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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Table Comps at the Las Vegas Hilton

6 August 2005

If you are a table player I think you might find the following letter of interest. In particular, it might be worth your while to investigate the comping policy at the casino where you usually play just as I did. I believe the letter is self explanatory.

May 17, 2005

Mr. Pablo Gatti
Executive Casino Host
Las Vegas Hilton
3000 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109-1287

Dear Mr. Gatti,

This letter, as promised, is a follow-up to our conversation late Sunday afternoon, May 15th. First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and for offering to pass this on to your Director of Marketing. Let me begin with a bit of background.

Comps in Blackjack have traditionally been based on a casino win rate, averaged over all players, of between 1½% to 2% and a return to the player of 30% to 40% of that take. This represents a return to the player of 0.45% to 0.8%. Assuming a player bets $25 for four hours, and assuming that 60 hands per hour are played (a conservative estimate), that player could expect comps in the $27 to $48 range. This has been consistent with my experience. In your 'Always Rewarding' pamphlet, the Las Vegas Hilton states that "With an average table bet of $25 for four hours of play, you can earn between $20-$30 in Comp Dollars." Under the above assumptions this results in a return to the player of 0.33% to 0.50%. Now far be it from me to try and tell you folks what your return should be; it is certainly your prerogative to set the comp rate wherever you wish. You state the comp return very clearly and the player can take it or leave it; I don't have a problem with that. I do have a problem with the following observation.

On Saturday, May 14th, I played Blackjack for about 3½ hours at a bet of $50 per hand. Again, using a conservative estimate of 60 hands per hour, my action was 3.5 x 60 x 50 or $10,500. According to your published comp rate I should have received between $35 and $52.50. It appeared that I received around $10. The next day, Sunday May 15th, I checked my comp balance right before I sat down to play and it was $41 and change. I played for 1½ hours at $50 per hand (often raising to $100) and was told when I quit playing that my rating would be entered into the system at once. I checked about 30 minutes later and my comp balance was $44 and change - I had earned around $3 in comps! Again, using the assumptions above, this represents a return to the player of only 0.067%. From your published return schedule I should have expected $15 to $22.50 in comps. There seems to be an inconsistency between your published comp schedule and the actual comp schedule. Putting the best face on it, perhaps one of your MBAs missed a decimal point somewhere.

As you can see from my letterhead, I am a gaming analyst. I am also a gaming writer and publish the monthly mathematics column for the web site www.casinocity.com. If you would like to take a look at some of my articles just click on 'Playing Strategy'; they are all there in the archives. I plan to write an article about the material contained in this letter in my August column. I have copied this letter to some other colleagues of mine as they may wish to opine on this as well. You, or your Director of Marketing, may wish to reply to this letter prior to my article. Also, I would appreciate it if you could provide me with the exact numbers you use in your Blackjack comp calculations. Otherwise, I will just use the numbers that I mentioned above.

Mr. Gatti, thank you again for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Don Catlin

cc: Anthony Curtis
John Grochowski
Frank Scoblete
Henry Tamburin

A few remarks are in order. First of all I did get a reply from Mr. Gatti. On Monday, May 23 I received the following via email:

Dear Mr. Catlin:

Thank you for your letter dated May 17, 2005. I have Forwarded this letter to our Vice President of Casino Marketing, with an attached copy of the Resorts International player's club voucher where it states the information about comps. This letter has also been passed on to some of the other Department heads in our property so I assure you that this matter is being reviewed.

Rest assure(d) that your comments and observations are important and will be responded to.

Your friend,
Pablo Gatti
Executive Casino Host
Las Vegas Hilton

Second, as I write this it is July 15, 2005 and I have heard nothing else from the Las Vegas Hilton. Exactly what one can infer from this is unclear but at the very least it says to me that they don't dispute the figures that I state in my original letter.

Finally, there is a peculiarity to this whole issue. Besides Blackjack, I like to play Video Poker. One annoying policy of many casinos is that they separate the action of machine players from that of table players. Oh yes, if you talk to a host they will tell you that the information does come together at some point. I questioned such a person at the Golden Nugget to find out what my combined machine and table play meant. I couldn't get a straight answer. The Player's Club will give you a straight answer about what your machine play is worth but the best I could get about the combined play was "It gives us an indication of what kind of player you are." Gee, thanks!

The Las Vegas Hilton has an open comp policy and a person's combined play is openly on record to that person in terms of cash back and comp dollars. I like this policy and it is one of the reasons that I like to stay at the Hilton. Also, their $25 two deck Blackjack game is decent and they have some really good Video Poker (including 9/6 Jacks) back by the Sports Book. Now perfectly played 9/6 Jacks has a house edge that is approximately the same as their $25 two deck Blackjack game. Yet the comp and cash back from my machine play was exactly in line with their promotional material; as you can note above, not so my Blackjack play.

Well, you can be the judge. I'll have some thoughts about casino management (as well as management in other areas of American life) in a future article. In the meantime, check the comping policy where you play. I think it is important to let the powers that be know that we players are paying attention. 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