PLAYING IT SMART
by Alan Krigman
Players who Dislike Lay Bets May Be Making them without Knowing it
Most casino aficionados are averse to bets requiring more money at risk than they're paid for a win, despite chances of joy exceeding those of sorrow. These wagers are known as "lay" bets.
The $40 "no four" at craps is one such case. With the vigorish, this bet puts a winner $19 ahead and sets a loser $41 back. But it averages two conquests for every defeat. Odds on Don't Pass are another lay at craps. On points of five, for example, $30 Odds are favored 3to2 to win $20. The $30 hit for a $20 gain is a drawback. Frequent success and no house edge are the upside.
Widespread antipathy toward lay bets may result from most players readily visualizing monetary value, but having little or no visceral appreciation of the prospects of triumph and tragedy. So, betting $1 to win $25 is good, $1 to win $100 is great, and $1 to win $1,000 is the stuff dreams are made of. And the big payoff could happen on the next spin, roll, or deal. A matter of luck. Probability? What's that got to do with anything?
Notwithstanding the general unpopularity of lay bets, players at certain table games make them repeatedly. Without realizing they're doing so.
Consider, for instance, simultaneous Place bets on the six and eight for $6 each. The combination comprises a lay. On any coup, $12 is vulnerable to a seven but only $7 is paid for either a six or eight. Still, that's 10 ways to win for every six to lose. The lay gets more extreme with additional numbers covered. Assume you bet "$32 across"  $5 each on the four, five, nine, and 10 plus $6 each on the six and eight. The six ways to throw a seven dump $32 down the drain. The six ways to make a four or 10 bring in $9 and the 18 ways to make a five, six, eight, or nine are worth $7. In all, you're favored 4to1 to win $9 or $7.
Likewise at roulette, say you bet $10 on each of 112 and 1324  two of the "dozens." The 14 outcomes of 0, 00, or any number from 25 through 36 will cost $20. On 24 results, 1 through 24, you'll net $10. Your probability of winning is over 63 percent.
Banker at baccarat is also a lay bet. Ignoring ties, which push, Banker has a 50.66 percent chance of winning  slightly greater than half. The payoff is normally 95 percent of what's at risk. So Banker will win more often than it loses over an extended time period. But solid citizens have to put up $100 to earn $95.
In situations like those cited for craps and roulette, players typically overlook the offset between profit and loss because they think about the separate elements of the bet rather than the total. With $32 across at craps, it seems like $5 or $6 to get $7 or $9 on any roll. Not $32 to get $7 or $9. And, with the $20 on two dozens at roulette, it's $10 to get $20 and not the converse.
At baccarat, the lay aspect of Banker is hidden in a different manner. The dealer pays even money but tracks the $0.05 per dollar commission on the side and grabs it later.
None of this is meant to imply that lay bets are less desirable than any other wagers having comparable levels of house advantage and volatility. The fact that players make them regularly without realizing they're doing so bespeaks just the opposite. And, it suggests that strategies based on lay bets might nicely suit a particular individual's personal punting preferences.
Pretend you'd like a high likelihood of remaining in the heat of the action at a roulette table for an extended session, starting with a $100 bankroll and being content with modest earnings. A strategy such as $1 on each of 30 numbers would offer 30 ways out of 38  that's almost 79 percent probability  of netting $6 as opposed to 21 percent of losing $30 on any spin. You could, of course, go down in a blaze of glory playing this way. But you also have a reasonable shot at a small profit, several hours of excitement, and a comp at the allyoucaneat buffet. The poet, Sumner A Ingmark validated this vision in his venerable verse:
Choose strategies by their projections,
To meet your gambling predilections.
