Face Up Pai Gow Poker Is Taking Over Las Vegas

Written By Marc Meltzer on September 16, 2022 - Last Updated on September 30, 2022
Face Up Pai Gow Poker

When I moved to Las Vegas, craps was my favorite casino game, but that has changed a few times over the years. Pai Gow Poker has been my favorite game in the casino for about five years and I don’t see that changing.

Pai Gow Poker provides maximum value for my gambling dollar. The game has a lower house edge than many others in casinos today.

Additionally, 40% of the games end with a push and 29% of the games end with a player win, according to Wizard of Odds.

Between the pushes and lower house edge, the traditional Pai Gow Poker can move slowly, and this allows for a bankroll to last longer than other games. Altogether, this provides me with better value for my gambling dollar – especially on the Vegas Strip.

However, since the pandemic shuffled the way everything is done, I noticed there has been a change: the rise of the Face Up Pai Gow Poker variation in Las Vegas and other casinos nationwide.

The rise of Face Up Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker
Pre-COVID Pai Gow Poker at The Cromwell in Vegas.

Face Up Pai Gow Poker has been taking over Las Vegas casinos for the past couple of years. This version of the game is now the main option for Pai Gow Poker fans looking to play the game in Las Vegas.

While Face Up Pai Gow Poker isn’t a new game – it was first spotted at Las Vegas casinos in 2018 – casinos started switching to it in 2020 while COVID-19 was still spreading at a high rate. There were two main reasons for the change.

COVID-19 changed Pai Gow Poker

Casinos around the country closed for a short time when COVID-19 transmissions were at an extremely high level in 2020. When Las Vegas casinos started reopening in June, there were numerous health and safety protocols in place for everything from capacity and new cleaning regimens.

Casinos started dealing Face Up because there was less physical handling of the cards. There was so much concern about transmitting COVID-19 that some casinos were hand-cleaning cards and chips throughout the day.

Every little bit of cleaning or tactics to potentially slow the spread of COVID-19 helped make players feel more comfortable visiting casinos.

Another reason casinos made the switch to Face Up is that this version of Pai Gow Poker doesn’t charge winning bettors a 5% commission.

Not having a commission removes the need for the dealers to pay winners with change. For example, commission for a $15 wager meant a player would receive $14.25.

The lack of dealing with a commission is part of what is keeping Face Up in casinos.

More Face Up Pai Gow Poker differences

Besides the lack of commission, there’s one major thing players will notice. The base Face Up game is an automatic push if the dealer has an Ace high Pai Gow. This is a major change. An Ace high Pai Gow in Face Up is when the best five-card hand the dealer can make is only an ace high.

If this happens the game is a push. The player cannot win the main hand. At the same time, the player cannot lose the main hand.

Side bets are paid when there is an Ace high Pai Gow. If a player wins a Fortune Bonus they will be paid.

This game also has an Ace High side bet. This optional wager pays the following if the dealer has an Ace High Pai Gow:

  • 40 to 1: Both player and dealer have ace-high pai gow
  • 15 to 1: Dealer has ace-high pai gow with a joker.
  • 5 to 1: Dealer has ace-high pai gow without joker

Lastly, Face Up does not allow players to bank bets. This option in traditional Pai Gow Poker allows a player to act as the banker.

When a player banks a game of Pai Gow, they’re essentially playing without a house edge. Experienced Pai Gow players would take this opportunity as much as possible since it’s one of the most player-friendly betting opportunities in the casino.

Lower house edge

Face Up Pai Gow Poker
Face Up Pai Gow Poker at Aria Las Vegas.

It’s rare for casinos to offer a game with a lower house edge but, on the surface, that’s the case with this game. Face Up Pai Gow Poker has a lower house edge than the traditional game with a commission.

The house edge for the main hand in Face Up is 1.81% according to Wizard Of Odds. The traditional game with a 5% commission gives the casino a 2.7% house edge.

While the main game has a lower house edge, the new Ace High side bet has a 9.29% house edge. This optional side bet has the largest house edge of any betting option at a Pai Gow Poker table.

Casinos aren’t in the business of giving away an advantage so don’t get too excited. The odds haven’t totally moved in favor of the player.

Face Up Pai Gow games are quicker. Since players see the dealer’s cards first, players are more apt to skip setting their cards and mucking the hand.

Since the dealers no longer have to account for commissions, payouts are faster. This saves time and speeds the game up.

There are about 30-35 hands per hour when playing a traditional Pai Gow Poker game. The increased number of hands being dealt in Face Up can make the game even more profitable for the casino.

Since casinos aren’t in the business of decreasing the odds it’s not difficult to imagine Face Up isn’t a more profitable game than the older commission-based game.

The most recent Nevada Gaming Control Board revenue report shows that casinos are winning much more from Pai Gow Poker than last year.

More advantages of playing Face Up Pai Gow Poker

Face Up is played mostly like a regular Pai Gow Poker game with a couple of exceptions.

Players still have to make a five-card poker hand and a two-card hand. The Face Up is what can completely change the game for players.

The dealer will distribute cards to all positions at the table like the traditional game. The first difference from traditional Pai Gow Poker is that the dealer will show their cards before players set their hands.

In the traditional game, players would set their hands without seeing the dealer’s cards. Players would guess which way to set their cards.

Now that the players see the cards, they know how to best set their hand to secure a win. This allows players an advantage that wasn’t previously available.

I’ve won quite a few hands over the past year just by seeing the dealer’s cards first. It’s quite surprising how often this plays a role in how a player sets their hand.

I don’t think there’s been a session where I didn’t play hands differently. Now that I can see the dealer’s hand first, there’s a chance to set the cards in a way that wouldn’t make sense playing blind.

Since there are so many more hands being played the difference to the house edge is probably negligible. That said, it’s nice to feel as though the player has an advantage when playing a casino game.

One of the things I loved about Pai Gow Poker was the slow pace. While Face Up is faster it’s not that much quicker than the traditional commission-based game.

There are still the same amount of hands that end with a push. The pace of the game isn’t very different. While some players will muck their losing hands I still set mine. This keeps the pace similar to the older game for me and gives me practice setting my hands.

Finding a value game in a casino is rare. Face Up is still a fun relaxing game where players can relax, play cards and have a few drinks.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Marc Meltzer

Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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