GAMBLER'S EDGE - Tips, Tactics and Knowledge


By Max Fontana

Tips, Tactics, and Knowledge
for Maximizing your Vegas Casino Experience


Why is it that when I’m playing Blackjack, it seems like I’m usually the only person who bothers to tip the dealer? I think this is partly because the role of casino dealers, and the way they earn their living, is widely misunderstood. No, dealers are not cut in for a percentage of what you lose. Most dealers make around minimum wage and live off their tips (or “tokes” in casino jargon), which they pool at the end of the shift and split up.

As long as the players are losing, they’re not going to be inclined to tip. This is why, contrary to popular belief, dealers actually want you to have a good time and win! They stand to gain absolutely nothing from taking your money, except for occasionally getting cursed out and having cigarette smoke blown in their faces. They want you to get lucky and share the wealth a little. They don’t expect much; on a $5 Blackjack table, toss out a $5 chip or make a side bet for the dealer a couple of times per hour, and they’re happy. Tip a little more if you hit a hot streak—and if you hit a few Blackjacks, it’s proper etiquette to give a little back to the person who dealt you those great cards. Also bear this in mind: most dealers are happy to tell you the correct strategy if you’re not sure how to play your cards. They’re allowed to do so. Just ask. If their advice helps you win, tip ‘em. Hey, you probably always tip your bartenders—and when was the last time they helped you make any money?


Another misunderstood aspect of the casino experience are “comps.” A lot of visitors to Vegas are under the mistaken impression that only high rollers are privy to free stuff from the casinos. Actually, the casinos give out millions of dollars worth of freebies every year to average, everyday players—in the form of free hotel rooms, meals, show tickets, and “cashback” (free credits). From the nickel slots player to the $10,000-a-hand baccarat player, everyone’s eligible for some level of comping. But first, you’ve got to be “rated.” In other words, you’ve got to sign up with the casino so that they can monitor your play and figure out what comps you qualify for.

With so many casinos vying for your play, the comping system was created as a way to reward customer loyalty. (If you’ve got a players’ card at Casino A and have accumulated a lot of play there, why would you want to go to Casino B and start from scratch?) And, with all the industry consolidation we’ve seen in recent years, a players’ card at one casino can normally be used at all the other casinos that are under that same corporate umbrella—not only in Vegas, but across the country. This applies to the casinos on the Strip (where Harrah’s Entertainment, for example, owns numerous resorts that are all linked on the same player tracking system), as well as locals casinos—such as the many popular properties under the Stations Casinos banner, including Red Rock, Palace Station, Sunset Station and Green Valley Ranch. Your players’ card can be used at any one of them.

Just sign up at casino’s players club desk. It’s free to do so. Or, while you’re sitting at a table, tell the dealer you want to be “rated” and they will call over a floorman who will ask for your driver’s license and create an account for you on the computer. (Or, a floorman might approach you and ask if you want to be rated; just say “yes.”) After they’ve collected your info, they’ll hand you a card which you can insert into any slot machine before you play, or hand over to the dealer before you start playing a table game. The slot machine can track your play electronically: the duration of your gambling session, and the average size of your bets. At a table, the floor supervisor will observe the length of time and your betting limits and enter this information into the computer’s tracking system. As for how much you’ll need to gamble in order to qualify for free meals and rooms—it varies between properties.

Contrary to popular belief, the level of comps you qualify for has nothing to do with whether you win or lose. Casinos comp a percentage of your action: how much money you put into play, and how long you play for. While you’re playing, you can always ask a casino host or supervisor whether you’re eligible for anything. A free trip for two to the buffet is a relatively easy request to grant; to get a free room, you’ll generally need to be playing green ($25) chips for an extended period.

Win or lose, if you gamble enough, they’ll fork over the comps. There’s no better publicity than a winner telling all the folks back home how they beat the casino and got a free suite and meals, to boot. The casinos know they’ll be back soon to risk the money they won, and then some. (There’s a saying: you never win money from a casino, you merely borrow it.) On the other hand, when you lose a bundle, offering to cover your hotel room helps soothe the sting. They want your business in the future. But don’t expect them to offer comps; it’s your job to ask. Most floormen have the authority to write you a comp slip for buffet or coffee shop. A higher-up, such as the pit boss, will usually have to approve a free room or meal at a gourmet restaurant.

Of course, if you gamble big enough and you’re a repeat customer, the casino will pull out all the stops. You can get comped full RFB (Room, Food and Beverage) for your entire stay, as long as you hold up your end of the bargain and spend a significant amount of time gambling.

If you haven’t been rated before, or want to try a new casino, you can always call the property in advance and speak with a host. Introduce yourself, and tell him the games you’ll be playing and your betting limits. When you show up at the casino, meet him and establish a personal relationship. You can also figure out what you’re eligible for up front—how much action you’ll need to give the casino to qualify for the freebies you want.

By the way, another word about tipping: they’re not included in your comps. If you get a free meal (normally they’ll comp you for two), don’t forget to leave something for your server. And one final word on the subject: never bet more than usual, or play longer, just to earn a freebie. Is it really a “free” trip to the buffet, if you burned through $200 trying to get it?

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