for low rollers from the Queen of Comps By Holden
first thing to know about Jean Scott is that she
and her husband stayed 191 nights in casino hotels
in Las Vegas one year and never paid for rooms
or meals. Everything was complimentary, or "comped,"
in the lingo of Las Vegas.
The second thing to
know about Scott is that she has an obsession
with penny-pinching, and she has written the definitive
pair of books on how low-rollers can stretch their
money in Las Vegas and other gambling destinations.
The first book, "The
Frugal Gambler," was published in 1998, right
around the time Scott and her husband, Brad, were
enjoying their half-year of free room and board
in Vegas. (They still owned a home in Indianapolis
at the time.) Among other things, "The Frugal
myths about casinos (No. 1: "The casino
will always make a big effort to get your
tells how to
request comps (complimentary items such as
rooms, meals and tickets); and
to get bumped from your airline flight profitably.
That last item is a
big one; Scott will go out of her way to get bumped
from a flight, and as she tours the country to
promote her recently published sequel, "More
Frugal Gambling," it pains her to travel
on a tight schedule.
a while I have a timetable where I'm going to
speak and I can't take a bump," she says.
"Nothing breaks my heart more than that."
In addition to
the two "Frugal" books, Scott runs her
own storefront on the
Web; helped design Frugal Video Poker, a tutorial
computer program from Wolf Gaming Software; recorded
an audio book called "How To Get Comps at
a Casino"; gives speeches at gambling resorts
across the country; writes a weekly column called
Fridays for a newsletter called Las Vegas
Advisor, and is writing a tax guide for gamblers.
The former English teacher says she wants to retire,
but always has something more to say.
In her books
and speaking engagements, Scott preaches that
gambling is a form of recreation. The money a
gambler loses is the cost of entertainment, like
the price of a theater ticket. A frugal gambler
stretches those entertainment dollars to the limit.
Scott is in her
mid-60s. She always has been thrifty, but she
wasn't always a gambler. She didn't know the names
of the card suits until her early 30s. She grew
up as the daughter of an evangelical, fundamentalist
minister. He was not highly paid. The paltry salaries
encouraged Scott's parents to prize thrift; religious
conviction required them to forbid dice and cards.
even allowed to play games like Old Maid, because
that would have the appearance of sinful behavior,"
she writes in "The Frugal Gambler."
"Someone might have seen us playing and thought
we were engaged in a poker game!"
These days, Scott spends
hour upon hour playing video poker. She not only
enjoys it, but it's also how she puts food on
the table (complimentary lunches and dinners)
and fuel in the car (gasoline coupons earned at
Despite the time
she devotes to video poker, her true passion is
for saving money. Call her an evangelical, fundamentalist
tightwad. Thriftiness is next to godliness. Waste
at least careful with your money is not fun to
you, I have no hope for you anyway," she
says in the manner of a rebuffed proselytizer.
Gambling and frugality
might appear to be opposites, but Scott says there
is no contradiction. She is so skilled at video
poker that she makes money playing it. Most people
aren't willing to invest the time and money to
become that proficient; they visit casinos for
recreation, and Scott understands that. In her
books and speeches, she tells casual gamblers
to walk into a casino with realistic aspirations.
Winning money at a
casino, Scott says, "is not a goal, it's
a hope. A better goal is extending your playing
time. The casinos aren't against that. The casinos
don't want you to lose too fast, because you'll
get mad and you'll want to leave. They want it
all eventually, your bankroll, but they want you
to have fun while you're losing it so you'll go
home and say, 'Well, I lost money, but I had a
It didn't take Scott
long to come to this conclusion after her first
visit to Las Vegas, in the early 1980s. She and
Brad took $3,000 and blew it in three or four
days. He played the slots and she played blackjack
-- badly. She noticed that casinos were giving
out coupons for all sorts of things: free plays
at the blackjack table, discounts on buffets,
you name it. Then, after the couple returned to
Indianapolis, they got a discount offer in the
mail from the casino where they had stayed. "So
I thought, well, this is another world that's
just like the real world," she says.
For Scott, the real
world is filled with savings opportunities. She
and her husband live in a modest, ground-floor
condominium not far from Flamingo Road in Las
Vegas, and they get a $15 monthly discount on
their electric bill for allowing the electric
utility to cut off the air conditioning at times
of peak demand -- even in summer. "I don't
know why anybody wouldn't do that," she says
in her living room, where the windows are open
on a warm fall day.
Scott was spreading
the gospel of parsimony long before she wrote
her books. When Scott's daughter, Angela Sparks,
was growing up, the two would clothes-shop on
half-price day at the thrift store. To repeat:
Half-price day. At the thrift store. "She
thought everybody got their clothes in a thrift
store until she was a teenager and her friends
took her to the mall," Scott says.
Lesser children might
have been traumatized, but not Angela. She co-wrote
"More Frugal Gambling" with her mother
and pronounces half-price day at the thrift shop
"the supreme shopping experience." While
in high school, she made her first trip to Las
Vegas, courtesy of an airline ticket that her
mother and stepfather had earned after getting
bumped off a flight. She brought a friend, who
also got a free ticket, courtesy of the Scotts'
trip to Vegas happened in the days when Jean Scott
would gather every tidbit of information she could
find about coupons. She would pass along the coupon
intelligence to Anthony Curtis, publisher of Las
Vegas Advisor, now a 12-page monthly newsletter
whose most popular feature, "Top Ten Values,"
tells Vegas visitors where they can find the cheapest
rooms, buffets, burgers and cups of coffee, among
other things. Impressed by Scott's coupon prowess,
publisher Curtis dubbed her "the Queen of
Back in Indianapolis,
Scott was a schoolteacher, then a tutor. Eventually
she quit the tutoring job because she could make
more money staying home and planning how to get
free travel, food and lodging. She attended to
"hundreds of little details."
"I'd walk across
the street and down three blocks to get a coupon
that had the value of a dollar," she says.
She doesn't have the strength to do that anymore,
and, besides, "If I can play a game that
has a theoretical win of $20 an hour, I'm not
going to take two hours to run around town for
$5 in coupons."
In the days when she
and her husband were staying free in hotels for
months at a time, one of Scott's favorite gambits
was to sweet-talk the hotel maids into "bringing
valuable trash" from other guests' rooms
-- the coupon books that can be found in every
hotel in town.
Now her frugality serves
generosity. Courtesy of airline vouchers (collected
when the Scotts are bumped from flights), she
flies relatives to Las Vegas, where she often
can put them up free or inexpensively in hotels,
courtesy of comps and coupons.
too. As Brad leaves the condo to run some errands,
he totes a bottle of white zinfandel wine. "We
had a $25 coupon to eat at the Gold Coast and
the meal came to only $20," Scott says. "We
don't drink. We got the bottle of wine anyway,
and we put the cork back on it and gave it away
to the neighbors."
She gazes fondly
at her husband as he closes the door. "Brad's
job in life is to keep me from being too nutty
frugal," Scott says. "I'm changing.
I used to know where every penny was. Now, if
it comes right to about a thousand dollars one
way or another, I say that's good enough. Now,
that's a long way for me."