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Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Are barred players entitled to their cash back outside Nevada?

6 February 2019

Question: Reading your Gaming Guru columns distributed by Casino City Times is one of things I look forward to every time I log into my e-mail account. Thanks for presenting all the extremely valuable information that you have provided over the years, in an entertaining and very readable format.

My question has to do with the answer you provided to another query in a recent column about changes to a casino's slot loyalty points program. In your answer to that other question, you noted that in Nevada the gaming commission has ruled consistently that the value of comp points convertible to cash cannot be changed (which would have the effect of decreasing or increasing the value of a point in real money — I'm paraphrasing here to make sure that I understood exactly what you meant). That explains why in all the Nevada casinos where I've joined the loyalty program, they provide two separate point accumulations. I often wondered about that.

My question is, do you know if similar rules exist in other states? To be specific, I live in Colorado and often play at Ameristar casino in Black Hawk. The point/tier/amenity comp system provided there is combined, so that the number of points you accumulate are tied to your program tier, but they are also directly convertible into cash for slot play or for hotel/food expenses. Recently, a year or so prior to a change in ownership of this Ameristar property from Pinnacle to Penn National, they changed the point thresholds for one of the tiers now requiring nearly 20% more points to attain "Preferred" status over what was required in past years. Would that be allowed in Nevada? Are there similar constraints in other jurisdictions? Clearly there are no constraints on this kind of behavior in Colorado, and IMO this was a particularly egregious way to tell your "mid-level" players that they weren't as valuable to the casino as they had been.

Answer: Thanks for the kind words.

Let's take a step back and review the three different totals that a casino can maintain for a player. There are no standard names for the totals, so I'll have to make them up.

I'll call the first total tier score. Your tier score tells you what tier you've achieved in the slot club. You mainly earn tier scores through play, but the casino can also award tier scores through promotions. And the casino can also promote you to any tier level at its discretion.

The second total is amenities points. You can redeem these points for food, room and hotel services. Like tier points, you earn most of these through play, but the casino can also award them through promotions.

The last total is free-play points. You can redeem these points for free-play on slot machines. In many casinos, you can also redeem these points for cash by getting a voucher from the slot club booth that you can cash at the cage. You can also call these cash-back points. Like the other points, you earn these through play and can win them in promotions.

It's not uncommon for a casino to run just one points total. In this case, the points can be redeemed for either free-play or amenities.

On the other hand, I've never seen a club that uses one point total for free-play, amenities and tier score. The tier score resets at the beginning of each qualification period, so it has to be a separate total. I checked the FAQs for the mychoice program (the slot club at the Ameristar casino in Black Hawk), and they say that you have to re-qualify annually for your tier level. Even if you can't check it at a machine or kiosk, the club is running a separate tier score.

Each of the three casinos I play in most frequently maintains different sets of totals. One casino has no tiers in its club and it doesn't distinguish between points, so it maintains just one point total, which is good for free-play and amenities.

Another casino has tiers and does not distinguish between points, so it maintains two totals — tier score and points.

The third casino has tiers and distinguishes between points. It maintains three totals — tier score, free-play points and amenities points.

Now, I didn't write that Nevada Gaming Control (NGC) has ruled that the casino cannot change the formula to convert free-play points to cash. NGC has ruled that if a casino bars a player, the player is entitled to the value of these points. The player is not entitled to the tier score, because it has no cash value. The player is also not entitled to any amenities points because those are considered discretionary — the casino gives comps at its discretion.

That said, I don't know whether a casino can change the value of earned points. It hasn't happened to my knowledge in the past few years. Casinos have changed the amount of play needed to earn a point, effectively changing the value of a point, but the redemption rate for points was not changed. Changing the redemption rate on already earned points would be like taking away something the player had already earned.

I'm reminded of a similar real-life example. The company I worked for was having cash flow problems, so management announced that salaries would be reduced by some percentage retroactive to the beginning of the current pay period. It would make up the amount owed sometime in the future.

I guess management did not discuss this plan with Human Resources before announcing it. A number of employees presented their managers with the labor regulations stating that an employer can't retroactively change how much it would pay employees for services already rendered. Management then changed the start date of the reduction to the next pay period. The company eventually restored salaries to their previous levels and made good on the amount owed and then some.

Getting back to cash back, I don't know if other jurisdictions follow Nevada's lead. Most jurisdictions base their regulations on Nevada's so it's possible, but I didn't get any hits indicating barred players were entitled to cashback earned with a quick Google of "colorado casino bar player cashback".

As for changing the tier score required to achieve different tier levels, the casino is free to change those as it desires. The tier score has no cash value. In fact, a casino chain radically changed the tier scores required for the tiers in its club and the amount of play required to achieve those tiers a few months ago. The chain recalculated each player's tier score according to the new formulas, so players who played video poker found that they had one-tenth to almost one-hundredth the tier score that they had under the old rules, depending upon which paytables they played. Some players complained to the poor folks at the slot club booth, but really the only thing they could do is vote with their bankrolls and play somewhere else if they didn't like the new rules.

Slot clubs can gone through an evolution in earnings philosophies. In the first generation, slots and video poker earned at the same rate. In the second, there was some differentiation between video poker and slots. I've written many times in the past that video poker players have had a good run the past decade or so. With relatively low-payback penny slots taking over a larger and larger percentage of the slot floor, video poker didn't appear on slot managers' radar. Now with slot floors having all the penny slots the managers want, they're looking at video poker to increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Hence we see some casinos cutting back on their high-paying video poker and others cutting back on benefits for video poker players.


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