Have you been planning a trip to Las Vegas?
You’re not alone.
Over 40 million visitors make the trek to Sin City each year.
These visitors will spend an average of $150 a night on hotels rooms. This price doesn’t include the flight to Las Vegas, food, entertainment, in city transportation, tips for services, and gambling.
All things considered, a 3 day trip to Las Vegas could run a few thousand dollars.
But it doesn’t have to.
Casinos like to keep people gambling, and they reward people for doing so.
Casino “comps” are complimentary perks that the casino gives out to keep you gambling. These perks can vary on a few factors.
They can include:
- The games you’re betting on
- The amount you have bet
- The amount of time you’ve played
- How often you visit their casino
Casinos offer a variety of comps depending on what they observe you doing.
You can earn comps like:
- Free alcoholic drinks
- Free meals
- Free valet parking
- Access to VIP lounges
- Tickets to shows
- Free hotel rooms
But those aren’t the only comps.
Comps aren’t doled out at random either. There are some steps that you have to take to earn these perks.
How Comps Work
Casinos use comps as a way to keep you gambling. It goes without saying that by offering comps, the hotel loses money. When the casino offers a free room, meal, or even a drink, that is an item that they have lost profit on.
By offering complimentary items to customers, they intend to make it back in other ways.
This is one of the many reasons casinos will watch you gamble.
Casino comps can vary. Each casino has its own rules about who can get comps.
Here’s an example:
In February 2011, the Venetian and Palazzo changed their comp rules to only offer comps to high rollers.
Here’s another example:
Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, in 2016, installed equipment that lets them track how much people spend on video poker machines. In the sports bars at their 9 properties on or around the Strip, players have to bet a minimum amount on a game in order for a green light to flash. Only then will bartenders serve free booze.
Levels of Comps
Because everyone plays in different ways, casinos offer different levels of comps to attract the various types of players.
Some players may like sitting at slot machines all day. Some may like to favor table games for hours at a time. Still, others may play a variety of games for fun. And of course, there are the high rollers who will drop thousands, tens of thousands, or more each visit.
Casinos benefit from each of these types of players.
But it wouldn’t make sense to incentivize a habitual penny slot player with free airfare.
Also, only offering a free drink or 2 to a person who dropped $50,000 on blackjack as a consolation prize is not going to gain a lot of customer loyalty.
So it makes sense that casinos would come up with a tiered system for rewards for their customers.
These tiers are not generally published anywhere the casinos’ advertising materials.
Level 1 – The Ground Floor
Casinos do not want you leaving your game. Every minute that you are not playing is money they are not putting in their coffers. So to minimize this, most casinos have servers walking the casino’s floors offering free drinks.
While they do offer both the non-alcoholic and alcoholic varieties, the casinos actually prefer to get you to drink the alcoholic beverages. This is because they know alcohol will lower your inhibitions and will result in you gambling more. They do, however, make sure not to overserve anyone as too much alcohol causes problems for everyone.
In most cases, casinos offer a player’s reward card. Just for signing up, the casino offers some neat comps and gifts.
Some of these items include:
- Ball caps
- Coupon books for services offered by the hotels (free or discounted meals, massages, entertainment specials, etc.)
- Free slot play
Since many casinos in Las Vegas have the same parent company, you may only be eligible to sign up once for the group of properties.
Here are 2 examples:
The most common cards to have in Las Vegas are The M Life Card and the Total Rewards Card.
The M Life Card is for the MGM Resorts International.
It’s valid at:
- Circus Circus
- Delano Las Vegas
- Mandalay Bay
- MGM Grand
- New York-New York
- NoMad Las Vegas
- Park MGM
- The Mirage
- The Signature at MGM Grand
- Vdara at ARIA
The Total Rewards Card is a product of Caesars Entertainment Corporation and is valid at:
- Bally’s Las Vegas
- Caesars Palace
- Flamingo Las Vegas
- Harrah’s Las Vegas
- NOBU Hotel
- Paris Las Vegas
- Planet Hollywood
- Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino
- The Cromwell
- The LINQ Hotel & Casino
Also, the M Life and Total Rewards cards are valid at all their properties owned by these companies around the world.
Later on, I’ll also discuss other reasons than the freebies you get for signing up to get a rewards card and how to get the most out of it.
Level 2 Comps
Most of the comps that casinos offer tend to fall into this category. When you’ve been playing for a while, or have reached a certain spending threshold, you can be eligible for some decent comps.
Some of the perks that you can get at this level include:
- Free self-parking
- Lounge access
- Free meals
Keep in mind these comps are usually capped or restricted. You’ll notice I said free self-parking and not free parking. That is because many casinos have valet parking. Valet parking would not fall into this category.
As far as free meals, you may have a spending limit of the meal. For example, you may get a free $25 meal at their restaurant.
These comps are not as much to get you to stay in the casino or stay on the property but to get you to come back to the casino to gamble.
Level 3 Comps
The next level of comps is the highest level most of us will ever see. These are reserved for those who have been observed to spend a lot of time and money in the casino. These aren’t designed for the high rollers, but for those considered high-value players.
Some of the perks this level may see include:
- Free hotel rooms
- Free upgrades from standard rooms to suites
- Free valet parking
- Free access to more exclusive VIP or “high roller” lounges
- Free tickets to entertainment events
Much like level 2, these are not designed to keep you in the casino. They may not even keep you on the property (as some entertainment events may be off-site). These comps are designed to make you happy and to keep you coming back to the casino.
Level 4 Comps – VIP Status
The most desirable of comps go to those with VIP status. These are reserved for high rollers (or celebrities that will bring a lot of publicity to the casino). For these VIPs, casinos will go all out and may not even stick to a set of predetermined perks.
These are the players that get what they want because the casinos make a lot of money off of them. Players on this level can expect some of these perks:
- Airfare reimbursement
- Limo rides
- Free concierge services
- Cash back
- Money to show up in the casino
- Loss rebates
- Private gaming areas
- Private jet service
As you can see, it definitely pays to be a VIP.
I touched on the M Life Card and the Total Rewards Card earlier. Most casinos, whether a chain or independent, have rewards cards.
These cards in some cases will be used to measure your spending–as in the case of slot machines and video poker machines. While not required to be used, if you insert your card into a machine, your wagers and playing time will be recorded.
This may seem like some sort of “Big Brother” scenario where the casino wants to know all that you are doing. To some extent, this is true. They are trying to track how much you spend with them.
But there is a benefit for you.
These cards are measure how much money and time you spend in the casino. So it helps the casinos determine what comps you qualify for.
As the saying goes, membership has its benefits. In addition to tracking spending, when you sign up for these cards, you will provide the casino with your address and email address.
There’s a reason for this, too:
They want to market to you.
This is not a bad thing. No one will be calling you at dinner at home asking you to come back to the casino for your next vacation.
But they will send you some mail and email.
These messages will usually contain valuable discounts to come back and visit the casinos.
Some of the promotional offers that have been seen include:
- Multiple days stay in the hotel for free
- Room upgrades
- Bonus money to gamble with (sometimes in the hundreds of dollars)
- Free access to hotel services such as spas or clubs
- Free tickets to in hotel shows
- Free RFB packages (R – room, F – Food, B – Beverage)
There will be restrictions on some of these promotions. For example, it may only be for a limited time, or they may offer 3 days, but the offer is only good during weekdays.
But they’re still worth hundreds of dollars in discounts. So they are well worth joining a mailing list to get these freebies.
But how does the casino figure out if you are using a membership card at the poker table or roulette wheel?
There’s no machine to shove the card in, so what happens?
It’s simple. When you start playing, put your card on the table when you are buying chips. The dealer will hand it to a floor person to record your playing. This way the casino can see what you are spending at the tables.
Some of these cards will give you a printout when you leave the machines letting you know how many comp points you have earned. This is not true for table games. So if you are playing a mix of machines and tables, don’t worry if you don’t see everything. Remember to use the cards so they know.
One of the more often asked questions about membership cards is whether couples should use the same membership card.
Here’s the answer:
There are advantages to using a card jointly.
Among the advantages are:
- Comp points will accrue faster
- Rewards programs that award bonuses for a certain level of play will allow you to get to the next level faster
- Fewer emails and mail received from the casino
- Some casinos require spouses share an account (so they can’t stack rewards), so you may not have a choice
Having separate accounts allow you to stack rewards. You can get multiple meals, rooms, or other perks–especially if you both spend a good amount in the casino.
Make the Most Out of Your Comps
To a certain degree, there’s an art to maximizing casino comps. People known for doing this are known in the industry as comp hustlers or comp wizards.
These masters of perks have worked out the best way to minimize losses while getting the most out of their visits.
The best comp wizards play games that have a low house edge.
The house edge has a mathematical and statistical advantage that the casino has over the player in a given game over time. This advantage is the way casinos make their money and pay for comps.
Many of these hustlers play games with that low house edge like blackjack or video poker. They may also play games with low betting thresholds like penny or nickel slots to accrue their comps.
There are many tricks and scenarios that these people use.
And the good news is that you can use them too to get the most out of your next trip to the casino.
Place a Few Big Bets
One thing to remember at a casino is that everyone is being watched.
But there are many people watching you:
Security is watching remotely with cameras all over the casino. The dealer keeps an eye at everyone on the table. Floor people and pit bosses keep an eye out for the flow of casino to make sure there aren’t any immediate issues. They also assist patrons with payouts. Even the waitresses bringing your drinks are watching. They alert bosses in the casino if they see any issues that management needs to know.
As such, you need to know that when you go up to a table, you are being watched. Once you are there for a while, the floor person or pit boss will start looking at others. So in the first few bets, it’s important to bet big.
I’m not saying throw the title to your house down on the first bet. But if you can afford a few hundred for each of the first few bets, the pit boss will take notice.
With the attention of the pit boss on your first few bets, they will record that average in the system which will get you better comps.
Table Games Are Great for Maximizing Comps
Now that you have placed a few big bets to get recorded in the system, there are other steps you need to take to get even more comp points.
Even though the pit bosses can’t watch every bet you place, they can see how long you stay at a table. Casinos have formulas that they use to determine how many games per hour are played at a certain game. This translates into dollars for them.
So if you placed a few large bets at first, then stay at the roulette table for 2 hours, the casino will estimate how much you have spent at the table. This will not be accurate because you have inflated the first few bets, but it will be used to determine comp points.
In addition to inflating the first few bets, it also is to your advantage to play fewer games per hour then their formula calls for. After all, you are getting credit for it whether they make the goal or not.
How can you play fewer games per hour?
Go to full tables. The more people at a table, the more work the dealer has to do. They have more people to attend to so they can’t run as many games.
Another method is to sit out around every once in a while. One of the few things a casino can’t do for you is to go to the bathroom. Every hour or so, leave your chips at the table to hold your spot and take a restroom break. This will be added to your time at the table without you having to bet any money.
There are 2 things to remember when doing this, however:
- Don’t slow the game down for other players. This will upset all the other players as well as the employees.
- Don’t do this if playing craps. Craps chips are notoriously easy to steal without the dealer noticing.
Automatic Teller Machines
Casinos are data miners. They look for every snippet of information that they can grab on players to maximize profit. That’s why they track ATM machines on the casino floors.
By using your debit card to withdraw cash, casinos think you are using more money then you have planned to use. People who use these ATMs get better comps than those who don’t. So take advantage of this. Even if it’s to have pocket cash, it will be well worth it.
The exception would be credit cards. As you may have noticed, I said use your debit card to withdraw money. Don’t use your credit card. Cash advance fees for most cards are in the 25% range, even if you have a low APR on the card itself. Also, the interest is charged from the time you take the money out of the machine instead of the next billing cycle. So do not use a credit card for this, it’s not worth it.
Always tip your dealers, servers, and other casino staff.
As a rule of thumb, I tip in the following manner:
- Dealers – $10 per hour of play
- Casino floor waitstaff (the ones that bring drinks) – $2 a drink
- Restaurant waitstaff – at least 20% of what the bill would have been if the meal was not comped or discounted
- Concierge/Bell hops – this can vary, usually a minimum of $20
I try to be as generous as possible.
Because comps are not set in stone. They may have a minimum that they have to offer, but nothing stops them from offering more.
As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. So be sweet to the staff.
And remember, comp totals can’t be used to tip. If you have a $50 credit in a restaurant, and the bill is $40, you can’t use the other $10 as a tip. You must tip in cash.
Comps are a great way to stretch that casino vacation dollar. You have to do a little work to maximize them.
Start by signing up for the casino card. You don’t even need to wait until you get to the casino, you can sign up in advance. This allows you to start taking advantage of any promotional emails or mail you may receive before you head out on your trip.
Be sure to use the method listed here to get more perks than you normally would.
Most of all, be sure to treat the staff well. This will go further than anything else to get the most and best comps.