By Jean Scott
While I was writing The Frugal Gambler, my husband, Brad, commented, “I bet no one would ever want to do all the penny-pinching measures you write about—especially when they’re on vacation in a casino town.”
I agreed. “I doubt that anyone will try to implement all of the hundreds of tips in the book. But people can pick and choose the ones that are easiest and most valuable to them.”
As it turned out, that’s what the great majority of readers did. However, to my surprise, I found that a few grabbed The Frugal Gambler and took it farther than I ever imagined anyone would.
As a teacher, I was always pleased when my students did well, and as an author, one of the greatest joys is learning that my book has made a positive impact. When readers tells me that before The Frugal Gambler they knew little or nothing about the casino comp system, but now they’re getting their fair share of the freebies, it’s music to my ears. However—and I never thought I’d have to write this—I must warn against taking my frugal comp suggestions too far.
To avoid disappointment or embarrassment, consider some of the following guidelines.
• Comps are given to reward casino play. You do not “deserve” comps just for walking into a casino. Management likes you to stay in their rooms, eat at their restaurants, buy in their shops, and watch their shows, but they won’t give you a comp for doing so. The comp system is set up to encourage loyalty and reward play; casinos want you to come back and play with them rather than in the casino next door or the one closer to your hometown. Comps are for those who give the casino a shot at their gambling bankroll; don’t expect them for sightseeing.
• Match your comp expectations with your play. The comp system is multi-tiered, based mainly on the amount of money you put through the machine (whether by feeding coins or bills, or playing credits). Obviously, a nickel slot player with four hours of action shouldn’t expect nearly as many comps as a slot player with four hours of dollar play. In addition, many casinos take into consideration other, more complicated factors. Video poker players often earn half the comps slot players earn; some casinos cut the comp rate on multi-line video poker; and many base comps on the player’s theoretical loss assigned to each machine.
To determine a reasonable comp expectation for your level of play, start at the slot club booth. Brochures often spell out exactly what it takes to earn free rooms, show tickets, meals at the various restaurants, and other perks. If there are no brochures, the slot club personnel can sometimes give you this information. If the details still seem unclear or if you want to be sure you know as much as possible, ask to see a host. Be up front—explain that you don’t want to be embarrassed by asking for more comps than you’ve earned. An unassuming manner will usually get you plenty of information about that casino’s comp system. It might even help you get a few more comps than you “deserve.”
• Also, match your comp expectations to the property and its location. Obviously, the newest luxury resort on the Las Vegas Strip will demand more play for a room comp than a downtown casino that’s scrambling for business. An isolated casino that enjoys a monopoly can be less generous than one that’s sitting in the middle of umpteen competing ones.
• Don’t expect too much too fast. Some people read about how Brad and I have stayed in casino rooms for more than half the year for free, and they want to get free rooms their first trip to Vegas. Although a high roller can often get his room comped the first time he visits a particular casino, the typical recreational player or first-timer goes the low-roller route.
Nearly 20 years ago, I booked our first Vegas vacation, an air-room package, through a travel agent. We were blackjack players at the time, and we played a lot at one casino, with the pit bosses rating our action. A few weeks after returning home, we received an offer for a free three-night stay on our second visit. Then we started “collecting” casinos, using the same routine: playing, getting rated, and fielding free room offers. After we switched to video poker and joined the slot clubs, we went through the same procedure, playing in one “core” casino until we’d reached the required level for the free-room offers, then adding one casino at a time. After about eight years, we had enough free room offers that we could combine them into long stays.
• Many casinos reward long-term loyalty. We found that the more we visited a casino, the less play per day it took to keep qualified for the free-room offers. At one casino, after achieving a certain number of lifetime slot club points, we were eligible for a suite without having to earn any daily points to keep qualified. We earned this high-roller comp in just a few years of frequent visits, though we were low-roller quarter video poker players at the time.
• Finally, don’t expect everything to be comped. I charge everything to my comped rooms, hoping that the charges will be “forgiven” at the end of the stay. But in most cases, the casino won’t pick up tips and phone calls. We always expect to pay our own tips; this is our biggest casino expense. Charges for phone calls, however, really bug me. I’m used to losing thousands of dollars without complaining, but pleeeeeese don’t charge me $1 every time I want to call a local friend or business. Occasionally, complaints to my host make these piddly charges disappear—but not nearly often enough.
Some people hint that they think I abuse comps. Most people figure that because I’m called the Queen of Comps, I stretch the system to its outer limits. But I don’t take advantage of the comp system as much as I could. Even though we play enough to get unlimited room offers, we now have our own place in Vegas, so we only use our free rooms when we want a “mini-vacation” in a luxury setting or when family or friends come to visit. In fact, Brad accuses me of being as tight with comps as I am with money; he says we won’t live long enough to eat all the meals in our casino comp accounts all over the country. I can’t change, I guess. I keep saving my comps for some rainy day that might come up in the future.
When I’m in a casino, I always remember that I’m their guest. I want to be as easy to get along with as I would be when I visit anyone’s home. I certainly don’t want to be demanding, rude, or take hospitality for granted. After all, I want to be invited back.