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Ask the Slot Expert: Why are my slot club offers different from my friends' offers?

6 June 2018

Question: For the last year, I lost every time I went to the casino with a friend. No one can understand why. I usually can win most of the times when I am alone.

Although I spend more than my friends, they get invited to use the perks given by the host. Can you shed light on this?

Sign me: Exhausted trying in Washington

AnswerDear Exhausted,

Benjamin Franklin said, "Nothing in this life can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

I think the Benjamin Franklin on all those hundred-dollar bills we put into slot machines would add a third item to the list: You'll never be able to figure out slot club benefits.

Well, Ben — er, I — should be more specific. The basic benefits, the ones described in brochures and on signs in the casino are straightforward. These official documents tell you how many points you get for a dollar played on a machine; how many points it takes to get $1 in cash back or free play; whether you get a discount at the buffet, restaurants, or gift shops by showing your players card; how to qualify for the upper tiers; which tiers get access to the VIP parking areas; and even which tier has access to the casino's houseboat. All players have access to the benefits they're entitled to according to the players club documentation.

The benefits that vary from player to player are the promotional benefits, the ones vaguely described in the brochure: "Promotional e-mails and offers." The casino doesn't disclose how it decides who gets each particular offer. You can try comparing the offers you get with the ones your friends get, but you'll never be able to figure out why some people get more than others or why some people get an offer others didn't.

For example I frequently compare my offers with those of my friends. In our group of four, at one casino we all get the same amount of free slot play, but the days on which we can collect it differ. Three of us get additional point multiplier days over those publicly available — sometimes the days differ from person to person — but one of us does not get any additional multiplier days. We each get the same dining credit per month, but only three of us were invited to a free dinner at the steak house. Every once in a while, one or more of us will not receive an offer for a special VIP gift or VIP event.

Why the differences? We all are in the highest tier in the slot club, so that's not it. There must be other factors taken into account that we're not aware of. There must be other variables in the benefits formula.

Let's look at some of the factors that can affect your offers.

How much you play

Clearly, how much you play has the biggest effect on your offers. A person who plays enough to qualify for the higher levels of the slot club will get better offers than the players at the lower levels. A person who plays enough to qualify for the highest level multiple times over will get better offers than someone who just barely qualifies each period.

I admit that I frequently look over the shoulders of people at the kiosks to see what they win on kiosk games. I've gotten $100 in slot play a few times, tens of thousands and even 100,000 points, and when the reward is dining credits it's never lower than $10. I've seen other people get toll money in slot play and a few thousand points and $5 dining credits. The fact that I play more than they do must be influencing my rewards.

What you play

Closely behind how much you play in importance is what you play. A slot player will get better offers than a video poker player even when they play the same amount.

Some people recommend that video poker players play a little slots once in a while, just so the Video Poker Only bit doesn't get flipped on their account. The closer you are to 100% Slots on the Slot-Video Poker Mix Spectrum, the better your offers will be. But I don't think any slot club will be fooled by a mix of $240,000 in video poker action and $500 in slots.

When you play

I don't mean holidays or day of week or time of day, but rather whether you play only when there's a promotion, especially multiple points days. Slot clubs sometimes flag players who play only on multiple points days and cut back on or eliminate their offers.

Theoretical Win

How much you play and what you play combine to tell the casino how much it can expect to win from you. Whales who bet big bucks on low-paying slots can expect better offers than even high-denomination video poker players. The more the casino expects to win from you, the more generous it is with offers.

Theoretical Value

Theoretical Win tells the casino how valuable you are based on your play. Theoretical Value takes into account the costs associated with the benefits you use. The points you earn on your play get charged here. Free slot play offers you redeem can also get charged here. All those free gifts you have stored in your garage also get charged here — the reason they swipe your card or make you present a ticket to get the gift is so they can charge it to your account. Dining credits that you use appear here. Finally, any host comps you receive over and above your mailed offers also get charged here.

Theoretical Value calculates your net value to the casino, taking into account the win from your play and deducting the cost of your benefits. Players with a higher Theoretical Value may get better offers.

Actual Win

Two side-by-side players who always play together and who always play the same number of points may get different offers. Some clubs take into account how much you won or lost when calculating your benefits for the upcoming month. Although it's possible that a club may boost the benefits for big losers, it's been verified that some of the clubs here in Las Vegas will cut back on offers to players who won big in a prior month.

Daily Average

Some clubs may use how much you play each day, on the average, to determine your benefits. Some casinos here in Las Vegas run daily promotions that encourage you to visit multiple times in a week (even each day) to play a kiosk game. It would be patently unfair for these clubs to use Daily Average because they are encouraging players to make more frequent visits and many players will split their play over the days. It's unreasonable to assume that players will play the same amount each day when they visit three times in a week versus once.

If you suspect (or even if you don't) that a casino uses Daily Average, you can try changing your Daily Average to see if your offers improve. Say you usually play at one casino in the morning and another in the afternoon twice a week. Instead of splitting each day between the two casinos, play at one casino one day and the other casino the other day. You'll give the same amount of action to each casino, but your Daily Average will double. This could improve your offers when they're based on Daily Average.

This is a good time to mention how far back the clubs look when determining your offers. The general consensus around Las Vegas is that most clubs base your offers on your last three months of play. We don't know for sure because the slot club benefits formulas are as closely guarded as the recipes for KFC and Coke, but this is what we've been able to guess from our experiences.

A corollary to the look-back period is the waiting period for your offers to kick in. I recently started playing at a casino where Jean Scott and her husband, Brad, play. I played about the same number of points per day as they played. I thought this casino was really on the ball because after my second visit it sent me an email telling me that free play and a dining offer had been added to my account. The next week I got two more offers. Then I got my first regular mailer. It had really low offers. But Jean said I shouldn't worry. The offers are probably based on how much I had played by the date when the mailers were generated. The offers should be better the following month when I had more weeks of play on my account. Sure enough, she was right and my offers were very close to hers on my mailer the next month. I thought the casino could have made up for the low offers in the mailer with more e-mail offers, but it didn't.

How long you've been a member

We think we have an explanation for why one of our group — yes, it was me — was not invited to the free steakhouse dinner. The others have been playing at this casino since it opened (17 years ago), but I've been playing at it only for a year or so. I can easily see the steakhouse offer only going to players with a long history with the casino.

How well and how much you work the system

Casinos may cut back on — or even completely eliminate —your offers if they determine that you're working the club and its benefits to the max. The casino may even close your slot club account. There are plenty of stories in blog posts and books of video poker players getting no-mailed (not getting any more mail offers) and even being 86'ed from a casino, all because they took too much advantage of the offers and casino promotions. Having a set of players who consistently win (have a negative Theoretical Value) isn't part of any casino's business plan.

I've already mentioned playing only on multiple-point days as a red flag that may limit your offers. Collecting every gift the casino offers probably won't raise a red flag, but picking up the gift without playing might. Even though I don't think many casinos that rely primarily on local players uses daily average, always play at least a little whenever your card is swiped and the casino knows you're there to avoid having a zero-play day in your play history.

Whim

One club here seems to roll the dice each month to determine how many buffet offers they send each month. One month it's one buffet each week. The next, it's two buffets twice in the month. The next, one buffet twice in the month. We play about the same amount each month. We can't figure out why the offers change.

Zip code

Finally, I should also mention that your zip code can have a big effect on your offers. Clubs usually run two separate programs, one for players they consider local and one for players they consider out-of-town. Expect the out-of-town players to get juicier offers and longer upper-tier qualification periods.

Now let's look at your questions.

I can think of a few reasons why you always lose when you're with a friend. First, you don't really lose every time you're with a friend. You're just convinced that you do so you have selective memory — you remember the times you lost with a friend and not the times you won.

Second, being with a friend may make you play more than you would otherwise or play games that you wouldn't play otherwise. I prefer to play video poker, but my cousin prefers slots, so when we go to the casino together I usually end up playing slots with her. I end up playing games I wouldn't play otherwise, though I really wish I'd be able to get her more to the video poker side.

My bankroll, furthermore, is much larger than hers, so I might want to continue playing a machine until I get to the bonus round. She frequently ends up inserting the ticket that she had intended for her take-home money and playing some more. So I sometimes make her play more than she would have otherwise.

Finally, we can't ignore the distinct possibility that your friends are coolers.

When you say you spend more, I assume you mean that you lose more than your friends. As I said above, benefits are not really based on how much you lose but on how much action you give.

Perhaps you can see some differences in the factors I have listed above that explains why your offers are lower than your friends'.

If not, you'll just have to attribute the differences to the alchemy of determining slot club offers.


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