Star City Sydney
I had been to this casino before, in 2008. Since then, it looks like it has gone through some redecorating but is much the same as it was six years ago. The casino itself could be most closely compared to the Aria in Las Vegas. It is easy to get disoriented as you wander about. Just when you think you've finally seen the whole thing you stumble upon another cavern with even more tables and slot machines (or pokies, as they call them down under). On the second floor, where the casino is located, you won't find much more than a casino and a buffet. If you get hungry, there are restaurants on the first floor as well as plenty surrounding the casino in Darling Harbour.
In terms of atmosphere, the casino is more like what you'll find in Macau than Vegas. This is a place to come for serious gambling. You won't find loud atmosphere music, shopping or shows. No, this is a place to come if you want to be left alone to gamble. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the clientele is about 50% Asian (all due apologies for stereotyping).
Unfortunately, there is no complimentary beverage service that I could see at the Star City. If you order a drink, even a non-alcoholic one, from a cocktail waitress, expect to pay bar prices for it.
When I first visited the Star City in 2008, there were machines that served free, non-alcoholic beverages. New players could have up to five per day while higher level players could have more. Sadly, they removed these machines sometime between then and now.
One thing I'd like to give the casino huge credit for is prohibiting smoking! I'm not sure whether to give credit to the city of Sydney, the state of New South Wales, or the country of Australia, but thank you for caring about the health and comfort your non-smoking guests and employees. Hopefully, one day, nonsmokers will be able to play in Las Vegas without being slowly killed by secondhand smoke. Meanwhile, to Australia I say, "Bravo! And thank you very much."
The minimums were similar to what you would see in a high-end Vegas casino on a busy Saturday night. Other than the small flea pit, which was closed when I was there, blackjack minimums started at $25 AUS, which is equivalent to $20 US. Mississippi Stud had a $10 minimum, which may sound low, but that game involves lots of raising. The minimum in pai gow tiles was $100, despite the fact that nobody was playing.
With the introductions out of the way, let me get to the particulars of the game rules.
Here are the blackjack rules:
- Six decks.
- Blackjack pays 3 to 2.
- Dealer stands on soft 17.
- Double on any two cards.
- Double after split allowed.
- Split once only (no re-splitting anything).
- No surrender.
- No dealer hole card. If the dealer gets a blackjack, the player loses his original bet, plus anything else lost due to splitting and busting. This is known as the OBBO rule, which stands for "Original and Busted Bets Only."
- Continuous shuffler.
The house edge under these rules is 0.48%.
This is the same thing as what we call Spanish 21 in North America. I saw it on my first trip to Sydney in 2008 and wrote up a whole page on Pontoon afterward. The bottom line is the house edge under the Sydney rules is 0.42%, which is lower than conventional blackjack.
Be careful to not confuse Australian Pontoon with Realtime Gaming Pontoon.
I love spotting new table games, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this one in Sydney. In this case, the name of the game is Blackjack Challenge. It is like blackjack, but a five-card hand is an automatic winner, as well as any 21-point hand. Blackjacks pay at least 2 to 1 and as high as 5 to 1, plus some other minor rule changes the player's way. However, what the casino giveth, it taketh away somewhere else. In this case, the player loses on ties. All things considered, I get a house edge of 2.53%. My advice is to stick to blackjack and pontoon.
For more information, please see my page on Blackjack Challenge.
Sydney baccarat players can play the usual way or in stadium seating for about 80 and around two or four games going at once. Some of my readers may be interested to know they offer the Player/Banker pair bets in this area. Be warned that Sydney has a "no device" policy, just like in Nevada.
7 Up Baccarat
I analyzed this game years ago when it appeared in Singapore, but this is the first time I ever actually saw it. It is like baccarat, except the Player's first card is an automatic seven. The house edge is 2.6% on both the Player and Banker bets.
For more information, please see my page on 7 Up Baccarat.
Lots of roulette to be found and all single zero for a house edge of 2.70%. Compare that to the usual double-zero roulette in the US at 5.26%.
As far as I know, Australia offers the best sic bo odds in the world. Across the board, everything pays equal or more than in the United States or Macau.
Australia and the United Kingdom can't be beat when it comes to craps. For the sharp players, who just bet the line and the odds, it won't make any difference, but the sucker bet players get some relief down under. Here are some examples:
Hard hops pay 33 to 1 (compare to 29 or 30 in the US). Easy hops pay 16 to 1 (compare to 14 or 15 in the US). Hard ways pay 7.5 and 9.5 to 1 (compare to 7 and 9 in the US). Any seven pays 4.5 to 1 (compare to 4 in the US). Thanks for giving the mathematically challenged players some decent odds.
Three Card Poker
Sydney pays 1-3-4 on the Ante bonus for a house edge of 3.83%. This is a little worse than in the US at 1-4-5 and a house edge of 3.37%.
However, Australia wins on the Pairplus bet, which follows the 1-4-6-25-35 pay table for a house edge of 4.58%. Compare that to the usual 1-3-6-30-40 pay table in the US at 7.28%.
Other Table Games
Other games I spotted at the Star City were:
- Mississippi Stud
- Pai Gow (tiles)
- Texas Hold 'Em Bonus
- Caribbean Stud Poker
All of them seemed to follow the standard rules. The minimum on pai gow tiles was, sadly, $100.
The number of video poker machines I noticed at the Star City was zero. I asked a floorman about it, and he said they used to have some but the players didn't play them so they got rid of them.
When it comes to machines, video slots, or "pokies" as they are called down under, are the order of the day in Sydney. The percentage of floor space devoted to slots was about half of what you would find in a Vegas casino. They are also found in bars and restaurants, which may explain why the casino didn't have that many.
Overall, I'd like to commend the Star City for outstanding rules across their table games. Whether it is blackjack, craps, roulette or sic bo, the rules are more competitive than the norm in the United States. They seem especially forgiving on the high house edge games and bets, but for the players who never play anything with a house edge over 0.5%, they won't notice a difference.
The atmosphere is a little too quiet and downbeat compared to what I'm used to in Vegas, and I sure miss the free drinks, but they more than make up for that by prohibiting smoking. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that the United States is about the only country left to allow smoking in public casinos. Shame on us!
Outside the Casino
Here are some places to go in Sydney outside of the casino.
Finally, I'd like to say I looked all over Sydney for my hero, Natalie Tran of YouTube fame, but, sadly, we never crossed paths. It was at least an honor to be in the same city.