In a Casino, What Counts as a Comp?

Lily Simpson

A casino bonus. What is it exactly? The most basic definition of a casino comp is a freebie in the form of a service or product given to casino customers in exchange for their patronage. A casino will refund a percentage of your theoretical loss or a percentage of their win for your gaming (or action). 

Casinos frequently offer freebies in the form of goods or services as an incentive for customers to spend money there. Some comps, such as free drinks, do not require any specific actions and only require a small investment of time. However, as with the majority of other aspects of life, the types of free drinks available from casinos vary greatly. These variations include newly imposed limits on the number of free drinks available at bar top games (which require the use of a voucher) as well as more lenient options available when playing in high-limit areas. Meals, concert tickets, hotel rooms, pool cabanas, retail (shopping), and a wide range of other goods and services are examples of complimentary items. 

How are comps calculated in casinos? The value of a player in a casino is determined by how much money they are expected to lose while there. (or how much money the casino will make) However, when performing the preliminary calculations, the “theoretical loss,” also known as “the,” is used. This is because the actual loss is not taken into account in the equation. This is not to say that your actual loss is ignored, but for this initial and basic explanation, it is best to focus on the other.¬†

Every game in a casino gives the casino an advantage. This casino advantage, also known as the house edge, is the mathematical advantage that a particular game has over the player. This advantage ensures that the casino (or house) will make a percentage profit over time. This percentage return is commonly referred to as a casino’s win. “The house edge is defined as the ratio of the average loss to the initial bet,” writes the Wizard of Odds. So, if a player wagers $100 on a hand of baccarat (assuming a 1% house edge), that player will lose $1 for every $100 wagered.¬†

If you ever needed proof of how casinos referred to their business model, take a look at one of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s monthly gross revenue reports. Yes, it’s even referred to in the press as the CASINO WIN.¬†

MMT is an example of a Borgata win

Of course, there are many assumptions in any gaming scenario. For example, one assumption is that a player will play flawlessly. This is the case when playing games like blackjack or video poker. These games have specific strategies that must be followed to maintain the calculated house edge. While it is correct to state that a video poker game has a 99 percent (1 percent house edge) or that a specific blackjack game has a 0.30 percent house edge, the actual edge can be significantly different if the player is not playing properly (or with perfect strategy). 

My point, however, is not to get bogged down in the details of good versus bad games or even whether one is playing a game correctly. Instead, I want you to consider how a casino thinks about giving out comps. Furthermore, many variables are influenced by how casinos reward their customers. Players must also understand that, in addition to the house edge, there are other factors to consider when it comes to gaming risk, such as the measure of volatility for a specific game. Much of that discussion is out of reach for the average recreational player. 

The average recreational player frequently bases his or her decision on a variety of factors that are not always based on the best game. For example, a player may consider playing a higher house edge video poker game because it is located in a bar with easy access to free drinks. Due to the low minimum bet, another player may choose to play a blackjack game with a higher house edge (worse rules). Wizard of Odds has a good comparison of the house edge of many casino games. (Keep in mind that all of these figures are based on playing “perfectly,” which is easier in baccarat than in blackjack.)¬†

Consider the following scenario: a casino and a card game such as baccarat. Over the long term, a casino might expect to win about 1% (the standard bets of Banker and Player have a house edge of 1.06 percent and 1.24 percent, respectively) at baccarat. The casino will also assume the number of hands per hour. If this hypothetical casino had a 1% house edge and dealt 70 hands per hour, 4 hours of play at $100 would look like this: 

  • The average bet is $100.¬†
  • Complete Action $100 x 70 hands per hour x 4 hours = $28,000 (in casino action) (in casino action)¬†
  • $28,000 multiplied by 1% equals $280 (casino theoretical win) (casino theoretical win) (casino theoretical win)¬†
  • So, if the estimated casino win (based on the house edge for a specific game) is $280, how much do you deserve in comps? A generous casino might give you back 40%, or around $110, while a less generous casino might give you back 20%, or around $50. How you use and redeem your comp, or even receive it, varies by the casino loyalty program. Prior to the advent of automated tracking systems, most comps were issued on paper. This remains true for many special comps. (This will be the subject of future discussions.)¬†

Complimentary Discretionary Casino Comp 

Now, this is a very rough and conceptual example, but you can get a sense of how a specific casino values your play (action) (action). If you play a game with a house edge of just over 5.25 percent, such as double zero roulette, you should be getting a LOT more back in comps. However, you will lose a lot more in the long run. Is it possible to maximize this comp earning? There are, of course, and this will be a focus and ongoing topic of discussion in future posts. 

This is just one example to get you thinking about how there is a process behind what casinos provide in complimentary items. This scenario is not intended to be specific to any particular casino. In subsequent articles, I will discuss the specifics of earning comps in various programs such as Total Rewards. I will also distinguish between the various types of comps, which include but are not limited to discretionary, marketing (which frequently includes comp room offers), and earned redeemable comps (much like earned redeemable frequent flyer miles in airline programs) (much like earned redeemable frequent flyer miles in airline programs).