In Las Vegas, the Same Name Does Not Mean the Same Game

Short pay on electronic roulette game

Kristina and I spent hours trying to determine why a sic-bo machine at Venetian has 13 bets that don’t return at least 75% to players as required by gaming regulations. The answer is that the game is not actually sic-bo. It is a slot machine that mimics sic-bo with multipliers and random jackpots that are not found in the live version of the game.

We are unable to determine the payout on this electronic table game. That should never happen. A machine that uses the name as a live table game should play exactly like that game or be called something different. This is becoming a problem in Las Vegas that I feel requires attention.

Casino Wizard electronic table game short pays

We covered electronic table games for the first time in five years in our Las Vegas Table Game Survey. This includes new Casino Wizard machines. We checked the pay tables on many. These matched the corresponding live table games. However, it appears we missed at least one that does not.

Earlier this week, a player discovered a Casino Wizard machine that short pays at craps. The bad payouts are disclosed deep in the help files, and not anywhere on the game screen.

The pass line holds 9.7% here. The pass line house edge is 1.4% on a normal craps game. Even worse, odds always return 100% at a real craps game. Not on this machine. The house edge on 4 and 10 odds is 8%. It is 9.3% for 5 and 9 and 9% for 6 and 8.

Casino Wizard machines call this game craps. Players expect the game to payout like the live version.

It has also been reported that baccarat payouts are substantially worse on some of these Casino Wizard machines. The house edge there goes to 6-7% from just over 1% in a normal game. 

Craps odds and 6:5 blackjack payouts are sometimes missing

Craps odds are often not disclosed anywhere on an electronic table game, not even in the help files. Some video blackjack machines hide 6:5 payouts deep in the rules screen, as opposed to placing them on the felt or somewhere else obvious. Both of these rules can affect the house edge by more than 1%.

Some upright roulette machines short pay longshots 

As Kristina noted in an earlier post at US Casino Advantage, we discovered some single-player roulette machines that often have just one zero, but pay as little as 31 on a straight and 15 on a split. Roulette normally pays 35 on straights and 17 on splits. A player may see the single zero and think it is a deal, but it is actually worse than six-zero roulette for those bets.

Live table games can be just as guilty

Our data shows that 69% of the Las Vegas Strip blackjack tables pay 6:5. In too many cases, players would not know this by looking at the table. 

6:5 blackjack tables should be clearly disclosed

Some casinos put the 6:5 payout in big letters on the felt. Some make it clear enough on the placard. However, many others put it in the smallest font possible on the placard, making it impossible to see if a player is in the seat closest to the sign.

Blackjack traditionally pays 3:2. Las Vegas is one of the few markets where 6:5 is widespread. Visitors from other cities make the assumption that the games that they find in Las Vegas mirror the ones from their local casinos. If a game like blackjack has bad rules that drastically affect the player’s return, a larger sign should be required at the table to disclose this.

Forced blackjack side bets

Binion’s, Four Queens, Fremont and Golden Nugget all deal blackjack games with a mandatory side bet of $1 or $2. These casinos deal the three worst blackjack games in Las Vegas

Side bets are normally optional at blackjack. Any blackjack game with a required side bet should be called something else as it substantially differs from the standard game, or at least have a large sign making this terrible rule clear to players.

I put the house edge at 8.95% on the minimum bet at the Golden Nugget Lucky Cat Blackjack tables with a mandatory $2 side bet. That is more than 1% higher than triple zero roulette. 

The Binion’s and Four Queen games are marginally better than the other mandatory bet games at Fremont and Golden Nugget. That is because there is a 3:2 payout, something bragged about on bright signs. It is difficult to see these signs as anything more than trying to attract players to the tables that think they know better than to play 6:5 games since the sign omits the mandatory side bet rule. 

I estimate the house edge on the $10+1 mandatory side bet games dealt by these two casinos to be about the same as a $50 bet at a standard 3:2 blackjack game. 

Using a casino logo for the third zero at roulette

Triple zero roulette is another problem. Many casinos with it try to cover that up by using the property’s logo as the third zero on the wheel. This may go unnoticed by the player. Roulette has two zeros at all tables in nearly every other market. If a casino decides to deviate from that, it should be clear to players.

What can be done?

This is not aimed at all casinos. Most do the right things. However, the casinos trying to hide bad games are ruining it for everyone. I feel that it is time for Nevada regulators to clean up this mess. Visitors are losing trust in Las Vegas at a disturbing rate. 

If an electronic table game is approved in Nevada, I think it needs to use the same rules as the live version of the game. If it pays 6:5 on blackjack, the game needs to be called “6:5 blackjack” and not just “blackjack” on the menu, or otherwise needs to disclose this bad rule clearly. This also applies to live games where unusual rules negatively affect the financial outcome for players. 

An electronic table game should not be able to use the name of a live one unless it is substantially similar. Adding gimmicky slot features should not be permitted if the same name is used. In the sic-bo example I used earlier, that game should be called something like “dice-bo” or “slot-bo.”

If an electronic game shorts payouts, that should either be clearly on the virtual felt where each bet is made, or the game must be called something different than its live counterpart. Hiding a house edge that is five times worse than normal on page 11 of the machine’s help screen is not acceptable. It should be easy to see why this is deceptive, and why this violates at least the spirit of Nevada Gaming Regulations 5.011 and 5.012.

author avatar
John Mehaffey
John, a founding member of Advantage Media LLC, got his start in gaming as a prop player at online poker sites. He played online poker from 2001 to 2005. In 2004, he created a site that served as a directory for an online poker promotional method known as rakeback. He sold that site in 2006 and moved his family from Atlanta to Rapid City, SD to work for a similar company. They later moved to Las Vegas in 2010. John’s favorite game is full-pay video poker. His favorite table game is Ultimate Texas Hold’em, though he would rather play it in video form. Currently, John is best known for compiling blackjack and table game data including all Las Vegas and Clark County casinos.