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Deal Me In: Husband penalized for canny play

28 November 2014

Dear Mark: I play penny slots, and my husband plays $5 blackjack. If that is unavailable he will play on a $1 slot machine. We each use our own comp cards. What is interesting is that we do not equal out on comp points. I always get more points than my husband does. His complaint is that he always plays on a higher-denomination machine or at a $5 blackjack game. Because he wins more often than I do, does this have anything to do with it? Cheryl C.

Casino comps, Cheryl, are usually figured as a percentage of the casino's theoretical win against the player, or, another way of looking at it, compensation for your losing play. You take the amount of action you are giving the casino, multiply that by the house edge, and the casino will take a certain percentage of that result to calculate you comp value to them.

You, Cheryl, are playing on low payback slots, so you certainly could receive a greater amount of points than your husband if both of you are playing an equal amount. Since your husband mainly plays on dollar machines and $5 blackjack, the casino expects to win less from him, so, it rewards him less.

Permit me, Cheryl, to break down your play versus your spouse’s to see what is happening here.

We begin by multiplying each bet that you make by the house edge; then multiply that result by the number of bets you will make in each playing session (figured per hour).

Say, for example, that on a penny machine you are putting in $3 per spin, which isn’t too far fetched for penny players these days. Moreover, you could easily be on a machine that has a house edge of 15 percent. Your loss figures like this: $3 per pull x 15 percent house edge x 200 yanks per hour. This comes to mathematically a loss of $90 per hour. Does this sound about right, Cheryl?

Now say that your husband is playing that same $3 per pull on a dollar slot machine that has a house edge of 3 percent, and he, too, is hitting the spin button 200 times per hour. His loss is going to total about $18 per hour ($3 x .03 percent x 200 spins = $18).

That same mathematical formula holds true for your husband while he’s playing blackjack. If his average bet is $5, and he plays a satisfactory game with the casino edge of, let’s say, 2 percent, and you multiply that by 60 hands per hour, his total losses will be $6 per hour ($5 x .02 x 60 = $6).

Notice, Cheryl, he is losing a whole lot less dough than you are. In the casino’s eyes, he deserves fewer goodies.

By the way, players are NOT penalized for “winning” against the house. We instead could say that your husband is being penalized for playing smarter than you.

One thing going in your husband’s favor is that when you couple proficient play with incentives like cash back and other comps, blackjack, mathematically at least, can become a winning proposition that can give him an overall return greater than 100 percent, in theory that is. Unfortunately for you, Cheryl, you will never be in that category of play while playing on penny machines that typically have such low paybacks.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semicircle.” – Mitch Hedberg
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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.