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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Blackjack comps 101

1 August 2011

Dear Mark: Does the casino look at my skill level at blackjack when awarding comps, or, how much money I actually bet? Jan D.

Every casino makes use of some formula to determine how much the player’s action is worth to it. To be eligible for the goodies, you must bet a certain amount, for a certain period of time, and then your RFB’s (room, food and beverage) calculation is based on what you are probably going to lose.

The method typically used assumes your average bet, guesstimating your hours of play, speed of the game, and the casino advantage. This, in theory, computes essentially your expected loss to the casino.

Suppose, Jan, you are betting $25 a hand for three hours, averaging 100 hands per hour, coupled with a house advantage of 2 percent (I’ll get to that in a second), and they can predict in advance that you should lose $150 ($25 x 3 hrs. x 100 hands x .02 = $150) which, to the house, is probably worth a feeding frenzy at the buffet.

What pit bosses can’t do, Jan, is eyeball the play of every blackjack player to identify each skill level, so instead, they estimate their advantage over the playing masses being approximately 2 percent. With this customary 2 percent advantage over blackjack players, they then calculate how much they are willing to give a blackjack player in cash back or comps. Now, Jan, I’m not saying that figures lie and liars figure here, but I would say that the hordes of blackjack players I’ve seen on the game over the years from either pitching cards or pit bulling have a proficiency level nowhere near that number, nevertheless, the house uses 2 percent in their arithmetic.

Where skill comes into play, Jan, is that the basic strategy player can legitimately alter that house edge to about 0.5 percent. Point being, by learning basic strategy, you can acquire more comps while losing less, theoretically.

When you couple proficient play with incentives like cash back and other comps and goodies, blackjack, mathematically at least, can become a winning proposition that can give you an overall return greater than 100 percent of what you’ve ventured -- again, in theory.

The key here, Jan is that you never want to gamble just to receive comps. You always want to treat "comps" not necessarily as a form of profit, but for what they are: compensation coming your way for your play.

Dear Mark: I read your column in the Play magazine of the Detroit Free Press, and I was wondering what book or place you would recommend for a person to learn how to play craps. Bruce S.

Most players who belly up to the craps table are greener than the felt on the table, so any book on craps they are willing to read would be highly recommended. You can expect them all to explain the various bets, correct odds, payoffs, sucker bets, and playing strategy.

For the dice apprentice, Henry Tamburin’s "Craps: Take the Money and Run" is a good start. "Beat the Craps Out of the Casino" by Frank Scobete would be a worthy follow-up.

No matter which, or any book you choose, Bruce, I would suggest that you concentrate only on the wagers that offer a house edge under 1.5 percent, like a pass line bet, along with free odds to reduce the casino advantage considerably lower, and placing the 6 or 8.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Most people are consistent losers; they continue to gamble over and over again. Therefore, they must be gambling for psychological reasons rather than for the profit motive.” --Lance Humble, Ph.D., The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.