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Husband Penalized for Canny Play

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I like playing penny slots, while my husband prefers $5 a hand blackjack when it is available. Otherwise he plays one-dollar slots. Each of us uses our own “Comp Card.” What's interesting is the fact that we don't earn an equal number of comp points. I regularly receive more points than he does. His complaint is that he spends more playing on the higher denomination machine or at $5 blackjack. He wins more often than I do, and we're wondering if this has anything to do with the difference in comps? Cheryl C.

Casino comps are figured as a percentage of what the casino should theoretically win against the player, or, another way to look at it is that it is compensation for your losing play. The casino takes the amount of action you are giving them, multiplies it by the house edge, and then takes a certain percentage of that to calculate your comp value to the casino.

Cheryl, since you are playing on slots with lower paybacks, you could receive more points than your husband, that is if you are both playing an equal amount. With your husband mostly playing dollar machines and $5 blackjack, the casino, using the formula above, would expect to win less from him, therefore, it rewards him less.

Let me break down your play versus your spouse’s, Cheryl, so we can see what is going on here. We start by multiplying each bet you make by the house edge; then we multiply the result by the number of bets you will make in a playing session (figured per hour).

For example, say that you are betting $3 per spin on a penny machine, which isn’t too far-fetched for penny players these days. Plus, you could easily be playing on a machine that has a house edge of 15%. Your loss would be figured as follows: $3 a pull x 15% house edge x 200 spins per hour. Mathematically, this equals a loss of $90 per hour. Cheryl, does this sound about right?

Now let's say your husband is also betting $3 per pull, but on a dollar slot machine that has a house edge of 3%, and he is hitting the spin button 200 times per hour. His loss is only going to total about $18 per hour ($3 X .03% X 200 spins = $18).

The same formula holds true for your husband when he’s playing blackjack. If his average bet is $5, and he plays a decent game with the casino edge of, let’s say, 2%, and you multiply that by 60 hands per hour, his total loss will be $6 per hour ($5 X .02 X 60 = $6).

So you see, Cheryl, your husband is losing a lot less money per hour than you are and in the casino’s eyes, he deserves fewer comps.

By the way, your husband is NOT being penalized for “winning” against the house. Instead, we could say that he is being penalized for playing smarter than you.

One thing in your husband’s favor is that when you couple proficient play with incentives like cash back and other comps, blackjack, mathematically, can be a winning proposition that could give him a return greater than 100%, in theory at least. Unfortunately, Cheryl, you will never be in that category if you keep playing 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 semi-circle.” – Mitch Hedberg