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How to score free stuff from casinos

Here are some of the complimentary items you can expect to get when you sign up for casino reward cards

Eric Harkins/IMPDI

All poker players have a leak. It’s often another table game that sucks them in as they pass by on the long walk from the card room to the casino exit. Leaks are bad because they can quickly drain one’s wallet after hours spent nursing, say, a hundred-dollar buy-in at the $1–$2 no-limit hold-’em table.

My leak isn’t so much a game as it is a person. A person who tempts me out to one of our fine area casinos two or three times a year to play $25-a-hand blackjack, and perhaps some dollar slots. This person, whom we’ll call Lucky Shoes, gravitates to the more expensive tables because they offer slightly better odds.

I follow Lucky Shoes’ lead in raising and lowering my bets, and strictly adhere to basic blackjack strategy. But for the past few years, Lucky Shoes either breaks even or cleans up during our outings while I get taken to the cleaners. Whichever seat I choose is the bad-mojo seat. I am always battling, never cruising. When I hit the casino ATM only one time during these outings, I consider it a victory.

Now blackjack is a streaky game, but this streak is ridiculous. I keep at it, though, thinking my luck surely will change this time. Besides, I love hanging out with Lucky Shoes, we don’t hit the tables often, and I never lose more than I can afford. Still, it stings.

Two things make it all better: I win money when I play poker, and those blackjack (and slots) losses prompt casinos to send me all sorts of special offers. Sign up for a free rewards card and put several hundred bucks into play and you’ll get these offers, too, even if you win.

Before computers tracked every nickel wagered, complimentary items, or comps, at casinos were doled out at management discretion. Play awhile at blackjack and the pit boss might set you up with a meal or a show ticket. You never could tell. Now, comps come like clockwork. To give you an idea of the perks even semi-regular players can expect, I saved the mailings I received for December and January from the Horseshoe Hammond in Indiana and Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Via the Caesars Total Rewards Card I use in Hammond, the Horseshoe sent me a booklet with 15 coupons for $30 in slot play, each good for a different day in December. There was also a holiday lobster buffet, a one-day $40 slot play certificate, three coupons each good for two meals at the Village Square Buffet (worth about $150), a fifth of vodka, a bottle of wine, tickets to a New Year’s Eve dinner party, plus a three-night stay at a Vegas casino, valid through March. The January offers are nearly as generous.

At Rivers, the Rush Rewards Card bounty included buffets, $50 gift cards, hundreds of bucks worth of slot play, entry into a slot tournament, a waffle maker, a food processor and a griddler.

It almost makes losing feel like winning. But not quite.

The $3,320 keno jackpot I hit at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in December put me ahead for 2012 and made all those comps seem like chump change. But now it’s a new year, and those wondrous buffets are once again looking pretty, pretty good.

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