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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: A casino changes a promotion — and makes it better!

30 January 2019

Over the past few weeks I've complained about actions that casinos have taken. This week I want to laud a casino for an action it took that actually improved a promotion. It's not a fairy tale. It really happened.

For many years, the Suncoast Casino offered a Dinner and a Movie promotion. Earn a certain number of points and you could pick up a comp voucher for an entree from a special menu at the steakhouse and a comp voucher for a free movie ticket. The vouchers had a limited lifetime. They expired after 48 (or maybe 24) hours. Over the two or so years that I used the promotion, the number of points needed was raised a couple of times and the dreaded Dine-in Only restriction was added to the steakhouse part.

The positive change that Suncoast made to the promotion involved the movie. Instead of giving you a short-term voucher for the movie ticket, they gave you a Cinemark Platinum Supersaver card. These cards never expire. You still had to redeem the dinner voucher before it expired, but you could use the movie card next week, next month or next year.

I was really surprised that Suncoast made this change. With the expiring voucher, the casino benefited from breakage — vouchers issued but never redeemed. To give the Cinemark card, however, the casino had to buy the cards and it was out the cost of the card regardless of whether it was ever used. Now Cinemark benefited from breakage.

It seems like every change a casino makes these days makes things worse, but here's an instance in which a casino improved a promotion.


Many years ago, Frank Scoblete helped produce a program in which a number of gambling authors and experts were asked what they would do in various situations that have occurred in casinos. I have one that I would like to present.

Many casinos use the TournEvent system from Everi (formerly Multimedia Games) for their tournaments. The system offers a number of different slot games that can be used for the tournament. All of the games I have played require the player to hit objects that appear on the screen to earn additional points. In one game, the object is a balloon that covers most of the screen. In another, the object is a piece of hard candy that pops up near the bottom of the screen. You must hit these things when they appear because they can account for about half of your total score, depending on the game.

In between rounds, the system is in demo mode. The screen cycles through a number of help screens that explain how the game works. One of the screens tells you to hit the balloon or candy or whatever when it appears.

I've seen players who just ignore these pop up images. Sometimes I've been behind them waiting in line for my turn to enter the tournament area. Sometimes I've been sitting next to them.

When I see someone who isn't hitting these bonus items, should I tell them what they are and that they're going to have no chance of getting a good place in the tournament if they don't hit them?

I've settled on the position that it's up to the people running the tournament to ensure that the players know how to play the game and for the players to ensure that they know how to play the game. I don't have to volunteer unsolicited advice that might actually make my chances of winning something in the tournament worse.

On the other hand, when people next to me have asked how to play the game, I fully explained the rules. I told them that you get many of your points from the pop-up items and that you have three seconds to touch an item. On one particular game, I've seen some players tire themselves out by constantly touching images all over the screen. I've taught my students the narrow band where the bonus images appear and that the images will always be accompanied by a whoosh sound and that these are the only things that will give them points.

What would you do if you were in a tournament and you saw someone who didn't know the best way to play the game?


Question: Dear Mr. Robison, (almost wrote Dear John, sorry!)

I gamble quite a bit in Laughlin, Nevada. A year or two ago the Aquarius Casino in Laughlin was bought out by the Golden Entertainment Group (GEG). As far as I can tell, nothing changed there regarding the customer comp program in which you earned points that could be converted on a differential scale into cash or free play or used for food. Recently, the GEG purchased two sister casinos in Laughlin, the Edgewater (EGW) and the Colorado Belle (CB). Employees there don’t really know what changes will be made, other than the current customer card system at the EGW and CB will remain the same for a while. The local Laughlin gaming weekly had an article that stated all three GEG Laughlin casinos will be rolled into a single customer card (and, presumably, benefit system) in the near future.

My question is this: I have close to $1,000 in card benefits from the EGW/CB properties and other points earned at the Aquarius. Should I try to use up all EGW/CB benefits and/or Aquarius points ASAP, or keep them and hope things do not change for the worse in the near future?

I ask this because I recall some years ago when the Stratosphere in Vegas was sold and the comp/benefit system was dramatically changed adversely for many customers. My host at that time guessed he would lose a lot of out of town customers who would not be able to use all their comps in time. Based on your knowledge and experience in these matters (you know, Casino B becomes part of Casino A, etc.) what would you recommend myself and other Laughlin gamblers do regarding their card benefits in this situation? I will not hold you to an exact course of action, but there must be some actions based on prior casino mergers/acquisitions that you could present to clarify this situation. Thanks for your advice and column information.

Answer: Every personal letter I get begins "Dear John." Don't worry about it.

I think you should invite me, Jean and Brad Scott, and some of the other gaming writers based in Las Vegas to come down to Laughlin for a gourmet dinner in one of the high-end restaurants at one of these casinos. A grand is a lot of money to have sitting around.

Seriously though, I wouldn't worry about it too much. The casinos want to keep you as a customer, so they're not likely to take away something you've already earned.

In fact, they may not be able to. The Nevada Gaming Board has ruled many times that a casino has to give you the cashback you've earned when it bars you from the casino. If the casino had a separate comp point balance, you would not be entitled to that. The difference is because comps have a discretionary aspect to them, while cashback is earned according to some formula.

Two examples: You have two point balances at Stations Casinos. One balance is earned from play and is unrestricted. You can download the points to your machine as free play or you can use them for dining and other amenities. The other balance is restricted. You can use those points only for amenities. You can't download them to a machine. You earn these points through kiosk games and other promotions. If you were 86ed from Stations, it would have to give you the cash equivalent of your unrestricted points, but you can kiss your amenities points goodbye.

When Boyd changed its slot club a few months ago, players retained the points they had earned. Boyd did, however, recalculate the number of points players had towards qualifying for the upper levels of the players club. These points don't represent cashback earned, so Boyd was free to alter them.

The bottom line: You don't have to use up the points ASAP, but unless you have a near-term plan to treat your family (or a gaggle of gaming writers) to dinner, I would start working on decreasing that balance. The money isn't doing you any good sitting in your account.


John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots