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# Deal Me In: Casinos are in the math-and-time business

30 November 2012

Dear Mark: What is the typical hold for the casino in blackjack? I have heard it is under 10 percent. Nathan M.

I am wondering, Nathan, if you might be confusing the "house edge" with the "casino hold." The "house edge" in blackjack can be near zero against those who use perfect basic strategy, and approximately 5 percent against your typical player.

The "hold" percentage is the ratio of chips the casino keeps to the total amount of chips sold, generally measured from as little as an eight-hour shift, to weekly, monthly, even yearly.

For example, if a blackjack table sold \$20,000 in chips and dropped the currency in the box over an eight-hour swing shift, and the table ended up keeping \$9,000 of those chips (players cashing in the other \$11,000), then that particular table game would have a "hold" of 45 percent for that defined game and period.

Month to month, the hold can vary widely between games, casinos and gaming jurisdictions. I have seen low, abysmal single digit holds of less than 3 percent, but the average hold in blackjack across the US is between 16-18 percent.

So how does a casino take a house edge of 5 percent and turn it into an 18 percent hold? Simply, Nathan, by staying out of the gambling business and being in the math-and-time business.

The casino knows that even if you are a halfway decent blackjack player, you are not going to play just one hand. The longer you sit tableside, the higher its hold will climb. Multiply that by countless players on hundreds of blackjack tables 24/7, and an 18 percent hold doesn't really seem all that high.

The only way a gambler can avoid the trap of this grind is to shorten his or her gambling timeline. Casino operators know all too well that such cautious behavior has negative implications on the casino's hold. They would much prefer a player anteing-up casino chips for hours on end.

Dear Mark: What is the house edge of a fire bet on a craps game? I imagine it's a sucker's bet, but I've seen rollers hit five points (a 250-1 payoff) a few times and I only play craps a couple of times a year. Duane R.

A "fire bet" is a wager that pays off if the shooter makes at least four different points (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10) before the seven rolls. The bettor is wagering that a shooter of fire will set and make multiple valued points, but in order for the points to count towards your fire bet, they must all be distinctive. For instance, if a player were to hit the point of 6 twice, they would only get credit for one point on his or her fire bet, rather than two.

As the shooter makes each point, the dealer will place a fire symbol on the layout marking the different points. For the first three points hit, there are no payoffs. However, increasing odds are paid for the fourth, fifth, and sixth points; 25:1 odds are paid for the fourth point; the fifth point pays at 250:1 odds, which is \$1,250 for a \$5 bet; and the sixth point pays 1,000:1 odds; a fin fetches you \$5,000.

Sure, Duane, who wouldn't want a \$5,000 payday for a \$5 investment, but that enticement won't change the grim fact that this bet is the worst wager you can make on a craps game, with an enormous house edge of 24.70 percent.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The difference between Las Vegas and Atlantic City is the difference between getting conned by a beautiful call girl and getting mugged by a crack head." — Drew Carey
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Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.