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The Free Lunch, Revisited

24 October 1999

Thanks to books like Jean Scott's The Frugal Gambler, and fine newsletters like Anthony Curtis' Las Vegas Advisor, an entirely new sub-class of gamblers is emerging. Some call them "Comp Wizards," other "Couponomists," but whatever name you pick, the number of gamblers who try to earn maximum freebies for minimum investments is growing rapidly.

(Wary of individual titles that might encourage citizens to take their new Secret Identity too seriously—"Quick, Compman, to the Compmobile!"—I prefer to stay away from titles and call this game-within-a-game "compsmanship.")

Just as its cousin, gamesmanship, should only be used at the right time and place, compsmanship has a place in the gaming world, but I think practitioners need to be very careful.

In Casino Gambling the Smart Way, I reminded readers eager to take advantage of casino comps about author Robert Heinlein's acronym TANSTAAFL, which stands for "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." Casinos are profit-hungry businesses, and if they're giving something away, they have a reason. If they're giving you an RFB (room, food and beverage) comp, you've been giving them heavy action.

The main danger to compsmanship is losing sight of the forest for the trees. Wandering through a casino without losing one's shirt can be tough enough, without the rationalizations that going after comps can provide. Anytime your common sense tells you to take a break but your desire to earn a comp tells you to keep playing, a red light should light up and a robot should announce "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!"

That said, I recently came across an excellent article about maximizing your comps at craps, and wanted to pass along some of the information and discuss it.

The article was called "Comps and Craps," by Larry Edell. I came across it in the free email newsletter Viva Las Vegas (

Edell explains, quite correctly, that if you can find a casino willing to give you comp credit for your odds action in craps games, craps can be a positive expectation game.

(Quick primer for non-craps players: all craps bets enjoy a house advantage EXCEPT for odds bets, which are the one completely fair, no-house advantage bet to be found in a casino. You can't make an odds bet without first making a Pass, Don't Pass, Come or Don't Come bet. Most casinos will let you make an odds bet at least twice the size of your Pass bet, called 2x odds. Some will let you bet five times as much on your odds bet, others ten times or even 100x.)

Casinos offer comps based on the size of your action, in effect rebating part of your expected loss back to you. Because there is no expected loss on an odds bet—neither you nor the house has an edge—a smart casino should not offer comps based on your odds action, but rather only on the action where they have an advantage.

Nonetheless, as Edell points out, just because a smart casino shouldn't give you comps for odds action, doesn't mean that every casino will be smart. If you can find a casino that will let you play $5 on the Pass Line and $50 in odds action, and that casino will comp you just like someone betting $55 on the Pass Line, your comps return will indeed far exceed your expected loss.

The big caveat, though, is that you must be comfortable with $55 in action every roll! Just because the house doesn't enjoy an edge on the large odds bet doesn't mean this is a good money management play. If your bankroll is only $500 or $1,000, you will stand a very good chance of losing it all playing at this high level. The short-term swings of random chance could easily result in a $1,000 loss (or more), even though your "expected mathematical loss" is much less.

As a result, while your risk in employing Edell-style compsmanship is greatly reduced, it is most certainly not reduced to a point where you can clearly call craps a positive-expectation game, at least not in the short run.

IF you can find a casino willing to give you credit for your odds action, and IF you have the bankroll to play for the long-term, Edell-style craps compsmanship becomes a positive-expectation game… IF you can be sure the casino will continue to give you full comps credit for your odds play, a big if.

Edell suggests that you call a casino host ahead of time (always a good idea when looking for comps) and ask the casino's policy about comps for odds action. My guess is that most of the time, the host will equivocate and say something like "we look at your overall action," meaning that if you make lots of non-odds bets, they might be willing to figure in the odds play. But if you ask the question you really want answered ("can I bet $5 on the Pass Line, $50 behind it, and get full comp credit for that style of play?"), probably the answer you get will be "no."

What's more, even if the host answers "yes," you better make sure the floor personnel are rating you that way. My guess is that most of the time, using this "ideal compsmanship play" will alert the floorman to adjust your rating in much the same way that ideal bet spreads for a blackjack card counter (e.g., $5 bets most of the time and then $500 bets when the deck is rich in Tens and Aces) alert the house that someone is counting. Play too smart, and the house will get wise.

I don't think you will find a casino willing to commit to long term comps credit for odds action, because the casino will eventually figure out it is playing a losing game. But if you ask in a friendly, casual sort of way if they will include your odds play as part of your rating, and don't push your luck too far, AND have the bankroll to play at these levels… then you will have something for which you can thank Mr. Edell.

You sports bettors out there should also try to get comps credit for any sports bets you make at a casino. Probably the house won't be very interested in giving you credit for one or two small bets, but if you are going to be making a lot of bets during your stay, it makes sense to ask UP FRONT (before you make your hotel reservation) whether they will give you comps credit.

Once you're in a casino, you don't have nearly the bargaining power you have before you check in. Similarly, you have much more bargaining power in mid-trip than you do haggling over your bill as you're checking out.

If you're going to use compsmanship as part of your anti-casino artillery, at least use it well. But I say again (sorry if the repetition is wearying but the point is just too important): make sure you're not making bets just to get comps. Unless the "wouldn't have made 'em but for the comps" bets are odds bets, you're probably making a bad deal. And if they are odds bets, make sure you can stand the swings.

Compsmanship is starting to sound like a dangerous game. Hmmm, maybe it's a good idea after all.

©1999 by Andrew N. S. Glazer
& Casino Conquests International, LLC
All Rights Reserved

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer:

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer: