|By Chuck Darrow, Philadelphia Daily
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 2, 2008 - "CAN I GET a comp?"
With the possible exception of "Which way to the buffet?" it may be the most frequently asked question in a casino.
Declining revenue caused by competition from Pennsylvania's slot barns and a partial smoking ban, which becomes full-fledged in six weeks, have caused Atlantic City's 11 gambling dens to grow increasingly stingy with their free hotel rooms, meals and other goods and services.
Industry figures indicate that about 11 percent fewer complimentary rewards and incentives have been doled out by the town's gaming halls this year than in 2007.
But freebies are still available, and they aren't the sole province of high-rollers who risk hundreds, or thousands, on each turn of the cards or roll of the dice. But many gamblers aren't even aware that they might be eligible for casino comps. Others may realize that they qualify, but have no idea how to go about getting them.
To that end, the Daily News asked Mary Tindall, vice president of marketing at Tropicana Casino and Resort, to help explain the whys and wherefors of getting comped. Most of her answers can be applied to any casino in Atlantic City or elsewhere, but, she explained, some information, especially regarding specific numbers (e.g., "How much must I gamble to qualify for comps?") can vary. Also, the information's considered proprietary, which means gaming companies keep it to themselves.
Q: Who is eligible for comps?
All table and slots game players, including poker players, who are over the age of 21.
Q: How do I get started as a "rated" player?
It's pretty standard in the industry that you get started by joining a casino's players club. There are some differences between individual casinos' programs, but it's the same concept. You can apply for membership in person or online, but you have to pick up your membership card in person to provide proof of age. You may also be approached by a casino host who has watched you play; he'll ask you if you'd like a players card.
Q: Do I have to have a players card?
Yes you do. It's the only way to be rated for slot play. And the casino has to have your proof of age and personal info on file in order to comp you, even if you didn't want a card.
Q: Aren't comps just for high rollers?
Not at all. No matter what stakes you play, you should sign up for a players club. You might not be eligible for free hotel suites and gourmet meals, but once you are in a casino's database you can receive offers of discounts and other incentives.
Q: How are comps determined?
Contrary to what many may think, comps aren't determined solely by the amount of money a player wagers. As a matter of fact, a $25-a-hand blackjack player may not receive the same level of comps given to a $25-a-hand Three Card Poker player. There are various other factors involved.
The length of play and rate of wagers are the most important determining factors. But there are also different odds on each game, and different win potentials. Each casino has a secret, computer-generated formula that is used to determine the value of comps earned by a player.
Q: Does it matter if I play slots or table games?
Not at all. Comps are comps.
Q: What can I get with the comps I earn?
At the Tropicana, comps are redeemable for hotel rooms, food, beverages, entertainment, spa and salon treatments, even limousines.
Q: Are there other benefits to joining a players club?
There is a vast array of benefits. Once you are part of a club and are rated, you may be eligible for special parties and dinners and invitation-only tournaments. And you won't have to wait in line at the buffet.
Q: Is it more important to play a lot of money once in a while, or smaller amounts more frequently?
In the industry, both are recognized and encouraged, but loyalty has its rewards. People who visit a casino more frequently are recognized for that. Every casino in Atlantic City has "tiered" [different level] cards, which are all about loyalty to a specific casino.
Q: Can comps be converted to cash?
Tropicana doesn't have that program, but once in a while other casinos might do it as a special slots promotion. But it's not done in the industry on a regular basis.
Q: Are comps taxable?
Everything -- rooms, meals, etc. -- has a tax that a comped player must pay.
Chuck Darrow has covered Atlantic City and the casino industry for more than 20 years. Read his blog at
>http://go.philly.com/casinotes. Or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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