There are the traditional casino table games, and there are casino “Carnival Games.” I will identify these table games and provide expectations when playing them. So, let’s start by answering the question, “What Are Carnival Games in the Casino?”

What ARE “Carnival Games?”

Carnival games are “one-off,” or new table games, not part of the standard table game offerings, regardless of the house edge.

Wizard of Odds, Michael Shackelford

Before 2010, the term wasn’t generally used. But new table games or variations of older ones are being introduced in casinos every year. Today, there is an unprecedented need for new table games. The initiative for the added games is simple:

  • Get more guests to play table games by
  • introducing them to simple, easy-to-learn, and easy-to-play games.
  • those games should offer high rewards
  • and don’t take a lot of skill, training, or practice to play.

The Definition

So, what are casino Carnival games? Carnival games are “one-off,” or new table games, not part of the standard table game offerings, regardless of the house edge.

It seems somewhat disrespectful as if you shouldn’t take them seriously. Maybe, a better description would be “novelty” table games since these games are supposedly not for the serious player who plays the classic table games of blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and craps. What defines a classic table casino is that customers expect that game to be in their casino and that casinos consistently offer the game.

The First Three Casino Carnival Games

  1. Caribbean Stud – According to popular history, Caribbean Stud originated in the 1980s at the King International Casino in Aruba. While it has a high house edge, the progressive jackpot propelled its position as the first accepted “carnival” table game. Caribbean Stud is a poker variant based on a 5-card hand. To win a progressive jackpot, you need to place a side bet.
  • Let It Ride – Let It Ride was developed in 1993 and seen in a Reno casino for the first time. This Poker variant aims to create a winning hand of at least a pair of 10s or higher. You have to combine three cards you receive and two community cards to do so. The twist is that you start the game with three bets of the same value. You can opt for Let It Ride and continue playing or Pull your stakes if you believe you cannot make a winning hand.
  • Big Six Wheel – But let’s face it, the Big Six Wheel was initially a part of casinos before that and could be called an actual carnival game. The carnival wheel went away in the 1960s when individual states began enforcing stricter laws against gambling on a carnival midway. It has always been a part of the casino floor, but its high house edge never allowed it as a classic game the likes of blackjack. With the addition of electronic gambling, the Big Six has recently had a bit of a reprise. Now it looks like an extension of stadium gaming.

Being Considered a Standard Table Game

There is quite a variety of carnival games these days. Some do switch to standard table game status, usually after 1000 installations at casinos. However, a high house edge usually keeps it in that carnival category and is not seen in smaller casinos.

For example, Three Card Poker, now a mainstay casino game with over 1,000 installs, is no longer considered a carnival game. It has passed the test and is considered a classic casino game with Baccarat, Craps, Blackjack, and Roulette. Casino chains and cruise ships are expected to offer the game as a standard game offering, just like craps, blackjack, and roulette.

Carnival Games in the Casino
Three-Card Poker Table

Pai Gow Poker is also now considered a mainstay table game. Two games waiting to graduate to standard status include Spanish 21 and Ultimate Texas Hold ’em.

Beware of the House Edge

Some of these games are better than others when considering house edge. Some can be lucrative if you play the bonus bets and win (emphasis on “winning”). But carnival games usually give the house edge quite a boost.

The best games for the player:

  • Face Up Pai Gow Poker, where there is no commission, and the house edge is 1.8 percent
  • Pai Gow Poker:
    • playing against the dealer (standard) is 2.84 percent house edge
    • playing as the banker, the player has roughly a 1.5 percent edge;
  • Casino War (I never thought I would see this in the casino!) where it’s about 2.9 percent if you go to “war” on ties; (what’s next, Go Fish?) and
  • Three-Card Poker, where it’s roughly 3.4 percent for the ante and play circles. (NOTE – Three-Card players who opt to play the Pair Plus bet are making one of the dumbest table wagers in the casino: The edge on that wager is upward of 7 percent.)

Popular Carnival Games and House Edge

Check out the house edge on the next popular carnival games:

Caribbean Stud = 5.2%
Mississippi Stud = 4.9%
Four Card Poker = 2.8%
Texas Shootout = 2.6%
Ultimate Texas Hold’em = 2.2%
Texas Hold’em Bonus = 2.0%

It’s not too bad for the recreational gambler when table games have a 2.9% house edge or less. In the newer carnival/side game/new idea game/etc. – the house edge is generally lower, as game designers want to burn out the players neither nor burn the house, either way.

“Tidbits” About Carnival Games with John Marchel

“Remember, the rule is still to learn, study and then play.”

John Marchel,

John Marchel is an author, speaker, and teacher and has been a casino player for over 25 years. He is also the author of six books about gambling, has written numerous magazine articles, and is currently a columnist for three gambling magazines and one internet magazine, CasinoCityTimes.

John considers the following a “shortlist” of the most popular ones: Let It Ride, Four Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Spanish 21, Ultimate Texas Hold ’em, Mississippi Stud, Crazy “4” Poker, Sic Bo, and Blackjack Switch.

And here are things about carnival games from John’s “Bets You Didn’t Know.”

  • Caribbean Stud Poker has a high house edge. It is 5.26% in favor of the house.
  • A player will see about 50 hands an hour when playing Caribbean Stud.
  • One lucky Caribbean Stud player won over $250,000 with a royal flush that allowed him to put himself through college.
  • The dealer in Three Card Poker will qualify about seven hands out of 10 times.
  • Let It Ride’s average number of hands per hour is about 50.
  • The game of Spanish 21 was first introduced into Nevada casinos around 1995.
  • Spanish 21 is one of the most profitable casino blackjack variations.
  • Pai Gow Poker is one of the slowest table games in a casino, with about 40 hands played an hour. As a result, it has a house edge of only 2.84%.


Remember, avoid playing any games you know nothing about. If you are interested and want to play some of these new games, go to the Internet and play them for free. Especially learn about the possible side bets with these games, which can raise the house edge drastically. Bring a big enough bankroll, play with a preferred strategy and enjoy the excitement these carnival games can bring.