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Book Review: Jean Scott’s The Frugal Gambler’s Casino Guide

By David G. Schwartz, Green Felt Journal, Vegas Seven

All hail the Queen of Comps. For almost twenty years, former English teacher Jean Scott has been sharing advice on how to enjoy all the best of what casinos offer on a limited budget. The Frugal Gambler, published in 1998, was a guidepost for those players who enjoy casinos, don’t qualify as high rollers, and want to get their fair share (or slightly more) of comps. That initial effort was followed by a string of sequels, the latest of which, The Frugal Gambler’s Casino Guide, demonstrates how Jean and her husband, Brad, are adapting to the post-recession era.

And the post-recession era is one in which lower-stakes gamblers need a good deal of adaptation. Starting in the fourth quarter of 2007, Nevada casinos saw a withering of the retail (in this context, non-credit) gambling trade that still, a decade later, has not been reversed. The depths of the recession might have been the golden age for comp-seekers, as even high-end casinos slashed room rates and offered prix fixe gourmet menus, bringing luxury within the grasp of mid-stakes visitors. If you had money to gamble in Las Vegas, 2008-2010 were good years for you.

Click the image to see this book on Amazon.

But since then, frugal visitors have been hit with a right/left combination: many casinos have tightened their comping while simultaneously raising room rates, adding additional fees (most notably resort and parking), and tightening up gambling conditions (less payback on slots, less favorable tables rules). It doesn’t help that low-budget retail gamblers are viewed as decreasingly valuable to the overall bottom line. Since 1999, Strip casinos have made more from non-gambling than gambling, but that trend has accelerated in recent years, with many large properties approaching a 70/30 non-gaming/gaming revenue split.

These changes have made casino customers less the center of attention. “For the first time in our thirty years of gambling,” Scott writes on page 4, “we’re facing the reality that the casino customer is no longer king.” This goes double for frugal gamblers. The advice that she gave in 1998 and 2008, while still fundamentally sound, needed some tweaking. The result is The Frugal Gambler’s Casino Guide.

Scott starts this book by examining different types of gamblers and different goals for those gamblers. She identifies six goals for gamblers: occasional entertainment, frequent entertainment, an inexpensive hobby, a profitable hobby, a part-time job, and a full-time job. Based on your goal group, you will have different ways to use Scott’s advice. The following chapters summarize, in a very accessible way, the math behind casino games, the “buffet of games” casinos offer (with individual chapters for slots and video poker) and advice on comps, players’ clubs, and promotions.

Throughout, Scott gives sensible advice on how to stretch casino dollars in the new post-recession reality. She is able to relate the sometimes difficult-to-comprehend concepts behind comping in promotions in ways that are not only easy to follow, but which actually make sense.

This is obviously a valuable book for Scott’s primary target audience, self-described frugal gamblers. Those who gamble only occasionally might be interested but won’t get much use out of this book, and those who enjoy six-figure credit lines might get exasperated at imagining having to work so hard to get what is given to them just for showing up (though they might like seeing how the other half lives). But the vast majority of gamblers who play the comp game will find value in this book. Covering both Las Vegas casinos and those around the United States, this is a broadly adaptable guide to navigating casinos today.

By the same token, casino executives will find Scott’s latest book good reading for several reasons. Cynically, they can strip-mine Scott’s advice to identify points in their own comping and marketing strategies that are “too generous” to players. I hope, however, that any executives who do read this book don’t do so with the mindset that they’ve just been handed the opponent’s playbook the night before the Super Bowl. Instead, I’d gently suggest that they read in the spirit of learning more about a historically valuable customer base that is currently, perhaps, not entirely appreciated. Scott and her admirers may squeeze every cent they can out of casino comps, but at the end of the day they are playing negative expectation games; over time they will lose more than they win.

In fact, players following Scott’s advice may be more valuable to casinos over the long run; although losing less per visit, they will likely have much longer life cycles in the casino. In addition, if treated right they can be fearsome advocates for their favored properties.

So there are many reasons to check in with Jean Scott to learn how frugal gamblers are coping with the new casino order of post-recession America. Both players and executives have good reasons to, once more, get some wisdom from the Queen of Comps.