By John Grochowski

Q. I have a hypothetical question for you. I know single-zero roulette has a lower house edge than double-zero roulette. You’ve explained that it’s because the payoffs are set so there would be no edge if there were 36 numbers, but with one zero there are really 37 numbers, and with two zeroes there are really 38.

What if someone used a no-zero wheel? Then there would be only 36 numbers. Would this then be an even game, with no house edge?

A. If all payoffs remained the same, and the only numbers were 1 through 36, then yes, your no-zero roulette would be an even game.

It wouldn’t be hard to devise a no-zero roulette game that still gave the house an edge, though. All you’d have to do is change the payoffs on most of the bets. The usual 35-1 payoff on a single-number winner would have no house edge. But if you lowered the payoff to 34-1, the house would have a 2.8 percent edge. On a four-number corner, instead of paying the usual 8-1, lowering the payoff to 7-1 would give the house an 11.1 percent edge.

That ruins the symmetry of regular roulette, in which all inside bets on single-zero roulette have the same 2.7 percent house edge, and all inside bets in double-zero roulette have the same 5.26 percent edge, except for the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3, where there’s a 7.89 percent edge. Shorting the usual payoff by one unit on each no-zero-roulette wager would lead to some decent bets, and some awful ones, as seen in the single-number and four-number examples here.

The real problem would come on the outside bets. Wagers such as red or black, odd or even pay even-money on normal roulette wheels. Casinos aren’t going to want to make change to pay 90-some cents on the dollar on your no-zero wheel, so they’d have to come up with a different method of keeping the edge. The most realistic solution would be to charge a commission on winning bets, as is done on winning banker bets in baccarat.

If that all seems like more trouble than it’s worth, it probably is. I don’t think your no-zero wheel has a casino future.

Q. What can you tell me about playing with coupons? My wife and I were playing blackjack together, and we each had a coupon. If you bet $5 plus the coupon, they’d pay you $10 on a winning hand. She won on her coupon, and I lost on mine, so I guess we broke even.

We played for a couple of hours, so even if we’d both won, the extra $10 would have been a drop in the bucket. That seems hardly worth the bother.

A. You didn’t break even on your coupon play. You came out $5 ahead.

Think about it. You and your wife each wagered $5, for $10 in total risk. If there had been no coupons involved, you’d have had nothing to show for your wager, and your wife would have had $10 — getting her bet back, plus $5 in winnings. That’s a break-even experience, with $10 risked and $10 returned.

But with the coupon in play, your wife had $15 at the end of her hand — getting her bet back, $5 in winnings on the bet and $5 in winnings on the coupon. Between you, the risk was $10, and the return $15, for a $5 profit.

Was it worth the bother? You tell me. If you left the table with money, you left with $5 more than you would have without the coupon. And if you lost your stake before leaving the table, the coupon at least bought you one extra bet.

I’m a big fan of coupon play for low-rollers, and have been ever since my second trip to Las Vegas. My wife and I bought a package deal that included airfare, three nights at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and $55 in match-play chips. Each chip was the equivalent of your $10-for-$5 coupon — wager a regular $5 chip plus a $5 match-play chip, and a winner would bring $10.

We were true low rollers, and hadn’t brought more than $300 to play with. A good run with the match-play brought us an extra $60 — a welcome stretch to our budget.

Since then, from time to time I’ve gone on coupon runs, hopping from casino to casino, stopping only long enough to play available coupons. I’ve gotten the odd dirty look from a dealer or pit boss when leaving after one hand, but I’ve never failed to make a small profit.

The important point is that any time you use such a coupon or match-play chip, you have a mathematical edge on the house. During the other hands on which a coupon is not in play, the house retains its advantage. If you were able to play a coupon on every hand, the odds would be strongly in your favor. And you’re just playing one coupon in a longer session, at least you’re looking at a little extra bonus at no cost to yourself.

Q. I know the basic strategy charts say that you should split a pair of 8s even when the dealer has a 10 face up. But what if I draw another 8, and wind up with another pair? Do I split again? I cringe at winding up with three 18s, and losing three bets at once to a 20.

A. As difficult as it may be, the basic strategy play remains to split 8s against a 10. That remains true even if you’re splitting a second time to create a third hand, or a third time to create a fourth hand.

On average you lose only half as much money by making the extra bet to split the 8s than if you play it as 16. You gain by taking the extra risk even if it’s your second or third split of the hand.

John Grochowski writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column on gambling,
  and is author of  the “Casino Answer Book” series from Bonus Books.  

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