Everyone wants to get something for nothing - whether it's a lucky upgrade that means you can turn left when you get on a plane instead or heading off into the economy seats, or even getting a few extra features thrown in for free when you buy a new car.
As some of the sharpest businesses around, no-one understands this quite as well as casinos and that's why they all have a system that they call comps. It's short for "complimentary offers" and these are special treats specially designed to reward you for your loyalty to the casino in question. They're basically bonuses.
But, just as the economist Milton Friedman said "there's also no such thing as a free lunch", so casinos don't just hand these rewards out at random. There are certain steps that you're going to have to follow if you want to enter the world of free rewards - and here we explain what they are.
The comps you can get
To start things off, let's give you an idea of the sorts of comps that you can look forward to, provided that you play your cards right.
These can range from discounted rooms in resort casinos up to completely free accommodation. They can also include free meals or drinks while you play or valet parking when you drive to the casino. In some cases they can also take the form of transport to or from your home.
Casinos that double up as entertainment venues could offer comps such as free tickets or a priority booking. Sometimes you can even exchange comps for cashback or free play at the casino in question.
So, as you can see, the options are almost limitless - but it's also important to point out that it's an illusion that you're getting all these goodies for free. It's the money that you wager at the casino that's ultimately paying for them but that's not to say that you can't play the system to work more to your advantage.
Get to know the system
The first thing to do whenever you visit a new casino is to get a good understanding of how the comps system works there. Most rely on a points system and casinos are generally quite open about what you have to spend - either in terms of time or cash - to earn each point. Armed with this information, you can start to plan how you might gain comps.
The next step will be to get hold of a Player's Card from the casino in question. When you're playing the slots, insert your Player's Card into the machine - this will relay the information about how long you've been playing at the casino, which is important for them to calculate the bonuses that you are eligible for.
If you're playing table games then it's also a good idea to let the pit boss know that you're there so they can make a record of how long you play at the table.
It's quite logical which games you need to play to earn comps - at least from the perspective of the casino. In a nutshell, the less skill needed and the lower the level of your involvement in the outcome, the more comp points you'll score. So slots, where it is largely random, will notch up comp points comparatively fast, while a game like blackjack - which involves a considerable element of skill - will earn you fewer points.
How comps are calculated
When calculating how much comps a player deserves, the casino works out the player's theoretical loss ("theo" for short) - the amount of money it expects the player to lose. Theo is calculated by multiplying the casino's advantage with the player's total wager.
That's why, if you're gambling in a casino, you should always make sure you're using a player's card - because this lets the casino keep on top of your time at the casino, and how much success you're having. If you're playing a slot game, it doesn't make a difference how long you're at the machine. You'll earn comp dollars and tier credits based on the amount of money you play in the machine - and you'll build more comps for every hand or spin you play. This process will repeat until you're done gambling.
The comp system takes other factors into consideration, such as what games you're playing. Video poker players often earn half the comps other players earn because of the house advantage differences between each game.
Time spent equals comps earned
Casinos also like to see you playing for as long a period of time as possible, so a good strategy is to stretch out your bankroll for as long as you can even if this means playing for lower stakes. For most players this is a win/win situation because it also extends their playing period and, therefore, their enjoyment in the casino.
We mentioned earlier that there are some techniques that you can use to your advantage to maybe get more casino comps than you're actually entitled to. Nicholas Colon, a professional Advantage Player of casinos for 20 years, has had his say on how to do it like an expert, his blog post is a brilliant place to gain knowledge on what it takes to get casino comps. A lot of this has to do with making sure you create the perception that you're gambling more than you are. So a good way to start is to make sure that you're noticed when you play, maybe by celebrating more forcefully than you might normally do, and also congratulating others around you when they win. Pretty soon you'll become a known face around the casino and becoming someone they believe is a loyal player.
Another technique is to make your initial bets larger than those that follow, as these are the ones that the ones that are going to be noticed the most and mark you out as a higher roller than you actually are. Taking this a step further, if you make the casino believe you're a degenerate gambler, by attending your casino of choice two or three times a week. After a while you'll likely start receiving bonuses and free play vouchers in the mail.
When to play
As to what time of day you should play to enjoy maximum benefit, there are two schools of thought. The first is that if you are around at quieter times you're going to stand out more and get noticed more easily while the second is that at busier times your bets are going to be less closely scrutinized. On balance, however, it's probably best to attend casinos at busy times as this will give a stronger impression of you being a casino regular.
And don't go to the casino by yourself - bring along a wife, girlfriend or friend. That means you can work together to play games with offsetting bets, so you can work together to minimise your losses on the table.
But perhaps the most important rule of all, outlined by a number of the world's casino experts, is that if you don't ask, you don't get. So do go to the hosts and pit bosses and see what they can offer you - you'd be surprised by the discretionary powers that they're given to reward players a little more lavishly than is strictly required. If you've also always been friendly with them and built up something of a rapport beforehand, this can only help your case.
So now you're armed with plenty of great tips to make every trip to the casino even more rewarding than before. And, considering that the house really does always win in the end, at least you'll be getting some great extra benefits in return.