Play for free Casino
Maryland casinos have been collectively giving away tens of millions of dollars a year — as much as 20 percent of their revenue in one case — in free play on slot machines and table games designed to keep their big-spending customers gambling, according to state documents.
And that doesn't include the free hotel stays, dinners, gift cards, luxury car rides, flights and other "comps" that casino executives say are an essential part of doing business.
"It could be gift cards to Best Buy or Macy's or a kitchen item like a waffle maker, " said Noah Hirsch, vice president of marketing at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, a Caesars property. "It could be the casino's logo on a zip-up hoodie. Gifts can include cruises — Caesars has a partnership with Norwegian Cruise Lines. By and large, offers are based on past play."
Some state casinos go much further than others in trying to hook customers through "promotional" play, according to interviews and Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency records obtained under a public records request.
Rocky Gap Casino and Resort has been among the most aggressive. Last year, it told regulators that its free play amounted to 21.3 percent of its 2013 revenue. It opened in May 2013 and reported revenue of about $23 million that year.
In the most recently available report, dated April 2014, the other Maryland casinos reported spending smaller percentages of their proceeds on such promotions — 2.8 percent at Hollywood Casino Perryville, 7.1 percent at Maryland Live and 11 percent at Ocean Downs.
Horseshoe wasn't included because it didn't open until August of last year and its free play spending may never be known because state gambling regulators decided to restrict the publicly available information about such promotions in Maryland.
The casinos' spending percentages for 2012 and 2013 appeared in the following years' staff reports of the gaming control agency. But free play figures for 2014 aren't included in this year's version.