THE EXPERT’S GUIDE TO
COMPS B Y H E N R Y TA M B U R I N I L L U S T R AT I O N S B Y M I K E M I L L E R
othing gets a player more excited than the mention of the word comp. Everyone wants one, and the casinos are more than glad to give them (over $1 billion worth last year). Yet comps are one of the most misunderstood aspects of the casino experience, fraught with so many misconceptions that a lot of casual players don’t even bother. So to unravel the science and art of getting comped, I assembled a team of experts comprised of experienced players, well-known gaming authors, advantage players, and casino personnel. First, let’s review the basics.
What Is a Comp? A comp is an abbreviation for complimentary.They are the free goods and services provided by the casino to its players. Comps can range from drinks and valet parking all the way up to room suites, food, beverage and transportation.
What Are the Requirements to Get a Comp?
The only requirement is that you gamble. Most online casino require that you bet at a certain level and play for a specific period of time in order to qualify for a comp.The more you bet and the longer you play, the higher the value of comp you can expect.
But I Thought Comps Were Only for High Rollers That’s one of the misconceptions about comps.We all know the stories about high rollers that get shuttled to and from Las Vegas
on a private jet, picked up in a chauffeured stretch limo, given a luxury suite twice the size of your home,and wined and dined in ultraswank gourmet restaurants “on the house.” But casinos also offer valuable comps to low rollers that include meals, free or discounted rooms, and show tickets.
Why Do Casinos Give Players Comps? Casinos need steady customers, and competition for players is fierce. They offer comps to loyal players as a reward for their business. Comps also have a way of making players rationalize their losses so they return again to the same property, and stimulate some players into betting at higher levels for longer periods of time.
Do I Have to Lose to Get a Comp? Comps are not based on how much you lose (or win),but on the total amount of money you’ve wagered (known as the amount of “action”you give the casino). All the casinos want is a shot at your money at their tables and machines.
How Do I Get a Comp if I Play the Machines? You need to sign up for a players card and keep it inserted into the machine’s card reader while you play. The casino’s computer will keep track of how much money you play through the machine. Always make sure your card is registering properly so you get credit for your play.Also check at the players club service desk if you are entitled to any freebies just for joining (casinos often have promotions to entice players to sign up).
How Long Do I Need to Play the Slots to Get Comped?
Do Buy-Ins, Wins or Losses Have Any Bearing on My Comps?
Casinos used to be secretive about how they rewarded comps. But today the majority of casinos have brochures that tell their players how many dollars they must play to earn a point, and how many points are required to get certain comps. Nowadays, you can also often find this information on a casino’s website. On some you can sign up for a players card and keep track of your points online.
Even though floor supervisors on table games will record that information on a player’s rating card, it doesn’t enter into the equation for comps (see the Comp Equations section). However, more than one casino supervisor has added this caveat. If a steady customer has a disastrous session where the losses far exceed the casinos theoretical loss,the player is often given an additional comp above what the comp equation would compute for his play. And casino managers do look more favorably on players who buy in for $500 rather than $100. It appears you’re giving them a shot at a larger amount of your money.
Why Go With a Casino Host When I Can Get My Comps Through the Players Club? Hosts have much more discretion in issuing comps than the employees who staff the players club. A host might get you an invite to a special event, a room on a sold-out weekend, or other special perks you wouldn’t normally be aware of. Hosts also add a personal touch to the overall experience.
How Can I Reward My Host for a Job Well Done? Hosts are not allowed to accept cash or expensive gifts from players. But they can accept nominal gifts (a $25 max is a good benchmark),such as a gift certificate to a restaurant,a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers. A thank-you card also goes a long way to cementing a relationship with a host. Another way to show your appreciation is to send the host’s boss or the casino manager a note stating what a good job your host has done for you. Sending a host new customers is another way to show your appreciation.
Can I Carry Over My Earned Comps From One Trip to the Next? Most casinos allow players to accumulate their comp dollars and then spend them on one big meal or event. Others do not—they require you to spend your earned comp dollars during your current trip. It’s best to get the specific casino requirements on earned comps from the players club literature or from a casino host.
How Do I Earn Comps if I’m Playing the Tables? You must ask to be “rated” when you play in the pits in order to be eligible for a comp. Getting rated means the pit boss or floor supervisor will keep track of how many hours you play and your average bet size. In some casinos you can use your players card to get rated; others issue a different rating card for table players. When you sit down to play, just slide the card to the dealer with your buy-in and the dealer will hand it to the floor supervisor, who will begin the rating process (in some casinos the dealer has a device on the table that she uses to swipe your card to initiate the rating process). Some high-end casinos require a minimum of $25 bets to even consider players for comps, while other casinos will gladly rate nickel players. My advice is to first call the casino’s marketing department and speak to a casino host about table-game playing requirements.
Should My Spouse and I Request a Joint or Separate Account? If you’re a low roller it’s best to get two cards on the same account. This way your play and that of your spouse will accumulate points faster toward a comp.If partners do a lot of playing,then it’s best to get a slot card in both names (both will earn separate comps).
Besides Comps, What Else Should I Expect From the Casino for My Play? It depends on the casino, but besides comps you might get mailings offering you free show tickets or even an entry into a tournament or other special event. Many casinos also reward their slot and video poker players with cashback (or bounce-back). Cashback is cash that you can get immediately after your play, based on a percentage of your action. Bounce-back is a coupon you’ll receive that will allow you to receive cash on a subsequent visit. In lieu of giving a player direct cash, some casinos will give a player credit on a slot or video poker machine (via a PIN), which the player must play through.
What if I Don’t Earn Enough Points for a Comp? If you haven’t qualified for a free room, you can ask for a discounted rate (known as the casino rate, which is usually 50 percent of the published rack rate for a room). Likewise, if you don’t have enough play for a buffet comp, ask for a line comp. This will allow you to go to the front of the line at the buffet, café or theater.Your host may know of other options.
Do Points Accumulate From One Casino Property to Another if Owned by the Same Company? In most cases, yes. Harrah’s, Mandalay Resorts, Park Place Entertainment, and Stations Casinos, to name a few, have megaclubs. As single companies own more casinos, this trend will continue.
Any Downsides to Comps? Not as long as you remember these words: Never play longer or bet more for the sake of a comp. If you do this, you’re playing right into the casino’s hands.Learn how to use the system to earn your fair share of comps for your normal level of play.
Author of Comp City
Ask. If you don’t ask for a comp while you’re playing, they probably won’t offer. Don’t be afraid. If they deny you (no matter how outrageous the request),ask them how much more you have to play to earn the comp you want. Buffets are easy, but it normally takes some serious machine and table time to qualify for rooms and gourmet meals. Tip.When you hit a jackpot, make sure to give the cashiers and floor people a little something when they fork over the cash. If you’re on table games,an occasional small bet for the dealers usually does the trick. Virtually all of the comp decision-makers (pit bosses and slot hosts) depended on tips for their livelihoods at some point in their careers; if you’re a stiff, they’re less likely to go the extra mile for you. Be Nice. Friendly people get easy room upgrades, bountiful buffets and lots of personalized attention. Jerks rarely get what they’ve got coming, unless you believe in Karma.
BART PESTRICHELLO Casino Manager
When buying in at a table game, if you have a bankroll of $300, buy in for the full amount—not $100 at a time. If you’ve been playing for comps at a table game, it doesn’t hurt to ask the floor supervisor what they’ve been recording as your average bet. Understand what is needed to get a comp. Since most comps at a table game are discretionary,it pays to be genuine, honest and courteous.
Author of The Frugal Gambler and More Frugal Gambling
If you want free rooms and other substantial comps, concentrate your play at one casino to reach a higher comp level.If you spread your play around too thinly,you may not reach a basic comp level anywhere. All slot clubs are not alike. Read all the literature at the slot club desk. If that isn’t available or doesn’t give you enough information, ask the slot club employees to explain the system and give you specific details on how to earn comps. Joining a slot club can be a good idea even if you don’t plan to play at that casino. Cardholders often get discounts all over the property: in the gift shop, the restaurants, even on the room rates. And
when business is slow, some casinos have been known to send out offers and coupons to everyone in their database, no matter how little they have played.
MICKEY PETKUS Casino Host
Make sure that you’re being tracked for your play.Regardless of whether you are a table or a machine player,you must make sure you are getting credit for your casino action.Too many times I have customers who come to me asking for a comp and I have no record of play in the casino’s computer. They say that they have played for hours,lost hundreds of dollars, and the casino has no record of any of it.When that is the case, there is not much the casino can do, and the host is left to tell the customer “sorry.” So make sure you get a players card so you can take advantage of the casino’s comp system. Once a customer has play recorded in the casino’s player-tracking system, he can go to the casino’s players club booth, or, if on property, page his casino host to ask for the desired comp. Either the club or the host will look up the customer’s play and then tell the customer those comps he qualifies for.If you don’t have a host,ask for the “host on duty”and introduce yourself to one.
SPEAK STEVE BOURIE
Author of the 2003 American Casino Guide
Call ahead.Every casino has a marketing department, which will give you information on what kind of play is needed in order to earn a comp.Before leaving on your trip,call ahead and ask for the marketing department. Speak to a casino host who can tell you what is required. (You can get a list of the toll-free numbers for all U.S. casinos in the 2003 American Casino Guide or visit the website at www.americancasinoguide.com to see the phone numbers for free.) Call several casinos you’re interested in and ask specific questions of the host: How much do I need to bet to get a comp room? How long do I have to play each day? and etc.Once you’ve decided on which casino you want to visit, be sure to call back and speak to the same host. Tell her you’re going to be playing at her casino and you want to confirm the details of what kind of play is required to earn the comps that you want. When you finally arrive at the casino,be sure to go meet your host.Thank her for her time and effort in explaining the casino’s comp system to you.Then you’ll be on your way to earning comps, and you’ll know exactly what’s required.
Make your first bet higher if the pit is looking on BILL BURTON
Contributor to the Gambling Guide for About.com
• Buy in for more than you plan to play. This makes the casino think you are willing to risk more.
• Make your first bet higher if the pit is looking on. • Play at a crowded table.The game is slower. • Don’t make your first bet until the pit boss has taken your card and logged you in.
• With slots,after you’ve played for a while,tell a slot attendant that JOHN BROKOPP
Author of The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling
Take advantage of “first time visitor” privileges. If you’re a veteran player making a first-time visit to a property, always make a personal contact before you play. Explain to a host that you’ve been playing elsewhere, but that you’ve heard a lot of nice things about his casino and you’d like to give it a try.Alluding to your games of choice or your level of play won’t hurt, either. You might also mention your playing tier at another property. Casinos are always trying to win over new customers,influence people,and attract new and potential premium players.Work the system and see what kind of “welcome wagon” comps you may be offered. Ask for “true comps” first, before using your point equity.True comps may be a buffet or dinner offered to a player without deducting points from their account.These are based on individual session play and property loyalty. Always go for true comps first before you tap into the equity that you’ve earned and are entitled to receive; look at true comps as going for a bonus.
you would like to speak to a casino host. Continue playing until the host gets there and then introduce yourself.Ask if you have enough play for whatever comp you are seeking.
Author of The Slot Answer Book, The Video Poker Answer Book, and The Craps Answer Book
Players who have hosts might try charging their meals or other on-site purchases to their room accounts, instead of asking for comps up front. If your play warrants it, a meal that you charged to your room can be comped after the fact. Take advantage of direct mail offers. The goal of casino comps is to encourage you to return. Some of the most generous casino offers come through the mail: bonus cash, bonus slot club points,free meals,free tournaments,free or discounted rooms and more.The offers often have restricted dates and expiration dates. If possible, plan your trip for days when you can use direct mail offers.
MR. PIT BOSS
Anonymous Casino Supervisor
A sure-fire way to make sure you’re being rated is to put $500 to $1,000 on deposit at the cage and draw on it in the form of a marker when you sit down at a game. This way there will be a paper trail of your play. The casino is looking for time played,so take advantage of time away from the game. Leave some of your smaller denomination chips at the table and leave the game for 10 to 15 minutes per hour. They will continue to rate you while you’re gone. If you catch a run and you’re wagering more than you usually would, feel free to point this out to the floor supervisor who is rating you. You want to make sure that they see and rate your higher play. If you’re usually a $100 player but are making lower bets (say, $25) due to a bad streak, you might not want to be rated, since this will lower your average bet and thus reduce your comps. Most important, when you finish playing don’t be afraid to ask the floor supervisor what your average bet was and how much time he has you in for. If you disagree, this is the time to let the supervisor know. If you work on him a little (in a nice way), he may pump up your rating. If he doesn’t, just be polite and shake his hand. The next time you sit down in his section, he may be more generous.
Columnist and Best-selling Gaming Author
Always tip on top of your bet so that you control the tip.Your tip will be considered a part of your average bet, and you’ll get more comp points for it. Always ask for a comp 10 minutes before you have decided to leave, so that the rater thinks he’s kept you at the table an extra 10 minutes waiting for the comp. It’s rare that you’ll play that 10 minutes and not get a comp. Don’t ask for comps that you know you can’t get, such as the gourmet room if you’re a $10 bettor. But do ask for a comp that is a bit higher than what you actually want. If you and your spouse want to eat at the buffet, inquire about a comp to the cafe. When the rater says, “Sorry, sir, you can’t have the cafe,” ask for the buffet—for two. You’ll more likely get what you want this way. Comp as you go. Some casinos would rather have you wait until the end of your stay before deciding what to give you; this keeps them in the driver’s seat. Instead, use your comps during your stay, and if one of your comp requests gets turned down, you can always ask again at the end of your trip. Never play for comps. No sandwich, no gourmet meal, no anything is worth the expected loss you must have for the casino to give it to you. Play your game and take the comps as they come.
Advantage Video Poker Player
Don’t abuse the comp system. Many people try to take advantage of the casino by running up large bills at the gourmet restaurants. Their attitude is “anything goes” because they don’t have to pay.The casinos are not happy with customers who do this, and will remember them in a negative light. Enjoy the comps you are given, but only use what you really want. Complimentaries are just that; they’re not a sure thing, but a gift from the casino. Be grateful and show your appreciation to your host when you receive these gifts. A personal note after a visit is always a good idea, and will help you build a good relationship with the casino.
If you catch a run and you’re wagering more than you usually would, feel free to point this out to the floor supervisor who is rating you JEFF COMPTON
Columnist and Author of The Guide to Slot Clubs
Don’t get overwhelmed by the concept that it’s “free.” It’s not free—you’re paying for it with your play, and frequently a “freebie” will cost you more than it would if you paid cash. Play at as few casinos as possible to get the most out of their system.Many of the best benefits don’t kick in until you play at a certain level, so if possible, find your favorite casino and stay there. No casino comp system can be completely understood and mastered quickly. It takes a continual effort of using your eyes and ears.
Columnist and Author of Million Dollar Video Poker
Be ready to capitalize on the circumstances.For example,if you hit a big jackpot, ask for a comp right then. Casinos want to keep winners around in the hopes that they’ll wind up giving the money back.On the other hand, if you have a bigger-than-average loss, ask for a comp. Casinos want to “soothe the pain” of big losers so they’ll come back. Since you don’t know which of these events will occur on your next trip, you have to be ready to ask either way. Before you ask for a comp, ask other players who the best host is. At many casinos there is at least one host who acts like Santa Claus and will give you the moon,and another one that acts like Ebenezer Scrooge and treats every comp issued as making his children starve. Obviously, when you’re asking for favors, you want the first type of host.
When all else fails, just ask for a comp. Getting something for nothing is what put Vegas on the map in the first place.
Columnist and Host of www.vphomepage.com
When the overall return is about equal (due to differences in cashback, for instance), try to play games that are “low variance” such as Jacks or Better or Pick’em, rather than a game with higher variance, such as NSU Deuces or Double Bonus. This gives you a better chance of staying in the game, and accumulating more playing time and coin-in. If you’re just starting out,play at a number of different places to see if you can generate a mailed offer. Offers often come from very little play, and may be better than the comps you can get from a host. Mailed offers come from the casino’s marketing department, while hosts usually work for a department called Player Development. Use both resources; when you receive a mailed offer, you can contact your host to book it. This helps you to strengthen the relationship.
LAS VEGAS PRO Advantage Player
Ask and ask again, even if you don’t think you qualify. You’ll be surprised at the comps you can get just by asking. I once played blackjack for about an hour at the Tropicana LV, betting $10, $15, $20, $25, up to a few $100 bets. Just on a whim I asked for a comp to Follies Bergere, their big evening show that costs $55 or so per ticket. They checked their computer and asked how many tickets I wanted. I was shocked that I actually got them; no way did I think I had enough play for two tickets valued at $110. Hey, the worst they can do is say no. Here’s how to expand a meal comp.If they offer you either two for the buffet or one for the coffee shop (where you would actually prefer to eat), take the comp for two for the buffet. Find out what time the buffet closes. Show up with your meal-mate after the buffet has closed and tell a pit boss you came all this way,suffered traffic and parking,only to find out the buffet is closed.Ask if there’s any other restaurant open now. Of course, you already know the 24-hour coffee shop is the only open venue.The pit boss will usually change the comp from buffet to coffee shop with no problem.
Author of Ask Barney: An Insider’s Guide to Las Vegas
Set up a credit line at the casino cage. Most people who make frequent gambling trips do this. For one thing, your money is a lot safer in the cashier’s cage than it is in your wallet, and you can withdraw it anytime you want. An ideal line of credit would be $5,000.You’ll need either cash or a pre-authorized check from your bank. This way, when you ask for a comped breakfast in the coffee shop, you can nonchalantly add, “ I’m in the computer.” The supervisor checks, and sure enough you’re good for five thousand. He knows he’s dealing with someone who has money and will probably gamble with it. He certainly doesn’t want to offend this person by denying a simple request for a free meal. When all else fails, just ask for a comp. Getting something for nothing is what put Vegas on the map in the first place.The easiest comp to get is one to the buffet.It’s usually the cheapest—for you and the casino. A breakfast buffet may cost you $3.95, but it costs the casino about 60 cents. It’s also easier to get a comp in a large casino, because smaller casinos work on a lower profit margin. Here’s how one fellow did it.“Can I get a comp?” he asked the pit boss. “A comp to what?” “Anything!” ♠ Henry Tamburin is the author of six best-selling books including Henry Tamburin on Casino Gambling. For a free subscription to Tamburin’s Blackjack Insider e-newsletter, visit www.bjinsider.com. For a free copy of Tamburin’s Casino Gambling catalog, call toll-free (888) 353-3234 or write to RSU, PO Box 10727, Greensboro, NC 27419.
COMP EQUATIONS FORMULA NO.1 average bet x # decisions per hour x hours played = player’s trip/session handle FORMULA NO. 2 trip/session handle x casino’s advantage (theoretical hold percentage) = player’s expected loss (or theoretical) FORMULA NO. 3 player’s expected loss x casino’s percentage return* = comp dollars
*The “expected return percentage” percentage is different from one casino to the next. For example, locals casinos in Las Vegas tend to offer a 10–20 percent return on a player’s theoretical, while Strip casinos average 20–40 percent. Note that the amount a player actually wins or loses per session may be much more or much less then his theoretical, but over many sessions his actual results will approach the calculated theoretical loss.