Slot comps


You may not realize it, but you’re in demand. You’re a wanted man – or woman – and casinos everywhere want your business. A lot of gamblers in general, and slot players in particular, don’t realize how much competition exists among casinos for their business.

Here’s a figure that should make you sit up and take notice: every person who walks on to the floor of a major casino leaves behind approximately $50. Although it may be a tad less for the smaller places, this number has held steady for about a decade now for the big casino-hotels in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Every once in a while as you walk into a casino, you’ll see employees standing at the entrances with little clickers in their hands. Why? They’re counting the house, which enables the casino to check on their average drop and see whether it’s going up or down. With big money at stake you can be sure that every casino will go out of its way to get you to walk into their house of magic rather than someone else’s.

Casinos, once you strip away all the glitz and flash, are businesses, and just like any other commercial enterprise, they have competition for their share of the market. Department stores have sales, racetracks ply you with “giveaway” days, automobile dealers tempt buyers with price rebates and interest buy-downs, and casinos entice you in other ways. Their primary inducement is the “comp”.

In case you’ve been snoring like Rip Van Winkle for the past 20 years and don’t know what a comp is, it’s a shortened form of “complimentary”, which Webster’s New World Dictionary defines as “something given free, as a courtesy”. One of the wondrous things about the English language is its almost infinite flexibility, which allows it to adapt to a variety of situations. Hence, we have two new words: the newly minted noun “comp”, which simply means any favor presented by a casino to a playing customer, and the associated verb, “to comp”, which occurs when a casino extends such a token to someone. Linguistics aside, however, we need to look closely at the key word in the dictionary definition, “free” – for this is a gift horse whose choppers need to be checked out.

Let there be no confusion about this topic. Free doesn’t mean the casino is losing money on the deal. Neither a casino nor any other business is going to prosper by giving away the store. You will get the lunch but “free” does have a few strings attached!

All comps are predicated on carefully worked-out formulas. These formulas are driven by the expected value of the game you play, the size of your wager, and the amount of time played. If you’re a small-stakes slot player and you’re comped to a cheeseburger and fries, that’s because the casino has calculated that your likely losses are going to be considerably in excess of the cost of that artery-clogging snack.

And, just as assuredly, if you are a high-rolling, $100-chip-tossing craps shooter who has been flown in first-class, chauffeured to the hotel, and wined and dined on the house for a weekend, the very same principle holds. After all, if you deposit half a million in the casino cage and figure to drop a hundred thousand or so into the casino’s coffers by the time you leave town, you’ve probably grown to expect such niceties as first-class airfare, a lavish suite, gourmet meals and drinks – all compliments of the house – whenever you get the urge to gamble. Casinos are businesses – profit-making businesses – and comps are a marketing strategy to recruit and retain clientele. To think otherwise would be naïve.

If you’re wondering how sound their business strategy is, consider this: Casinos are so sure of their ultimate gain that they even comp players who win. All they want is a fair shot at their money. And when a player gets lucky and happens to beat them, it’s no big deal. They realize with absolute certainty that their earnings will meet expectations at the end of the day. They have an edge, and over the long haul, the numbers always work out that way.

Recently, a racetrack buddy of ours was playing in a casino he had never visited before. He got on a serious roll at the craps tables and since he was a fairly high roller, he beat the casino out of $30,000 during one long and wondrous session. To his surprise, as he was cashing in his chips, the pit boss congratulated him heartily on his terrific play, and proceeded to comp him to a three-room suite and dinner for two at the casino’s finest restaurant, and then magically produced a pair of tickets for that evening’s headliner show.

When we ran into him later, he was still in a state of shock. If anything, he expected hostility from the casino, not this kind of treatment. After all, he was not a regular customer and had just hit them pretty hard. But he should not have been surprised. The casino was giving him the royal treatment for the most obvious of reasons. They want those 30 big ones back. Our friend is a craps player with an unhappy penchant for the “yo” and “hard way” bets – not the kind of wagers we recommend in our Casino Player column or in our new book, Gambling For Dummies – and eventually he’s going to toss all those lovely $100 chips back across the table.

That three-room suite, the show tickets and gourmet dinner are merely inexpensive inducements to ensure that our friend continues to play in their house, and not somewhere else.

If comps don’t tip the economic scales completely in your favor – although one is certainly better off harvesting comps than ignoring them entirely – it helps to remember that their benefits are also psychological. By understanding this, you’ll be able to see comps for what they really are: a significant part of a casino’s marketing budget that’s aimed at customer relations. Once you understand this, your gaming strategy is clear and obvious. Try to balance your anticipated long-term financial losses against the psychological gains that come from (a) playing the games (after all, that’s why we gamble; we like the action) and (b) enjoying the comps that come your way. Savvy players structure their play to bring them as close as possible to balancing their losses against the value of their comps.

And it’s not difficult at all. In fact, it’s simple. Just treat your comp like a visit to a good restaurant or a vacation trip. Any time you dine in a fancy restaurant, or climb on board a plane for Aruba, you know it will cost you some shekels, but you plan on getting your money’s worth nevertheless. Treat your visit to the casino the same way – get the most for your money and make the most of your play.

For the high roller this should never be a problem. If you are a big player and you’re not well wined, fully dined and richly entertained, you’re in the wrong place and you ought to cash in your chips immediately and go down the road to a casino that appreciates your business. If you’re a modest roller – like we are – you will need to adopt a slightly different strategy because each session you play only yields a meager harvest of comps. We prefer to let our comps build up. Then we cash them in for something elegant, like a gourmet dinner or a good show.

We understand that there are different strokes for different folks, but using a comp for a limp chicken sandwich once a day just doesn’t make sense, particularly when a few days’ accumulation will generally result in a really special meal at a fine restaurant.

If you’re a regular slot player, here are a few things you can do to maximize the comps you are entitled to. Make sure you join the slot clubs that are popping up everywhere. These clubs offer additional benefits, including a relaxing place to sit and read, free food and drinks, and the sheer raw pleasure of having someone wait on you. The regulars get to know each other and often form lasting friendships. It’s rather like being a member of any special club, and the psychological gains are palpable.

If you travel with your spouse or significant other, make sure he or she joins the slot club too. Your comps will accrue faster that way. Members are also invited to special events and slot tournaments, and may receive other promotional announcements they can take advantage of if they’re in the mood. Moreover, just by joining a slot club you may find yourself in receipt of an introductory comp or two – anything from a free meal to a free three-day, two-night stay, just for signing up. There’s really neither risk nor downside to joining a slot club, and we recommend it highly.

Here’s an even more interesting way to go. Try to master some games that have a positive expectation, like poker. Many poker rooms will comp you based on the level of your play and time at the tables. If you become a good player and a long-term winner – you gain all around. Not only are you actually winning at the tables, which cannot be done at slots, or at games like craps or baccarat, but you can also earn comps for rooms and food at the same time.

Why would casinos do this? They don’t care whether you’re a winning poker player or not. They make their profit regardless of whether you win or lose. Their cut comes in the form of a rake from the pot or from a time charge – depending on the game. If they are charging you $10 an hour to play $10/20 Texas hold’em, they can afford to return two dollars worth of comps to you for every hour you play.

We’ve said this before, but it’s worth emphasizing, so we’ll say it again: Psychological considerations make it virtually obligatory to take your comps. We know gamblers who refuse to be rated and spurn comps, claiming they don’t need or care about such petty matters. But this is silly. Even if you don’t like the idea of a comp you must realize that comps, if nothing else, cut into the casino’s edge.

\If you’re shooting craps – and doing it right – you are still playing a game where the house has something in the neighborhood of a 1 percent edge. If you’re a serious player, you’re going to be putting tens of thousands of dollars on the table in the course of a couple of extended sessions of play. If the casino is willing to present you with a “free” dinner for two that might cost $100, why should you say no? The expected value of your table play hasn’t changed one bit and you’re going to have to have dinner that night anyway!

Psychologically you gain from the sheer joy of the action, the possibility of actually winning money, and from the dinners, discounted or even free rooms, transportation, and services that are yours courtesy of the casino for no other reason than your willingness to give them a shot at winning your money.

Let’s face it, we all got lucky a decade or two back when some marketing whiz cooked up the idea of the comp. By returning a portion of a customer’s losses in the form of various services, the casino immediately had a competitive edge and other casinos had no choice but to follow. Today players are in much better shape than they were before casinos started competing for our business.

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