Comp City

You Don't Have To Be a High Roller To Get the Perks from Vegas Casinos--You Just Have To Act Like One

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After three hours of play, strategically interrupted by two more 10-minute breaks and a few major stalls while I chatted with my new executive pals, I pushed in my chips and asked the pit boss how I was doing on my rating (the casino's method of quantifying a player's level of action). "You're a solid $200-a-hand player. Everything will be taken care of," he said.
"I guess he didn't notice your $25 bets," Rubin said later, smiling. "What was your real average? Around $75?" He suggested I inquire about fight tickets at this point, before the casino figured out that $1,000 of the $1,120 I had "lost" ended up in the pockets of my suit.
A fruit and cheese basket was waiting in my room upon my return. So was a liter bottle of Stolichnaya. The booze and our upcoming meal, I calculated, was already worth more than the $120 I had dropped. But, I asked Rubin, what if I had lost more? Is it worth losing thousands of dollars in the pursuit of comps?
He explained that most people who come to Vegas lose their money anyway but don't get any of the perquisites to which they're entitled. The comp wizard, on the other hand, knows precisely the expected loss of his play and the expected gain of his comps, and usually the schism between the two is not even close . But expected loss does not always translate to actual loss. Blackjack is volatile; deviations happen, and deviations go both ways--I could easily have lost several thousand. In fact, Rubin reminded me, he and the tournament blackjack expert, Anthony Curtis, won $2,200 in 45 minutes when going after four $200 tickets to the Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge concert--and they nabbed the tickets. "Our expected loss in the 'Voodoo' play was $45," Rubin explained. "We ended up with a $3,000 profit."
At the nadir of my comped weekend, I was down nearly $3,800. At the zenith I was up $2,400. (Playing with black chips, the swings are quick.) At the end of my play, after several gluttonous meals, a round of golf at the Desert Inn Golf Club and, of course, the ultimate prize (the fight ticket), I was a $24 winner. Heeding Rubin's advice from Comp City, I plowed my profits into a commemorative Foreman vs. Schulz T-shirt, a $22 investment that I could give to my executive host as a token of my appreciation for taking such good care of me. "That will pay big dividends," Rubin predicted.
He was right. Next time I want to visit the Lady Luck, the host informed me, the airfare's on him.
Michael Konik is a contributing editor of Cigar Aficionado.
Bang For a Buck: A Comp Accounting The House Edge
Total playing time: 6.5 hours Average bet: $75 House edge: .19% Expected loss: ($46)
The Player's Gain
Room for two nights: $600 Meals: $425 Limos: $100 Show tickets: $60 Liquor: $50 Golf: $165 Fight tickets: $900 Return airfare: $144
Total comp value: $2,444 Less cost: ($46) Net gain: $2,398
Comp Cigars
In addition to free booze for seated players, casinos gladly hand out complimentary cigars to $5 bettors. Ask any cocktail waitress or, if necessary, a friendly pit boss, and it's on the house. Assuming a 0.5 percent disadvantage at blackjack, you're giving up around three cents a hand to earn the following cigars.
Sands: Zino Mirage: Macanudo Portofino Caesars Palace: Partagas Flamingo Hilton: Antonio and Cleopatra Harrah's: Bering Casino Lady Luck: Garcia y Vega
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