What it takes to get a comp at a Nevada sportsbook

There’s an old Business 101 maxim that taught us there’s no such thing as free lunch. Using that same basic financial model, you also could argue there’s no such thing as a free beer in the sportsbook.

Someone is paying for it, and it might not be as inexpensive as you think. And if you, the sports bettor, are not someone the casino can count on to take the worst of it, don’t expect to the gravy train to last for long.

That is, if it arrives at all. Comps in the sportsbook have long created an awkward dynamic in which gaming supervisors have to delicately balance their efforts toward top-notch customer service with a bottom-line reality that writing bets on the Dallas Cowboys -4 -- to a player who may or may not know his stuff – doesn’t pay the bills for the house.

Other games, such as slots, keno and roulette, are guaranteed to ring the register at a high rate. That’s why casino patrons who open their wallets to these gaming endeavors, and are used to seeing VIP treatment come their way as a result, often are left with puzzled stares when they are told their $2,000 bet on Notre Dame won’t get them in the door at the steakhouse.

It’s a scene that’s played out on a near daily basis at Nevada betting parlors, particularly during football season when tourist bettors will come in and throw down some decent-size bets, but are stunned to learn the sportsbook manager isn’t on the phone to call a limo. For the most part, they have to settle for a couple of beers and few hours of action on the game.

“It has always been an interesting thing to explain to people over the years,” Terry Cox, director of race and sports at Reno’s Peppermill Hotel Spa Casino, told Covers.com. “I remember a guy when I was at another property came in and asked, ‘How much do I have to bet on a game to get a free room?’

“And I said $10,000. He laughs and says, ‘No, really, how much do I have to bet?’ I tell him, ‘No, really, $10,000.’ He says, ‘No way, man.’ And I ask him, ‘How much money do you think the house makes on a $10,000 bet?”

The customer didn’t stick around for the answer which, using simple math, is about $450, or a projected long-term hold of 4.5 percent, provided the player bets $10,000 on every game and books his share of losers. Considering a room with a view is going to run you $450 minimum, the casino essentially would be operating at a loss if it comped sports bettors such amenities.

Even so, this doesn’t stop otherwise well-intentioned but uninformed players for asking for big concessions from the house. The key for sportsbook executives, according to Jay Kornegay, race and sportsbook director at the Las Vegas Hilton, is responding to such inquiries with a heavy dose of empathy.

“We get asked almost every day,” Kornegay told Covers.com. “They don’t understand the percentages, and think if they come up and play $10,000, we are going to take care of the weekend for them and all of their buddies behind them.

“It’s funny stuff. But seriously, we try to explain it all to them, and most of them will understand after we give them the facts.”

The casino’s projected hold on bets versus its potential loss in comps is an equation that is used for even the most grass-roots benefit extended to sports players – the free cocktail. Policies regarding this one are varied. For instance, the Peppermill will give you a drink for a minimum bet, and showing any betting slip with the current day’s date stamp will get you a cold one at the Las Vegas Hilton as well.

“We’re pretty liberal with the first one,” Cox said. “We’ll buy anybody a drink if you’re actively gaming in the casino.”

Other parlors, such as the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, require a minimum $125 bet before the waitress comes calling, said sportsbook manager Jeff Stoneback. 

Properties like the MGM that aren’t as loose with the booze have ample numbers to support their policies. According to John Salerno, director of Leroy’s, which runs dozens of satellite sportsbooks in Nevada, giving a $20 bettor a free drink is a losing proposition for the house. That’s because his drink is going to cost the casino more than the $1 the book can expect to take from his wagers over the long haul.

“And we still have to win the bet,” Salerno said.

With the idea of extending some sort of benefit to sports bettors, Leroy’s developed a club card for players five years ago that works like a cash-back credit card. Players get a certain amount of cash back for each bet placed while using the card, and they receive vouchers that can be used for anything they want.

In addition to helping bolster Leroy’s database of players for marketing purposes, Salerno said the club card helps offset the varying policies for player comps at each property where its books are located. Not only do individual casinos have their own specific guidelines, he noted the card helps counteract the common scenario in which lower-level players ask for more comps than those who play higher.

“The guy who comes in and bets $20 always wants 10 drink tokes,” said Salerno, whose club has more than 40,000 members. “The guy who comes in and bets $1,000 asks for nothing. We had to make sure we were aiming this at the right people.”

Many casinos have adopted a similar rewards system, usually one that ties into its players’ club card for slots and table games players. Gamblers can use their cards while placing a bet and will build points, though not nearly at the rate they will see when they stick their plastic wedge in a Megabucks machine.

Moreover, it doesn’t hurt if you’re a sucker. The more parlays, teasers and pleasers you place, the faster you’ll be headed to the buffet, gratis, sportsbook executives agree.

“I don’t know if we were a pioneer with this, but we tailor the comp program to the squares,” the Peppermill’s Cox said. “We’ll track your action and kick back a percentage of comps, but it’s higher if you’re betting parlays instead of straight bets. It’s worked well for us.”

The Leroy’s sports club uses a similar system, rewarding parlay players with 10 times as many cash-back credits as those who make straight bets. 

But if you’re really in a hurry to get a comp, make sure you stop by the racebook. The projected hold of race bets is 18 percent, according to gaming regulators. Predictably, players who are willing to take these odds can expect a few more perks.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, for instance, the comp system awards $1 for every $220 of sports play, but it takes just $33 in race bets for the same payback. 

“The racebook is the one place in the casino where we actually want people to win,” the MGM’s Stoneback said. “Because then they’ll bet more, and we’ve got that guaranteed win locked up.”

The general consensus among sportsbook executives is that they want to extend benefits to players as much as they can, but need to make sure that they protect the property’s bottom line, particularly at a time when gaming revenues have been on a steady decline for several years.

“The comps are part of our service, but I think the bean counters are taking a look and, let’s face it, they put a pretty sharp pencil to these things and make sure we are devoting our resources in the best possible way,” Cox said. “That’s just the nature of the beast. If you’re not a profitable customer for the casino, you really shouldn’t expect a lot back in the way of comps.”

The Las Vegas Hilton’s Kornegay voiced a similar refrain, emphasizing that his book’s wagering options are the primary means by which the business serves its customers.

“I think we have a very liberal comp system,” Kornegay said. “We truly believe in our service and product. Our extensive betting menu and aggressive oddsmaking are the keys to our success.

“But, you also have to treat your players right. You have to listen, learn and understand the needs of your players. When we do have to say ‘no,’ I want them to understand why.”

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Posted by VegasGourmet
2 years ago

Cantor Gaming leases the space and pays a percentage back to the hotel....they have no desire to have drinks added to their budget because they make nothing from the casino, just the book....Their attitude is free drinks in the casino and not the book....They are big into "account wagering" and really try to discourage the "walk-up business" that comes to the windows.....They have far less writers at each book for that reason....The South Point is a decent option, and don't forget those great 75-cent hot dogs!!!
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Posted by LeRinkRat
2 years ago

lmstudfosho is correct. South Point is "the new Hilton" as far as being a place to loaf and drink free on a football weekend. I find VegasGourmet (who KNOWS his Las Vegas) comments from Cantor about NOT comping drinks interesting. haven't booked or played at the M Casino, which is a Cantor book, for a long time (long story why) BUT that will definately hurt their "32 degree Bar" (the bar by the book) business because NO ONE in their RIGHT MIND is going to pay $6 or HIGHER for a pint of beer. as for the Hilton being a dump, it's STILL the best place to book in the city esp IF you bet the NHL.
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Posted by lmstudfosho
2 years ago

South Point is the place to be. Bet $10 get 2 drink tickets.
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Posted by ronnie101
2 years ago

tOTALLY AGREE BUT EVEN A 550.00 BET GETS YOU THE SAME
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Posted by 1133
2 years ago

HILTON is a dump ---you have to be kidding, or live in some palatial home. That or you had a bad day at the windows, I found them generous with their drinks, offer more betting opportunities , offer a nickle line on baseball games, and the staff are EXCELLENT. Joe from NH
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Posted by MYASSITCHES
2 years ago

The one thing you must learn to do is"" SPEAK THE UNIVERSAL LAMGUAGE".I walk up to the window get my ticket, TOKE the guy a couple of bucks,ask for a couple of tickets....and no problem. The boys @ the ORLEANS will give me 4 to 6 tickets for just throwing them a couple of bucks. I have had a problem only a few times and that was because the boss was hovering around. THROW THEM A BONE....AND YOU WILL NEVER, DRINK ALONE!!! MYASSITCHES
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Posted by StevieY
2 years ago

Im going to let u guys in on a simple but very profitable free drinks/comps secret... Go bet ur (whatever amount) on a game, get drink ticket(s), and go to the bathroom/walk around for a few minutes. Come back bet the OPPOSITE side of the same game u just bet and recieve more drink tickets, drink all day/night for free.
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Posted by MYASSITCHES
2 years ago

You forgot about the juice, sir so its not EXACTLY FREE...STAY THIRSTY MY FRIEND!
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Posted by MRSARATOGA
2 years ago

Very simple if you want drink comps. Go to the same teller each time so he/she becomes familiar with you. Ask politely for drink tix and you will get them. Act like an ahole and you won't.
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Posted by braves5795
2 years ago

soory, about the spelling error, dump or not.
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Posted by braves5795
2 years ago

dumo or not, if the hilton gives you a better # than the strip, you would be a fool not to take it from them, besides the book is a poor place to actually watch a game unless you can't get it at home.
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Posted by spearing24
2 years ago

$450 for a room at the Pepper Mill? Seriously?
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Posted by Josh_Nagel
2 years ago

Spearing, if you read the quote, Cox was at a different property when the story happened of him telling the customer he needed to bet $10,000. Having said that, and maybe you have not seen the Peppermill lately, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if some of their suites were in the $450 range on the weekend. It's a beautiful property. Take care.
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Posted by chef702
2 years ago

Really happy you referenced the Peppermill in Reno. Call "Majic" in VIP services for the nice suites... I now go here or the El Dorado because they comp well and it is a quick drive from North Cali. I have to say, as a former employee of Mandalay Bay, this book lost my business for charging me $5 for a 8oz bottle of water at 8:45am after placing $1500 worth of action a few years back. The waitress encourage me to write to Bill Hornbuckle after the policy change, because now her tips were in the shitter.... What I can't understand is by giving out free drinks doesn't this keep people in the sports book??? I know I have made several impulsive bets under the influence over the years.
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Posted by akatdrake
2 years ago

If you want drink tickets - tip the person taking your bet. Case in point, I was in Vegas in September... my buddy bets $550 on games and gets 2 tickets. I bet $220 on games and tip $20 and I get 6 tickets. My buddy says, "why did you give him more tickets? I bet more money." The employee says, "he took care of me." I cash in a couple of tickets and tip again, bam more drink tickets. Simple as that.
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Posted by Josh_Nagel
2 years ago

akatdrake, very good point. I didn't mention this in the story but I probably should have. I don't drink, but I do believe in tipping, because book employees rely on gratuities like any other dealer in the casino. Whenever I receive a payout, I always leave a tip of about 2 percent of my net win, sometimes more if I had a really good day. Without fail, upon receiving the tip, the writer will say, "Thanks. Do you need some drinks today?" You're right, take care of people. Simple as that.
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Posted by VegasGourmet
2 years ago

Josh, I assume (hopefully) that you have read some of my postings in the Las Vegas forum concerning this issue. Cantor Gaming, for one, has discontinued all free drinks from the sportsbooks that they run for various hotels and this will, in all probability, extend to what William Hill will do when they arrive/expand here. I have never seen the connection between betting sports and free drinks (and never will). There is not one Food & Beverage Manager at any Strip hotel that I know who enjoys facililitating the drink policy...whether the drinks are free or cost $200 a bet. What the casinos are unwilling to understand....and what leasing the books to Cantor has shown....is that sports/race bettors are still going to bet whether you give them a free beer or not.....As Lee Amaitis (CEO of Cantor) has said, "The days of the 25,000 square foot sportsbook are over." People should use the books to place there bets, watch the games (if they want)....AND THAT'S IT. Wanna get buzzed?......Find a bar. To have the book pay for (and they do) the free drinks is a joke and certainly detracts from the profit margin of the book (WHICH IS ANOTHER REASON WHY SENIOR MANAGEMENT COULD CARE VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE "HOLD" AND THE MONEY MADE BY THEIR BOOKS!!!)....I am 100% certain that if you ask any VP of Casino Operations (who oversee the race/sportsbook),,,,,If you could replace the book with slot machines would you?.....they would answer a resounding YES.....Enough of my diatribe....Thanks for the article.....
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Posted by Josh_Nagel
2 years ago

Hey Gourmet, No offense, but I didn't ready any of your work before writing this article. I crafted this story idea from my own experience with Nevada sportsbooks, with the idea that some readers might wonder why they can't get a comp at the book. But I agree with your general sentiment. I have never asked for a drink at the book and don't understand why some people seem to bet with the goal of receiving one. But you're right; most books contribute very little to the casino's overall bottom line, and non-sports fan casino executives likely would replace the book in a heartbeat if they could get away with it. Btw, I just noticed your comment is laying 7 points. Take the dog, and take care.
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Posted by Josh_Nagel
2 years ago

The spread has grown to -9 ... heavy public action.
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Posted by houseman
2 years ago

Hilton is a dump
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Top Response

Posted by akatdrake
2 years ago

"If you want drink tickets - tip the person taking your bet. Case in point, I was in Vegas in September... my buddy bets $550 on games and gets 2 tickets. I bet $220 on games and tip $20 and I get 6 tickets. My buddy says, "why did you give him more t..."

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