5 Unusual Casino Games

We take you beyond the basics

Video poker, slots, and blackjack are Vegas “classics,” probably because they’re dead simple to play. But what if your attendees want to branch out a bit? Here’s the lowdown on five unusual casino games—Pai Gow poker, baccarat, Caribbean stud poker, keno, and Pai Gow— and where you can find them. 

Pai Gow Poker
This “Chinese” card game was developed by a California casino operator in the 1980s and is only loosely based on the domino game Pai Gow. In Pai Gow poker, players are dealt seven cards that they split between a traditional five-card poker hand and a two-card pair/high-card hand.
 
There’s no bluffing or turning in cards—Pai Gow boils down to simple strategy and a certain amount of luck. It’s played with a traditional 52-card deck and one joker. Some casinos offer variations like Pai Gow Mania, where players may make two side bets, or Fortune Pai Gow, which allows for side bets on hands above two pairs. 

Cheat Sheet
1. In order to win, a player must beat both of the dealer’s hands. 

2. A roll of the dice determines who bets first. 

3. The joker is wild in the five-card hand and an ace in the pair. 

4. A player cannot place a higher pair in the two-card hand than in the five-card hand; for example, a hand with two queens and two kings would require playing the queens in the two-card bet.

Where to Play
Las Vegas: Aria, Bally’s, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Flamingo, Hard Rock, Harrah’s, Las Vegas Hilton, Luxor, M, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, Monte Carlo, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Venetian

Reno/Lake Tahoe: Atlantis, Harrah’s Reno and Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Peppermill

Atlantic City: Atlantic City Hilton, Borgata, Caesars, Harrah’s, Resorts, Tropicana, Trump Plaza, Trump Marina, Trump Taj Mahal

Connecticut: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun

Baccarat
The game of baccarat is believed to have originated in Italy in the 15th century. It quickly became popular and remains so in France, but is usually only enjoyed by high rollers stateside—a shame, since baccarat has one of the lowest house edges around.

James Bond played baccarat in Casino Royale and much of the novel is given over to elaborate baccarat strategy. Today most casinos offer either a modified version called punto banco or mini-baccarat—both of which are games of pure chance. The only decision to be made is whether to bet “player,” “banker,” or “tie.”  

Baccarat is played with four, six, or eight standard decks of cards shuffled together. The object of the game is to reach a hand totaling nine. Number cards two through nine retain their values, while 10s and face cards have no value. Aces count as one. 

Players are dealt two cards in the first round. A third card determines whether the player or the dealer is closer to nine for the win.
Any time the value of a hand exceeds 10, 10 is subtracted from the total value of the hand, so a nine-eight-ace hand would equal eight. 

Cheat Sheet
1. A hand’s first two cards automatically win if they total eight or nine.

2. Mini-baccarat usually has smaller table minimums.

3. A tie bet pays off at eight-to-one in most cases, though some casinos offer it at nine-to-one. Betting tie isn’t usually recommended because of the high house edge. 

Where to Play
Las Vegas: Aria, Bally’s, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Flamingo, Hard Rock, Harrah’s, Las Vegas Hilton, Luxor, M, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, Monte Carlo, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Venetian

Reno/Lake Tahoe: Harrah’s Reno and Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Peppermill

Atlantic City: Atlantic City Hilton, Bally’s, Borgata, Harrah’s, Resorts Casino Hotel, Showboat, Tropicana, Trump Marina, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal

Connecticut: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun

Keno
“Keno” refers to the Latin root of the number five, but this game actually originated in China in the 19th century and was popularized in the U.S. by immigrants. It’s relatively simple to play, since keno is basically souped-up bingo. 

Players bet on a keno scorecard, which has spaces for numbers one through 80. The house draws 20 numbered balls at random, and players who marked any of those numbers 
receive a payout.

The rules are quite simple, but keno strategy varies widely based on house rules. The majority of casinos allow players to bet on between one and 20 numbers, but some limit the choice to only one through 10, 12 or 15 spots. Some casinos have keno runners, who operate a little bit like stock traders ferrying players’ marked forms between their tables and a keno booth. And, no, nobody needs to call out “keno” on a 
winning card.

Cheat Sheet
1. Casino rules vary widely for keno—paybacks can range from under 70 percent on the original bet to over 80 percent. The smartest keno strategy is making sure you understand the pay tables before you put your money down.

2. Live keno almost always pays out better than video keno.

3. Betting a “3-spot ticket,” a card with three numbers selected, is a sound strategy. It returns 62 cents on the dollar.  

Where to Play
Las Vegas: Bally’s Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Flamingo, Hard Rock, Harrah’s, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, Venetian

Reno/Lake Tahoe: Harrah’s Reno and Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Peppermill

Atlantic City: Atlantic City Hilton, Bally’s, Borgata, Harrah’s, Showboat, Trump Marina, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal

Connecticut: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun

Pai Gow
If you’ve never done more than balance dominoes upright, it’s high time you checked out Pai Gow. This Chinese dominoes game has been played for thousands of years and, as befitting such an ancient game, it’s simple but elegant.

At the start of the game, 32 dominoes are placed facedown on the table at random. The dealer then shuffles the tiles into four piles of eight tiles each. Players bet, and then the dealer distributes four tiles to each. 

The object of the game is to use the four tiles to make two pairs with a value as close as possible to nine—which is the highest possible score for a pair of tiles. If a tile pair’s value exceeds nine, 10 is subtracted from the total, so 16 becomes six. A player’s higher value pair is known as the front hand and his or her lower value pair is called the rear hand.

There are three possible outcomes in a game of Pai Gow: if a player’s front hand beats the dealer’s front hand, and the player’s rear hand beats the dealer’s rear hand, then the player wins. If a player’s front and rear hands both lose to the dealer’s respective hands, the player loses the bet. If one hand wins and the other loses, the outcome is a push, and the player gets his or her wager back.

Cheat Sheet
1. The most important strategy is arranging the tiles so that both hands are as strong as possible. 

2. The double-one tiles are known as Day tiles and the double-six tiles are called Teen tiles. If either is played with an eight-tile, the pair has a value of 10. If either a Day or a Teen tile is played with a nine-tile, the pair is worth 11.

3. When a player’s hand ties with the dealer’s, matched pairs—tiles with identical dot patterns—win the day.  

Where to Play
Las Vegas: Aria, Bally’s Las Vegas, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, Venetian

Reno/Lake Tahoe: Atlantis, Harrah’s Reno and Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe  

Atlantic City: Atlantic City Hilton, Trump Marina, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal

Connecticut: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun