Q. I've seen the house edge of Let It Ride listed at 3.5 percent of one bet. What does that mean? Why specify one bet?
A. In Let It Ride, players start with three wagers of equal size. After you've seen your three face-down cards, you have the option of pulling back one wager. After you've seen the first of two common cards that are part of everyone's hands, you may pull back the second wager. The third wager must stay on the table, and bets that remain in action are settled after the final common card is revealed.
Given that only one wager must remain in action, expressing the house edge as a percentage of one bet is an easy way of letting players know the house's average take on the game.
Let's say you start with three $5 bets. At the end of the hand, only one of those bets must remain at risk. Now let's say your at a table that moves at 60 hands per hour. What is your average loss? That $5 risk per hand times 60 hands means you would have $300 on the table that you can't pull back if you don't like the cards. On the average, the house expects to keep 3.5 percent of that, or $10.50.
In the average hour, you won't really leave only $5 per hand at risk. When you like your cards, sometimes you'll leave two bets on the table, and sometimes even leave all three at risk. In the situation described here, starting with three $5 bets and playing at 60 hands an hour, playing basic strategy at Let It Ride would lead you to keep $375 in action in the average hour. Your losses still would average $10.50 an hour, or 2.8 percent of that $375.
So we sometimes see the house edge at Let It Ride expressed with two numbers:
3.5 percent of one bet, or 2.8 percent of total action. The one-bet figure probably makes it easier for the average player to visualize what that house edge means to his or her bankroll.
Q. My sister and I have a long-running disagreement over the slots. She says you have a better chance of winning on the old three-reel games. I disagree. I know how fast my money used to go on them. I like to play the penny video games now and feel like I win more. Who's right?
A. That depends on what you mean by "win." Do you mean a better chance at a big jackpot? Usually, that means playing the three-reel slots. Do you mean getting back a higher percentage of your money over long sessions? Again, the three-reel slots have an edge, because they're usually at higher coin denominations, and higher denominations usually are set for higher payback percentages. Do you mean a higher percentage of winning spins, and a game that is more likely to keep you in your seat longer? That's what low-denomination video slots are designed to do.
Three-reel games such as Double Diamond and Blazing 7s put a higher percentage of their total payback into their top jackpots than video games do. The effect is a volatile game that gives you a better chance at a really big win, but also gives you a high percentage of losing spins with no payback. Cold streaks on a three-reel slot can be absolutely frigid, leaving a game of big wins balanced by frequent fast losses.
Five-reel video slots, on the other hand, have a higher percentage of small wins. Some of those "wins" are losses in disguise, with paybacks smaller than your wager. Nonetheless, frequent small paybacks are designed to keep you in your seat. When you have a losing session, your bankroll erodes more slowly than in a chilly spell on a three-reel slot. The tradeoff is that you have a smaller chance of a large jackpot.
Whether to play three-reel games or video games really comes down to your preferred style of play, and how you want the paybacks when they come. Play the games that are fun to you and enjoy the wins when they come, but understand that there will be more losing sessions than winners. Don't bet money you can't afford to lose.