One of the best and most important books you'll ever read about gambling is Comp City by Max Rubin. It's not a guide to the math behind casino games - at least not in any kind of specific way. And you won't find detailed instructions for how to play blackjack or video poker here, either. In fact, it's unlike almost any other gambling book you'll ever read.
Rubin makes it clear from the first page that his goal in Comp City is to teach you how to maximize how much free stuff you can get from casinos via their comp system. And before you start to feel guilty about taking advantage of these poor businesses, remember that their goal is to separate you from your money. EVERYTHING about a casino is designed to extract money from your wallet as quickly as possible. No one needs to feel guilty about getting what they can from a casino.
According to Rubin's book, you can categorize casino comps into 2 categories:
The classic examples of comps anyone can get include:
These are the kinds of comps anyone can get as long as they're gambling. You don't need to know anything or do anything in particular to qualify - just show up and be of legal gambling age.
According to Rubin, the more interesting comps - the ones you have to qualify for--include the following:
The only people who get these comps are the ones the casinos expect to lose a lot of money gambling.
The book goes on to explain that there are 3 levels of players getting these casino comps:
A "comp wizard" is someone who intends to take advantage of these rewards. The main thing that comp wizards do that other players don't do is simple:
They ask for stuff.
You don't have to be a card counter or even know basic strategy. You don't have to master video poker. You don't need to be able to control the dice at the craps table.
All you have to do is be willing to ask the people working at the casino for free stuff.
The next step up from being a comp wizard is to become a comp counter. These players have specific knowledge and skills that enable them to combine a low house edge with comps in order to profit.
Don't confuse a comp counter with a card counter. Counting cards is a blackjack advantage technique which is designed to enable a player to profit from blackjack by tracking the ratio of high cards to low cards. That's a great skill and a lot of fun, but it's more complicated and harder than just being a comp counter.
The third category is ACES (Advanced Comp Earning System). People practicing this kind of system earn a dollar's worth of comps for every dime they lose gambling.
Max Rubin compares this strategy with winning free vacations for a lifetime. That makes his book and extremely frugal purchase. He claims that his book will pay for itself within 2 hours of your first reading of it.
The rest of the premise of the book is simple enough. You're going to learn how to play blackjack with perfect basic strategy. At many casinos, this will reduce the amount of the house edge to 0.5%.
But when evaluating your play for comps, the casino is going to assume that you're an average player. They're going to estimate that you're going to make a basic strategy mistake at least 15% of the time, and the house edge against an average player is 2%.
The casino awards comps based on your hourly expected loss. You get comps awarded regardless of whether you're winning or losing - it's based on the amount of time that you're playing more than it is on the actual amount you've lost.
Here's how you calculate hourly expected loss in a blackjack game:
Average bet X bets per hour X house edge = hourly expected loss
So the casino has you down as a $50 bettor placing 60 bets per hour. That's $3000 in action. And they're assuming you're losing 2% of that over time, which is $60 per hour. They're going to give you back $24 per hour in comps.
But if you're following Max Rubin's advice, you're doing things a little bit differently. For one thing, you're not betting $50 per hand. You're betting $25 per hand most of the time, but you're raising the sizes of your bets when the floorperson is watching you. Let's say that your average bet is $30 per hand instead of $50.
And since you're playing perfect basic strategy, the house edge is significantly lower than the casino's assumption. We'll call that 0.5%.
Finally, you're going to find ways to slow down your play. Maybe you're going to take frequent bathroom breaks. Rubin has a number of strategies for slowing down your personal rate of play, but let's say you're only playing 45 hands per hour instead of 60.
Now you're looking at an actual hourly expected loss that looks like this:
45 hands per hour at $30 per hand is $1350. And 0.5% of $1350 is $6.75.
So your actual expected loss is $6.75 per hour, but you're getting $24 per hour in comps. Suddenly blackjack is now a positive expectation game, and you didn't even have to learn how to count cards.
I'm summarizing the high points of Rubin's book, so he includes a lot more detail about dealing with the casino staff than this. But he also addresses the ethics behind this.
I'm going to put this into my own words:
There's nothing unethical about taking advantage of the casino's comp system.
In fact, everything the casino does, including their comp program, is designed specifically to take advantage of uneducated gamblers and get money from them. In a sense, you're just giving the casino a taste of its own medicine.
This book is great for gamblers who have a large enough bankroll to implement the suggestions. This means if you can afford to buy in for a couple of grand, even if you're not in a position to lose that much money, Comp City is a good book for you.
On the other hand, if you're a low roller with a small bankroll, you might be better served by reading and implementing some of the strategies in Jean Scott's books, The Frugal Gambler, More Frugal Gambling, and Frugal Video Poker.
An even better strategy might be to read all those books and use as much of the advice in all of them as possible. You might or might not have what it takes to become the most advanced of the comp wizards, but even if you don't, you'll find something of value here.
Yes, it is possible to get more value in comps than you lose gambling. But it takes a specific skillset. One of the first steps in developing these skills is studying Max Rubin's book Comp City. It contains all kinds of details about maximizing the value of the comps you're earning at the casinos that I couldn't include in this post for reasons of space.
The basics of this strategy are simple enough. The first step is to master basic strategy in blackjack. That will lower the house edge against you enough that the casino will expect you to lose way more than you're actually expecting to lose.
The next step is to find ways to ingratiate yourself with the folks who are evaluating how much you're playing. They're the ones making the decisions about how much you're earning in comps. Learning to deal with these people is essential to getting the most value for your gambling.
Finally, no matter how little you're gambling, you're entitled to a certain level of comps just for showing up. The trick to getting these comps is just to ask for them. Be nice and polite when you ask for them, but do ask.
Finally, if you're a low roller, you should complement what you've learned from Max Rubin's book by reading Jean Scott's books about frugal gambling.