John Grochowski, Casino Answer Man

Q. I have a question about comps. My wife and I were on an overnight casino trip, playing mostly penny slots. We lost about $170 between us, but that was well within our budget and we had a good time. We got two buffets comped, for $15 apiece, and our points were worth $25 in free play.

A couple of weeks after we got home, we got a mailer from the casino. I was offered $25 in free play on our next visit, and so was she. We also each had an offer for a discounted room. We'd paid $119 for our night, and we were offered a night for $59, so a $60 savings.

Add all that up, and that's $30 for the buffets, $75 for the free play and $60 for a hotel room, or $165. That's only $5 short of the $170 we lost.

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The way I look at it, is if we went back and lost the same amount, used the free play and room discount from the mailer, got $25 more in free play and two more buffets, we'd essentially be on a free trip.

Do you think including the comps is a reasonable way to look at it and that we've ALMOST eliminated the house edge?

A. Absolutely, the value of the free play and comps is part of the equation. If you're paying less for a room that you'd have booked at full price, that's money remaining in your wallet. Same deal on the buffets. You have to eat sometime, and free is the perfect price.

The question is whether what you did was sustainable, so let's do a little arithmetic. I'm going to assume the casino gives about a quarter of a percent of your wagers back to you as free play. That's a pretty normal figure. What that would mean is that on your trip, you and your wife made about $10,000 worth of wagers on the penny slots.

Next, let's assume the casino's penny slots pay about 90 percent to players, on the high end for penny games. Your theoretical loss on $10,000 in play would be about $1,000. You did MUCH better than that. For that much play, you had a really good run on the slots, with a payback percentage in the neighborhood of 98 percent.

There are no guarantees, but the likelihood is that on subsequent visits, your losses would be larger, and so would the gap between comps and losses.

Q. My neighbor says when he plays craps, he likes to buy the 4 and 10 in one of the casinos a few miles from us, but not at the others. I asked him why, and he said something about different commissions. Can you explain?

A. Let's start at the beginning, for craps novices. Making a place bet on 4 - betting a craps shooter will roll a 4 before the next 7 - is a weak bet, with a house edge of 6.67 percent. Same deal if you place 10. The house edge is still 6.67 percent, and there are several bets at the craps table that are much better percentage plays.

You can "buy" the 4 or "buy" the 10 instead, and cut the house edge a bit. You pay the house a 5 percent commission, and in exchange, your winners are paid at true odds. With a $20 bet, you buy the number with an extra buck. Instead of being paid 9-5 on your 4 or 10, you're paid at the true odds of 2-1. That cuts the house edge 4.76 percent - still a little high for my taste when I consider the 1.52 percent house edge on place bets on 6 or 8, or the 1.41 percent on the pass line.

But some casinos charge the commission only if you win, and that's worth asking about. When you don't have to pay the commission when your 4 or 10 are losers, the house edge sinks all the way to 1.67 percent. That's not bad at all, a reasonable addition to your collection of low-edge craps bets.

Ask the dealer if the commission is charged on losing bets when you buy 4 or 10. If it's charged only on winners, you have a reasonable bet. If it's charged on losers, let the bettor beware.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (; Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at Answer Man runs every week.

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