Blackjack side bets are additional wagers that add some extra spice to the game. Let’s explore their ins and outs!
Join former blackjack dealer Peter Nairn in this guide to discover the secret behind the blackjack side bets and whether they’re worth making.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
A blackjack side bet is an optional wager that a player can make that the player will be dealt specific cards.
Side bets offer a bigger payout than the standard bet but are also more difficult to win, so the House Advantage is higher.
They can usually be made for a nominal amount, for example $1, or $5 on a $25 minimum game.
The House Advantage on blackjack for a knowledgeable player can be as low as 0.5%, and even less if you’re counting cards, but the side bets can be anything from 2% to as much as 24% or more.
Some side bets have a progressive jackpot, some offer just a straight payout.
Sometimes the dealer’s up card is included in the ‘specific cards’ that are required for the side bet to win.
The player must be playing in the main game to be eligible to make a side bet in blackjack.
Side bets are based on pure luck and offer the gambler another way to get their money in action. They’re generally regarded as a fun way to ‘take a shot’ and sometimes win a little more money. They are a bit like a slot jackpot, offering a big payout for a small wager.
Some side bets can be counted (more on this later), but usually they’re just a shot in the dark.
The Risk and Reward Aspect of Side Bets
Side bets offer higher payouts, with one notably offering a 5,000 to 1 payout.
As you can imagine, this also means that the House Advantage on the side bets is significantly higher than the 0.5% to 1.5% that is the usual HA against the highly skilled or even the average player.
My view is no, they’re not.
A side bet exists separately from the game and does not affect the House Advantage of the main game.
These four bets are integral parts of the game and can significantly affect the House Advantage of the game.
A side bet in blackjack must be made before the cards are dealt, whereas all four of these other bets can only be made after the player receives their initial two cards.
Depending on the cards the player receives, these bets may not be available at all.
For more information, check out my dedicated guides on these bets
Let’s have a quick look at the most popular side bets in blackjack:
This is a bet that the player’s first two cards are a pair. The bet loses if the first two cards are not a pair.
There are three types of pairs that get paid based on the following:
|Pair||Payouts 1||Payouts 2||Payouts 3|
|Perfect Pair||25 to 1||30 to 1||25 to 1|
|Colored Pair||12 to 1||10 to 1||15 to 1|
|Mixed Pair||6 to 1||5 to 1||5 to 1|
|House Edge (8 decks)||4.09%||3.38%||2.17%|
The side bet is offered to casinos, and they have to pay a monthly fee to offer it.
For the monthly fee, the casino can choose the pay table they want to offer, with the corresponding House Advantage.
Based on the pay table, the House Advantage on this side bet ranges between 2.17% and 4.09%.
This side bet is based on a blackjack and poker hand.
The bet is that the player’s initial two cards and the dealer’s up card will form a 3-card poker hand.
The side bets used to be paid 9 to 1 if the three cards formed a 3-of-a-kind, a straight flush, a flush or a straight, but the more modern pay tables offer the odds in the table below.
|Suited Three of a Kind||100 to 1|
|Straight Flush||35 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||33 to 1|
|Straight||10 to 1|
|Flush||5 to 1|
On a 6-deck shoe, this pay table yields a House Advantage of 4.14%.
With an 8-deck shoe, the HA is reduced to 3.18%
Buster Blackjack is a very popular side bet around the card rooms of California.
It’s a simple bet to understand. The bet wins if the dealer busts.
The payout is determined by how many cards it takes for the dealer to bust.
Here’s the pay table that I used at the Cordova Casino in Rancho Cordova, CA with a 6-deck shoe:
And even if the player is playing heads up and gets a blackjack, the dealer must always complete his hand.
|8+ cards & player BJ||2000|
|7 card & player BJ||800|
|8+ cards & no player BJ||250|
|7 card & no player BJ||50|
|3 or 4 cards||2|
The payouts are for every $1 bet, and with a 6-deck shoe, this yields a HA of 6.2%
This is a very popular side bet, and I think that ties into the gambler’s affinity for Lady Luck being on their side.
There are several classic references to Lady Luck - for example the lyric in the Frank Sinatra song ‘Luck Be a Lady Tonight’ refers to ‘A lady… doesn’t blow on some other guy’s dice’ or Mark Knopfler’s ‘The Sands of Nevada’ has ‘Lady Luck’s still a mystery... and I’m still a fool for a one-way romance’.
The bet pays on the player’s initial two cards being 20, with a pair of Queens of Hearts being the strongest hand.
Two Queens of Hearts and a dealer blackjack pays 1000 to 1.
The casino chooses the pay table that they think the players will find the most attractive.
This side bet even has one pay table that includes a progressive jackpot.
With the progressive jackpot, the HA is north of 30%.
I always preferred offering the one that rewarded the easier hand to make, but even that still yields a HA of 17.64%
Very strong against the player, which is why I never had this bet on my casino floor.
|Hand||Table A||Table B|
|Q of hearts pair & dealer has BJ||1000 to 1||1000 to 1|
|Q of hearts pair||125 to 1||200 to 1|
|Matched 20||19 to 1||25 to 1|
|Suited 20||9 to 1||10 to 1|
|Unsuited 20||4 to 1||4 to 1|
‘Matched Pair’ refers to the same card in both rank and suit.
I first ran into Randy Zinkil, the inventor of Lucky Lucky, at the G2E gaming show in Las Vegas many moons ago.
He had the Lucky Lucky side bet, and it was the first one I’d ever seen that included the dealer’s up card as well as the player’s initial two cards as a poker hand.
With a HA in the low single digits, I decided it was a good fit for me and my players, so I put it on my 6-deck shoe games at Red Hawk Casino near Sacramento.
The table below is the pay table that I had. It has a House Advantage of 2.66%.
|Suited total of 21||15|
|Unsuited total 21||3|
|Total of 20||2|
|Total of 19||2|
Super Sevens is a bet on the player’s first three cards.
If the first card is a 7, the player wins.
The player wins more if the next card is also a 7, and more still if the third card is also a 7.
The bet pays more if the 7s are suited.
The player is encouraged to hit a 14, which may be terrible Basic Strategy depending on the dealer’s up card, to try and make the three 7s if they have the first two sevens.
Here’s the pay table for a 6-deck shoe and it includes that the player gets a third card even if the dealer has a blackjack.
The House Advantage against the player is a robust 11.4%.
Crazy Sevens on a 6-deck shoe, and with the third card guarantee has a much more acceptable HA at 6.54%
The Lucky Sevens side bet is offered in a live dealer online game using BetConstruct software. It has an outrageous HA of 49.88%!
Yes, you read that right! 49.88%. So you should not waste your time or your money playing that bet. Ever.
This is an easy bet to understand.
It pays if the player’s first two cards are suited, and it pays more if the player’s first two cards are a suited King and Queen (the Royal Match).
The third version that they came out with included if the player got dealt a suited blackjack.
Here’s the pay table, the payouts are ‘_ to 1’, and it yields a HA of 3.7%.
|All other matches||2.5|
This bet has been around for a long time.
You can bet the Over 13, or the Under 13. Some casinos offer the ‘Exactly 13’ bet, too.
The bet is based on the total amount of the player’s initial two cards.
Aces always count as one point.
Both the Under and the Over bets both lose if the player has a total of 13.
A winning bet is paid even money.
On a 6-deck shoe, the HA on the Over bets is 6.55%, and on the Under bets is 10.07%.
The HA on the ‘Exactly 13’ bet is 8.58%
Some side bets are easy to count and Over/Under 13 is one of them.
This side bet is a simple one to understand.
It wins if either of the player’s first two cards match the dealer’s up card.
It pays more if the suit and rank both match.
|Two suited matches||22|
|One suited and one non-suited match||15|
|One suited match||11|
|Two non-suited matches||8|
|One non-suited match||4|
The House Advantage on this bet is 4.06%
There is no strategy in making a side bet.
The only deciding factor is whether you want to add excitement to the game.
Of course, the bets that pay very well, like the 5,000 to 1 for the suited three 7s on the Super Sevens bet, or the 1,000 to 1 top award on the Lucky Ladies bet can offer a quick shot of adrenalin, but there is no skill involved in making a side bet.
There is no advantage to be gained by making a side bet - unless you are counting cards.
And there are definitely some side bets that can be counted.
Why do casinos add side bets to their games?
Is it because they’re altruistic organizations that want to help the players make money?
Or is it because they want to increase their revenues, month over month?
You guessed it! They want to increase their revenues month over month.
And the side bets do that quite handily.
From the casino’s point of view, the side bets are designed to have a higher House Advantage than the main game, because not everybody plays the side bets, and secondly because the side bets typically have a lower minimum so the amount in action is a lot lower than the main game.
From the player’s point of view and what makes them more attractive, is that the side bets offer a lower minimum bet, and the opportunity to hit a big payout, much more than the typical even money that most bets on blackjack pay.
A popular side bet with a HA of say 10% will only add a fraction of that to the overall hold of the game.
And that works for the casino.
A typical 6-deck shoe in a developed market will hold about 17% of the money in the drop box.
If the additional revenue from the side bet increases the hold from 17% to 17.1%, then the side bet has done its job.
At a large casino, let’s say the drop per day on the shoe blackjack games is $1 million (easy math!).
That’s the amount of cash and credit in the drop boxes for the 24-hour gaming day.
At 17%, that means the blackjack shoe games are winning $170,000 per day.
At 17.1%, it means that the side bet has increased the casino’s blackjack win to $171,000 per day.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it?
But that extra $1,000 per day means the casino is going to win an additional $365,000 per year.
And that just makes the VP of Table Games look good - which is great, especially if you’re the VP of Table Games.
Which is why casinos have side bets.
Playing side bets online or in a land-based casino is virtually identical.
The betting area is situated right next to the main betting area.
As you can see in the image below, the Perfect Pairs bet is right next to the main blackjack betting area.
You really can’t miss it.
In a land-based casino, the side bets are equally obvious to see.
Side note: This game includes the 21 + 3 side bet (with no one betting it).
The short answer here is no, they’re not.
They might become worth it if you’re counting cards, but if you’re not, then no, the side bets are merely another way to separate you from your money quicker.
Here is my take on the subject of blackjack side bets:
If you’re like me, and like to play based on the odds, the best rules and be disciplined in how you approach the game, then side bets are completely off the table (get it?).
I would never bet any side bet - unless I had decided to count the deck down, and had carefully chosen the side bet to attack by counting.
If you’re a gambler who believes in luck and want to take a shot, then the side bets are for you. Throw out that bet on the 1,000 to 1 shot, because someone has to hit it once in a while, right? It may as well be me!
The side bets are the fair ground duck shoot of the casino.
They have no strategy that will help you win them, they don’t fit in to any structured plan to win, but they do offer a long shot and the possibility of the ‘OMG, I WON’ moment.
So good luck, and hopefully Lady Luck will have her head on your shoulder as you play these fun side games.
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