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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Las Vegas casinos are not giving anything away anymore

13 January 2021

Question: Years ago our team at work, 12 of us, were all going from Southern California to St. Louis. Someone had the great idea to leave from separate airports. Some from Los Angeles, some from Ontario, and some from Orange County, in case there was an accident all of us wouldn't be dead.

We all flew Southwest. Turned out Phoenix was Southwest's hub, so we all ended up on the same plane [from Phoenix to St. Louis] anyway.

We thought it would be a good idea.

I enjoy your Email letter.

Answer: Thanks for the kind words about my column.

A few months ago, I wrote about a family of four (two parents, two sons) that would split up and take separate planes when they went on vacation. Problem was that they frequently took one car to the airport and you're more likely to be killed in a car than in a plane. My point was that we are generally poor at determining risk.

Airlines have gotten skilled at being cagey about how they will get you where you want to go. When I was still at Pan Am, the term "codeshare" was coined. A codeshare is when two or more airlines market the same flight under their own airline codes and flight numbers. Sometimes passengers who bought a ticket on Airline A aren't even aware that their flight is operated by Airline B until they get to the airport.

And consider this definition of a direct flight.

A direct flight in the aviation industry is any flight between two points by an airline with no change in flight numbers, which may include one or more stops at an intermediate point(s).

Many passengers had to learn the difference between direct and non-stop flights.

It's not a crazy idea to keep key personnel separate at times. I think the President and Vice-President are rarely together outside federal buildings. And Designated Survivor isn't just the name of a TV show.

When I worked on a television ratings project 20-some years ago, everyone involved in the launch of the project flew on the same plane to New Orleans for a Microsoft Technical Education conference. We stayed in the same hotel. We took the same streetcar to Cafe du Monde to get beignets and coffee. We ate together every day. We were in the same convention center all day every day. If something had happened to us, the project would have been set back by -- I don't know how long. Of course, the chances of anything happening to all of us were incredibly small. One of the people in our group had a Ph.D. in Mathematics and Statistics.

I had my first major failure in trying to be Covid-safe on Christmas Eve. I stayed too long in what I knew to be a risky situation.

I had a bonus gift card from Buca di Beppo and thought it would be a good day to get its Thursday Chicken Parmigiana special. I created the order on its website, but I got an error when I tried to use the bonus gift card to pay for it.

I wasn't surprised. You usually can't double up on promotions and use a gift card you didn't pay for on a discounted meal.

Lasagna would be nice too. I changed the entre to lasagna. Buca'a website wouldn't accept the gift card as payment for the lasagna, even though there was no discount. I don't remember the message on this attempt, but it was more helpful than the one I got on my first attempt. I checked the fine print on the gift card and discovered that it wasn't valid until the new year. As Jean Scott frequently says, you have to read the fine print on a promotion.

No problem. I have unrestricted gift cards from Buca, so I used one of them for the lasagna. In the 20 minutes it took me to finally place the order, the wait time increased from 15 to 45 minutes.

I got to the restaurant about five minutes after my designated pick up time. There was a line of about 30 cars snaking through its parking lot and out onto the access road to the shopping center. I parked in front of a medical building that was closed and walked to the restaurant.

I rarely use the drive-thru. I can get out of my car and go inside to pick up my order. Every step counts. There's almost always a line of three or more cars at the drive-thru at my regular Starbucks. I can park behind the store, walk around the building to get to the entrance, walk in, pick up my order, and go back to my car in the same time that a car in line moves up two spots. It's almost always faster to walk in than use the drive-thru anywhere.

It was pandemonium in Buca's lobby. Many people waiting for take-out orders. Everyone had a mask on, but it was impossible to maintain six feet of separation. I thought I was in the line for the pick-up desk, but I realized I wasn't when the man in front of me didn't move forward when the customer at the desk left.

I heard some info while waiting. A lady whose order was due 45 minutes before mine was still waiting for her order. Someone said there was a problem on the website and it didn't stop accepting new orders after a certain limit was reached and that's why the restaurant was swamped. An employee would occasionally come to the lobby and call out the names on orders that were now ready. One customer got belligerent and yelled at the employee that making customers wait so long was no way to treat customers and stormed out of the restaurant.

The hostess at the lectern announced that we had to make room for the few eat-in patrons that night. A little while later she announced that there were too many people in the lobby. The number of people violated Covid restrictions and some of us would have to wait outside.

I was willing to wait outside, but not without letting them know I was there and getting an estimate on when my order would be ready.

A half-hour after my order was supposed to be ready, 20 minutes after I got to the lobby, I finally made it to the take-out desk. I could see dozens of bags lined up in the pick-up area, on tables in the kitchen, even in the hallway to the kitchen. Workers walked back and forth in front of the pick-up desk any number of times, but no one ever came to help me.

I overheard the hostess tell another take-out customer that he should go back to his car and wait in the line of cars. An employee would come to your car, get your name, and bring back your order. By this time, the line had grown so long that the access road was filled and cars were waiting on the public road. The only employees that I saw working the line were at the beginning. I didn't see any attempt to try to find people deep in line whose orders were already ready.

I went home and had some soup. The lady-in-waiting was still waiting when I left, so I waited another two hours before going back.

The lines were gone, outside and inside. I was finally able to get service at the take-out desk. I said that my order was due hours ago, but it was such chaos that I just left. She didn't pull up my order on the computer. She just asked me what I had ordered and wrote it on a guest check. I thought she would look for my order among the take-out bags that were still there, but she said that it was too long -- the food would have spent too long in the temperature danger zone -- and they would re-fire it.

At that point I had the impression that maybe they didn't even begin on a take-out order until someone came to pick it up. A few minutes later, she gave me my bag, which seemed unusually heavy. When I got home, I discovered that even though I said that I had ordered smalls, they had given me large orders of lasagna and garlic bread. That and the lasagna was still cold in spots.

I'm disappointed with myself that I spent so long in that lobby. It got less crowded after the hostess told some people to wait outside, but there were still too many people in too small an area.


Speaking of Jean Scott, her move to Georgia hasn't stopped her blogging. In her latest post, she commented on Station Casino's decision to stop participating in the Las Vegas Advisor's Member Rewards program. A Stations executive apparently told LVA that they're not giving anything away anymore. Jean writes that "players are reporting from all over, but especially in Vegas, that promotions and customer benefits are being drastically cut. It’s hard to understand this phenomenon. Most of us had thought that the casinos would up the benefits to lure customers back when the pandemic restrictions were lessened."

I have been going to only two casinos that are close to me since the casinos reopened. Each has skipped a month sending me a mailer. One stopped giving a dining credit each month. One cut back on points for video poker a few years ago, and now the other has followed suit. It used to be easy to play NSU at breakeven B.C.E. (Before Covid Era). Now there are only a few days per month I can play at breakeven or better.

Please send me an email to tell me how your casino has cut back on promotions.

Months ago I wrote that I thought casinos have to play a balancing act in the Covid Era. Yes, they want to bring players back, but they can't run promotions that bring in the crowds they had B.C.E. Here in Las Vegas the Governor just extended the "pause" for another month and casinos will remain limited to 25% capacity.

It's too early to say that Las Vegas' casinos are in permanent Scrooge mode. They are still under restrictions and it is not business as usual.

What will happen once all restrictions are lifted and the virus is under control? If players come back to stingy casinos, why would the casinos get more generous?


As I write this, more and more House Republicans are indicating they will vote to impeach Trump. A week ago they had to hide from the angry mob that stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election. Some shouted, "Hang Mike Pence." Trump supporters berated Lindsey Graham with shouts of "Traitor!"

They're realizing that they cannot control the beast that they let Trump feed the past five years.

I'm reminded of a line from Martin Niemöller's post-World War II confessional:

Then they came for me

Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
 01/12   22,522,749   375,124   250,249   3,500   1,790,345   22,660   17,217   294 
 01/05    20,732,404   352,464   233,032   3,206   1,499,561   18,435   14,655   233 
 12/29   19,232,843   334,029   218,377   2,973   1,258,540   15,460   12,493   186 
 12/22   17,974,303   318,569   205,884   2,787   1,656,411   18,537   16,472   239 
 12/15   16,317,892   300,032   189,412   2,548   1,494,763   17,247   18,825   229 
 12/08   14,823,129   282,785   170,587   2,319   1,375,502   15,483   18,418   175 
 12/01   13,447,627   267,302   152,169   2,144   1,114,175   10,286   15,942   121 
 11/24   12,333,452   257,016   136,227   2,023   1,197,199   10,784   14,130   106 
 11/17   11,136,253   246,232   122,097   1,917   1,099,790   8,501   11,115   65 
 11/10   10,036,463   237,731   110,982   1,852   767,645   6,838   8,868   68 
 11/03   9,268,818   230,893   102,114   1,784   588,207   5,809   5,936   35 
 10/27   8,680,611   225,084   96,178   1,749   492,026   5,585   5,238   (10) 
 10/20   8,188,585   219,499   90,940   1,759   401,037   5,053   4,501   48 
 10/13   7,787,548   214,446   86,439   1,711   351,270   4,886   3,910   48 
 10/06   7,436,278   209,560   82,529   1,663   306,965   4,962   3,232   36 
 09/29   7,129,313   204,598   79,297   1,627   303,616   5,136   3,058   54 
 09/22   6,825,697   199,462   76,239   1,573   288,070   5,370   2,196   82 
 09/15   6,537,627   194,092   72,043   1,491   250,265   5,404   1,825   65 
 09/08   6,287,362   188,688   72,218   1,426   282,919   5,638   2,734   92 
 09/01   6,004,443   183,050   69,484   1,334   251,790   5,291   3,237   104 
 08/25   5,752,653   177,759   66,247   1,230   330,411   7,889   4,076   125 
 08/18   5,422,242   169,870   62,171   1,105   358,071   7,463   4,973   114 
 08/11   5,064,171   162,407   57,198   991   365,353   7,203   5,776   117 
 08/04   4,698,818   155,204   51,422   874   418,683   7,532   7,367   109 
 07/28   4,280,135   147,672   44,055   764   460,996   7,042   7,130   91 
 07/21   3,819,139  140,630  36,195  674  463,682  5,395  8,181  57 
 07/14   3,355,457   135,235   28,744   617   422,861   5,102   5,607   57 
 07/07   2,932,596   130,133   23,137   560   351,367   3,394   5,006   24 
 06/30   2,581,229   126,739   18,131   536   278,941   6,406   4,367   26 
 06/23   2,302,288   120,333   13,764   510 
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