Casino Comps and Tipping the Dealers

You've probably heard of "comps" in a casino. Maybe you saw a casino manager use the word in a movie to pacify an upset guest at his hotel, but did you really understand what the word meant? Also, tipping is an awkward subject no matter what situation you are in, but do you have to tip in a casino? Aren't they getting enough of your money already? Well, you've come to the right place. Read on to learn about both of these casino conundrums.

Casino "Comps"

Casinos want to keep their best customers coming back. Players who have shown they will give the house a shot at their money are treated like royalty. Free beverages for customers while they are playing, discounted rates on hotel rooms, and free meals are the most common complimentaries given by casinos. For high-rollers -- people who
bet
hundreds of dollars a hand -- the casino might give free airfare, room, food, beverages, or limousine service.

"Comps" are most frequently distributed through player rewards clubs. Members are issued credit-card-sized plastic cards, usually with an encoded magnetic strip on the back. The card is inserted into a magnetic reader on the machine the member is playing, and the amount and duration of play are tracked via computer.

In most player rewards clubs, players earn points for play and can redeem the points for comps. When the card is inserted into a reader at a slot or video poker machine, a display on the reader might say something like, "Welcome, member. You have 42 points. Coins to next point: 24." After the required number of coins have been played, another point will be added to the player's total. A list is issued detailing the comps available for various point totals. Some clubs allow players to redeem points for cash; others offer meals, rooms, or merchandise.

Other slot clubs don't issue a point table but require the player to ask an attendant at the player rewards club booth. The attendant will check the computer, and if the player qualifies, the attendant will issue the comp.

Comps work similarly at table games. At most casinos a player may use the same card issued to slot club members as identification to be rated for comps at table games. The pit boss overseeing the table takes note of the player's buy-in (the amount of currency exchanged for chips at the table), the average bet size, and the duration of play.

It's common for casinos to kick back in the form of comps an average of 10 percent to 40 percent of the amount it expects to win from the player.

The basic formula for the player's expected loss combines the amount of time played, the number of hands per hour, the average bet, and the house percentage. So if a blackjack player bets $5 a hand for an hour at a busy-table speed of 60 hands per hour, and the house figures it has a 2 percent edge, then the player is betting $300 per hour, and the house, on the average expects to win $6, or 2 percent of $300. If the house is issuing comps at a generous rate of 40 percent of the player's expected loss, the customer's play for an hour is worth about $2.40 in comps, regardless of the actual win or loss, whether he's won $50 or lost $50.

A side benefit of being rated for comps is that the casino puts you on its mailing list for special offers. Rated players frequently get free or discounted rooms and tournament invitations from casinos. Cash vouchers by mail are an often-used incentive for players to return.

Tipping Dealers

The gambling business is a service industry, and dealers are paid like bottom-rung employees in service industries -- not very well. Many dealers' jobs pay minimum wage, and the bulk of dealers' pay comes through tips from customers.

You are under no obligation to tip, and even the dealers don't expect you to tip while you're losing. However, if you are winning and the dealer is courteous and helpful, it's customary to tip. This can be done by simply pushing a chip forward onto the layout and telling the dealer, "This is for you." However, more frequently tips are given by placing a bet for the dealer.

In blackjack, the usual method for tipping is to place an additional bet at the front of your betting box. Don't tip so much or so frequently that you significantly shift the odds of the game. If you're betting $5 for yourself, a $1 bet for the dealer once or twice an hour, or when you're on a winning streak, will do. If you win the hand, the dealer will get a $2 tip. If you lose, the house gets the money.

Some older gambling guides tell of a cat-and-mouse game in which the blackjack player uses tips to get the dealer to deal another hand before shuffling when the cards remaining to be dealt are in the player's favor. This has little or no bearing on how the game is played today. In multiple-deck games dealt from a shoe, a colored plastic cut card is inserted into the shuffled cards to tell the dealer when to stop. When that cut card comes out, the dealer may not start another hand, regardless of what the player wants and how much he's willing to tip. Even in single- and double-deck games dealt from the hand, strict guidelines usually dictate when the dealer must shuffle. Sometimes a cut card is used. Don't tip with the expectation that the dealer will bend house rules on when to shuffle; tip for service with a smile.

Craps players also often place bets for the dealers. Most often, this is done either by telling a dealer to place a specific bet "for the boys" -- bets on 11 or the field are among frequent choices -- or by placing a bet on one of the "hard ways" and telling the dealer it goes both ways. That is, a $10 hard six both ways means the player is betting $5 for himself and $5 for the dealers that two threes will come up before a seven and before any other six. If you want to give the dealers the best chance to win, place a pass line bet for the boys.

Tips seem less frequent at the roulette wheel. Probably the most common is simply giving the dealer a chip after hitting a 35-1 single-number payoff. Don't hand it directly to the dealer -- dealers are not allowed to take money or chips from a player's hand. Place it on the table and tell the dealer it's a tip.
Slot and video poker players are a solitary lot, and occasions for tipping are rare. However, if you hit a large, hand-paid jackpot, and service has been good from a change person, it doesn't hurt to tip.

The fast pace and attitude of a casino floor can be intimidating to the newcomer. The truth is, from the hotel manager all the way down to the dealers, casinos want you to feel comfortable. Now that you have an idea of what to expect in a casino, you'll be placing bets in no time.

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