Are Online Casino Bonuses or Live Play Comps Better?
Casino players everywhere want to win, but the savvy ones out there know how to pad their bottom line through bonuses and comps – even when lady luck has abandoned them on that day.
Whether you prefer playing from the comfort of home at your favorite online casino, or heading out to the nearest brick and mortar gambling hall for a good time, bonuses and comps can be a lifesaver. Casinos are more than happy to take your money on longshot wagers and losing propositions, so it’s only fair that they put a few bucks back in your pocket by night’s end.
But not all bonuses are created equally, and that divide is laid especially bare when you transition between online and live play. Everything from game type requirements and expiration dates, to tier levels and rake back rewards come into play, and unless you stay informed, you can easily lose track of those invaluable bonuses and comps.
To help you make the most of your bounty of bonuses, this page has been assembled to serve as a guide to the many differences between online and live casino comps. You’ll learn about how both sides of the industry set their bonus plans, take a peek into the fine print that directly affects your bonus balances, study the often inscrutable details underlying online “playthrough” requirements, and brush up on how table games and poker award their respective comp plans.
In the end, you’ll be able to determine once and for all whether online or live casinos are more lucrative when it comes to catching bonuses and comps.
How Online Bonuses Work
In the industry’s infancy 20 years ago, the first online casinos stood out as unique destinations that didn’t really have much in the way of competition.
Today, however, the marketplace is crowded with dozens of operators running hundreds of sites worldwide. Bovada, Paddy Power, America’s Card Room (ACR), Crown Bet, Slots Million, Café Casino – these are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to assessing the size of the global online gambling market.
With so many venues seeking to gain your business, the concept of using bonuses to bring customers on board was born. Savvy operators realized that sweetening the proverbial pot with a few extra bucks offered the best way to develop a loyal player base.
Nowadays, the first thing you see when signing up for a site like Bovada – or any other online casino for that matter – is the site’s “Deposit Bonus” offers.
Also known as the “Welcome Bonus” or the “Sign Up Bonus,” these generous promotions are designed to get you registered with the site so you can place that first deposit. To do so, Bovada offers a 100 percent match, up to $1,000, on each of your first three deposits.
Most sites require you to use a special bonus code – “NEWWELCOME” in the case of Bovada – in order to “unlock” the bonus offer. From there, your bonus award is based directly on the amount you choose to deposit, using the percentage match and limits as described above.
If you entered the code and placed an initial deposit of $300, for example, the 100 percent match would provide an additional $300 in bonus funds. When you open up the casino lobby and head to your account’s Cashier page, you’ll find $600 waiting in your bankroll – $300 in standard funds along with the $300 bonus.
You can earn a match bonus on the minimum allowable deposit, or go for the gusto by depositing the maximum ($1,000 in this case). And with the three-pronged nature of Bovada’s bonus offer, you can score a 100 percent bonus match on your first three transactions.
Bovada isn’t the only online casino offering a Welcome Bonus like this, so be sure to check the Promotions page of your favorite to site to learn more about their particular offers.
Welcome Bonuses aren’t the only way to score free funds from an online casino, but they’re by far the most common. You may also be offered a “Reload Bonus,” which uses the same match scheme on subsequent deposits, or a “No Deposit” bonus that simply adds free funds to your account when you’ve gone bust.
If you’re new to the world of online casino bonus plans, you’re probably asking a common question at this point – why wouldn’t I just withdraw the $600 and pocket and immediate $300 profit?
Well, online casino operators are one step ahead of that scheme, thanks to a system they like to call “playthrough.”
Navigating the Maze of Online “Playthrough” Requirements
If you’ve ever gambled online before, chances are high you’ve heard the term “playthrough” passed around the horn.
Also known as a “rollover” requirement, this stipulation ensures that players can’t simply claim bonus funds and withdraw them back into their own bank accounts. Without a firm playthrough policy in place, online casinos would simply have no incentive to offer these introductory bonuses in the first place.
The concept of playthrough can seem quite complicated at first – and trust me, most online casinos go out of their way to make it seem that way – but the premise is actually pretty simple. Until you’ve wagered a certain amount of dollars on the site, your bonus funds can’t be “unlocked” or otherwise released for withdrawal.
Let’s revisit that $300 initial deposit example from earlier. In this case, Bovada’s 100 percent match Welcome Bonus has added an extra $300 in bonus funds to our account, giving us $600 total to work with.
When you head to the slots, table games, or poker room, you’ll have all $600 at your disposal for wagering purposes – just not for withdrawal. Only when you’ve satisfied the site’s unique playthrough requirement will the bonus be unlocked.
Over at Bovada, the playthrough requirement for casino players stands at 30x. This multiple reflects the amount you’ll need to wager relative to your bonus amount plus the corresponding deposit.
In your case, with $600 in the virtual kitty, 30 times that comes to $18,000 – meaning you’ll need to place at least much in bets before the bonus can be released.
Now, the idea of betting five figures to score a few hundred bucks may not seem like all that much fun for most recreational players. But thankfully, the back and forth nature of casino games ensures that this playthrough requirement can be met with more ease than one might imagine.
Just think about it. If you’re betting $1 per spin on your favorite slot game, while putting in 60 spins per hour, you’ll be able to bet $60 over a 60-minute span. Hit the blackjack tables for a round of $5 per hand action, and playing 30 hands per hour adds another $150 to your playthrough count.
And over that span, you won’t be sending every dollar over to the house – not by a long shot. Instead, the probabilities underpinning most casino games guarantees that you’ll be on a see-saw of sorts, winning a bet and losing another, winning a few straight before suffering a downswing.
Overall, however, even if you can break even by the end of a session, you’ll have piled up a productive day in terms of playthrough.
Many new players get frustrated with this system, calling bonus playthrough requirements a bait and switch. And while I sympathize with these critiques, online casinos wouldn’t have any reason to lavish players with bonus rewards unless these safeguards were in place.
One reason rookie players encounter trouble is the fine print. Unless you know which games to play while chasing a playthrough goal, you can get stuck in quicksand with no escape in sight.
Take a look below to see how Bovada breaks down its playthrough wagering requirements:
|Wagering Contributions||Percentage Contribution|
|Slots, Specialty Games (all types)||100 percent|
|Table Games (unless stated otherwise)||20 percent|
|Video Poker (all types) and Blackjack (unless stated otherwise)||10 percent|
|Single Deck and Double Deck Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat||5 percent|
|Craps and Live Dealer (all types)||0 percent|
As you can see, games listed under the Slots and Specialty menus offer a full 100 percent conversion rate. In other words, every dollar you wager on these games reflects a full dollar off your playthrough goal.
But if you were to bet a dollar on table games like Tri Card Poker or Caribbean Stud, the contribution plummets to just 20 percent – so you’d only apply 20 cents to your playthrough count.
The numbers just get worse from there, and if you’re a craps player by trade, you won’t get a single playthrough penny from your sessions.
If you’re keen on taking full advantage of an online casino’s bonus offers, be sure to study their playthrough requirements diligently. Look for the multiple you need to hit, the games that offer the most bang for your buck, and any expiration dates attached to the promotion.
How Live Comps Work
On the other side of the gaming industry spectrum, brick and mortar casinos have been using comps – short for “complimentary” for since the heyday of Sin City back in the 1960s.
Ever hear the old expression “winner, winner – chicken dinner” while gambling it up? This saying stems from an old casino manager’s promotion, whereby a winning blackjack entitled players to a comped chicken dinner.
Casinos like to reward their regulars with comps and other freebies to keep them coming back for more. And you’d be surprised by how effective that hook can really be.
Many players will gladly endure a losing session that sees thousands of dollars sent to the casino’s coffers, so long as they score a “free” $99 room out of the deal.
Today, the two major casino operators in the world – MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment – run dedicated Rewards programs to help players keep track of comps.
Holders of the M Life card can take advantage of the comp program at the following casino properties:
- ARIA Las Vegas
- Bellagio Las Vegas
- Excalibur Hotel and Casino
- Luxor Las Vegas
- Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
- MGM Grand Las Vegas
- The Mirage Las Vegas
- Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
- New York New York Hotel and Casino
- Beau Rivage – (Biloxi, Mississippi)
- Borgata – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
- The Water Club – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
- Gold Strike Casino Resort – (Tunica Resorts, Mississippi)
- Grand Victoria – (Elgin, Illinois)
- MGM Grand Detroit – (Detroit, Michigan)
- MGM National Harbor – (National Harbor, Maryland)
- MGM Springfield – (Springfield, Massachusetts)
- MGM Grand Sanya – (Sanya, Hainan, China)
- MGM Macau – (Macau, China)
- Bellagio Shanghai – (Shanghai, China)
And if you’re a Caesars enthusiast instead, the Total Rewards card is accepted at the following venues:
- Bally’s Las Vegas
- Caesars Palace
- The Cromwell Las Vegas
- Flamingo Las Vegas
- Harrah’s Las Vegas
- The LINQ Las Vegas
- Paris Las Vegas
- Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
- Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino
- Bally’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
- Caesars Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
- Caesars Windsor – (Windsor, Ontario, Canada)
- Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino – (Phoenix, Arizona)
- Harrah’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
- Harrah’s Cherokee – (Cherokee, North Carolina)
- Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River – (Cherokee, North Carolina)
- Harrah’s Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
- Harrah’s Gulf Coast – (Biloxi, Mississippi)
- Harrah’s Joliet – (Joliet, Illinois)
- Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, Nevada)
- Harrah’s Laughlin – (Laughlin, Nevada)
- Harrah’s Louisiana Downs – (Bossier City, Louisiana)
- Harrah’s Metropolis – (Metropolis, Illinois)
- Harrah’s New Orleans – (New Orleans, Louisiana)
- Harrah’s North Kansas City – (North Kansas City, Missouri)
- Harrah’s Philadelphia – (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Harrah’s Reno – (Reno, Nevada)
- Harrah’s Resort Southern California – (Valley Center, California)
- Harvey’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, Nevada)
- Horseshoe Casino Baltimore – (Baltimore, Maryland)
- Horseshoe Bossier City – (Bossier City, Louisiana)
- Horseshoe Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
- Horseshoe Hammond – (Hammond, Indiana)
- Horseshoe Casino Tunica – (Tunica, Mississippi)
- Horseshoe Southern Indiana – (Elizabeth, Indiana)
- Tunica Roadhouse – (Tunica, Mississippi)
The idea of a card-based Rewards program is quite novel, as it removes any guesswork from the equation.
To score comps through either the M Life or Total Rewards program, you simply insert your card into a slot or video poker machine before beginning the game. If you’re a table game or poker player, just hand your card to the dealer before buying in and ask for your play to be “rated.”
From there, every wager you place should be tracked and recorded by the casino’s computer system. This is far easier for the machine games, but a competent dealer and pit boss team should be able to rate your play effectively – provided you’re betting high enough ($20 per hand or more in most Las Vegas casinos).
After spending a weekend on The Strip, and frequenting properties under the same Rewards umbrella, you’ll find your M Life or Total Rewards account swelling with points.
I’ll dive into the details behind those points in the next section, but on a fundamental level, these points can be redeemed for a litany of comps and bonuses – including discounts on in-house dining and entertainment, VIP access to valet and spa services, and even free-play on your favorite games.
Finding Answers in the Fine Print
Just like online casino bonus plans, the Rewards card systems put in place by MGM and Caesars – or any brick and mortar casino chain for that matter – are designed to be opaque.
Here’s how MGM describes the M Life program in the company’s FAQ page:
“You earn Tier Credits for virtually every dollar you spend – including gaming – across all our M life Rewards Destinations For every dollar you spend on your hotel stay, dining, entertainment, or spa you earn Tier Credits – in Las Vegas you earn 25 Tier Credits per dollar spent; at Beau Rivage, Gold Strike Tunica, and MGM Grand Detroit you earn 8 Tier Credits per dollar spent.
For slot play in Las Vegas M life casinos, you receive ten (10) Tier Credits for every Base Point earned. When playing at Beau Rivage or Gold Strike Tunica, you receive two (2) Tier Credits for every Base Point earned. At MGM Grand Detroit, you receive one (1) Tier Credit for every Base Point earned. For table games, you’ll earn Tier Credits based on length of play, average bet, and game type.”
Under this plan, players earn a single Tier Credit for every dollar they spend or gamble in a MGM property.
Tier Credits are used as a scoreboard of sorts, and as you gain more of them, you’ll move up though MGM’s various Rewards tiers. The higher tier you attain, the more gifts and comps you’ll be eligible to receive.
MGM also awards Base Points based on your wagering volume, and each Base Point is valued at $0.01 in cash. Thus, for every 100 Base Points you accumulate, you’ll have $1 in spending money good throughout all MGM affiliated casinos.
Over at Caesars properties, the Total Rewards setup is described as follows:
“You will earn 1 Reward Credit for each $5 you play on reel slot machines and $10 for video poker. Additionally, you may earn extra Reward Credits throughout the day based on the type of game you are playing, your average bet, and your length of play.
For table play, be sure to hand your Total Rewards card to the dealer or pit supervisor as soon as you sit down to play and ask to be rated. Reward Credits are earned based on length of play, average bet and type of game.”
When you wager $5 on slots, or $10 on video poker, you’ll be awarded with one Reward Credit.
These work just like MGM’s Base Points, acting as a penny in real money terms. And along with Reward Credits, you can also pile up Tier Credits to move up the Caesars ladder.
In both cases, the comp plans offered by the two major casino operators seem to work out in much the same way. The more you play, the more you earn, and those earnings allow you to keep playing – which is why the casinos offer them in the first place.
Differences Between Poker and Casino Comps
Comps are typically associated with the machines and table games, but if you like to play cash game poker – think No Limit Texas Hold’em and the like – both the M Life and Total Rewards cards are accepted in respective Caesars and MGM poker rooms.
After handing your Player’s Card to the dealer for scanning, each hour you sit at the poker table is good for a dollar or two worth of comp points.
See the table below for a breakdown of comp point rewards in several prominent Las Vegas poker rooms:
|Casino||Maximum Rake||Comps Per Hour|
|Green Valley Ranch||$4||$1|
|Red Rock Canyon||$4||$1|
|Santa Fe Station||$4||$1|
As you can see, this set up differs slightly from the slots and table games, as your rewards are based on time spent, and not dollars wagered.
Theoretically, poker rooms provide the best way to accumulate points in a hurry, because you can simply play “tight” and fold while letting the clock tick away.
Online casinos and their brick and mortar counterparts both use comps and bonuses for the same reason – to keep customers loyal to their brand. Which system is better for you depends on many factors, including your games of choice, your bankroll limitations, and your play volume.
In both cases though, developing a clear understanding of the systems in place – and how to best take advantage of them – is in every gambler’s best interest.