Free Stuff! -- Casino Comps

Originally published 2006, revised 11/2010

"Comp" is short for "complementary" and it means anything free or reduced price that a casino gives you.  It's a marketing tactic, like "buy one get one free" at the grocery store.  If you're parking your RV overnight at the casino you already have one comp -- the free parking -- and it didn't cost you anything on your comp account!

What kinds of comps can you expect?

At a minimum, anyone playing a casino game (in Nevada and most other states) can expect free drinks, including soft drinks, beer, wine, mixed drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, even milkshakes in some places.  Pretty much anything the bar can make you can have free while you're gambling.

Of course, you do need to tip the cocktail waitress or bartender.  They work hard, and work for tips, so I recommend the following:

Tipping for Cocktails

  • Normal good service $1 each drink.  Excellent service, $2 each drink.  If you're somewhat of a high roller and you'd really like special treatment from the cocktail staff tip $5 up front when you order each drink.

  • Check out www.cocktaildoll.com.  You'll learn the inside story of what it's like to cocktail at a casino.  Many of her stories will have you rolling on the floor laughing!

Beyond free drinks the sky is the limit for comps, it all depends on how much you play.

  • Low Rollers can expect free or reduced price buffet meals, reduced price rooms, some other limited comps.

  • Average players can expect the same, plus free rooms and/or upgrade to suites, nicer restaurant comps, show tickets, special invitations.

  • If you're a High Roller, you'll get what's called RFB.  That stands for Room, Food and Beverage.  You'll also get free show tickets, rounds of golf, airfare to visit the casino, cruises, celebrity social events, etc.

How do you get additional comps?

There are several ways to receive comps, but the primary two are through marketing, and by asking for them at the casino.

Marketing Comps:

After you visit a casino and play some you'll start receiving marketing in the mail.  Usually this will include coupons that you can redeem at the casino for free buffets, free room (or reduced price), free spa visits, show tickets, etc.  You may also get what's called "bounce back cash" or "free play".  Bounce back cash is a coupon that you exchange for cash at the casino.  Free play is a coupon for a dollar amount of free play on slots or video poker machines.  Both are great.  Cash is nice, but you usually get less cash and more free play.

A typical quarter video poker player who plays 4 to 6 hours a day for a long weekend might get between $25 and $50 in free play for the next trip.  If you play a lot longer you might get more.  If you play at the Dollar level you might get $100 to $300, and so on.

 

Comps you ask for

One thing to remember in a casino is to ASK for a comp, because you'll rarely get it unless you ask!

Playing Table Games:  If you play blackjack, craps, or other table games you'll usually get your comps from the Pit Boss.  How much you get depends on three things:

  1. Your level of play -- how much you're wagering

  2. How long you have played

  3. What casino you're at, how upscale it is, and their comp policy

The basic version is this. Sit down and play for a few hours.  When dinner time comes, tell the dealer; "I'd like to color up, and could you ask the boss if I can get a dinner comped?" The pit boss will check your play, and will tell you if you can have a comp or not.  If not, ask what level of play is typically required for a couple of buffets or a trip to the coffee shop or whatever it is you'd like.

 

Special Note for RV Travelers

Comp "status" is a different game for Locals than for Vacationers.  As an RV traveler, sometimes you're like a Local and sometimes like a Vacationer.  If you care about comps it's important to recognize which you are "now".

Vacationer

If you're just visiting for a few days, and will be moving on, then you're more like a vacationer.  If you'd like to get a room comp next time you're in town (maybe for friends to join you for a vacation) or to use in the casino RV park, then you're like a vacationer.

If you're a Vacationer, you care about getting the free room comp, and about achieving the highest status you can on the way to being RFB.  The path to high status as a vacationer is daily average play.  The casino knows you'll only be in town a short time, so they want to know how much action you'll give them on your next trip.

Here's how you get the highest possible rating as a vacationer:

  1. Read Gambling 101, and pick casinos that offer good games.  Never "play for comps", they're just a bonus

  2. Play at casinos that want your business.

    • For a given gambling budget, one casino may lavish you and another may ignore you.

    • Do some research, and find out which casinos will give you the best comps for YOUR level of play.  For Las Vegas, join the Las Vegas Advisor and visit their online forum.  Worth many times the cost of membership.  If you visit casinos in the Midwest check out www.midwestgamingandtravel.com

  3. Give all your play for the trip to ONE casino.  This will give you a high daily average.

    • Talk to a host, or slot club supervisor, and find out what time the casino "day" begins and ends for tracking play.  Often this is midnight but not always.

    • Your daily average is "$ divided by days".  So if you give the casino $20k of action over 3 days your average is $6,666, but if you spread it over 4 days your average is $5,000.  Big difference.

    • Time your play to avoid messing up your average.

  4. At the end of your trip, talk to a Host.  Ask them to take a look at your play and tell you what you'd qualify for on your next trip.

    • Some times it takes 2 or 3 trips to become "established" at a casino, but sometimes one visit is sufficient.

    • Be prepared to tell the host what you'd like to have if they ask (room, buffets, RFB).

Local

If you'll be in the area for a month or more - maybe for a whole season - then you can play like a local.  For local players, casinos don't care so much about your daily average but about your total action.  You also have time to take advantage of promotions that may be going on (like those free car drawings that you "must be present to win").

 

Here's how you get the best comps as a local:

  • First two points are same as for a vacationer above.

  • Don't worry about daily averages.  When you're playing for a month or more it's your total action that matters.

  • Find out what papers run the casino specials and promotions and become aware of them all.  Get on casino's email lists so they'll tell you.  Seek out casinos that are offering promotions where you have an advantage.

  • Be aware of any "tier" systems that reward you for reaching particular levels of play.  These often have names like Gold, Platinum, Diamond, etc.  If achieving the next tier has enough value for you give all your play to that one casino until you reach the level you desire, then it's OK to move around some.

  • Ask the casino a few days before you leave how close you are to the next tier.  You may be only a few hundred points off, but if you wait a year you may have to start over.

 

Here's a more detailed explanation of how casinos figure comps.

Warning: This may put some of you to sleep.  We're going to do math...

  • You're playing green chips ($25 a bet) and you've been at the blackjack table about 4 hours.  If you're in downtown Las Vegas (except maybe the Golden Nugget) you can easily ask for some buffets, or probably a nice restaurant comp with a limit on spending.  If you're on the strip at Bellagio, Wynn, City Center, etc. you probably qualify for another cocktail. 

  • Next time, you're playing black chips ($100 a bet).  Now you can probably get an open comp for two at a gourmet downtown restaurant.  At the Bellagio, Wynn, Mirage, etc. you'll get a couple of buffets (and they're really good buffets!)  Some strip properties are trying harder during the bad economy and you might get more.

 

Getting to know Theo

Who is Theo, and why should you get to know him?  Theo stands for "Theoretical Loss".  (Note, this is the "technical stuff" folks, so fair warning).

Theo is the dollar amount you are expected to lose playing a particular game, at a particular rate, for a specific time.  The formula is Vig  x Your Average Bet x Hands Per Hour x Hours Played.  It is used to compute how much you can receive in casino comps.

Let's say you're playing a game with a 1.5% average casino vig.  The actual Vig (house advantage) with expert play may be 1%, but they usually do these figures based on the average, so if you have some skill you come out ahead!  Now lets say you play at the level of $25 a hand, and play 40 hands per hour.  That's .015 x 25 x 40 = $15.00.  Now let's say you play for 4 hours.  Statistically, your loss should be $60 for that four hours of play.  That's your Theo.

Casinos have a standard for what percentage of your Theo you can be comped.  Sometimes the pit boss has discretion, and will take into consideration a really bad losing session.  Comping at 40% of Theo is typical.  So in the example above you now have about $24 in "compability".  You ask for a couple of $15 buffets, and the pit boss throws you a bone and writes you the comp for $30.

But let's dissect this comp, what's it really worth?

Most of the comps you receive will be what are known as "soft comps".  The casino didn't spend $30 cash to give you those two $15 buffet tickets.  It may have only cost the casino $4 to serve your meals.  To YOU, it's still worth $30 (unless you'd prefer to eat a cold ham sandwich in your room).  The same principal goes for those $8 mixed drinks you got for free, and that $150 a night room.

"Hard comps" are a completely different thing.  Most of the time you need to be a high roller to get them.  Let's say you're playing at the Rio, and you tell the host you'd really love tickets to see Zumanity (the Cirque Du Soleil show at NYNY).  Those tickets are "hard comps" because the Rio has to pay hard cash for them.  So unless you're a real high roller forget it.

What should you remember from all this?

If nothing else remember this; "Ask for comps".  Be aware of what you can get from the casino to offset your losses (or add to your winnings!)

Resources on the web

Places I've found for researching casino comp systems and asking questions about specific casinos: