Fringe Benefits

A player who gambles much—either by placing large wagers or by placing smaller ones for an extended period of time—is regarded as a good customerby the casino, and to retain these players, casinos offer a wide array of fringe benefits, commonly called “comps” (short for “complimentaries”). These comps can range from a free drink to an all-expenses-paid return trip to the casino.

Unfortunately, most casinos have become obsessed with their bottom line, it’s more difficult for players to obtain the fringe benefits that used to be lavished upon them. The stories of pit bosses chasing after customers who’ve left the table to make sure they’re treated to dinner, or even offering a comp without having to be asked, are quickly-fading memories from a better, vanished time.

That’s not to say that complimentaries have been done away with completely—at least not yet—but if you want to be treated like a valued customer, you’ll have to be a bit more aggressive.

Basic Facts About Comps

Many players regard comps as “freebies” or “giveaways,” but it would be more realistic (and accurate) to take the perspective that comps are earned. The casino “rates” its players by estimating their gambling losses and rebating them a percentage of those losses in goods and services.

For example, a player who wagers $25 per hand at a table where hands are dealt at the rate of 50 per hour generates about $1250 per hour in action (the amount wagered, regardless of wins or losses), or $2500 for a two-hour session. Since the house expects to hold about 20% of this, that player is expected provide $500 in profit each hour. Most casinos currently provide comps equal to about 25% of the player’s expected losses (regardless of how much they actually win or lose)—so at the end of this session, this player will probably be treated dinner and drinks at one of the property’s better restaurants.

The reason casinos offer comps is simple: these giveaways keep players comingback to their establishment. It’s their hope (and it often works out) that the player above will remember the “free” dinner instead of the $500 he lost to earn it, and will be receptive when the casino offers him a free weekend a few months later.

It’s generally worthwhile to join a slot club, even if you don’t intend to gamble at all. Casinos will send some special offers and discounts to its entire mailing list—and club members get preferential treatment in every regard: better seats at events and a special rate on hotel rooms. It’s not uncommon for a casino to hold back a block of rooms for its club members, even during peak periods, allowing you to get a reservation when the property is “sold out” to the general public.

Typical Complimentaries

The most common complimentary casinos offer is free drinks. This is one of the few complimentaries that is agressively offered by the casino—which is probably because alcohol has an added bonus for the house: it dulls players’ mental acuity. Free drinks are made available at every table, even to low-rollers, though the service tends to be more attentive at higher limit tables. (A point of courtesy: even though the drinks are free, players are expected to tip the wait staff.)

Since consumption is down, free cigarettes and cigars are seldom offered. If asked, the waitress will bring them, though it may be a long wait. Also, since tobacco prices are high, they are not often given freely to low rollers. At most casinos, you must be playing at a table where the minimum wager is $25 to qualify for tobacco products.

Giveaways of “trinkets and trash” are also becoming more rare, but are not entirely uncommon. Players may, on occasion, be offered souvenirs such as decks of cards and plastic knickknacks. The more welcomed items (casino cards and dice) are typically sold in the casino gift shop rather than given away, and it can only be hoped that casinos have ceased giving away the less welcomed ones.

Many casinos have also instituted cash-back rewards, in which players who have earned sufficient “points,” usually at slot machines, can claim a certain amount of money (or souvenir merchandise). It is curious that these programs are catching on, as they make it blatantly obvious how poor the compensation is. By one such program, a player must cycle $2500 through slot machines in order to earn a $20 “bonus” or a baseball cap.

In addition to free drinks, players may also receive free meals at casino restaurants. A player who sites at a low-limit table for an extended period of time will be treated to a free buffet. Starting at the $25-minimum tables, players may instead expect a meal at the casino’s coffee shop, or even one of its gourmet restaurants, depending on how much they wager and how long they remain

Regarding meal comps, it’s important to pay attention to exactly what it offers. In most cases, it will cover the cost of the meal—though it may be only for one person. The comp may also be limited to courses (an entree and dessert only) or a specific dollar amount. It’s also not uncommon for the comp to exclude cocktails (or set a specific limit). Also, as a point of etiquette, a comp never includes a tip for the waiter, so you should tip out of your own poicket.

The next rung on the comp ladder is free entertainment. In addition to the lounge acts and performances that are free for anyone to attend, players may receive tickets to shows at the casinos venues. The cheaper the admission, the less a player must wager to earn this comp: green-chip ($25 minimum) player can probably gain admission to exhibits and events that have relatively low ticket prices, but most show comps are reserved for the black-chip ($100 minimum) players.

Although a “room comp” is seldom granted at the table, a valuable player may find that one or more nights (even their entire stay) along with certain other hotel charges have been discounted from the bill. Alternately, a player may receive a phone call from a casino host inviting him for a free stay (food, room, and beverage—or “FRB”). These comps are generally reserved for players who generate at least $5,000 in action for each day of their stay.

Though these are the limits of what a casino will offer the average player, there is really no limit to what a casino will do to entice the high rollers to patronize their establishment. Extremely high rollers (called “whales”) are treated as royalty—flown in on private jets; boarded in ostentatious penthouse suites with private staffs that include butlers, valets, and private chefs; and catered to in ways that the casinos are loath to mention. It’s reasonable to assume that literally anything will be done to appease the players who wager astronomical sums of money.

Special Offers

In addition to comps, casinos will generally make special offers to bring its customers back. Even a low-roller will get invitations in the mail for tournaments, parties, and other special events the casino holds to fill its hotel rooms in the off-season. The rates for these events are generally lower than the casino rate, so it’s a great opportunity for a getaway, even if you don’t participate in the tournament or event itself.

Other offers exist, such as free weekday nights or a gift of cheques or cash to wager with. It is not uncommon for affiliated casinos to share their mailing lists, so a player may get offers from casinos closer to their area (Harrah’s, for example, operates casinos in many local areas) or affiliated casinos (such as Bally’s and Paris in Vegas).

Most of these offers are made by s-mail, so they’re not particularly intrusive.However, some of the more savvy operations will also send offers via e-mail—and if you wager heavily or often, you may even receive a personal telephone callfrom a casino host.

How to obtain comps

For those of us who don’t play in the high-limit area of the casino, getting comps requires some degree of pursuit. If you bet heavily, a casino host will seek you out—but this seldom happens anymore. Since most casinos are operated by corporations who are fastidious about profit, the average player has to be a bit aggressive in getting comps that were once doled out as a matter of course.

At the very least, a player must join the casino’s slot club to earn comps. This entails completing an application form that requests personal information (address, phone numbers, and the like) and using a card that must be inserted into slot machines or presented at the tables so that the casino can keep track of each player’s habits. In most casinos, the same card can be used for both slots and table games, and a second card can be issued to the player’s spouse so that their play is credited to a single account.

If you don’t join the slot club at the booth, the pit boss can key you into the system at the table. He may ask for your driver’s license, or present an application you can fill out on the spot, then issue you a temporary card. You can stop by the slot club later to get a card with your name and member number on it.

A player who is concerned about privacy and refuses to provide their particulars and be monitored may be refused comps at some casinos—such is the price of privacy in the digital age. For what it’s worth, the sole purpose of these cards is to evaluate players for comps and special offers. If you’re sensitive about even this degree of intrusion, don’t join—but don’t expect anything more than free drinks.

Even if you sign up and present your card at the table, it’s necessary to request the comps to which you’re entitled. If you want a free meal or show tickets, speak to the pit boss when you’re ready to leave the table—or if you want your room charges comped, asked to see a casino host when you check out. Though it seems (and is) a bit declasse to demand these premiums, it is cheaper for the casinos not to provide them—and many won’t, unless the player demands it.

There are a few tactics to use when pursuing a comp, especially at the table. First, be discreet. Call the pit boss aside rather than talking to him over the table, or speak to the casino host at the end of the hotel’scounter. Your chances of getting the comp are better because the comp is not brought to the attention of the other patrons, who will expect the same premium. Second, always ask for more than you’re owed. If you ask for the buffet, the pit boss may refuse—but if you ask for dinner at the steakhouse, he may comp you the buffet. And finally, always ask for a comp—you may get it—but more importantly, it would be more profitable for casinos to do away with comps altogether, and if players no longer ask for them, they certainly will.

Don’t play for comps

One final bit of advice: never play for the sake of comps. Remember that the comps you get are worth a fraction of the amount you stand to lose in pursuit of them. It’s foolish to stay at a table an hour longer than you’d have liked to earn a buffet ticket or to play even ten minutes longer while waiting for your drink to arrive. In either case, you stand to lose more by playing than it would have cost you to buy the “freebie” outright.