The Contrarian Guide to Casino Gambling

Group Sitting at Table Game, Silhouette of Man and Woman with Question and Exclamation Point
Despite the casino’s reputation as an “adult playground” where anything goes, recreational gamblers often have a rude awakening when they discover just how restrictive a gaming floor can be.

A strictly enforced regimen of rules and regulations govern every bet and game. Floor staff and supervisors pace the floor while casting a wary eye on winners and losers alike. Players bind themselves to basic strategy and proper play, studying statistics and probabilities before backing only those bets which offer the best possible odds.

And unspoken points of etiquette can easily cause friction when strangers blame their own bad luck – read: poor play – on one another.

All things considered, casino gambling is much more ordered and rigid than meets the eye. In the eyes of most experienced players, there’s definitely “right” and “wrong” ways to approach every avenue of action the casino can serve up.

You’ll hear all about it too, if you play long enough. Casino veterans can be a prickly bunch, preferring to stay in their lane while pestering rookies who happen to make a bet or play that doesn’t fall within their own personal parameters.

Two People Playing Blackjack Table in CasinoJust sit down at the left-most spot on a blackjack table and start playing wildly to see just how explosive typically mild-mannered gamblers can get…

This negativity can get tiresome rather quickly, which is why so many casual gamblers quickly make one of two decisions – quit or fall into line. The folks who still want to play, but don’t like the idea of getting harangued every time they make a mistake, invariably learn the rules of the road for themselves. By studying and mimicking the more experienced gamblers in their midst, beginners pick up habits and patterns that standardize their gameplay to fit the norm.

And one day down the road, they become the old gambler at the table impatiently lecturing youngsters on how they’re doing it all wrong.

I believe casino gambling should be approached more like an art than a science, with everyone holding a chip and a chair free to indulge their whims as they wish. Of course, there’s always a place for proper strategy and decorum while exploring the casino – but gamblers shouldn’t feel forced to conform.

On that note, the guide below highlights several entertaining ways of tapping into your inner contrarian while gambling at the casino:

Dance with the Dark Side at the Craps Table

Of all the unspoken rules that reign supreme on the casino floor, the one which says betting on the “dark side” of the dice in craps should be forbidden is by far the most notorious.

In case you’re a craps novice, here’s a CliffsNotes version of how the game’s basic bets work. To start a game, the first shooter makes what we call the “come out roll,” or the first roll within any betting session. As the player, your first job is to bet on how the come out roll will land.

Hand Out Ready To Roll Dice on Craps, Thought Bubble with Fingers Crossed

This is accomplished by placing a wager on one of two primary craps bets – the Pass Line and the Don’t Pass Line.

Those who back the Pass Line are betting “with the shooter,” so they’re hoping to see a 7 or 11 on the come out roll to win an immediate payout. On the other hand, a 2, 3, or 12 on the come out roll produces an immediate loss, better known as “crapping out.”

The real fun begins when the come out roll results in any other number (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10), which then becomes the rolling session’s “point number.”

From there, the shooter continues to roll until either a) they roll the point number again to make the Pass Line bet a winner or b) they roll a 7 to make the Pass Line bet a loser (known as “sevening out”).

Using this binary dynamic, craps players who wager on the Pass Line are hoping to see a “hot” shooter hit their point numbers over and over again with as few 7s as possible.

And because you can supplement the Pass Line bet with a juicy Odds bet, or Place bets that win when non-point numbers are rolled, a shooter who can go on a long run without hitting a 7 produces bountiful wins for almost everybody present. When this happens, you’ll see the famous scene involving strangers high-fiving and whooping it up that has come to define craps in the public consciousness.

I said almost everybody for a reason though, as a certain subset of the craps crowd chooses to buck conventional wisdom by betting against the shooter rather than with them.

This is done by placing a wager on the Don’t Pass Line instead of the Pass Line. When you put money down on the Don’t Pass Line – popularly known as “dark side” betting in craps vernacular – you want the shooter’s come out roll to hit a 2 or 3 for an immediate win, while a 7 or 11 loses and a 12 pushes.

From there, dark side bettors are hoping that the shooter sevens out before hitting their point number a second time.

Obviously, playing this way puts Don’t Pass Line bettors on the direct opposite of their Pass Line brethren. In other words, dark side bettors win when the rest of the table loses, and vice-versa.

Craps Table, Red Arrow Pointing to Don't Pass Line, Emoji Face Gasping

Given the stats show Don’t Pass Line wagers represent roughly 10 percent of a come out roll’s action, when a dark side bettor wins their wager, they’re typically the only ones at the table happy with the outcome.

One reason for the Pass Line bet’s overwhelming popularity is that it seems like it offers the most advantageous odds at first glance.

Think about it for a second and you’ll see why…

On the come out roll, a dark side bettor has eight combinations of the dice (1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, 6-1 = 7; 5-6, 6-5 = 11) that can make them an immediate loser. Conversely, only three combos (1-1 = 2; 1-2, 2-1 = 3) will mint a winner right out of the gates.

Because the Pass Line crowd – also known as “right side” bettors – enjoys eight combos (1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, 6-1 = 7; 5-6, 6-5 = 11)  to make the come out roll a winner, and just four combos (1-1 = 2; 1-2, 2-1 = 3; 6-6 = 12) for a loser, they do indeed boast a small statistical advantage on the come out roll.

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But craps is played beyond the come out roll in most cases, and when a point number is established, the odds swing back decisively in favor of dark side bettors.

When the point number is a 4 or 10, the odds are 1 to 2 in your favor that a 7 will arrive first. On a point number of 5 or 9, the odds are 2 to 3 for the good your way, while a point number of 6 or 8 gives you odds of 4 to 6.

These odds are much better compared to the Pass Line, which offers odds of 2 to 1 against on a point number of 4 or 10, 3 to 2 against on 5 or 9, and 6 to 5 against on 6 or 8.

Because the odds tilt so dramatically in favor of Don’t Pass Line bettors after the come out roll, this controversial wager actually offers a slightly better overall house edge than the Pass Line:

Probabilities for Base Bets in Craps

BET PAYOUT EXPECTED ROLLS* HOUSE EDGE

(PER BET SETTLED)*

Pass Line 1 to 1 3.38 1.41 percent
Don’t Pass Line 1 to 1 3.47 1.36 percent

*Average number of rolls before result is expected to show

As the gulf between 1.36 percent and 1.41 percent isn’t all that wide in the eyes of a casual gambler, most craps players “go with the flow” by betting on the Pass Line by default. This creates a spirit of camaraderie at the craps table that simply can’t be matched in any other casino setting.

When a hot shooter is doing their thing, nailing their point numbers over and over again, the table swells with excitement. People who would never bother to speak with one another suddenly become the best of friends. And every winning roll is punctuated by a collective roar of approval that sounds like something out of a championship game in a packed arena.

Nonetheless, some gamblers are contrarians by nature, while others hone in on that 0.05 percent reduction in the house edge. These folks love to roll with the Don’t Pass Line, but because of the camaraderie amongst Pass Line bettors mentioned earlier, dark side bettors who are winning quickly become table pariahs.

Picture it for a moment…

There you are, watching your Pass Line and Odds bets getting scooped up unceremoniously by the dealer. The shooter is cold as ice, and every time you put chips on the baize, they seem to disappear before you can even bother getting your hopes up.

Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see it – the same dealer who claimed your chips is busy paying out big returns to a solitary player who stays mum all the while. As you’re losing your shirt, this guy or gal is silently building a castle of chips – and every brick seems to come at your expense.

It’s easy to see why the Don’t Pass Line has been dubbed the dark side now, right?

In an article titled “Confessions of Dark Side Craps Players” – published by the Casino City Time blog in 2016 – legendary gambling author Frank Scoblete asked a craps player named Jim Demonte to describe his experiences betting on the Don’t Pass Line. Unsurprisingly, the dark side specialist reported a steady stream of snickering and derision from the rest of the table:

“There are times at the table that when I lose right side players will cheer, even if no one won on the number that just hit.

Some more aggressive players snicker at me when I lose or clap as they look at me. But when I win, everyone tends to get quiet.

So, yes, I know that I am usually not liked when I play, but this is the way I play and that’s that.”

Scoblete went on to ask another dark side enthusiast by the name of “Bernie” about embracing his role as the table’s sworn enemy:

“Oh, yeah, they hate me. You know why? Because I actually cheer for the seven; I want the shooter to seven out and I call it.

I’m not afraid of anyone. I say the heck with them. They cheer when things are going well for them so I can cheer when things go right for me.

The seven is my friend, after the come-out roll that is.”

You won’t find many bettors more contrarian than Bernie, who not only turns to the dark side, but celebrates vocally when his win causes everybody else to empty their pockets.

I’m not advising anybody to go that far, but given the bet’s proven advantage over it’s safer counterpart, playing the Don’t Pass Line is the perfect way to dance with the devil as a casino gambler.

Go with Your Gut from “Third Base” in Blackjack

A close cousin to the dark side in craps can be found at the blackjack table, but in this case, players who run afoul of the unwritten rule don’t do so intentionally.

When you play blackjack, all players must act on their hands before the dealer turns up their hole card and runs through the stand / hit routine. And because players act from right to left, or clockwise, around the table, whomever is sitting in the last seat on the left (near the dealer’s right shoulder) makes the final decision.

Blackjack Table, Silhouette of Guy with Hand on His Chin Thinking

This seat has been dubbed “third base” by experienced blackjack players, and if you ask them, decisions made from this position are more pivotal than any other.

According to the widely held third base theory, the last player to act can influence whether or not the dealer will win or go over 21 to bust.

Here’s how it works…

Let’s say the first five players have already acted, with two going bust and three others standing on 20 totals. The dealer is showing a 3 as their up card, while the third base player has a 12 total. At this point, the folks holding pat 20 totals all stare straight at the third base player, mentally begging them to stand on 12 against the dealer’s 3.

According to their logic, a 3 up combined with a likely 10-value card down gives the dealer a 13, so if they hit and draw any 9, 10, J, Q, or K, they’ll go bust to make everybody left with a live hand a winner.

But for whatever reason – either because they are using basic strategy or they’re just flying by the seat of their pants – our third base player elects to hit on their 12. Following the deck’s weighted odds, a 10-value card shows up next, causing the player to go bust with 22.

Then, like clockwork, the dealer turns up their expected 13 total, before hitting and drawing an 8 to make 21. The dealer scoops up every bet in play for the house, while three unlucky losers watch their previously attractive 20s go down in flames.

“Why’d you go and do that you dummy? You hit and took the dealer’s bust card, cost the three of us money by playing so badly!”

That’s one of the players who lost assailing the third base occupant, and in this case, the language has been seriously toned down.

This example is admittedly contrived to show you how the third base myth works, but you’d be surprised to see how many situations play out exactly like this at blackjack tables everywhere.

Gamblers are a naturally superstitious lot, so when they see a card that could’ve caused the dealer to lose – more like should’ve using their flawed logic – taken by third base, only for the dealer to wind up a winner, the saying “staring daggers” is an understatement.

Here’s the thing though… the third base player’s actions have no statistical impact on blackjack’s inherent probabilities. Over the long run of your individual session, or the infinite long run for that matter, the third base player will “take” as many winning cards from the dealer as they do winners.King Poker Card, Queen Poker Card

In the example hand from earlier, the cards could’ve just as easily been shuffled slightly differently, with the 8 moved one spot up ahead of the 10-value. In that case, the third place player’s hit would give them an 8 on top of 12 for a 20 total, while the dealer now takes a 10-value to go bust on 23.

But when scenarios like that occur, you’ll seldom hear anybody remarking about how the third base player “saved the table” by taking the dealer’s win card.

The truth is, these plays inevitably balance out in the end, with the dealer winning and losing at exactly the rate blackjack’s inherent probabilities makes possible. You might notice a few instances in which the last player’s action seems to “steal” a win for the dealer, but that’s only because gamblers tend to focus on what goes wrong over what goes right. When a third base play gives players a win they “shouldn’t” have had, everybody is too busy counting their profits to notice that they had a helping hand in the far left seat.

No less of an authority than Michael Shackleford – founder of the Wizard of Odds gambler’s resource website and a professional casino game analyst – was asked to settle the third base myth dilemma once and for all.

Here’s what the Wizard himself had to say as published on Wizard of Odds:

“In ten years of running this site I steadfastly denied the myth that bad players cause other players to lose in blackjack.

However, you are the lucky 1000th person to ask, so I took the trouble to prove it by random simulation. The rules I put in are the standard liberal Vegas Strip rules as follows.”

Shackleford goes on to describe a standard Vegas-style blackjack game. That means a six-deck shoe is used, the dealer stands on soft 17, players can double on any two first cards, doubling after a split, up to four re-splits, and late surrender are all allowed.

Using these rules, Shackleford designed a computer simulation in which two players took on the dealer using a sample size of 1.6 billion hands. Both players were programmed to use perfect basic strategy, and in the end, they produced identical loss rates of 0.289 percent.

To complete the experiment, Shackleford then programmed the second player to adopt a much more liberal, loose, and sloppy strategy. Meanwhile, the first player to act still used perfect basic strategy.

After another 1.6 billion hands were in the books, the sloppy strategy player wound up losing at a rate of 11.26 percent. Meanwhile, the perfect strategy player posted a loss of 0.282 percent, even though they had an inferior player making mistakes from third base.

If you’ll notice, the player forced to deal with bad decisions from third base actually posted a slightly improved loss rate. But in any case, their losses remained right in the same zone of 0.28 to 0.29 percent – proving once and for all that third base actions have no impact whatsoever on the rest of the table.

Naturally, a logical scientific conclusion like this won’t do much to sway the misinformed myth believers out there.

And honestly, who cares about them anyhow?

Sure, you’ll probably take some grief for playing your third base hands however you see fit. That shouldn’t put you off the prospect entirely though, so grab the last seat in the first blackjack game you can find and let it fly.

Take the Tie Bet at a Baccarat Table

Unlike the first two tips, this one is based on backing a longshot bet that offers terrible odds.

With that in mind, you should probably limit your Tie bets when playing baccarat to a novelty, something to throw in here and there for the sake of variety.

Baccarat Table, Guy with Praying Hands Hoping

But this is a page for contrarians, after all, so by all means feel free to fire away on the Tie if high risk to reward ratios tickle your fancy.

In baccarat, players do nothing more than guess which of two hands – the Player hand and the Banker hand – will wind up closer to 9 after taking either two or three cards. Based on their starting two-card totals, the Player and Banker hands might get a third card, and whichever one gets closest to 9 is the winner.

As you might suspect, those results happen roughly half the time, but every so often the Player and Banker hands will wind up sitting on the exact same total. When that happens, folks who bet on either hand get their money back in a push, while anybody bold enough to wager on the Tie receives a sweet 8 to 1 score.

The tables below break down payouts, probabilities, and return rates for the Tie bet in baccarat:

Probabilities for Tie Bet in Baccarat

OUTCOME PAYOUT PROBABILITY RETURN
Banker wins -1 45.86 percent -0.458597
Player wins -1 44.62 percent -0.446247
Tie 8 to 1 9.51 percent 0.761248
Total N/A 1 -0.143596

House Edge Rates by Baccarat Bet

BET HOUSE EDGE
Banker

1.06 percent
Player

1.24 percent
Tie

14.36 percent

As you can see, the basic Player and Banker bets offer a snug gameplay experience, winning at a 45 percent clip on average, paying back even money, and incurring a low house edge of either 1.06 or 1.24 percent.

On the other hand, the Tie bet only comes into play less than 10 percent of the time, and in exchange for that hefty 8 to 1 payout, you’ll face a massive house edge of 14.36 percent.

For these reasons, the Tie bet is almost universally scorned amongst the baccarat set as a “sucker bet.” And it very well may be, but that’s no reason to go along to get along, so have a little fun with your next baccarat session and hope you can beat the odds.

Pull the Old “Hit and Run” in a Poker Cash Game

This last one’s especially dirty, but for the contrarians out there, it’s just too good to pass up.

When you find a cash poker game running – something like $1/$2 blinds No Limit Texas Hold’em – take a seat and wait for a great spot to get your money in. Hopefully, your strong hole cards combine with a favorable board, or maybe you “suck out” on somebody by scoring a bad beat.

Poker Table, Silhouette of People Cheering

Either way, if you can clinch the double up, calmly rack up your chips and walk to the cashier’s cage to collect your winnings.

Poker players are accustomed to their opponents giving them a chance to “win my money back” after somebody doubles through them. This means winning one big pot and leaving the game – a practice known as the “hit and run” – is universally reviled.

When you try this one, be sure to rack your newfound chips slowly, while scanning the faces around the table for good measure. You’ll never see so many sullen, surprised faces in your life.

Conclusion

The gambling community, like any other, is bound by norms and customs that aren’t necessarily official rules. Learning to navigate the maze of etiquette and expectations can make the casino floor a scary place, a fact which compels most players to keep their head down and blend in with the crowd.

Contrarians don’t like keeping their heads down though, so if you want to become a rebel with a cause, visit the casino and try your hand at any or all of the tips above.