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7 Casino Comps Secrets You Didn’t Know (But Should Learn)
You don’t have to be an advantage player to get comps at a casino. Almost any player with a little money, some common sense, and a lot of know-how can get free lodging, food, entertainment, and travel from casinos.
The first step in getting access to these freebies is learning how the casino comps work.
I’ve included a detailed list of secrets related to casino comps that you can use to get free stuff from casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or almost any other gambling destination in the world.
1. Casinos Base Your Freebies on How Much You’re Betting
The first thing to understand is that casinos award comps based on how much money you’re betting. This is true regardless of whether you play table games or slot machines. The basic formula they use to evaluate your action follows:
Bets per hour X Average bet size = Amount of money wagered per hour
Here’s an example:
You’re a slots player. You play for $3 per spin, and you make 600 spins per hour. That means your comps are based on $1800 per hour in action. (The casino tracks this via your slots club card.)
Here’s another example:
You’re a blackjack player. You play for between $10 and $100 per hand, but the pit boss has you rated as a $10 per hand player. You average 70 hands per hour. The casino awards you comps based on $700 per hour that you put into action. If you can get the pit boss to rate you higher, say an average of $50 per hand, you’ll get comps based on $3500 per hour in action.
“Action”, in this context, refers to how much money you’re risking.
I’d like to make a couple of observations:
The first is that comps aren’t awarded based on your losses. It’s based on how much action you’re brining. The casino relies on its unassailable house edge to take care of whether you lose money.
In fact, the casino knows that the more you play, the closer your results will inevitably get to the mathematical expectation.
The second observation is that your hourly action on machine games is specific and accurate. That card tracks it to the penny.
On the other hand, table game dealers evaluate your action per hour based on estimates. This point is important, because you can use it to your advantage.
Comps are awarded as a percentage of your overall action.
2. Playing Table Games Can Result in More Comps if You Look Like You’re Gambling a Lot
Unless you’re an advantage player specializing in video poker, you should stick to table games with a low house edge. I recommend blackjack, which is also Max Rubin’s recommendation in his book Comp City.
I have multiple reasons for this recommendation. For one thing, the house edge on slot machines is outrageous, at least 5%. Your goal is to lose as little money as possible while getting as much free stuff as you can. You’ll lose less money playing games with a low house edge.
The second reason is that pit bosses evaluate how much you’re betting as soon as you sit down. If you’re planning to play for $5 per hand, it makes sense to bet $25 per hand on the first 4 or 5 hands while you’re being rated. After the pit bosses starts worrying about something else, you can switch to playing for $5 per hand.
How does this affect your comps?
Let’s assume again that you’re playing 70 hands per hour. If the casino marks you down as a $25 per hand player, they’re assuming you’re putting $1750 per hour into action. You’ll be awarded comps based on that amount of action.
But really, you’re only putting $430 per hour into action. ($100 for the first 4 bets at $25 each, and $5 per hand for the other 66 bets per hour.)
3. Never Gamble with Money You Can’t Afford to Lose
I repeat this advice in multiple blog posts because it’s incredibly important. I was excited to see that I’m not the only gambling writer who thinks this is important. When I researched this post, I came across a post from Jean Scott, “the Queen of Comps”, where she shares the same advice.
Here’s why this is so important:
Let’s say you’re playing blackjack, and you’re putting that $430 into action. You assume you’re giving the casino a 1% edge, because you’re good at basic strategy but not great. Your expected loss per hour $4.30.
You have a little extra money, maybe $100, for entertainment, but you also haven’t paid the rent yet.
The trouble with gambling, even at blackjack, is that in the short term, anything can happen. You can easily lose $100 in an hour playing blackjack at $5 per hand.
You’ll be tempted to dip into that rent money to try to catch back up. After all, the odds say you’ll start to catch up if you stick with basic strategy, right?
This is an example of the gambler’s fallacy. This is a mathematical term which refers to the tendency gamblers have to think that previous results affect subsequent results.
But when you’re gambling, each event is an independent event. This is less true of blackjack than other games, but unless you’re counting cards, it doesn’t matter. The average doesn’t start to revert to the mean until you’ve played for thousands or even tens of thousands of bets.
Gamblers Anonymous meetings are filled with tales of woe from people who gambled their rent money trying to catch up to their losses based on the gambler’s fallacy.
4. The Casinos Base Your Comps on Your Daily Theoretical Loss
Remember how I explained that the casino looks at your action to determine how much to award you in comps?
They look at the game you play and its expected hold rate—how much the casino expects to keep out of every bet you make. This is based on the house edge.
This is good news for blackjack players, because most blackjack players are lousy at basic strategy. The casino assumes you’ll probably lose 3%.
Combine that expectation with your clever attempt to get the casino to think you’re betting more per hand than you are, and you stand to do well.
Using the example above, the casino assumes you’re going to lose 3% of $1750 per hour at the blackjack table. That’s $52 per hour in expected losses.
But since you’re only putting $340 per hour into action, and you’re only losing 1% of that, your actual losses over time will come closer to $3.40 per hour.
Most casinos multiply your theoretical loss by 40% to get your comp rate. If they expect you to lose $52 per hour, they plan to comp you $20.80 per hour.
Your expected losses are way less than this.
Suddenly, you’re an advantage player, and you didn’t even know it.
You don’t even have to count cards to achieve this.
It sounds like the casinos are giving away a lot by comping so much money, but keep in mind that their costs aren’t the same as yours.
A comped hotel room might have been sitting empty anyway, so the casino hasn’t lose any money awarding you that comp.
Food costs at most restaurants are about 1/3 of what they charge, so $21 in restaurant comps only cost the casino $7.
The same holds true for entertainment. Unless an event is sold out, comping someone a ticket to a show costs the casino nothing.
5. Dress Like You Have Money to Lose
Remember the importance of convincing the casino that you’re playing more and losing more than you are.
One mistake beginners make is to dress too casually. If you’re wearing jeans and a ripped t-shirt, unless you’re a rock star, the casino pit bosses will assume you have no money and treat you accordingly.
On the other hand, if you’re dressed in a suit—or even in slacks and a blazer—you look like you have money to lose.
The thought process for comp wizards is different than the thought process for card counters. People who are counting cards usually want to blend in and attract little attention.
Comp wizards, on the other hand, want to stand out and look like they’re losing a lot of money.
You can’t look like you’re losing a lot of money if you look broke.
6. Learn How to Deal with People
Pit bosses and dealers are people, and how you deal with them affects what kind of comps you get.
What does this mean?
It means be polite and friendly with the pit boss when you sit down and buy in. A smile and the use of the pit boss’s name are good ideas.
It means tip the dealer and make conversation.
It also means complaining loudly when you lose, but not in a rude way. You want the dealer and the pit boss to think you’re losing more money than you are. They’ll notice what you talk about.
When you’re winning, keep a low profile. When you lose a hand, ham it up a little bit.
Poker players learn to project a specific image and also read other players’ tells. Unless you’re an advantage player, you’re probably not too interested in the dealer’s tells in blackjack.
But you’re should definitely be interested in your table image.
7. Some Comps Are EASY to Get
The most basic comp in the casino is the free cocktail. This won’t matter to teetotalers like me, but if you’re a drinker, this could have a lot of value.
I used to drink, and here’s what I learned about comp drinks at the casino:
I learned that if you’re friendly and tip the cocktail waitress well the first time she brings you a drink, she’ll find you, even if you scale back the size of your later tips.
I also learned that you can get a free Heineken or Corona for the same price as a free Budweiser. Gambling in a casino is your opportunity to get premium drinks for the price of a tip to the cocktail waitress.
There are limits, though. You can probably get Chivas or Crown, but super-expensive whiskey is still off-limits to freebie hunters.
Meals are usually easy to earn, too. I had an interesting conversation in the poker room at Planet Hollywood in Vegas a few years ago. I wanted him to comp the entire table hot dogs from Pinky’s, but he wouldn’t do it unless we started playing for higher stakes.
We had a good laugh about it, but we never got the free hot dogs.
On the other hand, if you played limit hold’em all day long at Excalibur, they brought in a catered lunch for the players every day.
Be on the lookout for such deals. These are the kinds of casino comps secrets anyone can take advantage of, even if they don’t want to learn basic strategy in blackjack.
Casino comps secrets aren’t as secret as you might think. If you can do some math and spend a little time reading about how the comps system works, you can get all kinds of cool free stuff from the casinos.
I recommend sticking with table games for comps purposes.
40% of your expected losses is better than 30% of your expected losses. Also, slots games offer lousy odds, and you’re unable to fudge how much you’re risking per hour when you’re playing a machine. The card takes an accurate assessment of your play.
Comp wizards who’ve read Comp City by Max Rubin know that the best way to get comps from the casino is by mastering blackjack basic strategy and looking like a big player.