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Big Competition Doesn't Mean Big Comps

Are Poker Players Treated Like Dirt by the Casinos?

A half-dozen players are sitting at the $4,000-$8,000 game in Bobby's Room, the luxurious security-guarded, glass-enclosed, two-table pit at Bellagio that serves as the center of the high-limit poker universe. Through the windows, railbirds gawk at the who's who of poker superstars and drool over pots the size of a year's pay, or more. And in a man-bites-dog switch of roles, the casino, too, drools over the pots. It's well known that casinos, whether they rake a percentage of the pot or, as in this case, rent space at the tables, earn less money hosting poker than any other game of chance. So when Gus Hansen, for example, wins $60,000 from Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey, Barry Greenstein, Todd Brunson and/or Johnny Chan, the house might earn $40. Bellagio, thus, takes a negligible cut of the world's largest poker action.

Which is why, in a nutshell, poker players big and small rank somewhere near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to reaping the benefits from the huge giveaway of goodies by casinos throughout the land.

So far to the bottom that not only do players have to pay their own buy-ins for big TV tournaments, unlike other sports like golf and tennis, but they get little in return. For example, at the WSOP, all players received for their huge buy-ins were $10 food comps. Meanwhile, Harrah's raked the prize money (more than $5 million from the prize pool in the Main Event alone), and kept money received from big endorsement deals with Milwaukee's Best Light beer, PartyPoker and others, as well as revenue from ESPN and pay-per-view broadcasts.

"Casino complimentaries (comps) are different for poker than for the table games and gambling machines," says David Matthews, a long-time poker player and the winner of the 2006 Ultimate Blackjack Tour. "No free rooms, no nice dinners, no seats at shows, no limos from the airport. Forget about it."

"I won't even talk to poker players," says Steve Cyr, proprietor of H Six, a high-roller hosting company. "Casinos don't make any money from poker players, which means I have nothing to offer poker players (in terms of comps) in return."

"Poker players aren't, when you come right down to it, casino customers," Blair Rodman, who's been frequenting Las Vegas cash games and tournaments for 25 years, says of the poker-and-comps situation. "Even with all the new poker rooms opening up in the past few years, they're still loss leaders for the casinos, same as ninety-nine-cent shrimp cocktails and five-dollar steaks."

So what do players who spend hours in a casino poker room get in comps for their action? It might not be much, as the conventional wisdom has it. On the other hand, it is something. All you have to know is how to get it.