressive pays when a dealer has a hand of at least eight cards. The house advantage varies according to the size of the progressive jackpot. Under Pennsylvania blackjack rules, players would face a house edge of about 45 percent on non-jackpot hands; for the bet to be statistically even, the jackpot would have to reach $30,525 in an eight-deck game and $32,349 in a six-deck game.
Bad Beat Progressive
What wins: A player's hand of 20 gets beaten by a dealer's hand of 21. Payouts start at 10-to-1, for a player's 20 vs. a dealer's blackjack, and increase as the number of dealer cards increases. The progressive pays when the dealer has 21 with seven or more cards.
'Other' Rivers tops in ILLINOIS
Rivers casino in suburban Chicago topped all Illinois casinos in gambling revenue in February, the Illinois Gaming Board says. The 8-month-old casino, owned by the same group that operates Rivers on the North Shore, had total revenue of $37.5 million, easily beating the state's other nine casinos.
The Pittsburgh casino had February slot revenue of $25.3 million, second among Pennsylvania casinos; table game figures for the month have not been released.
Slot players lost $52.1 million in Pennsylvania's 10 casinos during the week ended March 11, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's up from $48.04 million in the comparable week last year.
The state takes 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots are paid.
Since the fiscal year started in July, slot machines throughout the state have a payout rate of 90.06 percent; for every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $90.06. Payout rates for Western Pennsylvania casinos:
- 89.86%: Rivers; revenue for the week was $6.06 million, up from $5.5 million last year.
- 89.8%: Meadows; revenue for the week was $5.07 million, modestly down from $5.08 million last year.
- 90.43%: Presque Isle in Erie; revenue for the week was $3.41 million, up from $3.08 million last year.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
What is Blackjack Switch?
It's a variation of blackjack in which the player makes two bets and is dealt two hands. The player has the option of switching the second card of one hand for the second card of the other. The Gaming Control Board recently approved it for Pennsylvania casinos.