If you fancy yourself to be a sharp gambler, chances are good you’ve mastered basic strategy for skill games like blackjack and video poker. After all, it’s tough to beat the house when you’re not playing perfectly. For advantage play specialists who excel in skill games, learning how to make the right move at all times is the first step towards sustained success. But many talented players still find themselves in the red by year’s end, whether due to the dreaded swings of variance, or the “overhead” costs that come with serious gambling sessions.

The comps and freebies handed out by the best casinos certainly help, but even with these subsidies factored into the equation, getting over the hump and achieving profitability can be a tall task indeed. That’s why every casino gambler can benefit from another basic strategy, one designed expressly to take advantage of casino comp programs.

Casino comps can come in many different forms, from free-play vouchers redeemable on the machines, to cashback rebates sent through the mail, and even free stays, shows, or meals. In the old days, regulars had to rely on shaking hands and making friends with dealers and pit bosses to score comps – but my how things have changed. Today, the casino industry is dominated by two major corporate ownership groups – Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts. Between these two companies, almost all of the casinos you enjoy on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip are owned by just two controlling interests.

Below you’ll find a list of the MGM-owned properties in Sin City:

  • ARIA Las Vegas
  • Bellagio Las Vegas
  • Excalibur Hotel and Casino
  • Luxor Las Vegas
  • Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
  • MGM Grand Las Vegas
  • The Mirage Las Vegas
  • Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
  • New York New York Hotel and Casino

Next up are the Caesars-owned venues in Las Vegas:

  • Bally’s Las Vegas
  • Caesars Palace
  • The Cromwell Las Vegas
  • Flamingo Las Vegas
  • Harrah’s Las Vegas
  • The LINQ Las Vegas
  • Paris Las Vegas
  • Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
  • Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino

And as is the case whenever corporate consolidation occurs, customers have been left holding the bag. Caesars uses its Total Rewards program to track player activity and award comps, while MGM maintains the M Life program.  In each case, players use their Player’s Club card – whether by sliding it in a slot or video poker machine, or handing it to a table games dealer – to get “rated” by the casino.

These ratings are crucial for anybody hoping to score juicy comps, because the casinos use a complex formula to determine your “value” to the house. No more making friends with the pit bosses or relying on your status as a recognized regular – unless your Player’s Club card shows you to be worthy of comps, you simply won’t get your fair share.

In a 2014 article published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, editor Mark Gruetze covered the statistical data produced by casino hosts overseeing comp programs.  While citing Stephen R. Marshall – who serves as senior vice president of relationship marketing for Las Vegas-based gaming management consultancy Fine Point Group-Gruetze explained exactly how casinos evaluate your prospects for comp rewards:

“Casinos judge players with statistics such as average daily value, or how much the casino expects to win each day a player visits, and cumulative value, which tracks a player’s loss over several months or a year.

A player who bets relatively small amounts but visits a casino several times a week might have a low daily average but a high cumulative total.

Marshall suggests that casinos track a player’s action closely to determine his value to the casino. He recommends knowing the theoretical loss, which is based on the average bet, hours played and the house edge; the actual loss; days played; and total trips.

Then casinos can identify their most valuable players and encourage them to return with offers of free play, comps and other amenities.” (Quote)

When you take a look at the rules and regulations for the M Life program, you can get a sense of how this intricate player tracking system really works:

“You earn Tier Credits for virtually every dollar you spend – including gaming – across all our M life Rewards Destinations For every dollar you spend on your hotel stay, dining, entertainment, or spa you earn Tier Credits – in Las Vegas you earn 25 Tier Credits per dollar spent; at Beau Rivage, Gold Strike Tunica, and MGM Grand Detroit you earn 8 Tier Credits per dollar spent.

For slot play in Las Vegas M life casinos, you receive ten (10) Tier Credits for every Base Point earned. When playing at Beau Rivage or Gold Strike Tunica, you receive two (2) Tier Credits for every Base Point earned. At MGM Grand Detroit, you receive one (1) Tier Credit for every Base Point earned. For table games, you’ll earn Tier Credits based on length of play, average bet, and game type.” (Quote)

If you’re an M Life loyalist chasing comps, the goal is twofold. First, you want to earn Tier Points that help you move up through the M Life tiers, thus opening up access to better comps being awarded more often. Secondly, you’ll be shooting for Base Points, which can be redeemed at any authorized location just like cash. In each case, taking advantage of the M Life program – or Total Rewards, or the Boarding Pass program operated at Station Casinos, or any other Player’s Club offering – is the best way to subsidize your losses and supplement your wins.

But how can you get the most comp bang for your gambling buck? Well, if you circle back to that Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article on comp tracking data, you’ll realize that casinos are looking for players who fit five basic categories:

  • Gamblers Who Play Often
  • Gamblers Who Play Big
  • Gamblers Who Play Long
  • Gamblers Who Play Badly
  • Gamblers Who Play House Games


You don’t have to satisfy all five of these requirements, mind you, so a gambler who plays especially big can still earn major comps even if they only show up every so often. Conversely, a hardcore player who puts in time at the machines day in and day out will bring back comp awards – even if they’re betting at relatively low stakes. And obviously, players that do manage to meet all five of these thresholds are “whales” in the eyes of a casino, so they get the biggest and best comps. This fact can be dangerous for many players, as the act of comp chasing can easily bleed into compulsive gambling territory.

Here’s how Gruetze described the dilemma facing gamblers who are trying to earn their full complement of comp rewards:

“Understanding what casinos are looking for can pay off for players.

Recognize your value to the casino.

Never gamble more than you can afford simply to try to qualify for a particularly attractive comp; whatever it costs, it’s cheaper to pay for it yourself than play over your bankroll in the hopes that the casino will pick up the tab.”


With that word of warning in mind, I find it’s best to devise a strategy for beating the casino comp programs – just like you would with blackjack or video poker. Those skill-based games rely on hard and fast mathematical truths, and players in the know can use those truths to play the game perfectly.

The same can be said for casino comp programs, so why not use your strategic acumen to gain an advantage there too? Below you’ll a five-step method that can be used to take advantage of five mistakes casinos make when awarding comps. By combining the five steps over your future gambling sessions, you can easily score a top rating that entitles you to the venue’s most generous comp offers.

1 – Casual Couples Make the Perfect Partnership for Offsetting Bets

The first step to earning your maximum comp rebates is to get rated as highly as possible by the casino. And as you already learned, players who gamble frequently – especially on games of chance that hold a high house edge – get preferential treatment. To take full advantage of that fact, the best course of action is to gamble alongside a partner. This partner can be your actual spouse or significant other, or just somebody you know who shares a love for sharp gambling. In any event, the goal here is to play together while utilizing offsetting bets to neutralize one another’s losses.

Here’s how it works…

The best games to use this strategy on offer binary bets, or bets in which a win for one side necessarily creates a loss for the other side. Thus, the roulette and craps tables are the place to begin your comp hunting excursion. Sidle up to the roulette table with your partner in tow, but be sure to make your relationship inconspicuous. In other words, they casino can’t catch on that your playing together. So no small talk or celebrations here, just act as if you’re perfect strangers. In reality though, you’ll both be playing according to a predetermined plan of action.

Whenever you place a wager on a binary bet like black, your partner should bet on the opposite side by backing red. You can switch off and alternate between the two of course – all the better to make your play appear random – but you should always be on the other side of one another’s wager.

When you score a winning spin on black, you’ll earn an even money payout – while your partner loses their bet to the house. On the other hand, when they land a winner to double up, you’ll be the loser. But on almost every spin, you’ll both be breaking even between the two of you. Of course, the American roulette wheel does contain two green spaces (“0” and “00”) along with 36 red/black spaces, so on 5.2 percent of spins you’ll both wind up losing.

That’s a perfect acceptable risk rate while using this gambit, as 95 percent of your wagers will produce a wash.  Let’s say you start with $400 between yourself and your partner, with each of you firing $5 per spin on red or black. If you play for 100 spins, the probabilities suggest you’ll break even on 95 of those spins, while losing both bets on five occasions.

In the end, you’d be down just $50 between the two of you, but the casino rating system would mark you both down as avid roulette players who don’t mind gambling it up. Remember, the player tracking system wants to know if you’re willing to take the worst of it – and roulette is one of the worst games in the house at a 5.26 percent house edge. For a small “fee” of $25, you can play roulette for hours on end, all while your rating increases with every spin.

2 – Pit Bosses Tend to Rate Your First Few Bets Only

The next step to boosting your casino comp rating is to trick the casino into thinking you bet bigger than you do. And while deceiving the casino may seem dangerous in the modern “eye in the sky” era, achieving this subterfuge is actually easier than most players might imagine. The typical casino pit boss presents an imposing figure. These guys and gals are stern, serious, and they always seem to have a watchful eye cast over every table in their area. But the key phrase there is “seem to.”

In reality, most pit bosses perform their duties on cruise control. They’ll circle around to check out new players arriving at the roulette table, and they’ll definitely check to see how big these new arrivals are betting – but only for a few moments. After two or three spins, the average pit boss will get restless and start walking over to another table to begin the process anew. And whatever amount you wagered during those initial spins will be what the pit boss marks you down for in the computer.

Knowing this, you should be prepared to place larger bets during the beginning stages of your session. If you’re going to bet $5 per spin as per the example above, up the ante to $20 using four red chips instead. Remember, these wagers will be offsetting 95 percent of the time, so you won’t be risking more than you can afford. You might lose $20 right off the bat, but your partner will double their $20 stake to bring your shared bankroll back to even.

Keep betting $20 until the pit boss wanders away, and when the coast is clear, simply dial your betting back to $5 per spin. The pit boss will be none the wiser, and the rest of the time you’re there, the casino’s computer will be marking your down as a $20 bettor playing for hours.

3 – Playing at a Busy Table Lets You Blend in with the Crowd

The third aspect of comp ratings casinos rely on is the length of your session, but depending on your starting bankroll size, playing for an extended length of time can get dicey. Sure, you’re expected to break even on those offsetting bets at a 95 percent clip – but that’s simply the mathematical expectation. In reality, short-term swings in random variance – what most gamblers refer to as “luck” – will see some sessions cut short when the ball lands on “0” or “00” more than the probabilities would suggest.

A losing night isn’t the worst thing in the world, insomuch as the enhanced comps you’re generating will offset those losses. But you can easily avoid this trap by playing for long periods of time without really playing at all. Always be on the lookout for crowded tables where the scene seems to be more exciting than most. With eight other players frantically placing bets at the roulette or craps table, you can stand there and blend in – all while skipping the occasional spin.

Maybe you take a bet off every third play, or sprinkle in a few breaks at random. However you pursue this strategy, the goal is clear – make it seem like you’re playing for hours when you’re not really wagering a thing. Dealers are tasked with monitoring the bets as their being placed, so they won’t be focusing on a single player in the crowd who didn’t get their bet in.

Of course, you can’t just stand there taking up space without eventually coming across their radar screen, which is why you’ll need to alternate bets with breaks. I prefer to bet two or three spins in a row to get the dealer accustomed to my presence. Then, on the fourth spin, I’ll reach out and pretend like I’m placing a chip stack down, only to change my mind before the dealer waves their hand.

There’s no rule against pulling your bets back, so long as the betting window is still open. In roulette, the dealer waves their hand and announces “no more bets,” so just be sure to have your chips brought back before this deadline. Then, on the fifth spin, you can resume betting to make it seem like you have been the entire time. Using this process of skipping bets, you can easily add an hour or two to your session without incurring any additional risk.


4 – Going South and Gabbing Give You the Loser’s Look

Another factor casinos use to evaluate your comp prospects is your ability to lose. In fact, this may be the most important factor in the comp calculation process. Casinos don’t get built on the backs of winning players, after all, so their bread is buttered by long-term losers.

The only thing is, that presents a problem for players using the offsetting bet partnership described above. If you’re alternating wins and losses while largely breaking even, the casino rating system will tag you in the marginal category. That means you’ll get a handful of comp rewards, but not the lion’s share allotted for big losers. The pit boss will be watching when you leave the table, comparing your current stack of chips to your starting stack. If you leave with more than you came with, you’ll be tagged as a winner, while folks who leave sitting on the same stack are identified as breakeven players.

You want to be known as a loser though, so every so often, try to palm a chip or two and put it in your pocket. This trick is known as “going south” among gamblers, and while it’s definitely frowned upon by the casino brass, it’s perfectly legal. Even so, be sure to conceal this activity to the best of your ability, because the whole goal here is to stay in the casino’s good graces. By going south with regularity, you can walk away from the table appearing to be down a significant share – even though you actually broke even thanks to offsetting bets.

Another way to signal yourself as a loser in the pit bosses’ eyes is to loudly announce the fact when you do indeed lose. Those offsetting bets mean you’ll be losing roughly half the time, and when you do, make a big fuss about it. Complaining is all part of the casino culture, so you won’t stand out in the crowd – except when the pit boss hears and marks you down as a “fish.”

5 – Use Your Cashback and Free-Play on the Worst Games

On a final note, casino comp programs love nothing more than players who don’t know which games to play. Blackjack offers a house edge of 0.50 percent to basic strategy players, but that inflates to 5.26 percent on roulette. And when you take your action to the slots, the house’s edge soars to between 7 and 12 percent on average.

With this in mind, be sure to use any and all free-play vouchers you receive on the slots only. With your Player’s Club card tucked safely in the machine, you can blow through the free-play dollars to certify yourself as a slot player, even though you aren’t risking a dime of your own money. And once the casino tags you as a slot spinner, you’ll be shocked to see how quickly your comp rating swells to “whale” status.


Beating the house at its own game can be invigorating, which is why so many players enjoy the challenge offered by skill games. And the best way to beat casinos where it really counts is by exploiting comp programs to the full extent. When you play your way to a high comp rating, it won’t matter how the cards fall or where the ball lands – you’ll always be in the black by day’s end thanks to a steady stream of comp rewards.

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