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Comps - Beyond the Basics

24 June 2003

By John Grochowski

The basics of getting complimentary meals, services and even cash back from casinos are pretty easy, as we discussed last week. Sign up for a player rating card, use it while you play, and the comps will come.

Comps are based on your theoretical losses. The casinos know that in the long run you'll lose more than expected sometimes and you'll win sometimes, so they base their offers on the average expected results given the games and amount you play.

You're not going to be able to change their mathematical formulas, but there are a few little things you can do to be sure you're getting the best of what the casino marketers have to offer.

* Ask at the players club booth for information on how the club works. In some clubs, the same points are used for cash back and for meal comps, and you'll have to choose between them when you redeem your points. At others, you accumulate cash points and comp points separately. Also, cash back rates vary widely--you may get 5 percent of your total slot play rebated as cash in one casino, but only 0.1 percent in another. Weigh the club benefits along with the availability of games you like and your comfort level with the casino in deciding where to play.

* Concentrate your play. If you're a low-to-moderate roller, dividing your play among four or five casinos, you may build up $5 in cash back here and a buffet there, but not have enough play in any one casino to get higher-level comps. Casinos like to take care of customers who give them regular play. Focusing on the one or two places where you most like to play may bring bonus cash, room offers and more/better meal comps.

That's particularly important in vacation destinations such as Las Vegas. It's fun to go casino hopping--I do a good deal of that myself. But save a good portion of your play for your host casino or for another casino where you'd like to stay. Higher play levels will bring bigger room discounts or free room offers.

* Ask to see a casino host. Hosts have the power of the pen--they can write meal comps or comp your room without deducting points from your players club account. If you ask for a meal comp at a slot club booth, they'll almost always deduct points in exchange. If you've played enough and a host sees you as someone the casino would like to encourage to return, he or she can write the comp without deducting points. Be sure to be polite--you want the host to WANT to help you. You won't get the comp every time, but it's worth pursuing.

* Players who have hosts might try charging all their meals or anything else they purchase at their casino hotel to their room accounts instead of asking for comps upfront. Often, a meal that you'd have to pay for early in the trip before you've played much can be comped after the fact if you've charged it to your room. I'm no high roller, but often my room is comped upfront, and then the host evaluates play before I leave to decide whether to pick up food costs too.

If the host gives good service, a little token of esteem is always in order. One of my hosts loves Fannie Mae candy, and can't get it in Las Vegas. When I go, I bring her a box of Fannie Maes--then I pick up a box of Ethel M's, my wife's preference--for the return trip.

* Take advantage of direct mail offers. The goal of casino comps is to encourage you to return. Some of the most generous casino offers come through the mail--bonus cash, bonus slot club points, free meals, free tournaments, free or discounted rooms and more. The offers often have restricted dates and expiration dates. If you can manage, plan your trip for days that you can use the direct mail offers.

* Try to combine offers. Sometimes you'll get multiple mailings from the same casino, and sometimes the offers will overlap. I once received one offer from a casino where I'd played a bit, but never stayed, for a free room and an entry into a video poker tournament, and the next day received another mailing from the same casino, offering triple slot club points and a $50 food credit. Given that I was planning a trip anyway, that was too much to pass up.

Locally, Harrah's in Joliet and East Chicago, and Trump and Majestic Star in Gary give cash back in the form of direct mail vouchers instead of redeeming points on the day you earn them. They also send vouchers for bonus cash. If you're going to return to redeem the cash-back voucher, it might as well be on a day you can redeem the bonus cash.

* Above all, don't bet more than you normally would just for the sake of comps. Play your normal amount and take whatever comes your way, but understand that if you chase comps with extra bets, a "free" meal or room can wind up costing more than if you'd just paid for it yourself.

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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