Interests of casinos and players donâ??t always precisely align when it comes to comps. Naturally enough, as players weâ??ll take whatever we can get. Cash back, free play, room and meal comps, shows, golf â?? bring it on!
Casinos want to make sure their money is being spent productively. The purpose of comps is to reinforce player loyalty and provide an incentive for players to return. Ideally, from a casino standpoint, the biggest comps will go to the players who add the most to the casinoâ??s bottom line. Determining who those players are has become more scientific over the years.
On electronic games, including slot machines and video poker, every bet is tracked through your playerâ??s club card. As long as you use the card, casinos know exactly how much youâ??re betting â?? and if you donâ??t use the card, you donâ??t get comps.
Table games still incorporate a little art with the science. Casinos can track every bet on games that use electronic betting screens instead of chips, or if the casinos invest in RFID chips and readers. But for most games, tracking your play means clocking you in with your playerâ??s club card, recording your buy-ins and estimating your average bet, then applying a hands-per-hour rate and the house edge to calculate a theoretical loss.
How does that all work? Letâ??s take blackjack, craps and roulette as examples â?? games that have been casino standards for decades.
Some players have been trying to game the system, as long as there have been comps. A few try to team with a partner to take opposite sides of a bet such as red/black in roulette and pass/donâ??t pass in craps so wins offset losses. But as discussed in the July issue of Gaming and Destinations, the bets donâ??t precisely offset. Either both players can lose as in roulette or one player can lose without the other winning as in craps, but never can one win without the other losing. The casino still has its mathematical edge and players can never have a winning session.
Serious comp chasers try to make it appear that they are betting more than they really are. Theyâ??ll buy in for more money is needed to sustain their play and make their biggest bets at the beginning, when the pit supervisor is most likely to be watching. Tipping the dealer also is part of the game plan, in hopes the dealer will give the supervisor a high estimate of the average wager.
At the core, of course, is choosing a game and playing it well.
Letâ??s take a look at those three standard games in terms of the house edge, speed of play, theoretical loss per hour and comps per hour.
Weâ??ll need to make a few assumptions. The starting point will be a $10 wager per hand, roll of the dice or spin of the wheel. For a comp rate, letâ??s assume 10 percent of your theoretical loss is returned to you in the form of comps.
Thatâ??s not a hard and fast rule. Some casinos comp more than that â?? the old, pre-recession rule of thumb was that some returned up to 40 percent. Many comp at a higher rate to bigger players than they give to low rollers. In addition, casinos that have invested in analytics can use them to zero in on player demographics and spending patterns to determine those most likely to increase their spending in the future. But for a quick overview of what you can expect from each game, letâ??s use 10 percent.
BLACKJACK: The key for comp players is that blackjack has a house edge that varies with skill. In a no-frills six-deck game in which the blackjacks pay 3-2, dealers hit soft 17, you may split any pair except aces up to three times for a total of four hands, you may split aces only once, and you may double down on any first two cards, including after splits, the house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.62 percent.
But not all players know basic strategy. One who is just a little fuzzy on some of the fine points might face a house edge of 1 percent. A player who hasnâ??t really studied the strategy charts might be playing against a house edge of 1.5 or 2 percent, and one who throws strategy out the window and plays by intuition and feel might see a house edge of 3 percent or more.
Casinosâ?? assumption of their edge has evolved. Players have many more options for learning basic strategy than they once did, including free online trainers. Twenty years ago, when I was a student in a major casino companyâ??s weeklong seminar on casino operations, we were told the house assumed an edge of 2 to 2.5 percent against average players. In more recent years, table games directors have told me that assumption is closer to 1 percent. That makes a big difference.
Letâ??s assume a busy table and about 60 hands per hour. Your initial wagers total $600 per hour. If youâ??re playing basic strategy at a 0.62 percent house edge, your average hourly loss is $3.72. If the house assumed a 2 percent edge, then it would estimate your theoretical loss at $12. At 1 percent, that drops to $6.
At a 10 percent comp rate, a casino assuming a 2 percent edge sees an hour of your play as worth $1.20 in comps. If the assumption is a 1 percent edge, an hourâ??s comps for a $10 player come to only 60 cents.
Should you find a casino that comps at the generous old rate of 40 percent, those comp averages are $4.80 at a 2 percent house edge, and $2.40 at 1 percent.
With a 2 percent house edge assumption and 40 percent comp rate, the $4.80 in comps exceed the $3.72 in average losses for a basic strategy player. That made blackjack a comp playerâ??s dream. At the less favorable assumptions of a 1 percent edge and 10 percent comp rate, the 60 cents in comps vs. $3.72 in losses still leaves a $3.12 profit to the house.
CRAPS: Thereâ??s a wide range of available bets and house edges in craps â?? from 1.36 percent on donâ??t pass or donâ??t come and 1.41 percent on pass or come, on up to 16.66 percent on any 7. There is no house edge on free odds, but itâ??s an extraordinarily rare casino that includes the odds in your average bet for comp purposes.
Thereâ??s room to comp generously to players who bet big on the bad bets. But if youâ??re serious about earning enough comps to offset a large share of your losses and get close to break-even level, you wonâ??t start by maximizing losses with high house-edge bets.
For the most part, casinos assume youâ??re betting pass and augmenting with some higher-edge bets. A typical house edge assumption is about 1.75 percent.
The best craps bets take multiple rolls to decide, so figure about 50 decisions per hour. At $10 per decision, thatâ??s $500 in wagers. Assuming a 1.41 percent house edge on pass, your average loss is $7.05, while the casinoâ??s 1.75 percent assumption takes your theoretical loss to $8.75 per hour. At a 10 percent comp rate, thatâ??s 87.5 cents per hour, and a $6.175 profit to the house. Of course, most craps players make multiple bets, and if your average risk per decision is $30 instead of $10, you can triple the figures above.
ROULETTE: Now weâ??re into much simpler territory. The house edge on double-zero roulette is 5.26 percent on every wager except the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. There, the house edge is 7.89 percent, so itâ??s a bet you donâ??t want to make.
The casino knows all this. The math on roulette has been established for centuries, ever since modern roulette wheels appeared in Paris in the late 1700s. Casinos know they can count on that 5.26 percent.
Roulette is a slow-moving game, with the assumption of about 40 spins per hour. At $10 per spin, you wager $400. Your average loss is $21.04, and thatâ??s also your theoretical loss. At a 10 percent comp rate, youâ??ll get $2.10 per hour, while 40 percent would kick that up to $8.40.
Letâ??s look at the average hourly loss/comp differences for all three games, assuming $10 bets and 10 percent comps: Blackjack, $3.72 losses, 60 cents comps, $3.12 house profit; craps for pass bettors, $7.05 loss, 87.5 cents comps, $6.175 house profit; roulette, $21.04 loss, $2.10 comps, $18.94 house profit. At a 40 percent comp rate, the loss/comp/house figures are $3.72/$2.40/$1.32 for blackjack, $7.05/$3.30/$3.75 for craps and $21.04/$8.40/$12.64 for roulette.
Blackjack presents some opportunity to narrow the loss-comps gap because of player skill. Craps offers some opportunity because the casino assumes an edge slightly higher than the best bets at the table. Roulette, where the house edge and assumed house edge are identical, doesnâ??t present that opportunity.
Good luck at the tables, and knowing how you can earn comps!
By John Grochowski