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Three Card Poker Popularity Illustrates Casino Economics

12 October 2005

Many times there's a lot more to playing casino games than meets the eye. Take the popular poker hybrid Three Card Poker as an example. When a casino decides to introduce this game, it has to go through its copyright holder, Las Vegas-based Shuffle Master, Inc., to either lease a table or purchase one outright.

"It's a very expensive game to bring into the casino," said Therrin Protze, Senior Director of Operations for the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. "That's the only problem with a game of this nature. Shuffle Master knows it's a very popular game. They see the numbers as much as we do. They keep hiking the lease up on us every year. You can buy the game if you want, but it costs a ton of money."

In spite of the cost factor, Protze acknowledges that Three Card Poker is a favorite among his table games players. He's even contemplating adding a third table to the casino's inventory of games.

"Three Card Poker is up for the year and it continues to climb in popularity," he said.

Whereas some poker hybrids, such as the new Texas Hold'em Bonus Poker, derive their popularity from the poker craze, Three Card Poker, Protze says, seems to have cultivated a following on its own.

The game is played with a 52-card deck. There are three wagering spots at each player position: Ante, Play and Pairs Plus (optional). Play starts with everyone making an ante. Each player plus the dealer is dealt three cards face down. The object is to beat the dealer. Once you take a look at your cards, you can either fold and surrender your ante or play by making an additional wager equal to your ante. If your hand beats the dealer you are paid even money on both bets. The ante also has a bonus pay table for a straight, three-of-a-kind and straight flush.

There is a qualifying rule. If the dealer does not have queen high or better, players win their ante bets but play bets are a push. The ante bonus is not affected by the qualifying rule AND you are paid even if the dealer's hand beats yours. You can opt to make a Pairs Plus wager even if you don't place an ante. You don't have to beat the dealer and neither does the dealer have to qualify. Any pair pays even money, plus there is a bonus pay table for a straight flush, three-of-a-kind, straight and flush. Strategy is easy: Just mimic the dealer and you'll keep the house edge to a minimum. Make a play if you're dealt queen high or better, fold if you aren't.

Shuffle Master makes 12 different bonus pay tables available to the casinos that lease the game. Distinguishing the bad ones from the good ones will make your decision of where to play the game an easy one.

The most liberal ante bonus schedule for players is 5 to 1 for a straight flush, 4 to 1 for three-of-a-kind and even money for a straight, which translates into a 2.01 house edge on the ante/play bet. On tables that pay just 3 to 1 for three-of-a-kind the house edge increases to 2.16. Tighten it up even further by paying just 4 to 1 for a straight flush and it climbs to 2.28.

The loosest Pairs Plus bonus schedule comes out to a 2.30 house edge and pays 40 to 1 for a straight flush, 30 to 1 for three-of-a-kind, 6 to 1 for a straight, 4 to 1 for a flush and even money for a pair. Pay just 25 to 1 for three-of-a-kind, however, and it increases to 3.50. Pay 5 to 1 for a straight and it zooms up to 5.60. The worst bonus table gives players just 3 to 1 for a flush, which hikes the house edge to an obscene 7.30.

"Depending on which pay table is used, Three Card Poker has good odds for the players," Protze acknowledged. "Because of this, it's a volatile game for the casino. Players are very smart, and they know where they can get their best gamble."

As for which bets to make, Protze recommends playing them all to best take advantage of a liberal pay table if it is available:

"Some people just bet the pairs plus, but I personally think it's best to play the game like betting max coin on a slot machine," he said.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp