Q. Tell me about the free odds in craps. I've read that you shouldn't raise your pass line bet above the minimum until you're betting the maximum on free odds? Why is that? Do the free odds increase how often you win?
A. Let's start with the basics. Craps players who bet pass and/or come can back up their bets with a free odds wager after the shooter establishes a point. Essentially it's a separate bet that the shooter will then make the point, so it wins and loses on the same rolls as the pass or come bets.
The advantage to the free odds wager is that it's paid at true odds, leaving no house edge. If the point is 4 or 10, the free odds pay 2-1, and they pay 3-2 on 5 or 9 and 6-5 on 6 or 8.
Different casinos allow you to bet free odds in different multiples of your pass or come bet. At single odds, your odds bet is the same size as your pass/come bet. At 200x odds, the largest multiplier I've seen, you may make a free odds wager up to 200 times your pass/come bet. You do not have to bet maximum odds. If you're at a 100x odds table with a bankroll sized for single odds, by all means, stay within your bankroll limitations.
Because free odds can only be taken in combination with a pass/come bet the effect is a combination wager with a lower house edge than pass/come alone, but higher than the odds themselves. Pass or come has a house edge of 1.41 percent. At single odds, the edge on the combination drops to 0.8 percent, and drops to 0.6 percent at double odds, 0.3 percent at 5x odds, 0.2 percent at 10x odds and 0.02 percent at 100x odds.
You can look at the pass-odds combination as two separate wagers. The pass portion always faces a 1.41 percent house edge, while the odds portion is an even bet. It's to your advantage to keep the bet that bucks a house edge to the minimum, while pushing more of your overall wager into the bet with no edge.
So yes, you should keep your pass/come wagers to the table minimum unless you're already betting max odds and are still looking to push your bet up. For me, and for most players with modest bankrolls, that never happens.
On to your second question, "Do free odds increase how often you win?" They can't change the outcome on the dice. You'll win and lose just as many rolls with free odds as without. However, by lowering the house edge, they can increase the frequency of winning sessions.
Let's say you're betting $5 on pass, and you face nine situations where the point number is 4. On the average, you'll win a third of those because there are three ways to roll a 4 and six ways to roll a loser 7.
Pretend we're a little luckier than that and win four of the nine trials. If we just bet $5 on pass, we risk $45 on the nine trials and get back $40, for an overall loss of $5. What if we back the pass wagers with $5 single odds bets? Then we risk $90 overall, and still lose $5 on the pass bets. On the four free odds wins, we get back our $5 wagers, and get $10 each in winnings for the 2-1 payoffs. On the free odds alone then, we have $20 in kept wagers and $40 in winnings. Add that to the $40 we get back on the pass portion of the bets, and we have a total of $100. We've lost five trials and won only four, but we have a $10 profit.
With average results, we'll come up the same in the long run regardless of whether we make the odds bet. If I'd made that three wins in nine trials, we'd have lost $15 overall with the odds, and lost $15 overall without the odds.
What the odds do is change the magnitude and distribution of the wins and losses. We'll have more winning sessions with the free odds, but since we're betting more, the losses can get much, much larger when things go bad.
Q. Dollar slots pay more than penny slots, right? So why does anyone play the pennies?
A. Dollar slots do almost always have a higher payback percentage than lower denomination slots. But they're more volatile, with fewer winning spins, meaning they're built for players who want a chance at big wins while risking fast losses.
Many players like the low-denomination slots for their bonus events and entertainment value. And there's always the bankroll factor. Even if you're covering 25 paylines at a penny apiece, you're betting much less than a player risking three dollar credits on a three-reel game. That dollar game might pay 95 percent or so while the penny game is in the high-80s, but a loss of 5 percent of a dollar is more money than the loss of 12 percent of a penny - or even 12 percent of 25 pennies.
Find John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at email@example.com. His column runs weekly.