Obviously, I got my math skills from my father, Lenny Frome. Not that my mother was so bad at math either. But, from my mom I got my skill to hunt down a bargain, use coupons and send away for rebates. There are times when it has become more of a game for me than it is about the money. When I first came to Las Vegas in 1984, casinos used to give out tons of stuff for free - keychains, pictures, food. I'm not sure what happened to the keychain with my initials on it from the Golden Goose Casino, but I still have the picture of my best friend and myself with the million dollars behind glass at Binion's.
As Vegas grew in tourism, the casinos needed to adapt. They simply couldn't afford to give away unlimited amounts of free stuff to everyone. One way to control how much stuff was given away was through what eventually became today's Loyalty or Player's card. First, it allowed casinos to collect relevant information on Players - namely name and address. With this, they could send you marketing material. Second, you could sign up only once as you needed to show a Driver's License. This reduced the ability to get multiple free items from the same casino. Third, it allowed the casinos to begin standardizing the comps process. It no longer worked as a discretionary item from the pit boss, but became more of a math formula. It also allowed the slot Players and the new video poker Players to become part of this process.
Over time, I had collected a Player's card from most of the major casinos around. As merger mania hit in the 1990's, many of these casinos merged. Somehow, some of my accounts actually survived these mergers despite lack of use for many years. And, if my account was deleted, it gave me a new opportunity to get something out of the casino for signing up.
Over the years, I have occasionally written about these Player's clubs and the pros and cons. I am a firm believe that you should take advantage of these accounts very much. Simply put, there are really no reasons not to. There are some who believe that if your Player's card is in the machine, then the casinos will stop you from winning (especially if they see you are a 'good' Players). To the best of my knowledge the casino doesn't even track this information. Generally, they track how much you won or lost (so that you can print out a log for tax purposes) and they keep track of the total amount you wager so that they can convert this to points to be used for some type of comp purposes.
So, with no determent, we take a look at the positives. Well, there are the comps. As I said earlier, these used to be more subjective. Now, they are formulaic. You wagered X, you get a certain percent of X back in some form. It might be free play. It might be money you can use in a restaurant. It might be points to be used to buy things in a special shop. The value of these items are calculated into the overall payback that the casinos offer. This is one reason why full-pay machines have disappeared. But, if a game pays back 99.6% and you can earn another 0.4% back in comps, then you're still at 100%.
The key here is putting the proper value on the comps. You earn free play with it? Well, you have to actually play it, which means its real value is the value in play times the payback of whatever machine you play it on. In the case of video poker, this means you should keep 98% (minimally) back on average. You get free meals? Well, if you enjoy eating at the restaurants offered and the meals are not overpriced, then you are getting the full value (or close to it). But, if you're vegan and the only option is a Roast Beef Dinner, there is no value. If the simple chicken dinner costs $45 (and you could get it elsewhere for $10), then the value is not $45 (it is more like $10). If the items you can buy at the special store at full retail and limited to stuff you don't really want or need, then you can't count the value as the full retail value.
But, then again, it is all FREE. Well, free in the sense that assuming you are playing anyhow, it doesn't cost anything extra to put your card in the machine. I am certainly NOT advocating that you run off and play more video poker just because you have a Player's card. Rather, I am suggesting that IF you play, you go get a Player's Card and use it.
Recently, I got a great reminder of why this is. For those who read last week's column, you know that I just celebrated the big 5-0 earlier this year. At Red Rock (and all Station Casinos) that qualifies me for the 'My generation' program. On Wednesday, I get a free drink at Starbucks, discount movie tickets and discounted bowling (if I pay with points). They also have a Slot contest every Wednesday. I had seen it out of the corner of my eye when playing over the past few years, but this was my first opportunity to actually play in it.
It's quite simple. You get 1 entry into the tournament for showing up. You can earn up to 4 more for every 50 base points you earn playing. So I played for about an hour beforehand and earned a total of 4 entries. Making it very nice was that I won $10 during this hour. The slot machine was not a regular slot. It was one that was set up specific for this tournament. Essentially you play for 2 minutes and hit 'Spin' as fast you can. You're not even paying attention to how many points you are racking up. Every once in a while a special symbol appears on the screen and you have to hit it to earn more points. If you score over a certain number of points, then take your information down and you can check the winner board over the next 24 hours to see if you are in the top 50.
Ingenious how they come up with ways to bring you back into the casino on an almost daily basis! On Thursday, I went back to see how I did as one of my entries was higher than the threshold. I didn't think I had much of a chance as I saw several scores above mine in the few rounds I played. I looked at the board and lo and behold, I had score #50 and I won $25. No, hardly a life altering win. But it was free money.
The reality is that if you're going to play in a casino at a game which is below 100% (which is most of them), then you need to take your victories any reasonable way you can. Not everyone takes advantage of these items, which is a lot like the importance of playing Expert Strategy. The casinos offer up 99.5% payback games knowing that only a small fraction take advantage. If everyone played like an Expert, they would have to lower the paybacks. If everyone took advantage of Player's cards, they'd have to make them less generous or lower the paybacks of the game. The fact that Players don't, give you a competitive advantage to have the opportunity to earn the near 100% paybacks. So, remember your Player's card - and don't leave home without it!