The banker bet in baccarat is a rarity among casino bets, regardless of whether you’re playing online or offline. That doesn’t make it a profitable bet, though it does have a very low house edge of 1.06 percent.
The house gets that edge by charging a 5 percent commission on winning baccarat bets. If you win a $20 bet on the banker hand, you get $20 in winnings, but you have to pay the house its commission, so $1 goes back into casino coffers.
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But what happens if your bet is less than $20? Then the commission is less than $1. How the casino handles that situation makes a big difference and could send the house edge soaring to 3.36 percent.
Over the years, many casinos have had live baccarat tables with $20 minimum bets, and even had yellow $20 chips for use in baccarat. Other casino games usually aren’t stocked with the $20 chips, nicknamed “bananas” by generations of baccarat players.
The trouble spot comes at mini-baccarat tables, where $10 minimum bets are widespread. Mini-baccarat, played at seven-player tables, usually is found on the main casino floor. Big baccarat, with seats for 14 players, more often is found in high-limit rooms.
Rules at mini-baccarat and big baccarat are exactly the same. You still have a choice of whether to bet on a banker hand or a player hand, and a high-house edge tie bet is available.
The banker and player hands each start with two cards, and whether a third card is dealt is according to the baccarat rules posted at the table.
With a $10 bet on banker, a 5 percent commission would be 50 cents. That’s fine at casinos that have 50-cent chips or stock baccarat tables with coins to make change. It’s also fine online, where pays in partial dollars can be made electronically.
The problem is at casinos that post a minimum commission of $1. On a $10 bet, that’s a 10-percent commission, and that increase the house edge.
Let’s do a little arithmetic.
With all hands considered, banker wins 45.86 percent of the time, player wins 44.62 percent and 9.52 percent are ties.
If you’re betting banker or player, ties are pushes and you get your money back. Of the hands that are played to a hit/stand decision and money changes hands, 50.86 percent are wins for banker and 49.32 percent are wins for player.
That’s why casinos charge a commission on winning banker bets. Banker wins more often than it loses, and if the bets paid even money with no commission, the house would lose money.
More than that: The game would disappear. Players would rapidly conclude the banker bet was the only way to go, and the house wouldn’t leave an unprofitable game on the floor.
Let’s run through an example using $10 wagers, first assuming the casino can make change for a 50-cent commission, then for a casino that charges a minimum commission of $10.
Assume you wager $10 per hand on banker for 1,000 hands, for a total risk of $10,000. With a bit of rounding, banker would average 459 wins, along with 446 wins for player and 95 ties.
You’d keep your $10 bets on the 459 banker wins and the 95 ties, for a total of $5,540.
Pre-commission winnings would come to $4,590, upping the total to $10,130. That’s more than your $10,000 in wagers, leading to the commission to give the house its edge.
A 50-cent commission on each of the 459 winners would total $229.50. Deduct that from the $10,130 total, and you’re left with $9,900.50. The house has a $99.50 profit.
If the house has a minimum $1 commission, then everything looks the same until commission deduction time. Instead of $229.50, $459 is deducted from the $10,130 total, leaving $9,671. The house has a $329 profit, more than triple the house take if it could make change for a 5 percent commission on a $10 bet.
Now we can apply the same exercise to the player bet. Any baccarat guide will tell you the player bet, with its 1.24 percent house edge, is one of the better casino bets overall, but not as good in baccarat as banker with its 1.06 percent edge.
No commission is charged on winning player bets. As noted above, player loses more often than it wins, so no commission is necessary to give the house an edge.
So let’s get back to our theoretical 1,000 hands, this time betting $10 per hand on player.
Again, you risk $10,000. This time, you keep your $10 bets on 446 player wins and 95 ties for $5,410. You also get $10 innings for each of the player wins for $4,460.
With no deductions, the total on your side of the table after the trial is $9,870, and the house has a $130 profit.
Let’s look at all those average loss figures together for 1,000 hands at $10 a hand. Banker bet, with the nominal 5 percent commission, $99.50. Player bet, $130. Banker bet, with a $1 minimum commission ramping up the effective fee to 10 percent on winning bets, $329.
Losses for a $10 player are more than three times as high if the casino doesn’t make change on the commission compared to the banker bet at the 5 percent rate. And losses are nearly three times as high on banker with the less favorable commission as on player.
If you’re a low roller at a mini-baccarat table with a common $10 minimum bet and a $1 minimum commission, the banker bet is no longer the most attractive bet at the table. Instead, player becomes a better choice.
Your best choice is to look for baccarat tables, online casino or off, where the house will make change and keep the commission at 5 percent for low rollers. But if that option’s not available to you, the player bet steps up as your best option.