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Comps - The Basics

17 June 2003

By John Grochowski

A colleague of mine likes to refer to casino comps as "free stuff." And for those who know their basic strategy in blackjack, optimal strategies for certain video poker games and who know how comping systems work, the "stuff" really is free--the value of the comps and cash back equals or exceeds losses on the games.

For most players, comps aren't free. For one thing, the large majority of casino customers play the slots, and the house edge on slot machines is too large for comps to make up the difference. They pay for comps with their losses.

But even at the slots or at table games such as roulette or Caribbean Stud that have larger house edges than blackjack, players who understand how the comping systems work can get a little more bang for their buck. That buffet lunch tastes just a little bit better when you've gotten it comped without going overboard with your wagers.

With that in mind, here are a few things every player should know about casino comps.

* Anybody who's playing, whether it's on the two-cent slots or at a $100 blackjack table, will get free beverages, limited to soft drinks and coffee in Illinois and Indiana, but including alcohol in Nevada and New Jersey. For more than that, the casino needs to know who you are. The purpose of comps is to build customer loyalty, and they want your name in their database for marketing purposes. That means you have to start the process by signing up for a player rewards card, often called a "slot club card." Each casino has its own club. The cards are free. You slide them into a reader at the machines or leave them on the table for a pit supervisor to pick up while you play.

* Once you've signed up, the comps can come in many forms. Slot players build up points as they go, and the points are redeemable for cash back. At some casinos, players can get the cash on the same day they play, at others the cash comes in the form of direct mail vouchers that require a return trip to the casino.

Cash back is by far the most popular comp, but it's by no means the only perk available. Free valet parking, meals, tournament entries, hotel stays, even airfare are available if you play enough.

Table players usually can't exchange points for cash back. Grand Victoria in Elgin and Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind., are exceptions. Many other casinos will use direct mail to send table vouchers redeemable for cash on the next trip, but tend not to be as generous with the cash to table players as they are to slot players. For the most part, table comps are of the non-cash variety.

* What you get is almost always based on your theoretical loss, although some casinos will give something extra if you've had large losses far above the mathematical norm. When you use your card, the time you play and your average wagers are tracked. Your total play then is multiplied by the house edge on the game to show your theoretical loss. For example, if you bet $10 a spin on the roulette wheel and stay long enough for about 100 spins, your wagering total is about $1,000. Multiply that by .0526--the 5.26 percent house edge at roulette--and your theoretical loss is $52.60. The casino will return a portion of that--usually ranging for 10 to 40 percent--in the form of comps.

This is where basic strategy players in blackjack can play the system to their advantage. Most casinos assume their edge against an average blackjack player is about 2 to 2.5 percent. If you play long enough to make $1,000 worth of wagers, your theoretical loss is $20 to $25, and the normal comp range would be between $2 and $10. However, a basic strategy player faces a house edge of only about 0.5 percent, and even less if the table rules are favorable. That cuts the theoretical loss to $5 or so, but most comping systems won't distinguish between the average player and the basic strategy player. That means in some casinos, the value of the comps will be more than the average losses for a basic strategy blackjack player.

* Once you've played, it's up to you to ask for comps. I have had supervisors approach me while I was playing and ask if I needed a meal comp, but most of the time you'll need to go to the club booth and ask if you have enough points for the desired comp. Frequent players will do well to ask to see a host, who can grant comps above and beyond those available through point redemption.

* Watch your mailbox. Extra cash vouchers, meal tickets and room offers often are sent through the mail. Remember, the purpose of all this is to get you coming back.

Those are the basics. Next week we'll move on to a few tips on how to best take advantage of available comps and perks.

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

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