Q. I make all the craps bets you say I shouldn't. I know the percentages are lousy, but I play for cheap, never lose too much and when I get a little lucky, I have some big wins. I know I lose more than I win, but the excitement of the big ones does it for me.
Anyway, I'm not writing for advice about that. I want to know about this "for one" stuff. I was visiting a friend out of town and playing craps, making all the bets I shouldn't make. I had $1 down on the 12, and I won. When that happens, I bet $2 on 12 for the next few rolls.
Instead of the usual $30 in winnings on my 12, the dealer put down $29. I asked what was going on. He pointed to the table and said they paid "for one" there. It was busy and there was no time for a full explanation, so I was hoping you could give me one.
A. Most casinos pay odds-to-one. If your winner 12 pays 30-to-1, then you keep your $1 wager and get $30 in winnings for a total of $31. At those that pay 30-for-1, then your wager is included in your return. You bet $1 and you get $30 back - $30 for your $1.
If the payoff is 30-to-1, the house edge is 13.89 percent. At 30-for-1, it's 16.67 percent. Either way, I don't recommend it, but you already know that.
As an aside, odds-for-1 is the way video poker payoffs are made. On Jacks or Better-based games, the pay table will list a one-coin return for one coin wagered if you draw a pair of Jacks. You're not getting your bet back plus a coin in winnings. You're just getting your bet back - 1-for-1.
Q. Explain something to me about blackjack percentages. You've written about house edges of 2 percent, half a percent and some other figures, I think. I guess it depends on how good the player is. But my friend was showing me a gaming board report that showed blackjack making 17 percent. How do you reconcile that with the much lower figures you throw about?
A. The 17 percent figure you cite is not directly comparable to the house edge figures, although the house edges are a factor in the larger number.
The house edge tells us how much of each wager it can expect to keep in the long run. If the house has a 2 percent edge, it expects to keep $2 per $100 wagered. In blackjack, the house edge is variable according to player skill, as you suggest. An average player in a six-deck game in which blackjacks pay 3-2 faces a house edge of about 2 percent. A basic strategy player cuts that to about half a percent, although the edge can be a few tenths of a percent more or less depending on rules such as whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17, and whether players are permitted to double down after splitting pairs.
Let's say I'm an average player facing a 2 percent house edge. I buy in for $100 and start by playing $10 a hand. I win some, I lose some. I make some $1 bets for the dealer, I move my own wagers up and down a little. But in total, I make $850 worth of wagers, and when it's time to leave, I find I still have $83 in front of me.
I've lost $17, which happens to be 2 percent of my $850 in wagers, matching the house edge.
But the house has another measure called the "hold percentage," or sometimes the "win percentage." Instead of measuring the portion of my wagers kept by the house, it measures the portion of my buy-in that's padding the bottom line.
In this case, the house has kept $17 of my $100 buy-in, so its hold is 17 percent.
The hold percentage is variable from day to day and casino to casino. It's dependent not only on the house edge, but on player habits related to stopping points and break times.
There's no problem reconciling a 17 percent hold with house edges of 2 percent against an average player and half a percent against a basic strategy player. The figures measure different things.
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