The Buy Bet: Sometimes Good, Sometimes Not so Good
T he Buy bet is similar to the Place bet, so if you need to review our article on the Place bet, do it now. Everything about the Buy bet is the same as the Place bet except that it pays true odds (and you have to pay a price to get those true odds) and your chips go in a different position on the table layout.
The key aspect of the Buy bet is that it pays true odds so let’s focus on that. If you remember our article on the Pass Line Odds and Don’t Pass Odds bets, we stated that those Odds bets are the only bets on the table without a house advantage. Technically, if you want to nitpick, that statement is incorrect. The Buy bet also pays off at true odds (i.e., no house advantage), but the subtle difference with the Buy bet is that you have to pay a price for the privilege of getting true odds. As we’re painfully aware, the casino is in business to make money, so if the Buy bet pays off at true odds, how does the casino make money on that bet? They tax you! Yes, you must pay a tax, which in the casino world is called a “vigorish” or “vig” for short.
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If you remember from our lesson on the history of craps, the game’s inventor (do you remember his name?) inserted the Buy bet as a way to make players think they weren’t getting screwed quite as badly by the house advantages. He included another true odds bet for the players (along with the Pass Line Odds and Don’t Pass Odds bets) but he kept the casinos happy by giving them a way to still make money off the bet. He determined that a 5% charge to the player was the optimal amount that players would be willing to pay in return for getting true odds and that the casino would be happy with in terms of profit. It didn’t take long for the casinos to realize how much profit they were making off the Buy bets, so they referred to the 5% tax as providing “vigor to their profits.” That’s how the term “vigorish” was born. The 5% vig still applies today. It’s important to remember that the 5% vig for a Buy bet is calculated on the amount you bet, not on the amount you win (we’ll look at some examples to clarify this point).
As the title of this article suggests, the Buy bet can be good or bad, in terms of the house advantage, depending on the number you bet on. Buy bets are better on the 4 and 10 (1.64% house advantage with vig on a win) than on the 5 and 9 (1.96% house advantage with vig on a win), and Buy bets on the 5 and 9 are better than on the 6 and 8 (2.22% house advantage with vig on a win). Buy bets can also be better or worse than Place bets depending on the number you bet and the bet amount. Let’s look at the 4 and 10 first.
Buy bets on the 4 and 10 are better than Place bets on those numbers. Let’s look at the math. Suppose you make a $10 Place bet on the 10. We know from our other article that the Place odds for the 10 are 9:5, which means for every $5 you bet, you win $9. Therefore, if you win your $10 Place bet, you win $18 (i.e., do the little math trick, divide your $10 bet by 5 = $2, and then multiply the $2 by 9 = $18). Now, let’s see how a Buy bet on the 10 compares to the Place bet. Suppose you make a $10 Buy bet. We know the true odds for the 4 and 10 are 2:1. Therefore, if you win your $10 Buy bet, you win $20. That is, divide your $10 bet by 1 = $10, and then multiply the $10 by 2 = $20. You have to pay a 5% vig on the bet amount (i.e., $10), which is $0.50 rounded up to $1 (the casino doesn’t have chips for cents, so they round to the nearest whole dollar). The dealer puts your $20 in winnings in the apron in front of you and says, “Sir, please drop me a dollar.” You drop a $1 chip in the apron and the dealer scoops it up. The net result for the winning Buy bet on the 10 is $19 (i.e., $20 for the 2:1 true odds winning bet, minus $1 for the vig). In this example, it’s clear the Buy bet is better than the Place bet because for the same $10 bet, Buying the 10 gets you $19 whereas Placing the 10 gets you only $18.
The Buy improves as you increase the bet amount. Let’s compare the Place and Buy bets again, this time increasing the bet amount to $25. The Place odds for the 4 and 10 are 9:5. Your winning $25 Place bet gets you $45 (i.e., divide the $25 bet by 5 = $5, and then multiply the $5 by 9 = $45). For a winning $25 Buy bet, you win $50 (i.e., the true odds are 2:1, so divide the $25 bet by 1 = $25, and then multiply the $25 by 2 = $50). You have to pay a 5% vig on the bet amount (i.e., $25), which is $1 (the casino rounds $1.25 down). Your net win for the $25 Buy bet is $49 (i.e., $50 in winnings minus the $1 vig = $49). So, for the same $25 bet amount, the winning Buy bet gets you $49, whereas the winning Place bet only gets you $45.
Generally, casinos round up or down to the nearest whole dollar because they don’t deal in cents (i.e., they don’t have chips worth less than $1). Fractions of 50 cents or less are rounded down, while fractions of greater than 50 cents are rounded up. It should be noted, if a vig calculates to be 50 cents or less on a small winning bet, the casino rounds up to a $1 because they’re not going give you true odds for free.
The timing for paying the vig varies among casinos. Generally, I’ve found that competition determines whether a casino makes you pay after a winning bet or at the time you make the bet. If there are several casinos in the area where you play, they probably take the vig after a win, whereas if the casino is the only gambling hall in a 100-mile radius, then it probably makes you pay the vig at the time you make the bet. Where there’s competition, the casino knows if it tries to screw you by making you pay the vig up front, you’ll probably walk out and play at the casino next door. Let’s look at paying the vig “up front” versus “after a win.”
Suppose you make a $10 Buy bet on the 10. Paying the vig “up front” means you must pay the $1 vig at the time you make the bet. So, instead of dropping $10 on the table and telling the dealer to Buy the 10, you must drop $11 (i.e., two $5 chips and one $1 chip). The dealer puts your two $5 chips in the Buy box and puts the $1 chip in the casino’s stack. In this case, the casino gets $1 from you before the bet even begins. If the shooter rolls a 10, the dealer gives you $20. In this example, the dealer doesn’t ask you to drop $1 for the vig because you already paid it “up front.”
Paying the vig “after a win” is better for the player because you pay the vig only if you win. If the shooter rolls a 7-out, all you lose is your $10 bet. By making you pay the vig after a win, the casino decreases its house advantage slightly to attract you to play at their table instead of the competition’s.
Some casinos have minimums for their Buy bets. For example, you may not be able to buy the 4 or 10 for less than $20 or $25. For example, the casino might not allow a $10 Buy bet. As a test, I usually put $10 in the Come box and say, “Buy the four, please.” If they don’t allow it, the dealer says, “Sir, your Buy bet has to be at least twenty dollars.” So, I usually tell him to Place it for $10 instead of Buying it. If I later want to increase the Place bet to $20, I drop $10 in the Come box and say, “Bump up my four to twenty dollars and Buy it.” (Note that I changed the bet from a Place bet to a Buy bet to get the better odds and lower house advantage.)
If a dealer tells me they don’t allow $10 Buy bets, I sometimes like being a smart aleck by asking, “Why not, why can’t I Buy it for ten bucks?” Their responses are often interesting, and sometimes downright lies. It’s amazing how many times a dealer tries to B.S. you by saying, “Buying the four or ten doesn’t get you anything unless you bet at least twenty-five dollars, so it’s best to Place it if you only want to bet ten dollars.” What kind of nonsense is that? We proved earlier in this article that Buying the 4 or 10 for as little as $10 with an after-win vig is to the player’s advantage (i.e., the winning $10 Place bet gets you $18, whereas the winning $10 Buy bet nets you $19 after paying the $1 vig). When a dealer tries to pass off that kind of B.S., I find it offensive and I immediately dislike him, I stop all casual chat with him, and I stop tipping the crew. However, if the dealer answers honestly with something like, “Sir, I’m sorry, it’s a house rule,” or “Sir, I don’t know,” then I respect him for it and I continue chatting with him about last night’s football game.
The Buy bet on the 5 or 9 can be good, bad, or a wash compared to the Place bet, depending on the bet amount and when you have to pay the vig. Suppose you’re at a casino that allows you to Buy the 5 for $10. The true odds for the 5 and 9 are 3:2. Your winning $10 Buy bet wins $15, but you have to pay a $1 vig (i.e., the vig is 5% of $10 = 50 cents, which is rounded up to $1), so your net win is $14. The Place odds on the 5 and 9 are 7:5, so your winning Place bet wins $14. In this example, the payout for the Buy and Place bets are equal, so the bets are considered a wash.
By increasing the bet amount, you can make the Buy bet on the 5 and 9 better than the Place bet. Let’s compare a $50 Place bet to a $50 Buy bet. At 7:5 Place odds, your winning $50 Place bet wins $70. At 3:2 Buy odds, your winning Buy bet wins $75 minus a $2 vig (i.e., the vig on the $50 bet amount is $2 rounded to $2), so your net win is $73. In this example, the Buy bet nets you $3 more than the Place bet.
The Buy bet becomes a bad bet compared to the Place bet if the casino requires the vig up front. The house advantage for Placing the 5 and 9 is 4.00%, whereas the house advantage for Buying for 5 and 9 with the vig up front is a bit worse at 4.76%.
For most of us who will probably never make Place bets for more than $100, the Place bet on the 6 and 8 is generally always better than Buying the 6 and 8. The odds don’t allow us to make a direct comparison by using the same bet amount, but we can get close enough to show why the Place bet is better than the Buy bet for the 6 and 8. The Place odds are 7:6, meaning your bet amount should be a multiple of $6. The true odds are 6:5, meaning your bet amount should be a multiple of $5. For comparison purposes, let’s get as close to a $100 bet as we can for each bet but stay within $1 of each other. For the Place bet, suppose we bet $96, meaning a win will get us $112 (i.e., divide the $96 bet by 6 = $16, then multiply the $16 by 7 = $112). For the Buy bet, suppose we bet $95, meaning a win will get us $114 (i.e., divide the $95 bet by 5 = $19, then multiply the $19 x 6 = $114). You then have to pay a 5% vig on the bet amount of $95, which is $5 (i.e., $95 x 0.05 = $4.75 rounded to$5). So, your net win for the Buy bet is $109. As you can see, the winning $96 Place bet wins $112 compared to the winning $95 Buy bet that nets only $109. In this example, the Buy bet is a bit worse than the Place bet.
Making a Buy bet at the table is similar to making a Place bet. When you have the dealer’s attention, put your chips in the Come box in front of you and tell the dealer what number you want to Buy. The dealer then picks up your chips and puts them in the proper point box corresponding to your position at the table. Then, the dealer puts a “BUY” button on top of your chips to show the boxman and camera that you have a working Buy bet (i.e., the BUY button prevents the bet from being mistakenly interpreted as a Place bet). Refer to the figure below for where Buy bets are positioned on the layout.
A good dealer will help the newbie player who doesn’t know any better by making a Buy bet instead of a Place bet when it’s to the player’s advantage. For example, suppose a newbie is playing next to you making nothing but Place bets on the 6 and 8. The number 4 seems to be hot and shows every other roll, so the newbie makes a $25 Place bet on the 4. Instead of moving the player’s chips to the Place bet position in the little rectangle adjacent to the square 4 point box, the dealer puts the chips in the square 4 point box for a Buy bet with a BUY button on top. The player has no clue what just happened. When the bet wins, the player has no clue he won a few more dollars because of the dealer’s kindheartedness. The clueless player doesn’t know he’s clueless and rolls along aimlessly thinking he’s a craps pro. However, you’re a smart player who pays attention to everything on the table. You observed what just happened and chuckle at the newbie who’s bragging to his friend about his playing skills. You turn and smile at the dealer, he smiles back, and you toss in a $1 chip and say, “Hard 10 for the crew,” as a tip for the dealer’s good deed.
Since the Buy bet is similar to the Place bet, you can make, remove, increase, or decrease Buy bets at any time. If you paid the vig up front and then later decide to remove your bet, the vig is also returned to you. Like Place bets, Buy bets are considered off on the come-out roll of a new game unless you tell the dealer you want them on and working.
In the figure, the eight circles in the 4 point box show where Buy bets go in all point boxes for each player position. In this example, notice the “BUY” button on top of the chips to designate them as Buy bets. Place bets go in the small rectangles above and below the point boxes, whereas Buy bets go inside the square point boxes. Sometimes a messy dealer allows the chips to creep on top of the lines so the BUY button prevents the chips from being confused with Place bets. Notice how the Buy bet locations correspond to player positions. In this example, the following
Buy bets are in action on the layout:
- Player #1 has a Buy bet on the 10.
- Player #3 has a Buy bet on the 5.
- Player #7 has a Buy bet on the 5.
- Player #8 has a Buy bet on the 10.