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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Losing RFB

23 April 2007

Dear John,

First of all, you write a great column.

Now, my question to you deals with comps while playing slots. I have a casino host that accomodates myself and my spouse whenever we go to this particularly popular east coast resort. This host sets us up with full RFB during our weekend visits. I exclusively play slots and have a budget of $4,000 per visit, which is the maximum amount of my marker. I normally spend all of it and play anywhere from a minimum of a $5 machine to upwards of a $50 (and sometimes, maybe, $100) machine, depending on luck and feel.

If I am fortunate enough to win a jackpot, I usually try to parlay the winnings and continue to "play on." By doing so, it shows on my player's card the length of time I play, which would entitle me to the RFB. And any money that I do net goes directly to our certificate of deposit for future household expenditures (i.e., retirement fund, college savings, home remodeling, etc.).

However, during the last couple of trips, I was unfortunate in playing slots and wound up losing my marker instantly both times. As you may know, one can easily lose $4,000 playing high-limit slot machines in less than an hour (perhaps even less than 1/2 an hour). I can cover the $4,000 marker each visit but that's pretty much my limit per trip.

When trying to make an upcoming reservation with my host for a future weekend, the host asked why I only displayed a very short playing time (1 hour) for a previous 2-night stay. I explained to the host that the money quickly evaporated in the machines and I had no choice but to end my playing time due to my budget. The host, in a nice way, explained that it reflects on the host's evaluation the amount of "action" by their clients, and that I didn't show enough said "action" during last two visits.

I really didn't try to say much except that I would "try to do better" next time. I kept my comments brief because I didn't want to jeopardize losing the host due to the generous perks we've been receiving (RFB, show tickets, etc.), which are above anything I've ever received at other casinos in the same area. But on the same token I don't want to go over my budget either.

Now I'm confused. I always thought that "points earned" outweighed "playing time" in earning comps. Is this true or not? Because I earn just as many, and maybe more, points for playing high denomination for a shorter time than a person, like my spouse, playing low denomination for a much longer period of time.

What does the casino look at more? And doesn't the casino know that the amount of dollars I poured into the machines is more than enough for the entitlements that I received?

For my next visit, should I just pay the rack rate (room, food, show tix, etc.) and play at my leisure without being held to the casino's standard of play for comp qualification?

I would think that I could cover all the expenses and still pay less than the $4,000 that I would've lost while still having some money left over to play slots at my own leisure to avoid a — What's the word? — lecture, from the casino's executives. Please let me know.

Thanks,
Confused Compee

Dear Confused,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

First off, a $4,000 bankroll is short for the high-limit ($50 and up) machines unless you're willing to accept the possibility that your money runs out before your desire to play. I like to have enough bankroll for 100 spins for a playing session. Your bankroll is fine for the $5 and $10 machines for a two-night stay, but not enough for the higher denomination machines. You seem to have the discipline to quit when your bankroll is gone and you seem to be able to deal with a quick loss emotionally, so if you want to hobnob with the high rollers, go for it.

Comps, however, are a different matter. It looks like your good luck on your early trips made you look like a bigger player than your bankroll really supports.

Comps are usually based on your theoretical loss, which is calculated from the action you give times the house edge against you. You didn't give much action the last few trips because your money ran out quickly. Hosts can sometimes "override" the formulas when a player's actual loss is much greater than his theoretical. Your host doesn't seem to be able to do this. Another strike against you is that your host seems to be judged only by how much action his or her players generate.

Credit players are assumed to be willing to lose whatever their credit line is per visit. Perhaps your host should have been able to infer that you're willing to keep playing and give back your winnings when you're winning, but when your credit line is gone, you're done.

In most slot clubs, points are the sole metric. If a comp requires a certain number of points, the system won't care if you earn them in a few minutes playing a $100 machine or a few hours playing a $1 machine. Either way, you've earned the comp.

You said that you earn "just as many, and maybe more, points playing high denomination machines for a shorter time than a person ... playing low denomination [machines] for a much longer period of time." You earned quite a few points and even won money when you were lucky on your first few trips and you earned very few points and lost money on your more recent trips. You didn't give much action on these trips. And your host is evaluated on action.

The irony here is that the casino rewarded you more when you played more even though you lost more money when you played less.

As you said, the casino does know how much you lost. And I'm sure you've heard stories of casinos returning a large portion of a high roller's losses as gifts or even cash. For us regular folks, the casino will usually give about 20% to 40% of theoretical loss in comps. The casino gives the comps even when you win. Because of that fact, I think it's fair for the casino to be not as generous in comping when it is based on actual loss. The bottom line is that you didn't earn RFB either through points or actual loss.

As the bean counters have gotten more control over the casino and comping has become more of a science than an art, hosts have lost much of their "power of the pen" and can't issue as many discretionary comps as they used to. Comping guidelines have gotten too rigid.

A host should never criticize a player for not playing enough. Even though you say the host explained the situation "in a nice way," you also called it a lecture, so I don't think it was really that nice. In this situation, the host could explain that the guidelines require a certain amount of play for RFB and that you've fallen below the guidelines. The host could then offer to do whatever he could do (e.g., RFL, free room, casino rate) now and see if he could do more for you at the end of your stay. Presumably, if you got lucky again, your level of action would go back up to its prior level and your RFB status restored.

I wouldn't recommend dropping out of the comp game altogether and paying rack rates for everything as some people have done. Instead, I would remember that the casino writes the rules of the game and it doesn't necessarily tell you what they are and you shouldn't let comps rule your playing decisions.

I see two options for you. One, continue to play however you feel comfortable playing. If you want the thrill of playing the ultra-high-limit machines, continue playing them — even if it means your bankroll vanishes in the blink of an eye. Take whatever comps you get. If your host drops you, then so be it.

Two, make a slight alteration to your game plan to try to generate more action. You can do this by either playing lower-denomination machines (mainly $5 and $10) exclusively or by using just a portion of your bankroll to attack the expensive machines. You may never be able to generate the same level of action as when you were hot on the high-limit machines, but you should be able to generate more action than on your last few trips.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

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