Casino Comps Explained

Getting free stuff is always great. It's especially great in Vegas, since it is one of the most expensive cities in the US. Paying retail for food, hotel, and entertainment can add up really quickly. So unless you want to live like a total nit or just don't mind coughing up a lot of cash, getting comped is a good way to go.

While all casino games are -EV (counting cards at blackjack excluded, but that's a whole different ball game), gambling can actually be +EV (or at least close to neutral) when you factor in comps. Saying the gambling is +EV assumes you would be spending money on food, hotel, etc. anyways (or at least want to). The key is playing the system correctly.

How Casino Comps Work:
Comps come in three forms. First, there are the upfront offers. These are the offers you receive in the mail starting about a month after you first sign up for a player's card. These are your bread-and-butter. If you show a significant willingness to gamble, you can likely get a free room (or even suite), some table match play (basically free money to gamble with), free shows, and/or resort credit (i.e. money for food, spa, etc.)

Don't sneeze at this, as this is where most of the value of comps lie. It's not hard to get a comp offer worth about ~$1000+ (e.g. 3 nights covering a weekend plus $300 of match play plus two tickets to a show). It's very possible to get this offer while realistically just spending about ~$500 or less of EV at the table.

The second type of comp are player's rewards points. This is basically money that is earned on your card that can be used for food, spa, or shops. Slot players can also earn free slot play or straight cash this way. The only way to really know how many points/dollars you have is to play for a few hours and then ask how many you have. You can then realistically get an idea as to what your hourly earn is. Different casino groups will comp differently in this regard.

The third way is asking for a comp. You can ask either the pit boss or a casino host. Generally, for a buffet or something small like that, asking the pit boss is the way to go. However, to get a major comp (like the rest of your stay or something $100+), you'll need to go the way of the casino host. If you have a four figure plus downswing and aren't already being comped, whining to a casino host for free stuff is a good way to go.

A rule of thumb some in the industry use is the casino host can comp you at least 10% of your losses. So if you're down $1500, you pretty much can get $150 worth of extra free stuff.

One thing to note is that if you are staying at a hotel, the casino host will generally ask you to just bill everything to your room, and then when you are checking out, they will review your play to see what they can comp off at the end.

This accomplishes two things. First, you don't constantly have to run to the casino host to get every little thing to comp off. Second, it allows your results to normalize some, so if you have a particularly bad downswing, they don't comp you a ton and then you go back to the tables an hour later and run hotter than the sun.

How To Get Comped
You can get comped for both poker (how to get comped playing poker) and casino games. The types of casino comps you get vary based on the company that owns the casino, the game you play, and your luck at the table. Let's break down those four elements:

Casino Group: While there are over a dozen casinos on the Strip, there are only about half a dozen companies that own the casino. Know who you are dealing with in terms of getting a comp, since your action across the entire brand matters more than just any individual casino. In general, Harrah's (Caesars) is pretty bad for table games players, whereas MGM and Venetian are pretty good. Others to consider are TI, Wynn, and the Cosmopolitian.

Game you play: Playing tables is very different than playing slots, and even the type of table game you play matters. Slot play comps seem pretty much completely automated, but there's quite a bit of human interaction as well as variance in terms of table game comps.

Luck at the table: It's not just expected value, but actual results that can matter. Get hosed, and you better believe you should ask for an extra comp. Break even or win/lose a little and you probably won't get much extra. In general, having big wins and big losses results in the biggest comps.

You may be thinking "Big up swing can lead to big comps, really?" Yes, it's definitely true. After all, the casino wants you to lose it back to them. The line of thinking is if the person can win $10k playing craps, they can lose $10k too.

Casino Comp Strategies
Casinos aren't stupid. Almost always, the value of comps are far less than the expected player "spend" (i.e. how much the gambler will cough up at the table). This is true pretty much 100% of the time in slot play in my opinion. However, if you play blackjack well or make the right bet at craps and then game the system properly, you can probably become a break even or slightly +EV gambler when factoring in comps.

General Strategies:

Here are some general strategies that apply to all table games (blackjack, craps, as well as others like baccarat, roulette, etc.)

1. If you have a big swing, leave and go to another casino (owned by a different company preferably). This applies to both big upswings and downswings. If you ever hit the five figure type swing at a casino, you'll probably get comped big next time around (unless you have a long history of nittiness at the casino and they know it's an outlier).

If you are destined to break even on a trip, it's much better to lose $10k at one place and win $10k at another. Both places (especially the place you lost $10k at) will likely give you great comp awards next time around. Breaking even at one place won't result in as much.

2. Always whine for a comp after losing big. The only time you don't whine is when you are staying at the place, and you know the casino host is going to comp you at the end. If you are just visiting a casino and you happen to be down $600 at the table, it's time to start whining for your free dinner.

3. If you can tolerate it, play at a table with more people. Casinos base their offers primarily on how much you bet and how long you bet. Obviously, if you are getting more hands in per hour, your actual EV will be worse, since it's more -EV bets you make. While some casinos adjust for this, some do not (or do not do so adequately). So waiting while that drunk guy at the table is annoying, but it's actually +EV for you. Personally, I prefer faster, less annoying tables even if it's -EV, but this is definitely a strategy worth pointing out.

Game-Specific Strategies:

While the general strategies can help, they won't make gambling +EV or even close to neutral EV unless you employ game-specific strategies as well. These strategies tend to lower the house edge, while making you seem like more of a high roller. Think of it as ways to lower your actually -EV per hour while increase your comp EV.


Maximizing comps at craps is pretty straightforward. In addition to employing the 'play at a large table/leave after a big swing' approaches, you pretty much only make pass line/max odds (or at least high odds) bets. You can also do 'come bets/max odds' as well (come bet is the same as a pass line bet if you're not familiar with come bets).

The reason this works is because casino comp programs just don't know how to deal with the odds bet well. On the worst end is Harrah's, who flat-out ignores the odds bet and doesn't seem to care that much about your streaks. However, most places are more generous.

Some places flat-out comp the odds bet; I've heard casino employees tell me at one they do it at 20% the rate as the pass line bet. While it's still less than most bets, they're still comping you over something that they make no money off of.

Other places seem to lump in the odds bet somehow, or the pit boss just lumps it in for you without noticing. For example, on a recent trip, I was playing $50 pass line with max odds at 3-4-5 odds and generally one come bet. The casino host looked over my play and said, "well you were playing with an average bet of $500." While I don't know if their system differentiated out the odds bet or not, it at least made me seem like I was spewing at 5X the rate I really was. Hence, 5X the rate of comps that I really should have earned.

However, the major way the odds bet results in big comps is the swings it creates. If your pass line bet is $50 and you don't take any odds, chances are your swing will be less than $1k. However, with max odds at a 3-4-5 (or high odds at 20x odds or more place), then you're clearly most likely going to swing harder than $1k either way. Big swings lead to big comps.

At a 3-4-5 odds table, if you play with max odds, the overall house edge on your action is about 0.37%. If you are playing 20X+ odds, the house edge is less than 0.1%. Very few craps players play this way. On average, they give up at least 1-2% of their action and likely more. The casinos do rate players based on their bet made, but they don't make an effort to 'punish' the good players by comping them considerably less than the squares.


Blackjack is the one game at the casino with the most variable house edge. Most games have the house edge that is solely determined by the bet (craps, baccarat, roulette, etc.), and the player cannot influence the house edge. In contrast, playing perfect basic strategy will drastically lower the house edge at blackjack compared to a donk that continuously makes mistake. House edges at blackjack can easily range from 0.5%-5% based on player mistakes, a tenfold increase in edge!

This makes comping a bit more difficult for the house. I don't know exactly how the house compensates for this, but my guess is that players who play perfectly will benefit from this variability since the house won't assume all players play perfect for comping purposes.

Furthermore, if you count cards but do not drastically vary your bets, you can decrease the house edge while having a small chance of getting booted out of the casino. Spreading between $25-$5000 will certainly get you booted from a lot of places, but spreading from say $25-$100 or $100-$300 likely will not (it's incredibly nitty of the house if they do).

If you start with the mid-range bet (say $200 in a $100-$300) and lower it by a hundo in a bad count and increase a hundo in a good count, you won't be playing +EV blackjack but the house edge will decrease some. Combined with good comps and you can probably make it an overall +EV gambling experience.

Many poker players thumb their noses at casino games since they're -EV. While that's certainly the case in terms of betting purposes, gambling at these games can become +EV when comps are included.

Paying retail in Vegas is for squares. If you enjoy playing pit games and/or want to stay at the nicer hotels for free, playing the comp game is a good way to go.