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CASINO ANSWER MAN

by John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Q. Do casinos ever step outside their formula and increase comps for extraordinary losses? A host told me theyíre looking at a system that would do just that, automatically. How would that work?

A. Most casinos stick to their formulas most of the time, but some occasionally will increase comps or free play to customers who have had extraordinarily bad luck. Itís all in the name of keeping the customer happy and coming back for more.

Bally Technologies, which has developed both slot management and table management systems, has included an application to automate the process in its Elite Bonusing suite. The application is called Flex Rewards, and it allows the casino to set parameters for giving perks outside normal levels.

When I spoke to a Bally representative about the application, he used a slot machine with an 8 percent hold as an example. A player who runs $1,000 in wagers through the machine expects an average loss of $80. The casino normally bases rewards based on that theoretical $80 swing.

However, letís say a customer losses $400, fast. The theoretical loss on a game with an 8 percent hold remains $80, and most of the time, casinos are going to comp based on that theoretical result. Flex Rewards can be set to recognize that the player has had a much larger loss than average, and issue an instant reward. No casino is going to reimburse the entire $400 loss, but perhaps it will give the player $50 in extra free play to make the guest feel the casino is taking care of him to ensure return visits.

Those specific amounts are just examples. Perhaps the casino might want to set the parameters to give an extra reward after only $200 in losses within $1,000 in play, and perhaps it might want to make the reward only $10 in free play at $200, or $75 at $400. The application gives the operator the flexibility to use its own judgment as to what will keep the customers happy.

Q. I play basic strategy, but donít count. One thing Iíve wondered is, does it change my odds if someone else is counting at my table?

A. Not unless you know the other player is counting, and follow his lead in raising and lowering your wagers. Nothing a counter does changes the odds of what hands will be dealt. The counter is just taking advantage of the natural swing in the odds of the game to bet more when the composition of the remaining deck favors the players, and less when it doesnít.

If youíre playing basic strategy and flat betting, or playing a betting progression, or changing bet size by feel or whim, that doesnít change the house edge on the game, no matter what anyone else is doing. Just because another player is counting makes no difference to you or any other player who isnít betting in accordance with the count.

Q. My dad is a lifelong craps player. He likes to wait till the shooter rolls a 6 or 8 on the come out, THEN bet on pass plus odds. He says thatís better than placing 6 or 8. Is it?

A. That depends on how much your dad is betting. A pass bet made after the point is established is called a put bet. Making a put bet when the point is 6 or 8 becomes an equivalent to a place bet when you back your wager with 5x odds. At that point, the house edge is 1.52 percent. If you bet $5 on pass and back it with $25 in odds, itís the same as a $30 place bet.

With more odds, the house edge drops, falling to 0.83 percent at 10x odds, and 0.09 percent at 100x odds.

However, without the odds, a put bet is the equivalent of the corner bets on Big 6 and Big 8, with even-money payoffs instead of the 7-6 odds you get on a place bet and a whopping 9.09 percent house edge.

The house edge is reduced a little for each unit you take in free odds. Letís say you back a $5 put bet on 6 with $5 in single odds. After 11 deciding rolls --- and the only rolls that will decide this bet are the six ways to make 7 and the five ways to make 6 --- you put $110 at risk. On the five that you win, you keep your $10 in wagers, win $5 on pass, and win $6 for the 6-5 payoff on your single odds. That means for each of those five winners, $21 goes to your bankroll.

Total that up, and at the end of an average 11 decisions, you have $105 of your original $110, and the house has $5. Divide that $5 loss by your $110 in wagers, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you have a house edge of 4.55 percent --- lower than the edge on the put bet alone, but not yet as low as the house edge on placing the 6.

At 5x odds, you risk a $5 put bet and $25 in odds for each of our 11 trials, a total risk of $330. For each of the five winners, you keep the $30 in wagers, win $5 on pass, and win $30 on the odds for a total of $65. Multiply by five winners, and $325 of your $330 risked remains in your bankroll, while the house has $5.

The $5 the house keeps is 1.52 percent of the $330 risked --- the same house edge as if youíd placed the number instead.

Therefore, your dad is right, if heís taking enough in odds. With less than 5x odds, heíd be better off with place bets, and with exactly 5x odds, it makes no differences whether he puts or places. If heís taking more than 5x odds, heís reducing the house edge below place bet levels.

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