But it will still take a lot of gambling to rack up points. At Bally's Atlantic City in New Jersey, you need 1,000 points to get a $10 comp at its Pickles Deli; at one point for every $5 spent on slots, it will cost you $5,000 in bets. It's sometimes better to try to land comps the old-fashioned way -- by asking. Steven Moore, the vice president of loyalty marketing at MGM Mirage, says casino hosts still have wide discretion to dole them out.
"We want to comp the things that make the customer happy," he says. During your stay, charge every meal to your room. At the end of your trip, ask a casino host to review your hotel bill and compare it against your gambling card. If he likes what you gambled, he might reduce your food bill or tear it up entirely, says Jeffrey Compton, a casino-industry consultant.
Hotel roomsWhen it comes to scoring a free room, John Schloegel has a tip: Watch the calendar. The Austin, Texas, portfolio manager travels to Las Vegas at least twice a year, and his average bet, $50 a hand at the blackjack table, is usually enough to get a free room. But not the weekend of March 17, 2005: It was the opening of the men's NCAA basketball tournament, one of the most crowded weekends in Vegas, and Schloegel was frozen out.
Unless you're a superhigh roller, it pays to plan your trip when the casino business is slow. Atlantic City crowds drop off markedly over the summer, and though Las Vegas is never quiet, the slowest time on the Strip is the window between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Another rule of thumb, says George Nassef, the CEO of casino reward-tracking service ValetNoir: The more dependent a hotel is on gambling revenue, the more comps it hands out. Avoid hotels that have high-end shops, Nassef says, such as the Bellagio or the Wynn in Las Vegas. Instead, go where the casino is the biggest draw -- say, the nearby Silverton.
Your money will go further toward comps at less glamorous casinos, too. To get a free night at the Bellagio, you need 7,000 points, but at the Luxor, MGM's resort a mile away, you need just 4,000 points.
Concert ticketsConcert tickets are the fastest-growing giveaway category in Las Vegas, according to MGM Mirage's Moore. Casinos like to give out tickets because it doesn't cost them much and they're almost guaranteed to increase gamblers' spending.
Here, your best bet is to be strategic, Moore says. Ask for tickets to long-running shows; A-list acts such as Celine Dion or title-bout boxing matches are usually only for heavy hitters.
This is one category where it pays to do some research. Before you leave, check out the Casino Comps message board on Yahoo; members report which shows gamblers have gotten comped for (recent scores included Penn and Teller).
VIP treatmentOf course, the biggest comps are the ones that make you feel like a VIP: limo rides, entry into the hottest clubs, a prime pool cabana. Here, it's all about one thing and one thing only: how much you gamble. But experts say you can nudge yourself into this league if you're new and you exchange a lot of chips.
Hosts at Station Casinos who hand out comps are known to "invest" in players they feel will gamble more in the future. One criterion: how much you cash in. At other casinos, it pays to join the frequent-gambler club; just signing up for the card can get you priority reservations and discounts at the spa, perks usually reserved for high rollers.
For Mark Pyms, VIP status came from just staying at the table a little longer. Two years ago in Vegas, he had several hours to kill before a flight. Thanks to a lucky streak, he started betting a little more than usual and got rated a $100-a-hand player by Valet Noir. He's had room and food covered ever since, and last fall he accrued enough points for a 10-day cruise to Alaska. The upside? He says he's still won more than he lost.
This article was reported and written by Russell Pearlman for SmartMoney.
Published June 27, 2007