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How to use 2 good bets that casinos don't advertise

| Sunday, May 21, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Sometimes, folks in charge don't bother to share important information.

It's not just bosses who “forget” crucial facts about an assignment or shady politicians intent on hiding their misdeeds. It also happens in casinos, which seldom acknowledge offering two pro-player wagers.

Bets favoring the house are so plentiful that billion-dollar casinos are built on them. Slot machines take about 10 cents from every dollar wagered; some blackjack side bets are even more costly to players. Roulette, craps and a variety of specialty games are rife with come-ons that offer the chance of big payouts but a high probability of losing.

One of the rarely publicized bets is the only one with no built-in house edge: the odds bet in craps. The other, available in all Pennsylvania casinos but hit-and-miss in other jurisdictions, is the surrender rule in blackjack, which helps players reduce the house edge in the industry's most popular table game.

Craps and blackjack layouts rarely note whether the bets are available, so savvy players should ask the dealer. Then you'll know. And, as so many GI Joe cartoon characters classically intoned, “Knowing is half the battle.” The other half of the equation even more important: using that knowledge most profitably. Here's a guide to doing that.

Blackjack surrender

With surrender, a player gives up half his bet instead of taking a hit or standing. It's available only on the first two cards; you can't surrender after splitting a pair.

Basic strategy, the mathematically correct way of playing each blackjack hand, calls for using surrender in only four situations: when you have hard 16 (but not 8-8) vs. a dealer's nine, 10 or Ace and when you have hard 15 vs. a 10. The logic is straightforward. By surrendering these hands, you give up 50 percent of your bet, but that's the least of three evils. Hitting these hands result in losing your entire bet between 51 and 54 percent of the time, according to; if you stand with these hands, you'll lose your entire bet between 54 and 66 percent of the time.

In other words, a $10 bettor can choose to lose $5 per hand by surrendering or between $5.10 and $6.60 per hand over the long run. Losing the least you can is always a good choice.

Because so many players don't know or follow the fine points of basic strategy, it's surprising that casinos keep the surrender option under wraps, if they offer it at all. Players misuse surrender so often that casinos might be able to rake in even more by emphasizing it's available.

Free odds in craps

Even though the odds bet is not marked on the craps layout, it's available in most casinos as long as you have made a “pass” or “don't pass” bet. It's also available to “come” and “don't come” bettors. To understand why you should always make an odds bet, let's review the basics of craps, which looks more complicated than it is. First, a shooter puts down a pass line bet – or, in rare cases, a don't-pass bet – and makes a “come-out” roll. If that roll is seven or 11, pass-line bets win and don't-pass bets lose. If the come-out roll is two, three or 12, pass line bets lose and don't-pass bets win (except they push on two or 12, depending on house rules). If the come-out roll is any other number, that becomes the point, and the shooter keeps rolling until the point is repeated or a seven comes up. If the point is repeated first, pass line bets win and don't-pass bets lose; if a seven comes up first, pass line bets lose and don't-pass bets win. Most people bet pass, so I'll focus on them the rest of the way.

You can't make an odds bet until a point is established. Once it is, put out additional chips directly behind your pass line bet. If you win, your pass line bet will be paid at even money and your odds bet will be paid 2-to-1 if the point is four or 10; 3-to-2 if the point is five or nine; or 6-to-5 if the point is six or eight. The house makes no money on odds bets; the payouts are identical to the odds of rolling the point as opposed to rolling a seven.

Make sure your odds bet is sized so you get the full payout. For example, some casinos don't use 50-cent chips to make a $7.50 payout on a $5 odds bet with a point of five or nine.

Also, look at your odds bet and pass-line bet as a total, and put the lowest possible portion of that on the pass line. Most casinos allow the odds bet to be a multiple of the pass line bet – five or 10 times larger, for example. If you plan to bet $20 per round, put the table minimum on the pass line, which pays even money, and the rest on your odds bet.

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review's gambling columnist. Reach him at

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