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Blackjack Comps 101

MORE CASINOS ARE CATERING TO TABLE-GAME CUSTOMERS

About once a month I get the following complaint: We have been playing slots at so-and-so casino for many years. On our most recent trip, however, we decided to try blackjack for the first time. We sat down at the table and played for two hours betting between $5–$15 per hand. After an hour we asked the dealer if we were entitled to any comps, and he told us that we were not being tracked and besides you have to make $25 bets in that casino to be tracked at blackjack. We were, of course, embarrassed and upset. Were we wrong or is this casino a dud for table-game comps?

In this instance, the player was not wrong—just misinformed regarding how to earn comps at the tables. And unfortunately the dealer handled it the wrong way. For all you know that casino could be very comp-generous with their table players.

With the increased exposure of casino table games both on television and at several high-profile Las Vegas casinos (Palms, Mandalay Bay, Hard Rock) more and more “slot-only” players are becoming interested in table games, especially blackjack. Unfortunately, however, they do not realize that the comping process and procedures are very different in that part of casino. And I really meant it when I used the word different, instead of the word worse—for, in reality, most casinos are proportionally more generous to steady table-game customers than they are to their slot players—assuming that those players are playing certain minimums and know the system.

Blackjack versus Slots

In order to understand (and take advantage of) table-game comps, you first have to familiarize yourself with some basic blackjack hold figures and how they compare to slots. The average quarter slot player loses about 8 percent every time he plays. Assuming he’s playing three quarters per pull and is playing 500 hands per hour (which is about average) then his total bets per hour equal $375, and he is losing $30 (of 8 percent of $375). A three-coin dollar slot player loses about 5 percent per pull (dollar machines are generally looser), but as he is betting $1,500 per hour, he is giving the house back $75 per hour.

What about the blackjack player? Most casinos assume that a blackjack player gives up to the casino the equivalent of one bet per hour. So if you are playing $5 per hand for one hour, the casino makes on average $5!—which doesn’t even begin to pay the dealer much less any overhead. If your wife is playing dollar slots and you are playing blackjack, you have to be betting as much as $75–$100 per hand for the casino to love you as much as it loves her.

Note: Several years ago I was flying home to Las Vegas from Houston. I was sitting next to a couple who told me that they visit a certain Strip casino four times a year and got all the freebies—room, meals, entertainment, even a limo. I asked the guy what he played and he said, “Blackjack, usually from five to twenty-five dollars per hand.” Before I asked which casino was sending limos for low-level blackjack players, I asked him, “What does you wife do while you play?” “Oh,” he said, “she just amuses herself on the dollar and five-dollar slots.” I decided that it was not the time to tell the proud Texan that he was being kept (at least when they were in Vegas) by a woman.

How to Get Comped at the Tables

If you are already a treasured customer at a casino (i.e., you already have a host), then mention to your host that you are planning to play some blackjack this trip. Ask the host what is the minimum level of bet that the casino tracks, and then have him or her set up your account for table action and explain the basic procedures. You might also ask your host to recommend a certain area or dealer, especially if you are a novice, because some dealers tend to be more understanding with new players, and the casino does not want you stalling a high-roller game while you decide whether you want to hit 13 against the dealer’s two.

If you do not have a host, go to the pit and ask a supervisor how much must be bet per hand to be tracked. Please realize that whatever figure the supervisor tells you is based on the assumption that you are going to play at least four hours per day (for a tourist casino) and about two hours per trip (for a local property). Then pick out a table, preferably a lower-minimum one because they tend to get newer players as opposed to hotshots ready to criticize your every move. Buy in for at least $500 (or more—you do not have to bet that money, but you want to get their attention). Put your players club card on top of your buy-in, which is a nice way to tell the dealer that you want to be tracked. Depending on the casino’s system, all your action will go to the same players club account (to earn comp dollars, but almost never cashback) or it may have to set up a new account—but this will get the process going.

The dealer will call over the supervisor, who will (hopefully) greet you and welcome you to the casino. Chitchat with the supervisor for a minute, and then place the largest comfortable bet you can make for your first few hands. Then, based on your mood and your luck, play whatever you like as long as it is above the tracking minimum. Tip the dealer (place a dollar or so bet for him every so often) and have a good time.

Know the Formula

It is much easier to ask for a comp when you know that you are approximately in the ballpark. While every casino has a slightly different system, using these formulas will work almost everywhere. If you are in a locals casino (or a tourist casino, but you are not a guest of the hotel) then take your average bet times the number of hours you played and multiply that figure by 10 percent reinvestment. So if I were playing $50 per hand for four hours, I would have $20 in comps coming my way ($50 x 4 x 10 percent). If I were staying in the hotel, I’d do the same equation using a 25 percent figure ($50 x 4 x 25% = $50). Armed with this knowledge, I would then ask for comps worth about twice my comp-dollar allowance, as more casinos are actively marketing to table-game customers and bend over backward to please them.

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