To Card or Not to Card

            This past week I received an e-mail from a reader who wanted to know whether the casinos could essentially reward “non-frequent” players with better hands in video poker.  As we all know, the craze of the past decade or so is to have a frequent shopper card for each store.  My keyring is lined with them.  I’ve got one from grocery stores, drugstores, bookstores and countelss others.  Casinos are no different.  When you play, you put your frequent player card into the machine and it keeps track of how much you wager and in turn rewards you with points for comps, etc…
            So the question being asked is – can/do the casinos make the machines pay more for people who do NOT put a card in the machine.  The reader who sent this e-mail was echoing sentiments he has heard from other local and/or frequent Players.  He also stated that it ‘seems’ like more Royal Flushes go to non-regular Players.
            I could probably write several pages about this topic, looking at it from a variety of different angles.  I’ll try to hit the highlights of some of these today.  As I have stated many times in this column, it is the law in most casino jurisdictions (Las Vegas certainly included) that any video game that uses what appears to be an ordinary object (i.e. a deck of cards) MUST be completely random.  This means that at any point in time, the probability of any card not already dealt showing up is the same as any other card not already dealt showing up.  Given this, it is absolutely NOT possible to favor one set of Players over another.

            This is NOT to say that you can’t make a computer do this.   As an IT professional with over 20 years of experience, I know that it would be very easy to favor Players based on such criteria.  Even if it were legal to do so, I’m not so sure that I would necessarily favor the infrequent Player over the frequent Player at casino games.  As we all well know, many tourists will joyfully lose money at a posh casino as long as they can enjoy the marble columns while they are doing it.  Locals, on the other hand, tend to look for better paytables and care less about the physical surroundings.

            It is in this very topic that the three key components of Expert Strategy collide – knowing which games to play, knowing the right strategy and knowing what to expect.  My reader did not present any true evidence that one group of people are getting Royals at a higher rate than another.  He only stated that it ‘seemed’ that way.  Nothing makes the casinos happier than a Player doing something less than optimal because it feels right.  There is only ONE way for things to swing when a Player does this.  In the long run, the casinos will win more and the Player will win less.

            While the casinos have certainly cut back over the past few years on points, comps and cashback, there is still one simple math fact.  If we go with the notion that the casinos DO NOT play favorites based on whether or not the card is in the machine, then removing your card from the machine only serves one purposes.  You get an overall lower payback by not getting your comps and cashback.

            The decision to pull one’s card from the machine would appear to be based on the notion that it ‘seems’ as if others are getting more Royals and thus it MUST be because the house is favoring someone else.  All of us who have played for hours have gone through dry periods in which we’re sure that everytime we discard a King, it is replaced by a King – especially when drawing on a 4-Card Straight or 4-Card Flush.  Or we seem to be dealt an overabundance of a certain Low Pair which never seem to turn into trips.  A significant portion of this is simply our minds playing tricks on us.

            There is only one of you.  Even if you’re playing with a spouse or a friend or two, there is still only two or three of you.  Then there is the rest of the casino, which you ‘assume’ are not regulars – especially if you don’t remember seeing them all the time.  Even if they truly are NOT regulars and they are NOT playing with a card in the machine, there are still far more of them than there of you.  When you hit a Royal, you probably don’t notice all the people around you who haven’t hit them.  When you go through a rough patch, all of a sudden you notice every time someone else hits one. 

            Of course, there IS the possibility that other Players are getting Royals more frequently than you are – but it doesn’t mean the casinos are out to get you.  Nor does it mean that the other guy is doing himself any favors.  But, I’ll save that for next week!  In the meantime, leave your frequent Player card in the machine.  Don’t make a cold streak even worse by leaving your comps and cashback on the table.