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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Playing for Comps

4 March 2006

My wife and I recently took an overnight at a casino near us and the experience, not the casino, brought back some fond memories of my favorite casino. That casino was the top floor of the old Playboy casino, later named the Atlantis, located in Atlantic City.

The Playboy/Atlantis casino was patterned after European casinos in that it had three different levels with the stakes going higher as the level went up. The top floor was called the Salon Casino and it was wonderful. The dealers were all dressed in tuxedos and the free drinks were the best brands. Off in the corner was a small restaurant, an open grill really, with outstanding food and outrageous prices. I doubt, however, if anyone ever paid for a meal in that place. If you were playing in that casino and told the floor person you were hungry, they gave you an open comp for that restaurant, you had a bite to eat, and then resumed your spot at the game. If you played green chips, as little as one chip, this was the treatment you got. It was the best casino deal I've ever had. Unfortunately, the casino went under.

A couple of weeks after my overnight I was reminded of the old Playboy/Atlantis and the Salon Casino. But let me begin at the beginning.

Most books that give advice on gambling correctly state that you should always get a player's card and you should always ask to be rated at any game you play. On the other hand, these same books also advise that you should not gamble just to get comps. That is good advice. The casinos, however, don't like to have players heed that advice and they do what they can to undermine it. How? They print up player's guides that state that if you play so many hours at such and such a level then you will receive a certain value in comps. Most of the time this is true (although see my August 6, 2005 article on this site). It also plants the idea in your head that you must play the suggested number of hours or you'll not curry the casino's favor. We're all susceptible to this subtle pressure, me included. I find myself sitting at a game and checking my watch to see how much time I've put in, even though I know better.

My trip to the nearby casino was prompted by two things. First, they sent me an offer for a good deal on a room. Second, I had been practicing my craps throw and wanted to give it a try on a user-friendly, 12-foot table. Unfortunately, the casino was crowded, the tables were busy, and it was impossible to get a position at stick left. So I decided to forget it and play some blackjack. Before dinner I played for about an hour with bets ranging from $25 to $100 and ended up breaking even. After dinner I played again and had a lucky streak; within twenty minutes I was ahead $500. I quit. With the aforementioned mindset, I remarked to my wife that with only an hour and twenty minutes of play I doubted that I would see any more good offers coming from that casino. Wrong! Two weeks later I received an offer of a great room rate and some other perks. I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, from their point of view the room is there whether I'm in it or not and if they can entice me to play again they will probably get their $500 back and then some. This is what made me think of the Salon Casino.

One of the dealers in the Salon Casino was a really friendly guy with lots of stories and I always tried to get a spot at his table. One of his stories involved a wedding that was being held at the Atlantis. It seems that one member of the wedding party was a guy who got lucky and won $17,000 from them. So what did the casino do? They gave him a free room, free meals, and even limousine service around town. He was there two weeks. My dealer remarked "I thought the guy was going to start getting his mail delivered here!" The point? The casino got back their $17,000 and then some. I'm sure they would have welcomed him back any time and given him royal treatment.

The point is this. Set win and loss limits for yourself (see my October 2005 article), stick to them and ignore the clock. Would you rather pay $60 for a $200 room and win $500 or lose $1000 and get the room for free? Get rated for sure, but play the game on your terms not theirs. See you next month.

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers