The Best (and Worst) Prescriptions for Gambling Fever
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The Big Wheel, or Big Six as it is often called, looks like a salvage job from a long-shuttered carnival: "Spin the wheel, win a prize!" Casinos frequently employ their peppiest "people" persons at the Big Wheel, where, management hopes, ignorant gamblers will get caught up in the simulated carnival atmosphere.
There's nothing worth gambling on here. If you see anyone parked in front of this spinning money drain, you can be sure he is either very drunk or very stupid. The "best" bet, on the $1 spot, gives the casino an 11.1 percent advantage. The worst, on one of two Jokers that pay 40 to 1 (on a 50-to-1 shot), skims 24 percent. Everything else in between is just as bad, producing an average edge for the House approaching a criminal 20 percent.
NO. 2--Keno: --28 percent
This number may be slightly generous. Some keno games give the casino an advantage of over 30 percent.
The House picks 20 numbered balls out of a bowl of 80. Players attempt to match as few as one of the numbers or as many as all 20. In every configuration of the game--Pick Five; 20-Spot Special, etc.--the casinos skew the payouts so wickedly that you would think the wretchedness of the game would be painfully obvious. (You would be mistaken.)
Just remember this the next time the fellow next to you on the plane boasts of his latest keno triumph: anyone who claims to have a system for beating keno is either sadly mistaken or a congenital liar.
NO. 1--Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride, Bonus Side Bet: --47 percent
It's just a dollar. One measly extra dollar, and--who knows?--it could make you rich.
That's what the casino's hope gamblers are thinking when they play Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride: If I bet the extra dollar and the dealer gives me a royal flush, I'll win $50,000, or $100,000, or maybe a couple million. If I don't bet it, I can't win the big bonus.
Here's the facts: you'll receive a five-card royal flush about once every 640,000 hands. At Caribbean Stud tables, generous casinos will pay you upwards of $100,000 for this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence; stingy ones pay as little as $10,000.
As for Let It Ride, when you make a straight or royal flush, a winning $1 bonus side bet earns you little equity, only a spot in a nationwide tournament, where the ultimate winner takes home millions. Unfortunately, you are probably more likely to win your state lottery than the Let It Ride tourney.
Think of it this way: every time you see someone plunk down a dollar on either of these bonus side bets, he is, in effect, asking for change. But instead of getting back four quarters, he happily accepts 53 cents. That, it seems, is the price one pays to cure a bad case of gambling fever. *
Contributing editor Michael Konik is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.