We’ve all been there before, grinding away at a casino table game and trying hard to maintain a disciplined strategy. But when the chips are starting to dwindle and desperation sets in, maybe you cast a wary eye to those side bets scattered all over the felt.

If you’re a blackjack buff, the odds are good that you’ve tried out the 21+3 side bet a time or two before. In this clever addition to the base game, you’re hoping to use your two hole cards plus the dealer’s up card to form a three-card poker hand like a straight or a flush. If you do, the payout comes to a whopping 9 to 1 on your bet, a much more lucrative reward than the 3 to 2 score you’ll receive for making blackjack. But here’s the rub… that 21+3 side bet and its 9 to 1 payoff carry a house edge of 3.23 percent.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the concept of house edge, here’s a quick tutorial to teach you the ropes. The house edge is a percentage used to reflect the casino’s inherent advantage on any given game or wager. Blackjack is among the best bets on the floor, offering a 1.5 percent house edge to players using gut instinct alone, and an even better 0.50 percent rate when you apply basic strategy.

What those percentages mean is a gut instinct player can expect to lose $1.50 on every $100 they wager over the long run. Meanwhile, somebody playing correctly according to basic strategy will hand over just $0.50 per $100 wagered on average. Contrast that with a game of chance like roulette – which offers a house edge of 5.26 percent when the wheel has two green “0” and “00” spaces – and you can see why this metric is essential for thinking gamblers to understand.

Circling back to the 21+3 side bet for a moment, that 3.23 percent house edge is double what you’d face playing by the seat of your pants. And if you happen to know a thing or two about basic strategy decisions, wagering on the side bet increases the house edge against you more than six times over.

And believe it or not, the 21+3 is actually one of the more reasonable table game side bets out there today. With dozens of table games containing hundreds of side bets – depending on the casino operator and game designer in question – modern gamblers must navigate a muddled maze of seemingly attractive wagers.

This is especially true when progressive jackpots are involved. In a game like Three Card Poker, players have the option to bet an additional $1 on the progressive “Mini Royal” side bet. If their three-card hand happens to be A-K-Q of the same suit – beating astronomical odds of 1/10th of 1 percent in the process – they’ll score a massive payout linked to a running progressive jackpot.

Every so often you’ll see the mainstream media covering these jackpots with breathless attention, as was the case last year when a Three Card Poker table produced a $500,000 jackpot. But what you won’t find are any stories about the countless millions which are lost chasing these disastrous side bets. Nor how the average house edge on each $1 wager for a Three Card Poker progressive comes to an astronomical 26 percent – making it a worse play than keno.

Casinos love to advertise their jackpot winners and side bet success stories, often using social media to trumpet out news about the latest payouts. That’s because for every winner a side bet produces, thousands of losers came before them to swell the jackpot kitty. And even if you’re playing more conservative side bets that offer standard odds-based payouts, the news isn’t any better. These wagers almost always offer a house edge high enough to make the game unbeatable. In other words, even with the occasional win factored in, regular side bet players simply have no chance to breakeven based on all of their previous losses.

1 – Lucky Ladies in Blackjack

The mother of all side bets is, appropriately enough, named after the Queens in a deck of playing cards. Find any blackjack pit in America, from Las Vegas to Atlantic City and all points in between, and you’ll inevitably see the ubiquitous Lucky Ladies side bet logo emblazoned on the baize. After placing a chip down – the minimum wager is $1 but most players opt for a $5 “unit” – you’re hoping to see your hole cards form a 20-point total.

This is true for any blackjack hand, but when you’re betting on Lucky Ladies, 20-point hands receive an instant one-time payout – regardless of what the dealer winds up with. Collect two unsuited 10-point cards at the same time and you’ll earn a nice 4 to 1 payout on your wager.

But the real hook for Lucky Ladies bettors is the topline payout of 1,000 to 1, which is awarded when you land two Queen of Hearts simultaneously AND the dealer makes a blackjack. You can also score a sweet payout of either 125 to 1 or 200 to 1, depending on the pay table being used, for landing the two Queen of Hearts without a dealer blackjack – as shown in the table below:

Most Common Pay Tables for Lucky Ladies

Q of hearts pair + dealer blackjack 1,000 to 1 1,000 to 1
Q of hearts pair 125 to 1 200 to 1
Matched 20 19 to 1 25 to 1
Suited 20 9 to 1 10 to 1
Unsuited 20 4 to 1 4 to 1

House Edge Rates by Pay Table

  • House edge on Pay Table A = 24.71 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table B = 17.64 percent

But be sure to pay close attention to the supplementary table above, which displays the house edge on Lucky Ladies bets by pay table. Even if you find the more generous Pay Table B, your house edge when backing this side bet stands at a ludicrous 17.64 percent.

There aren’t very many games on the casino floor that offer a steeper hill to climb, and I’m including classic “sucker” games like the Big 6 Wheel and penny slots in that regard. All things considered, unless you literally have money to burn, betting on the Lucky Ladies is a surefire way to deplete your bankroll in a hurry.

2 – Progressive Side Bet in Caribbean Stud Poker

Caribbean Stud Poker isn’t the most popular poker-based table game here in the States, but if you ever venture into the tropical gambling paradises down south, you’ll find the game in abundance. But even here in America, the Caribbean Stud Poker craze is beginning to catch on, due in large part to the progressive side bet.

To play this one, you’ll put up an ante bet in exchange for five cards dealt face down. The dealer gets five cards too, with one face up for the table to see. Based on that available information, you then decide between folding your ante bet away or putting in a second “Raise” bet to bring the hand to showdown. From there, the best five-card poker hand between player and dealer takes the cake, while premium hands like a straight, flush, or full house receive escalating odds-based payouts.

Spicing up that base game is a progressive jackpot element which continues to build higher and higher until somebody finally cashes in. To win 100 percent of this jackpot – which regularly climbs into the six-figures in major casinos – all you need is a five-card Royal Flush. Of course, landing a perfect Royal Flush using just five cards is the longest of longshots, coming in at only 0.001 percent of the time.

You can also shoot for 10 percent of the progressive kitty when you hit a straight flush, while other premium hands offer flat payouts as per the table below:

Most Common Pay Tables for Caribbean Stud Poker Progressive Side Bet

Royal flush 100 percent* 100 percent 100 percent 100 percent 100 percent
Straight flush 10 percent 10 percent 10 percent 10 percent 10 percent
Quads $100 $150 $500 $500 $500
Full house $75 $100 $100 $150 $75
Flush $50 $50 $50 $75 $50
Straight $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Trips $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Return 0.230323 0.278345 0.36238 0.483546 0.326369

**House take    0.029242    0.029242    0.029242    0.029242    0.029242
***Breakeven    $263,205    $246,783    $218,045    $176,611    $230,360
*Percentage of progressive jackpot won
**Percentage of each bet taken by the house
***Dollar amount progressive jackpot must reach for players to break even on expected return

House Edge Rates by Pay Table

  • House edge on Pay Table A = 23.03 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table B = 27.83 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table C = 36.23 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table D = 48.35 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table E = 32.63 percent

You probably wouldn’t believe it if I told you the casino offers a bet with odds worse than a scratch-off lottery ticket, but here we are. Even the best pay table above, labeled “A,” carries a ridiculous house edge of 23.03 percent. And if you find the inferior pay table, labeled “D,” the rate climbs all the way to 48.35 percent – making it by far the worst bet on any casino floor.

3 – 5-Card Bonus in Let It Ride

The game of Let It Ride – also known as Let ‘Em Ride in many casinos – is a relative newcomer to the table game scene that offers an offshoot on Caribbean Stud Poker. In this one, players make the same ante bet and take the same five-card hand (dealt in a 3-1-1 progression with the last two dealt as community cards), but they don’t have any dealer hand to worry about. To give the game some complexity, Let It Ride lets players increase or decrease the size of their wager based on their relative hand strength after hole cards and the first community card hit the felt.

The base game table is standard fare, but bold players who like to go for the gusto can also place an optional 5-Card Bonus side bet. When you do, the following pay tables are commonly used based region and casino operator:

Most Common Pay Tables for Let It Ride 5-Card Bonus Side Bet

Royal flush 20000 20000 20000 20000 20000
Straight flush 2000 1000 2000 2000 1000
4 of a kind 100 100 100 400 400
Full house 75 75 75 200 200
Flush 50 50 50 50 50
Straight 25 25 25 25 25
3 of a kind 9 4 8 5 5
Two pair 6 3 4 0 0
10s or better 0 1 0 0 0

House Edge Rates by Pay Table

  • House edge on Pay Table A = 13.77 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table B = 23.73 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table C = 23.59 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table D = 25.53 percent
  • House edge on Pay Table E = 26.92 percent

Risking a single dollar for a chance to haul in $20,000 more seems to be a fine ratio, and indeed, players who beat the odds and hit head home happier than ever.

The only thing is, landing a royal flush under this “three hole cards + two community cards” format is a 0.0002 percent longshot. That doesn’t read “2 percent” either, as the true probability is an infinitesimal fraction of one ten-thousandth of one percent. And as you might suspect by now, an unbelievable longshot like the 5 Card Bonus side bet carries an average house edge well over 20 percent – making it unplayable in every respect.

4 – Insurance Bet in Blackjack

In a standard blackjack game, certain house rules can allow the dealer to offer players an escape hatch of sorts. When the dealer shows an Ace as their up card, they will pause the game and ask each player if they’d like to take “Insurance.” Essentially a side bet that can only be placed under the right conditions, Insurance is an optional wager that lets the player hedge their original ante bet in case the dealer already has blackjack.

When the Ace does indeed combine with a 10-point card to give the dealer blackjack, you’ll still lose your initial ante, but you’ll bring back 2 to 1 on the Insurance bet. This looks like a bargain to your typical Sin City tourist, so uninformed players almost always take the Insurance out of fear of losing in an “obvious” situation.

But when you break down the average six-deck blackjack shoe into its 312 individual cards (52 x 6 = 312), you’ll discover this assessment’s fatal flaw. Assuming an Ace up for the dealer, the shoe now holds 96 winning cards (the 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings), as opposed to 215 cards that will render the Insurance a loser.

I’ll spare you the intricate mathematical calculations, but with 96 winners to 215 losers, the Insurance bet in blackjack creates a house edge of 7.40 percent. That’s relatively affordable compared to the first three side bets on this list, but it’s still 15 times higher than the 0.50 percent house edge basic strategy players enjoy.

When you see the dealer showing an Ace, buckle up and hope to see them reveal a non-10 underneath – but when they do make blackjack, just chalk the loss up and keep grinding. Insurance might seem like a good policy at the time, but it’s really just a way for casinos to scare suckers into losing money even when they go on to win the hand.

5 – Bonus Bet in Texas Holdem Bonus

Table games based on Texas Holdem specifically are a dying breed nowadays, but you’ll still find a few Texas Holdem Bonus tables kicking around. To play, you’ll place an ante bet and take two cards, then decide whether or not to put a second bet up for grabs. After a three-card “flop” you can elect to check or bet, with the action repeating on the single-card “turn.” From there, one last “river” card is dealt, and you show down your best five-card poker hand against the dealer. The base game is actually quite entertaining in its own right, but like always, casinos try to lure suckers in with a Bonus bet.

Checking the pay table below, you’ll see how this Bonus bet – based on landing specific two-card starting hands – shakes out:

Las Vegas Pay Table Bonus Bet in Texas Holdem Bonus

Player + Dealer has AA 1000 6 0.000004 0.003694
Player has AA 30 7344 0.004521 0.135636
Player has AK suited 25 4900 0.003017 0.075415
Player has AQ or AJ suited 20 9800 0.006033 0.120664
Player has AK unsuited 15 14700 0.00905 0.135747
Player has KK, QQ, or JJ 10 22050 0.013575 0.135747
Player has AQ or AJ unsuited 5 29400 0.0181 0.090498
Player has Pair 2-2 through 10-10 3 66150 0.040724 0.122172
All other -1 1470000 0.904977 -0.904977
Total 1624350 1 -0.085406

House Edge Rates by Bet

  • House edge on base game bet = 2.06 percent
  • House edge on Bonus side bet = 8.54 percent

Getting pocket Aces in Texas Holdem is always a treat, and the 30 to 1 payout here is no different, but don’t forget about the huge house edge of 8.54 percent. The base game offers a much more reasonable 2.06 percent, so stick to that and don’t worry about scoring pocket pairs or big Aces for the Bonus.

6 – Hard Numbers in Craps

The name of these exotic craps bets really does say it all. Having the dice roll to a certain number is already difficult enough in craps, but some bettors like to make it even tougher by chasing “Hard” totals.

For the craps novices out there, a Hard roll involves using identical numbers on each die to create the desired result. If you were rolling for a Hard 8, for example, you’d need the 4 + 4 combination – with 2 + 6 and 3 + 5 no longer eligible for a win. The Hard 4 is comprised of 2 + 2, while the Hard 6 and Hard 10 need to see a 3 + 3 and 5 + 5 land, respectively.

Gamblers like to shoot for Hard totals here and there because hitting them offers juiced up payouts based on the odds against, as shown in the table below:

Probabilities for Common Craps Bets

Pass Line 1 to 1 3.38 1.41 percent
Don’t Pass Line 1 to 1 3.47 1.40 percent
Place 6 and 8 7 to 6 3.27 1.52 percent
Place 5 and 9 7 to 5 3.60 4.00 percent
Place 4 and 10 9 to 5 4.00 6.67 percent
Hard 6 and 8 9 to 1 3.27 9.09 percent
Hard 4 and 10 7 to 1 4.00 11.11 percent

*Average number of rolls before result is expected to show
**House edge rate over course of average roll

But as you can see, while a Hard 6 or 8 does indeed pay back a sweet 9 to 1 return, the house edge on this bet swells from 1.52 percent on any 8 to 9.09 percent on the Hard variety. Craps is already a volatile game, so why make it harder on yourself by chasing Hard rolls?

7 – Tie Bet in Baccarat

The less said about this one, the better… Baccarat is among the simplest casino games ever conceived, as all the player has to do is take a pair of two-card hands and guess which one will total closest to nine. A third card may be involved based on a bunch of overly complicated drawing rules, but in the end, either the Banker or Player hand will wind up the winner more than 90 percent of the time.

As for that other 10 percent, well, that’s where the Tie bet comes into play. At the baccarat table, you can also wager that the end result of a hand will be a tie. When this occurs, your bet is paid back at 8 to 1 – pretty good considering Banker and Player wins are paid at even money.

But after you scan the table below, you’ll immediately realize why the Tie bet is such a joke:

Probabilities for Tie Bet in Baccarat

Banker wins -1 2,292,252,566,437,888 0.458597 -0.458597
Player wins -1 2,230,518,282,592,256 0.446247 -0.446247
Tie 8 475,627,426,473,216 0.095156 0.761248
Total N/A 4,998,398,275,503,360 1 -0.143596

House Edge Rates by Baccarat Bet

  • House edge on Banker = 1.06 percent
  • House edge on Player = 1.24 percent
  • House edge on Tie     = 14.36 percent

Yep, in a game where players can decide between two bets with house edges under 1.25 percent, some dunces out there still insist on backing a 14.36 percent house edge longshot. Don’t be that dunce, and ditch the Tie bet for good when playing baccarat.

In the mid-1800s, famous showman P.T. Barnum once infamously proclaimed that “there’s a sucker born every minute” – and that’s a philosophy casino corporations still live by today. Relying on a steady stream of uninformed customers, casinos spread every conceivable side bet with a hopeless house edge, secure in the knowledge that somebody, somewhere will take the bait.

Gamblers can’t blame the house for trying to get over on them, after all, that’s the business we’ve all chosen. The house gives us a chance to win, but the deck is perpetually stacked in their favor while players struggle to keep up.

If you’re a gambler who wants to improve their bankroll’s bottom line, avoiding side bets like the plague is the best way to go. It can be tempting to splash around on a progressive side bet offering a six-figure score, especially when you read about those big jackpot winners who occasionally beat the odds. Nonetheless, now that you know the odds and probabilities behind some of the most popular table game side bets, there’s no excuse for lighting money on fire and proving P.T. Barnum was right all along.

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