When it comes to having a flutter, bettors dream of a world in which the House doesn’t have an Edge. It would mean that the games being played are a chance for the most skilful to win, not just the one that has stacked the odds in their favour. No such place exists, though, because casinos want to make profit. There was a time when the Betfair Zero Lounge was a thing, however.
The idea was a simple one: games provided by Betfair in circumstances when there was no House Edge. It allowed punters to play games knowing that the odds were ‘true’, with the Return to Player figure sitting at 100.0 percent. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the Zero Lounge didn’t last forever, but we’ll tell you about it in a bit more detail here.
Important: The Zero Lounge and it’s games are no longer available. The information given below is for reference purposes only.
What Is the House Edge?
Different games have different House Edges, which is also sometimes referred to as the House Advantage. The reason it exists is to ensure that the casino can always make a profit in the long run, even if the players going up against the House use perfect strategy in their play. In cases where there are side games on offer, they don’t count towards the House Edge figure.
To give you an example, here’s a look at the rough House Edge for some of the most popular games you can play in a casino:
|The Game||A Typical House Edge|
|Three Card Poker||3.37%|
|Slots||2% – 20%|
When thinking about something like the House Edge, it’s always worth remembering that it applies across all people playing the games for a long period of time. That is to say, one person on the Roulette wheel might never make a bad call, but that simply means that someone else playing will not win a thing because the House Edge is a mathematical formula.
Zero Lounge Explained
Betfair wasn’t the first exchange betting bookmaker when it launched in 1999, but it did go on to become the best-known and the one most favoured by punters. There were numerous reasons for this, but the launch of its Zero Lounge certainly appealed to bettors. The premise was simple: make it a fair fight between player and House.
There were obviously plenty of games that were never included in the Zero Lounge, with slots being one of the main examples. The House Edge on slots is far too big for any company to ever think about allowing people to play them without an Edge. In essence, many casinos are kept in healthy profit thanks to their slot machines and the two to twenty percent Edge therein.
Betfair Zero Lounge Games
Betfair were reasonably picky when it came to the games that they offered customers in the Zero Lounge, largely because they wanted it to be a decent mix of games that people would want to play but also ones that didn’t leave them too exposed. Here’s a look at the games they selected and why they differed from the normal versions.
What made the Betfair Zero Lounge version of Roulette different to the standard version of the same game was that there was, appropriately enough, no zero on the wheel. The zero is what provides the House Edge in Roulette, given that when the ball lands on it no number, colour, Thirds, or any other bet placed apart from on zero itself will be a winner.
By removing the zero on the Zero Lounge game, Betfair ensured that a customer got ‘true’ odds on every bet that they placed. You could still lose bets, of course, should you bet on a number that didn’t come up or on red when it ended up being black, but the built-in edge was removed and a game that was already exciting became more so.
If Roulette is one of the most popular games in the casino then Blackjack isn’t too far behind. The game, based on the French card game of vignt-et-un, is the definition of one in which ‘optimum strategy’ can result in players doing well against the House when its normal Edge applies. In most casinos, the dealers will even tell you what you should do.
The House Edge in Blackjack is normally one of the lowest in the casino, hence the game’s popularity. Indeed, the low House Edge is only for players opting for optimum strategy. In the Betfair Zero Lounge, the rules of Blackjack were altered slightly in order to give punters the Edge back. A suited natural Blackjack and a five card 21 were both paid out at 2-1, for example.
The game of Baccarat was popularised by the James Bond movie franchise, with the eponymous secret agent regularly found in a casino playing it and being informed that ‘madame wins’. In the standard version of the game, the banker takes a commission of 5%, which is a healthy amount if you’re the person seeing the winnings head your way.
In the Zero Lounge, the commission was advertised as being reduced to 2.75%, though in actual fact it was more like 2.8% because it was shifted to one decimal point and the figure was rounded up. Even so, it’s a far more generous commission than any other casino offered at the time, with the ability to reduce the House Edge to 0% if you played in an optimal fashion.
Zero Jacks or Better
Whilst standard slot games were not on offer in the Betfair Zero Lounge, there was a video poker variant for those that wanted to give it a go. The payout figure for most Jacks or Better games, including in the Betfair Main Lounge at the time, sits at around 250/1. In Zero Jacks or Better, that figure was at a much more impressive 976/1.
The main difference in the Zero Lounge when it came to Jacks or Better was that there was no advantage to paying more coins per go. A typical Jacks or Better game would require you to pay 5 coins for the maximum payout on a Royal Flush, but in the Zero Lounge it was 4,000/1 for a Royal Flush or moved to 4,880/1 if you paid 5 coins. That’s what made it so appealing.
The key words that you might have noticed cropping up again and again as you read the above were ‘optimal strategy’. Put simply, Betfair wanted to attract customers to play in the Zero Lounge but they didn’t want to just throw money away. As a consequence, the ‘zero’ element of the Zero Lounge was only applicable to people that played with optimal strategy.
Each game has a different optimal strategy when you head to the casino, which can make it quite a complicated procedure for the uninitiated. As mentioned elsewhere, it’s not uncommon for dealers in physical casinos to willingly tell you the optimum strategy for the game you’re playing, with gift shops in Las Vegas often selling cards that do exactly that.
The reason Betfair were happy to offer the Zero Lounge up until it closed in 2013 was that most people don’t actually use optimal strategy. Failing to do so moves the House Edge from the zero that was promised to a much higher figure, so Betfair were obviously dependent on people not following the advice and just betting as they always did.