Many new gamblers have a romantic notion of casino comps. They see themselves being served numerous free drinks, earning meals with ease, and receiving a free hotel stay. This notion is rooted in logic because casinos used to be more generous with rewards. However, casino comp programs are far from what they used to be.

The reality is that you’re looking at fewer rewards than ever before these days. It helps to understand this going into the situation so that you know what to expect in terms of comps. I’m going to discuss the sad state of casino VIP programs today. I’ll also cover one type of gambling reward that offers far more value than the others.

What Casino Comps Used to Be Like

Casinos’ main goal behind offering comps is to retain customers. Giving rewards makes it more likely that a gambler will return to their establishment. Comps offered in land-based casinos include drinks, free meals, hotel stays, limo transportation, free play, cash back, and nightclub bottle service. Rewards can differ slightly based on where you play, but these are the typical offers.

Up until a decade ago, casinos were very generous with comps. It was common to receive free drinks on an hourly basis, and one could also look forward to better rewards with less play. You’ve probably heard that Las Vegas casinos feature free buffets. This was true back in the golden days of comps, but casino buffets are rarely free nowadays.

Gambling establishments also sent more coupon booklets to gamblers that contained free offers like meal coupons and free play. Casinos were willing to shower players with rewards because they knew the potential return was great. All they had to do was lure gamblers into their venues and watch the profits pour in.

“Comp Whoring” Was More Lucrative

“Comp whoring” refers to the practice of trying to get as many casino freebies as possible. Jean Scott released a popular book on the subject in 1998 called The Frugal Gambler. Jean and her husband, Brad, first started visiting Las Vegas in 1984. They became fascinated with all of the comps they could get.

Scott explains how they earned so many comps from their play that they enjoyed free tips to Vegas, Atlantic City, Monte Carlo, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Back then, Scott would receive nice comps playing video poker games like 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.54% payback) and full-pay Deuces Wild (100.76%). They earned a cumulative profit when combining their rewards with the high payback on these video poker variations.

Some of the techniques that Scott used from the 1980s to 2000s include the following:

  • Learn strategy for games with high payback (e.g. video poker & blackjack).
  • Take advantage of double and triple comp point promotions.
  • Avoid slot machines due to the high house edge.
  • Look for casinos with good rewards programs.
  • Join mailing lists to receive additional free offers.

All of this is still sound advice today. But the problem is that casino comp programs have changed to the point where you’ll never get the same value that Scott enjoyed decades ago.

What Comps Are Like Today

The Great American recession caused a big shift in how Las Vegas casinos handled comps. This famed gambling destination was hit hard by the recession, as their customers no longer had as much disposable income to spend on Vegas lavish trips.

The casino did a good job of shifting their focus away from gambling and on to other forms of entertainment. This isn’t to say that Sin City casinos put gambling on the back shelf, but they began diversifying revenue streams. No longer do casinos rely on luring gamblers, while hoping that they partake in other forms of entertainment.

Instead, Vegas recruits a larger variety of customers, including those who favor nightclubs and fine dining over slot machines. Given that Sin City is no longer as reliant on gambling, they now offer fewer comps in this department. The result is that you earn rewards at a smaller rate than ever before in Vegas and other casino destinations. Your total wagers will only be comped at a 0.1% rate in most cases.

Here’s an example on how your rewards look in this situation:

  • You bet $10,000.
  • Your comp rate is 0.1%.
  • 10,000 x 0.001 = $10 in rewards

You won’t be handed $10 cash, unless you’re receiving cash back. Instead, the $10 merely represents the total value of your comps. Many new gamblers expect to receive more rewards when they’re risking $10,000. This is especially the case when considering that the theoretical losses will be much higher than $10.

Here’s an example to illustrate this point:

  • You wager $10,000.
  • You play a slot machine with a 7% house edge.
  • 10,000 x 0.07 = $700 in theoretical losses
  • 700 / 10 = 70
  • Your theoretical losses are 70x higher than your comps.

Should You Still Chase Gambling Comps?

You can see from the example above that casino rewards aren’t worth anywhere near the theoretical losses. Even if you’re playing a game with a smaller house edge, you’ll still lose far more than your comps are worth on average. Unfortunately, many gamblers play casino games longer than they should just to chase comps. Their logic is: “If I’ve played this long, I might as well play until I earn a free meal or hotel stay.”

The first thing to consider here is that the losses you’re taking on to earn the next best reward aren’t worth it. Secondly, you also have to think about the value of the comp you’re going for. Valuable rewards like dinners and hotel rooms require a significant amount of play. This also exposes you to a greater deal of risk over time.

Here’s an example:

  • You’re hoping to earn a free dinner for two, which the casino values at $50.
  • The casino features a 0.1% comp rate.
  • 50 / 0.001 = $50,000 must be wagered to get the dinner
  • You play a blackjack game with a 1% house edge.
  • 50,000 x 0.01 = $500 in theoretical losses
  • You’re facing $500 in losses to earn a $50 meal.

Should you forget about comps and simply gamble like normal? Not exactly. You should still take advantage of rewards if you’re going to play casino games anyways. Just don’t get carried away and think that your limo ride or meal is “free.” The dream is that you go on a hot run and collect rewards in the process. This means that you end up with both profits and good comps.

Of course, you need to be signed up for the VIP program before any of this is possible. Land-based casinos require that you sign up for a player’s club card either in person or through their website. This card allows you to earn rewards through slot machines, video poker machines, table games, and other games offered in the casino. You can insert the player’s club card into any slot or video poker machine that you’re playing. The card will then accumulate rewards points as you play.

As for table games, you should hand your card to the dealer. They’ll then ask the pit boss to rate you when they have a chance. The pit boss will watch you play a few hands and record your average bet size. They’ll continue monitoring you as they make their rounds to make sure you get the right amount of comps.

You may receive a higher or lower comp rate based on the type of bets you’re making. For example, placing risky craps prop bets will increase the value of your comps. Just keep in mind, though, that your theoretical losses will be much higher in these cases too. Your best bet is to make bets with stronger odds and let the comps come naturally – even if they’re not worth very much.

Best Value Can Be Seen with Online Deposit Bonuses

Online casino VIP programs aren’t much better than land-based casino versions. You’ll normally only receive a 0.1% cashback rate on your bets, which is comparable to brick and mortar venues. No deposit bonuses offered by gaming sites deliver considerable value in comparison to standard comps at land-based casinos. A deposit bonus is based on a match percentage of your deposit amount.

Here’s an example:

  • An internet casinos offers a 100% match deposit bonus up to $500.
  • You deposit $250.
  • You’re now eligible for a $250 bonus.

Casinos don’t just hand this money over to you right away. Otherwise, you could simply make a deposit and cash out everything to collect a free bonus. You instead have to meet terms and conditions on the bonus before withdrawing it. The most notable term is the wagering requirements (a.k.a. rollover), which refers to how much you must bet before being eligible to cash out.

Here’s an example on playthrough:

  • You’re eligible for a $100 bonus.
  • Wagering requirements are 35x the bonus.
  • 100 x 35 = $3,500 must be wagered

You want to read the other terms and conditions carefully too. These include games with reduced playthrough, timeframes on claiming your bonus, and timeframes on meeting wagering requirements. But again, you want to pay special attention to playthrough because this ultimately determines how valuable your bonus will be. Overall, you’ll find that most deposit bonuses are more valuable than either land-based or online casino comps.

The following example illustrates this:

  • You’re eligible for a $200 bonus.
  • Wagering requirements are 40x the bonus.
  • 200 x 40 = $8,000 must be wagered
  • 200 / 8,000 = 0.025
  • Your bets are comped at a 2.5% rate with the deposit bonus.
  • This is 25x higher than the 0.1% comp rate for standard VIP programs.

One more aspect to consider with deposit bonuses is that you won’t face as high of theoretical losses. Online casino games typically have lower house edges than land-based games, meaning you won’t normally lose as much when unlocking your bonus.

The only downside is that you must meet playthrough before being able to withdraw the deposit bonus. This isn’t like comps, where you get rewarded without having to bet a certain amount. But as long a you’re willing to meet the wagering requirements, then deposit bonuses are definitely worth pursuing.

Casino VIP programs aren’t what they used to be. The comp rates are lower all around, meaning your gambling dollars don’t earn the same rewards that were available a few decades ago. This is why you should never gamble with the sole intention of earning bigger comps. You should instead play like normal and look at rewards for what they are — a bonus.

Nevertheless, it does pay to bet more if it’s within your bankroll. Casinos comp high rollers at a different rate since they offer more potential profits. A gambling venue might comp an online or land-based high roller at 0.2% or 0.3% of their overall wagers. These increased rates lead to more rewards per dollar wagered.

Assuming you’re not a high roller, then you can always focus on deposit bonuses. My previous example shows a deposit bonus amounting to a 2.5% comp rate. This is much higher than the 0.1% rate featured through most land-based and online casino VIP programs.

In the end, you should do what makes you happiest with regard to casino rewards. You may see earning free drinks, meals, and cashback as part of the overall experience. But remember that nothing is free in the casino. This is even truer today because casinos don’t offer as many comps.

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