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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: The curious case of the complicated comp

29 August 2018

Question: I am a 50-year plus experienced gambler. I know a lot about the subject of gambling, but I just can't figure out the following.

I live in Las Vegas and get to know many players in the high roller areas. A few of them who are frequenters of different casinos have told me the following. Their casino host or upper management have told them that they can't give them comps any more. One of them they claim, is a privileged player, and the other has won too much in the last month.

I know how these people play. Neither has a clue about probabilities or house percentage. They play the video poker games that have the worst payouts. Their bet per hand can be anywhere from 25 to 100 dollars.

These players are a treasure chest for a casino. How dumb can management be to turn these people off?

I can understand a privileged player being barred, and I have seen that, but these people have no clue and just got lucky.

I am looking for an explanation for the decision to take away all comps from them. I feel I shouldn't divulge the two casinos that are related to this question unless you request it. Don't know why I have some sort of allegiance to the guys who keep taking my money.

Answer: In a column a few weeks ago, I wrote that you'll never be able to figure out how a casino determines the free play, multiple points and food offers you and your friends get. You'll also never be able to figure out a casino's discretionary comp formula.

Well, in the case of your friends, I suppose we can take a guess at the formula. HE is house edge, A is action and AW is amount won. The discretionary comps they have available is ((HE * A) - AW) * 0.

No comps. Unbelievable. Is there a better way of saying that your friends should play somewhere else?

I've rarely used a host for anything but room reservations, because I almost always have dining offers or enough points for whatever I need. Also, I'm considered an advantage player at some casinos. I'm not barred, but the casinos are not — shall we say — eager to give me freebies.

I have heard of a casino that requires you to use all of your points before you can get a comp. I also know of a casino that suspends your monthly mailer for a time after you win.

It all depends on the casino. I mentioned to a friend a way that she and her husband could get some extra mileage from a resort credit given by one casino at which we both play. The resort credit can be used for almost anything at the casino — from dining to room fees to purchases at the gift shop. I told her that they could go to the coffee shop and get the Deuces Wild breakfast with two large orange juices. The Deuces Wild is two large pancakes, three eggs, bacon, sausage and toast. Enough for two people.

She said, "Oh, we never use the resort credit for dining. We have no problems getting a host to write a comp for whatever we want."

Another friend told me of a complicated process she recently went through for four buffet comps. She's a good player at this casino, probably giving about $10,000 in video poker action at least once a week. You'd think a few buffet comps would be a no-brainer, but the host had to review some sort of chart and refer to the comp guidelines manual. In the end, she didn't get the comps.

I have to point out two extenuating circumstances. First, it was Thanksgiving, so I can see comps being more difficult to get because of the enhanced menu and price of the buffet. And second, the casino had changed ownership recently and the employees were still getting used to the new procedures and guidelines.

It all depends on the casino. The Boyd casinos give you a discount when you pay for food with your points. A very nice benefit. Another casino also gives players card holders a discount for food — but only when you pay for it. There's no discount if you use your points. I asked why and was told that marketing figures that you're already getting the food for free, so why should you also get a discount?

I rarely see fellow advantage players in the high limit room at the locals casinos. The better-paying video poker pay tables are out on the casino floor, not in the high limit room. At some casinos, the better pay tables are breakeven games when you consider slot club benefits and they go positive when there are multiple points days. One way casinos control their exposure in these promotions is to offer the best pay tables in the lower (quarter, half, dollar, maybe $2) denominations only. If you're going to give serious action, it's going to have to be on a lower-paying pay table — or you're going to have to play for a long, long time.

One casino recently had a gas card promotion. The more points you earned, the greater the value of the gas card you could get. There were different levels, so 1,500 video poker points was good for a $5 card, 3,000 points for $10, 7,500 points for $25, 15,000 points for $50 and 30,000 points for $100. If you earned 57,000 points, you could get all five cards.

The best paytable the casino had at the time was dollar NSU, breakeven with slot club points. Throw in the gas cards and you're positive. At 600 hands per hour, though, it would take you about 19 hours to play 57,000 points. We had to drop down to one of the lower-paying, higher denomination or lower-paying, multi-hand machines to max out on gas cards in a reasonable length of time.

I've asked in previous columns, how does a casino raise its prices? Either by lowering pay tables or decreasing benefits. I think video poker players had a temporary reprieve the last decade as slot players flocked to penny slots. Slot players who used to bet dollars per spin at over 95% long-term payback switched to betting the same amount on machines that paid back close to 90% — and liked it — letting video poker fly under the radar for a while.

Those days seem to be over. This past summer, I've seen one casino downgrade all of its NSU and 9/6 Jacks machines and another increase the amount of play video poker players need to give to earn points and move up tiers.

It's the casinos' game. We have only two choices: play by their rules or don't play at all.


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