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Face Up Pai Gow Poker is the hottest version of the game in Las Vegas

When I moved to VegasCraps used to be my favorite casino game, but that has changed many times over the years. Pai Gow Poker has been my favorite casino game 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 edge of the house than many others in casinos today.

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

Between pushes and the lower house edge, traditional Pai Gow poker can move slowly, allowing for a bankroll to last longer than other games. All in all, it gives me better value for my gaming dollar – especially on the Vegas Strip.

However, since the pandemic has upended the way everything is done, I have noticed that there has been a change: the rise of the Face Up Pai Gow Poker variant in Las Vegas and other casinos around the country.

The Rise of Face Up Pai Gow Poker

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

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

Although Face Up Pai Gow Poker is not a new game – it was first spotted in Las Vegas casinos in 2018 – casinos started switching to it in 2020 as COVID-19 still spread to a high pace. There were two main reasons for the change.

COVID-19 has changed Pai Gow poker

Casinos across the country closed for a short time when COVID-19 transmissions were at an extremely high level in 2020. When Las Vegas casinos began to reopen in June, many health and safety protocols were in place for everything from capacity to new cleansing regimens.

Casinos started giving out Face Up because there was less physical handling of cards. The transmission of COVID-19 was so concerning that some casinos were hand-cleaning cards and chips throughout the day.

Every little cleanup or tactic to potentially slow the spread of COVID-19 has helped make players feel more comfortable in casinos.

Another reason casinos have switched to Face Up is that this version of Pai Gow Poker does not charge a 5% commission to winning bettors.

Have no commission removes the need for dealers to pay winners with coins. For example, a commission for a $15 bet meant that a player would receive $14.25.

The lack of commission is part of what keeps Face Up in casinos.

More Differences Face Up Pai Gow Poker

Besides the lack of commission, there is one important thing that players will notice. The basic Face Up game is a auto push if the dealer has a Ace high Pai Gow. It’s a major change. A Pai Gow Ace high in Face Up is when the best five card hand the dealer can make is just 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 a high Pai Gow Ace. If a player wins a fortune bonuses they will be paid.

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

  • 40 to 1: player and dealer both have ace-high pai gow
  • 15 to 1: The dealer has an ace-high pai gow with a joker.
  • 5 to 1: the dealer has an ace-high pai gow with no joker

Finally, Face Up does not allow players to bank bets. This option of traditional Pai Gow poker allows a player to act as a banker.

When a player bets on a game of Pai Gow, they are essentially playing without the house edge. Experienced Pai Gow players would take this opportunity as much as possible as it is one of the friendliest betting opportunities in the casino.

Lower edge of the house

Poker Pai Gow Face Up
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 face of it, this game does. Face Up Pai Gow Poker has a lower house edge than the traditional rake game.

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

While the main game has a lower house advantage, the the new Ace High Side bet has a house edge of 9.29%. This optional side bet has the highest house edge of all betting options at a Pai Gow poker table.

Casinos aren’t about giving an advantage, so don’t get too excited. The odds have not fully shifted in favor of the player.

Face Up Pai Gow games are faster. Since players see the dealer’s cards first, players are more likely to not place their cards and not play the hand.

Since dealers no longer have to keep track of commissions, payouts are faster. It saves time and speed up the game.

There are around 30-35 hands per hour when playing a traditional Pai Gow poker game. Increasing the number of hands dealt in Face Up can make the game even more profitable for the casino.

Since casinos aren’t looking to reduce the odds, it’s not hard to imagine that Face Up isn’t a more profitable game than the old rake-based game.

The most recent Nevada Gaming Control Board income report show that casinos earn a lot more of Pai Gow Poker than last year.

More benefits of playing Face Up Pai Gow Poker

Face Up plays mostly like a regular Pai Gow poker game with a few exceptions.

Players must always build a five-card poker hand and a two-card hand. Face Up is what can completely change the game for players.

The dealer will deal the cards to all table positions like the traditional game. The first difference with traditional Pai Gow poker is that the the dealer will show his cards before the players put their hands.

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

Now that players see the cards, they know how to best set up their hand to secure a win. This allows players a advantage which was not available before.

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 places their hand.

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

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

One of the things I liked about Pai Gow Poker was the slow pace. Although Face Up is faster, it is not much faster than the traditional commission-based game.

There are always the same number of hands that end in a push. The pacing of the game is not much different. While some players will muck their losing hands, I always put mine down. It keeps a pace similar to the old game for me and allows me to practice settling my hands.

Finding a game of value in a casino is rare. Face Up is always a fun casual game where players can kick back, play cards and have a few drinks.