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Best Bet in Craps

Dear Mark,
I don't gamble a lot, but when we have guests who think we're lucky to live only 15 minutes from a sharp casino, we always take them, and I play craps, my favorite. I've been told that the best bet is on the pass line, and wonder if it's true. - Brenda C.

Craps with cronies can be enjoyable entertainment, and based on your pass line play, you're already an expert amongst your friends. Still, less than one percent of players who belly up to the game understand dice as you do.

Most players are greener than the felt on the table. So, Brenda, allow me to give your gambling gang and fellow readers the only bets you really want to make on a crap table. The best bets on a crap game are the pass and come line bets you subscribe to, those wagers with odds, and the placing of the 6 or 8. These three wagers have a casino edge of 1.5% or lower. Stick to these three, and you'll be certified to get your teaching credentials.

Dear Mark,
The Mississippi Gaming Commission recently posted the "Hold" percentage for table games on the coast. Blackjack was listed at 14.58%. If, using perfect basic playing strategy, the house edge is supposed to be approximately one half of 1%. Am I comparing apples and oranges, or is the average BJ player completely ignoring basic playing strategy? - Ray F.

Yes and yes. But for starters, Ray, you are confusing house edge with casino hold.

The "house edge" is a predetermined percentage of each bet that the house takes as payment for letting you sit at their tables. The casino's "hold" is the share of the chips the player bought that are won back by the casino. It's not all that hard for the casino to turn a house edge of 1% and then, "Presto! begone!" turn it into a 14-plus percent hold.

Casinos, Ray, are not in the gambling business. They are in the math-and-time business. Casino operators know that, even considering a halfway decent blackjack player, the longer his keister is in their seats, the higher their hold will climb.

Allow me to clarify. Most blackjack players give up 5% of their wager to the house based on their shoddy play. (The house has a 5% advantage against the "average" blackjack player. Incredibly, less than 1% of all BJ players employ perfect basic strategy.) Consequently, after 20 hands, based on perpetual play, they should mathematically have $95 remaining. But the average player stays stuck to the stool, so with their remaining $95, slowly but surely, they fatten up their losses, giving the house a higher hold than the actual casino edge on the game.

Multiply that, Ray, by 24 hours a day play, grinding away at squatters on hundreds of blackjack tables across Mississippi, and 14.58% doesn't really seem all that high. The only one gambling here is the blackjack player, not the casino.

The only way you, the gambler, can avoid getting caught in this grind is to shorten your gambling timeline. Casino operators know all too well that such cautious behavior has negative implications on the casino's hold. They would much prefer to see you crazy glued to a stool and anteing-up casino chips all day long.

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Gambling Quotes

  • "Life is a gamble, like crossing the road. One day chicken, next day feathers."- Unknown

  • "Having an ATM in a casino is like having a lap-dancer at a Hell's Angels Convention. - McAvoy Layne

  • "Gambling has held human beings in thrall for millennia. It has been engaged in everywhere, from the dregs of society to the most respectable circles."- Peter L. Bernstein

  • Besides lovemaking and singing in the shower, there aren't many human activities where there is a greater difference between a person's self-delusional ability and actual ability than in poker.- Steve Badget

  • "Betting is the only moral thing you can do. It is an intellectual pursuit, as good as The Times crossword. For millions, it is the only uninfluenced democratic decision they take."- Lord Wyatt

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