When it comes to casino games, they all follow a similar pattern. You place a wager on the outcome of the game, and if the game goes your way you win the bet and enjoy the associated payout. Different games work in different ways, but they all follow the same structure.
However, there are some games which can contain hidden extra bets, games within the game, or side bets as they are most commonly known. These usually run alongside the base game without directly affecting it, and can be won or lost independently of the main game.
Blackjack in particular is well known for the range of side bets associated with it, but they can be found tagged onto almost all classic casino games.
This guide will walk you through some of the advantages and disadvantages of side bets, along with the different types of side bets that are available.
What are the Advantages of Casino Game Side Bets?
Everyone will have their own opinions on side bets, usually based on how successful they have been with them in the past, however, what we have focused on here is objectivity.
This should help those who are new to the industry and are not sure exactly what side bets are or how they might be able to benefit from playing them.
Quick to Play
For many online gamblers it is all about speed and almost instant gratification, so the fact that casino side bets are invariably over quickly means that your bet is settled in seconds.
The knock-on effect is that you might benefit from a win without having to dedicate much time or mental effort to it.
Easy to Understand
The main objective of a side bet is to provide a tempting distraction from the main game, and as a result they are simple to learn and follow.
This means you don’t have to spend fifteen minutes poring over the rules before you feel confident in how the bet works.
One of the similarities with all casino side bets, is that there is a greater element of risk/reward to them, however, it does not mean that they are not worth your time.
They offer the potential to win substantially larger amounts of money than the base game usually allows. However, like all games, there are no guarantees, so you should always play according to your bank roll.
An extra stake on an alternative outcome can up the enjoyment levels on each game that you play, because it gives you more to look out for as that game progresses.
Plus, depending on the side bet in question, the game is not over just because one element of your bet has lost. The base game could be a loser, but the side bet could still be active, or vice verser so you are eking out the fun.
What are the Disadvantages of Casino Side Bets?
As much as some people love the opportunity to make extra bets on their favourite games, we appreciate that some people might find drawbacks to casino side bets.
Luckily they are always optional, so let’s take a look at some potential disadvantages to be aware of before you decide what to do.
Over too Fast
Some side bets can be over in seconds, which can be a bit deflating right at the start of a hand. This is especially true for very high risk/reward, once in a blue moon, type side bets.
On top of that, side bets might have a higher minimum bet than the base game, so it can be a sure-fire way to burn through a bank roll if you are unlucky.
Interfere with Strategy
There are online casino players who prefer a game where they can commit a pre-planned thought process to their decision making, particularly if they study the house edge of the various games and want to apply tactics accordingly. This is especially true of blackjack strategies.
These types of players might enjoy the feeling that they get when they have applied a successful strategy; something that is not usually possible with side bets which not only can’t be strategized but actually reduce long term odds of most strategies.
Some online casino players avoid casino side bets because they find them an unnecessary and annoying distraction from the main game, and they don’t want to split their focus.
This is particularly true for those who like to concentrate on one thing at a time and do not like their train of thought to be interrupted, perhaps someone who is teaching themselves card counting, for example.
Lower Return on Investment
Casino side bets have a much lower return on investment, because they are invariably more about luck than skill. Much more a case of crossing your fingers than playing optimally.
There is a stronger gambling element to them as you are having to stake almost blindly and just hope that you will be rewarded. Some players do not like this sort of risk and they become quickly disillusioned with side bets.
Side Bets Associated with Blackjack
One of the main casino games where side bets are particularly common is blackjack, and you can read our guide on that here.
The game itself is very simple to understand (from a basic stand point at least) so these side bets can add to the excitement for some players.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones.
In this scenario you are taking out insurance against the dealer getting blackjack and winning the game. It sounds like it can be advantageous, however, it is actually weighed heavily in favour of the dealer.
Should the dealer show an Ace and you choose to take out insurance, you will have to put up 50% of your original stake. In the event that a dealer’s second card creates ‘blackjack’, you are paid out at odds of 2/1 which leaves you level because you lose your original bet but win the insurance bet, so your bankroll is the same.
If the dealer’s second card does not deliver ‘blackjack’ though, the insurance bet is lost and the game carries on. The thing is, you could lose the game as well, meaning you have lost 50% more than you originally staked. The illusion is that it gives you protection, though when you interrogate the odds you will find that it simply isn’t worth it.
When the dealer gets an Ace with their initial card, they have around 9/4 odds of getting blackjack (variable based on the number of decks used and which cards have already been dealt). The insurance payout though is 2/1 irrespective of this. What players do not realise is that the difference here creates a house edge of over 12%.
While this can be a fun and interesting side bet, the odds again are in favour of the house.
This is a bet on the first two cards dealt being a numbered pair, and if the suit or colour match too then the payouts are substantial.
The odds for the possible combinations are as follows:
- Pairs of a mixed colour pay at 5/1
- Pairs of the same colour pay at 10/1
- Pairs of the same suit pay at 30/1
If the casino uses fewer decks of cards then the chances of the player seeing any of these combinations are substantially reduced.
For this blackjack side bet, the resulting payout hinges on how many sevens have been dealt and of what suit. You might actually find a few variations of this one but they all basically work in the same way.
This is a rare side bet that a card counter could actually gain some slight advantage with in a land based casino, but it is blind luck when playing online.
These are the possible winning combinations and the common payouts for each:
- Wagering that the first card you get is a seven – 3/1
- Wagering that you will have two sevens of mixed suits – 50/1
- Wagering that you will have two sevens of the same suit – 100/1
- Wagering you will have three unsuited sevens – 500/1
- Wagering that you will have three suited sevens – 5000/1
One bet covers all eventualities, you don’t have to pick the outcome you think you might see, but it is important to realise though that even at the lower end these occurrences have a very small chance of happening.
This side bet borrows from poker a little, by using the player’s first two cards and the dealers up card to create miniature poker hands.
Again, a single bet covers all possible hand combinations, but once those first cards are dealt your side bet is either won or lost, so it is over quickly.
The hands you will want to look out for are:
- Flush – Three cards of the same suit.
- Straight – Three cards of consecutive value.
- 3 of a Kind – Three cards of the same value.
- Straight Flush – Three suited cards of consecutive value.
- Suited 3 of a Kind – Three suited cards of the same value.
The payouts here might vary depending on where you are playing but they tend to start at around 5/1 for a flush and go as high as 100/1 for a Suited 3 of a Kind.
The house edge is often very high for this side bet though, we have seen it as high as 62%!
Side Bets Associated with Roulette
Another game where it is possible to place side bets is in roulette – which we also have a guide on – although this is far less common than blackjack.
Variations of the game are more probable, and these sometimes have a side bet element to them too.
Let’s take a look at the different ones you can apply to European roulette.
Linked Slot Machines
Some online casinos will include roulette games that are linked or associated with well known and popular slots. Ra Roulette was one of these, and it had a digital wheel containing symbols from the slot which span in tandem with the live roulette wheel.
Extra spaces containing these symbols are added to the betting table so players can place bets on the roulette as normal and also on which Ra symbol they think the reel will land on, essentially creating extra side bets.
This means you can win on one wheel but not on the other, and creates a more dynamic, and also more expensive, experience.
This side bet is actually built into the game so all players take part whether they want to or not. Different games have slightly different versions of it but the basic premise is the same across all of them, and the way the games usually pays for them is by reducing the odds on winning straight up bets.
Four numbers are selected after all bets are placed but before the wheel is spun, and random multipliers are attached as well. These can be as high as 500/1 but not usually lower than 50/1. If the ball lands on one of these lucky numbers and you happened to have bet on it, you win the random multiplier payout amount rather than the usual 35/1.
These are popular in live casinos but you can find digital versions too.
There are games with jackpots attached that also include a jackpot space on the wheel and betting board.
There can be very large payouts if you have bet on this and the bet comes in, and sometimes it might trigger a bonus round too, but it also reduces the odds of each other bet on the board coming in because it adds an extra slot (a bit like how a game with two zeros would increase the edge).
The player must have a bet on the jackpot in order to benefit when it lands too, so you can lose a lot of money waiting for it to come in.
Other Casino Games with Side Bets
Of course, there are other games which also have side bets associated with them, not just blackjack and roulette which are the main ones. Let’s take a look at some others where you can really make the most of these.
This is an appealing game to a lot of players due to the favourable tiny house edge, something that not many players know about, and this is true of most of the video poker variations out there. A lot of these games also have a separate ‘gamble’ feature, which is not technically a side bet because it relies on you winning your hand, but it is close.
The way this feature works is by allowing you to gamble your winnings from the hand you have just played in order to double your profit. It often takes the form of a higher or lower card game so it is totally down to chance, and although this will have a much higher house edge than the base game it is good for variety and provides the opportunity for bigger wins.
The most widely played gambling game in the world thanks to its dominance in Asian countries, is baccarat
You can find out about the base game here, but there are a number of side bets which you might find available with baccarat, and they allow you to wager on outcomes outside of the usual banker win, player win, or tie.
- All Red/All Black – In this side bet, you are wagering on whether the player’s hand will either be all red or all black. A winning ‘all red’ bet results in a 22:1 payout, while an ‘all black’ bet delivers a 24:1 payout.
- Bellagio Match – This one is based on whether the player or the banker ends up with a hand featuring three of a kind. If the player manages this then the payout is 75:1, while for the banker it is 68:1.
- Big and Small 4-5-6 – This is where you bet on the total combined number of cards in the player’s and banker’s hands at the end of the round. A winning bet on four cards has a payout of 3:2 and a winning bet on five or six cards has a 2:1 payout.
RTP for Casino Side Bets
Every online casino game has an RTP (Return to Player) rate that is built into the game and displayed as a percentage. This refers to the payout ratio that you can expect from that game, and is essentially the reverse of the house edge. So if the house edge of a game was 3% then the RTP would be 97%.
Base game return to player percentages are typically no lower than 90% in most cases, but the type of game you are playing will be an influence here; for example, the average for a slot is around 96% whereas with blackjack it is 99.5% in many cases. You can read about games with the lowest house edge here.
RTP is often explained as the amount that you can theoretically expect to be paid back out of £100 across a huge number of hands or spins; so if you played a slot with an RTP of 97% then you can expect to get £97 back out of £100. This is not to be taken literally, the percentage is worked out over millions of test games to give an overall idea of how generous (or not) the game is.
Because casino side bets are based mostly if not entirely on luck, the RTP is generally much much poorer. However, this is one of the reasons why the rewards can be so substantial – you are less likely to win but when you do that payout will be more lucrative.
When you apply the thinking behind RTP and how casino side bets work, the value for some players (especially seasoned gamblers who play to strict strategies) is simply not there. Side bets are good for a bit of fun, a little bit like buying a scratch card or lottery ticket, but they don’t really have a place in any long term strategy.
One of the most important things to decide about casino side bets is whether or not they fit into your style of play, and if they provide what you are looking to get from your online casino experience.
Some players who just want some fun like them because they complement the main event, add variety and extra excitement, and can make for a nice distraction, regardless of them being less likely to bear fruit.
Others who prefer playing the long game and gamble with discipline avoid them at all costs, because they would destroy their returns and burn through their bankroll in double quick time, putting an end to their strategy.
Ultimately, side bets are there to claw back more money for the casino, but just like the lottery, someone has to win them. The question therefore is are you willing to take the extra risk?