Are Side Bets Worth It?

 Are Side Bets Worth It?

Casinos often use side bets on table games — especially blackjack — to spice up the games and draw a little extra action from players.

The house edge on side bets almost always is higher than on the main game. That led a reader to write and ask, “Is there ever a time to make a side bet like 21 + 3 or Lucky Ladies at blackjack, the Dragon Bonus bet at baccarat or the Prime bet in Three Card Poker? [If the house edge is higher], why not just play the regular game and skip the side bet?”

In the blackjack examples the reader gave, house edges are 3.2 percent at 21 + 3 and anywhere from 13 to 30 percent on Lucky Ladies, depending on pay tables.

Baccarat’s Dragon Bonus has a house edge of 2.7 percent on player and 9.4 percent on banker, and the edge on Three Card Poker Prime is 3.6 percent.

Blackjack basic strategy players can cut the house edge to well under 1 percent, the precise amount depending on house rules. In baccarat, the house edge is 1.06 percent on banker and a.1.24 percent on player, and the edge is 2.01 percent on the ante-play option in Three Card Poker.

So yes, strictly on a percentage basis, the better play is to save your money for the main game and skip the side bets. That’s how I play.

However, some side bets are vulnerable to advantage play. Lucky Ladies, which pays varying amounts on 20s depending on their composition, and the odds swing toward the player when there is a high concentration of 10s remaining in the deck.

Most players are not card counters or advantage players, but some are attracted by potential for a big jackpot on side bets.

Lucky Ladies is a jackpot-chaser’s delight with payoffs of 125-1 or 200-1 — depending on which pay table the casino uses — on a Queen of hearts pair and 1,000-1 if the dealer beats your heart Queens with a blackjack.

Even the 9-1 payoff on 21 + 3 livens blackjack for players bored with grinding it out on even-money payoffs. If you value that spice and are willing to accept the higher house edge, that’s your business.

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