Are Casino Comps a Dying Breed? By Jean Scott March 23, 2014 at 11:12 pm Back in 1995, the news crew of 48 Hours followed Brad and me around Las Vegas, filming as we played video poker and reaped comps. On the air, Dan Rather dubbed me the “Queen of Comps”. By then I had been honing my comp skills for more than ten years. After retirement, Brad and I stayed in comped casino hotel rooms in Las Vegas for months at a time. Our low-roller play on quarter video poker not only provided us with free places to stay; our comps covered our food costs, gave us myriad entertainment choices, and provided gifts galore. It was the golden age of comps. Plowing our gambling profits back into our small starting bankroll, we then were able to slowly go up in denomination, to dollar and then five-dollar machines, from single-line to multi-line. As our coin-in grew so did the level of our comps. Instead of basic rooms, we stayed in luxurious suites. The food comps that covered snack bars, buffets, and coffee shops were now large enough to eat in gourmet restaurants. We still got gifts of logo jackets and sports bags, but we also got shopping sprees at upscale merchants, cruises, and high-end watches and crystal. Then things started going downhill, somewhere around 2008. I’m not sure exactly when because it was a slow decline, barely noticed at first. When we checked into one of our usual casinos, the welcome basket had shrunk from gigantic to merely large. On our next trip it was smaller still; eventually we were welcomed with a small package of caramel corn. The casino parties started shrinking: No more lavish sit-down dinners in a decorated ballroom, with a band and dancing, with announcements of the winners of a tournament. That became a short cocktail party, and then maybe no party at all – instead, you looked for your name on a list posted outside the players club. Discretionary comps started disappearing quickly, even for some higher rollers. Unless you were a whale, your host just told you to use the points you had for your freebies. Then “maybe” he/she could get you something extra, if you kept playing and lost a lot of money. The accountants, who knew nothing about the mindset of gamblers, had started changing casino policy, with comps in the cross hairs. Then the Great Recession pulled the trigger. Most players today think the comp system will never go back to the free-wheeling days when casino hosts had almost absolute discretion about who got comps and how much. I see both sides of this issue. Upper management must look at the total financial picture of a casino. They know the math and they cannot allow hosts, who usually don’t know that total picture, to give away the store. Even the Queen of Comps doesn’t want a casino to go broke by giving away too much; my gambling buddies and I need places to play. But upper management still needs to listen to the hosts, who know that a casino must give some incentives to their players, most of whom are losing a lot of money, or those players will leave their casino – or horrors, take up some other form of entertainment. So a balancing of interests will always be at work – and comps will never go away. However, the present-day player needs to recognize the current world of comps. New players have it easier; they don’t have to mentally adjust from what they remember of the “good ole days.” It is we oldsters who likely find it more difficult, especially those who used to combining good games with good comps. Recently I talked to an old hand at this endeavor. For many years he and his wife have spent six months every winter in Vegas, staying and eating free in casinos, just as Brad and I did before we settled down and bought a home here in 2000. I asked him if he was still able to get everything comped. He frowned and said it was getting much more difficult. In fact, he was thinking they were going to have to rent a small place next winter instead of moving from casino to casino for comped accommodations. I really don’t feel it’s the role of casinos to provide someone with a home with all expenses paid; almost no players expect that from comps. But most players do expect some rewards for their play. And those who have learned to work the comp system, even those who play the low-roller table or lower-value machines, can still score a lot of extras. With the economy getting stronger, the higher-level players are seeing a bit of a bump in their comps; hopefully this upward trend will continue. Perhaps casino management will again realize that, although there needs to be reasonable limits, giving out comps is one of the best ways to attract and keep customers. Casinos are an ever-changing environment. Casino executives will always be tweaking their comp policies. So wise players should continually be adjusting their strategies to cope with changes. Jean Scott is a retired teacher who never stopped teaching, just switching her subject from high school English to smart casino gambling. She and her husband have been extremely successful gamblers for 30 years. She has continuously shared their secrets on TV, in countless articles, in the five-book Frugal Gambler series, and presently in a very popular blog.