Players rate best deals on comps

Jun 5, 2001 7:12 AM

An informal survey of Las Vegas resorts reveals that some casinos are markedly more player-friendly than others. At the best places, even the most moderate bettors can pile up free food, drink and rooms without breaking a sweat. Yet with deals spinning faster than the reels on a slot machine, a good play today could be a bust tomorrow.

This year, for example, the Reserve slashed its cash-back program, Sam’s Town doubled its comp requirements, and New York-New York halved rebates on video poker. Shuffling the deck, properties will take with one hand and give with the other. Now, in a new deal, the Reserve and Sam’s Town have tried to offset their changes by mailing out lucrative offers to club members.

"I think that all casinos are tightening up," says an official with the International Casino Players Association, a loose alliance of 15,000 bettors, many of whom don’t think twice about wagering $5,000 a day.

The source, who requested anonymity, adds, "With increased competition from the Indian casinos in California and other areas, the casinos should be making it easier to get comps and reduce the hold on the machines to allow customers to play longer and have a good time so that they will come back."

Special seasonal promotions boost comps selectively. Station Casinos, for example, is opening blocks of rooms to players and their friends this summer. For smaller bettors, buffets and movies are perennially popular comps at the locals-oriented resorts.

Even non-gamblers can get in on the action, says Van Heffner of the Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association. "Comps have gone to another level," he says. "The city has a lot more to offer, and resorts are aggressively going after first-time visitors." In the process, convention planners and tour operators are enticed with bulk discounts and complimentary services that don’t require slot or table play.

While casinos rarely discuss details of their comp programs and payouts, every gambler has a first-hand opinion. The consensus is that Downtown and smaller casinos are far more liberal on comps; for instance, four hours of table play at $25 per bet will land a free room while upscale resorts require $50 to $100 bets.

But wherever you bet, bi-coastal players say pit bosses in Vegas tend to write comps more quickly - and for less - than in Atlantic City. Daniel Davila, senior entertainment and leisure analyst for Hibernia Southcoast Capital, says they can afford to be generous.

"On average, based on win per day, a slot machine pays for itself in 100 days," Davila calculates. "For the rest of its useful life, it’s gravy. Basically, the longer you sit in front of one, the more you lose. Next to prostitution, it’s the world’s greatest business. There is no other business in the world where people budget money to lose to you."