If you’ve never played at a casino before, you might not realize that you get free stuff just for playing. Free casino comps and given by the casino as an incentive to gamble more.
Whether it’s really free or not is a subject of debate, though.
After all, if you’re losing more money than the value of the free stuff you’re getting, it’s not really free at all.
Some players specialize in taking advantage of the comps system at the casinos, too. They play basic strategy blackjack or optimal strategy video poker and get the house edge so low that the casino comps rate really does result in getting stuff that’s worth more than what you’re losing on the games.
That sounds like a great deal, and it is, but it requires more effort on the part of the casino gambler than just plopping yourself down in front of the nearest slot machine and inserting your players’ club card. That’s a sure way of paying for your own casino comps indirectly via the money you’re losing.
If you’re a complete casino beginner, this post starts with the basics of how the comps system works and how to potentially earn free casino comps. Before you can get the most out of the comps system, you must understand how the basics of the system work.
The most basic level of free casino comps at a casino is the free drink. This isn’t a standard in Oklahoma, but in other bigger casino destinations (like Vegas or Atlantic City), EVERY player is eligible for free drinks. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing penny slots or baccarat for $100 per hand—you get free drinks.
Even in smaller casino destinations like Illinois or Oklahoma, you can get casino comps in the from of free soft drinks and coffee.
These free drinks, by the way, are the only free casino comps the casino is willing to give you while letting you remain anonymous. The casinos’ goal is the same for every comp system—to encourage you to play more at their casino.
The Players’ Club Card
If you want more than free drinks, you must let the casino know who you are. This means signing up for a players’ card. Most casinos have their own loyalty club, although some chains provide you with a loyalty club card that’s good at any of their properties.
Any time you play a gambling machine at the casino, you should insert the card into the machine so that it can track how much you’re playing. You’ll also present this card to the dealer of any table games you’re playing. They’ll estimate your hourly action and update your card accordingly.
The Other Kinds of Comps
Once you’ve signed up for the players’ club, you’re eligible for multiple kinds of comps. One of the favorite comps for most gamblers—especially slot machine players—is cash back. (In fact, most table game players aren’t eligible for cash back unless they’re high rollers.)
As you gamble, you earn points on your card. These points are earned based on how much you wager, not how much you lose. You can win at the casino and still get points and cash back.
The points are based on a percentage of your action, usually at a rate of something like 0.2%. For example, if you bet $600 on a slot machine in an hour, you’ll earn points worth about $1.20.
Cash back isn’t the only freebie, though. Most players’ clubs also allow you to get free valet parking as a matter of course. Free entries to casino game tournaments, like slots tournaments, are also common and require next to no amount of gambling to get in on.
With only a little bit of action, most casinos will give you a free meal at one of their lower-end restaurants, like the coffee shop. If you gamble a lot, you can get coupons for free meals at their higher end restaurants, too.
It’s also common to be awarded free rooms and free upgrades to nicer rooms. If you gamble a lot, you can even get free airfare. These kinds of perks are the ones where you must start putting some real money into action before you’re eligible to get them, though.
How the Casino Thinks of Comps
The casinos understand the idea behind theoretical loss better than the average gambler. The rate at which they award you comps is based on that theoretical loss. If you lose more than expected, you might get extra awards, but you’re never penalized for winning.
The card just takes into account the amount of time you play and the average size of your wagers. They multiply that by the house edge for the game to get your theoretical loss.
You’re a roulette player, and you’re betting $20 per spin of the wheel. You’re averaging 100 spins per hour, so you’re putting $2000 into action per hour. The casino knows that the house edge for that game is 5.26%, so your theoretical loss is $2000 multiplied by 5.26%, or $105.20.
The casino’s goal is usually to give you about 25% of that back as comps, or $25 per hour or so. This varies, though—from 10% to 40%.
Basic strategy players can use this system to their advantage. This approach is covered in detail in Max Rubin’s excellent book Comp City.
The average blackjack player loses 2.5% of every bet on average, but a basic strategy player can cut that number to between 0.5% and 1%.
The average player who wagers $1000 on blackjack will lose $25, but the basic strategy player will lose between $5 and $10.
But most comp systems just treat all blackjack players the same. If the casino is awarding your comps of $10 on $1000 in action, and your expected loss is $5 or $10, it’s easy to see how you’ll come out ahead in the long run.
This is called being a comp wizard or comp hustler. It’s one of the perks of being good at basic strategy blackjack.
Asking for Comps
You should never be shy about asking for free casino comps. It’s rare that casino employees will just walk up to you and offer you free stuff, but it happens. That doesn’t mean you should be passive and wait for the casino to offer you the freebies, though. With a little bit of chutzpah, you can ask for and get free meals with a smile and plenty of good humor from the casino employees.
The appropriate person to ask for free stuff when you’re playing table games, by the way, is the pit boss. Don’t be shy about pointing out how much money you’re gambling.
I once played at a casino in Kansas City where I was gambling between $10 and $100 per hand at the blackjack tables. The dealer had me rated at $10 per hand, but I was probably averaging more like $50 per hand. I only knew that they had me rated at $10 per hand because I asked. I explained to the pit boss that I was actually ranging the sizes of my bets.
Of course, you have to be careful of this at the blackjack tables, too, because ranging the sizes of your bets is a big clue that you’re counting cards.
If you go to the casino often, it’s a good idea to get a casino host. This employee’s job is to make sure you get taken care of so you’ll keep coming back to the casino. Casino hosts are authorized to give your more in the way of comps than you’d earn just through using your card.
You’ll get plenty of free stuff in the mail without asking for it, though. You’ll get vouchers good for playing slot machines or video poker. You’ll also get tickets for free meals. You’ll even get coupons good for free or discounted room rates.
The main thing to remember is that the casinos’ goal is to get you to keep coming back so that you’ll gamble more. They know that the best predictor of how much money they’ll win is the amount of time you spend gambling. And the best way to do that is to make you feel welcome.
The Tricks to Getting More in Comps
You have several ways to get more in comps than you might otherwise. Some of these are obvious, but some are less obvious. One way to do that is to work with a partner who can offset your bets.
If you and your buddy are both playing roulette, one of you can bet on red and the other can be on black. You’ll both earn casino comps on that action, but you won’t be losing as much as if just one of you were playing the game.
You could use the same approach playing craps—one of you takes the pass bet and the other takes the don’t pass bet.
This will minimize your losses, but you’ll still lose in the long run. That’s just how the house edge works. For example, in roulette, you’ll both lose when a 0 or 00 goes up.
Another approach is to make it look like you’re betting more per hand or game than you actually are. The best way to do this is to place larger bets when you first sit down, because that’s what the pit boss is going to rate you on. You can lower the size of your bets later during your gambling session.
Another trick is to make it seem like you’re placing more bets than you actually are. You can do this by taking frequent breaks or sitting out various hands. A lot of the time, you can keep your seat at the table even when you’ve taken a break to go to the bathroom. This can take 20 minutes off the clock per hour if you’re smart about it.
If you’re only spending 2/3 of the time at the table that the casino is rating you for, you’ll only be losing 2/3 of the theoretical loss.
Combine that with convincing the casino that you’re wagering more per bet than you actually are, and it’s easy to see how you can come out ahead of the free casino comps game.
If you’re a casino gambler, it’s in your best interest to understand how the comps system works. For one thing, you want to be the beneficiary of the system. That’s impossible to do unless you understand the intricacies of the system to begin with.
Also, the comp system is there for the purpose of making the casino more money. Your goal is just the opposite, so you must work hard to make that happen. Hard work isn’t enough, though—you also have to be smart.
This post is just the beginning. If you want to get serious about comp hustling, you should review 2 books in particular. The first is Comp City by Max Rubin, and the 2nd is The Frugal Gambler by Jean Scott. The first focuses on blackjack and table games, and the 2nd focuses on video poker, but both cover the basics of how the comps system works in more detail than any single blog post ever could.