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Slot players are at the center of casino profits— and perks

By John Grochowski


rewardsToday’s casinos are so slot-machine centric that it can be difficult to imagine a time when slot players weren’t a desired demographic, a target of comps, perks and special offers to keep us coming back.

Meal comps? Free rooms? Those were mainly for table players.

That’s changed, of course. Today, by far the most play—and the most profit for the casino— comes on the electronic games, mainly slots and video poker. Casinos began the evolution of modern player rewards systems with the start of slot clubs roughly 30 years ago.

Today, no casino would be without a rewards system and targeted promotions package, but the specifics differ from casino to casino, and readers often wonder how best to take advantage of what’s offered—or just wonder why things are the way they are.

Let’s sort out a few questions that arrived via email in the last few months.

My neighborhood casino has double points and triple points nights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Why not on weekends when I’m not working? Also, how many times points would I need to overcome the house edge?

The casino is using the double and triple points as a lure to attract customers on soft days that usually have less business. Operators don’t need the extra attraction on crowded weekends.

As for overcoming the house edge, every casino has its own rewards level, but as an example, let’s say 0.25 percent of play returned as free play on slots, and 0.125 percent on video poker. If penny slots return 88 percent, then you need 12 percent to break even, and that means 48 times points. If dollar slots return 95 percent, then you would need 20 times points to make up the difference between that and 100 percent.

Video poker depends on the quality of the games. If your casino has 9-6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.5 percent with expert play, then a good player needs to make up only half a percent. At a 0.125 percent rebate in free play that means four times points will do it. However, if the Jacks or Better games have an 8-5 pay table instead, that’s a 97.3 percent game with expert play, and making up 2.7 percent means 21.6 times points .

There’s an interesting promotion where I play. On certain days, they give $100 in free play every hour to someone who’s using their rewards card while they play. Are the rewards random? Is there a way to increase my chances?

Typically, such rewards are random. A random number generator is used to select a winner.

Players who are there throughout the promotion day have the most chances to win, of course, but assuming you’re not an all-day player, your best chance is to be active during the lowest-traffic times of the day.

Let’s say the casino is operating the promotion from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. If 200 people are playing at 10 a.m. and 1,000 in prime time at 8 p.m., then you have a 1 in 200 chance of winning early and a 1 in 1,000 chance of winning later on. Your chances are better when there are fewer people competing for the prize.

My rewards club gave away cookware, one piece at a time, for several weeks. It was first come, first served, and if they ran out of giveaway items, too bad. I got the first five pieces, no problem, but on the last piece, they ran out while I was standing in a miles-long line. I was still about 20 people back when they shouted from the front that they were out. There must be a better way.

Your problem has plagued casinos practically since the beginning of giveaways. It’s unsatisfactory on several levels. For one thing, lengthy waits in line mean you’re not playing the games for that time, and that’s not profitable for the casino. Also, players are going to want to get in line early so as not to miss out, which means they either carry their prize in the casino for the length of their stay, or they take it to their cars. Some of those who go to the cars don’t come back to play, defeating the purpose of the giveaway.

On top of that, a customer who lines up only to be told there is no prize is likely to be disappointed, if not angry. It’s self-defeating for a feel-good promotion to create disappointed customers.

There are a few things casinos can do to address the problems. They could shift the beginning of the redemption process to a bank of player rewards kiosks. You’d start by swiping your card at the kiosk, and if there was a prize for you, the kiosk would print out a ticket that you could then exchange for the prize on your way out of the casino. Players would know quickly whether there was a prize for them, and those in time for the prize could pick it up on their way out instead of carrying it around the casino.

Casinos that wanted to take it another level could alleviate the disappointed customer factor with substitute prizes. After the full quota of redemption tickets had been printed, the rewards kiosks could offer later customers an equivalent amount of free play, or a dining credit – “Sorry, we’re out of today’s cookware item, but please take this $25 in free play and enjoy your stay.”

Of course, the extra prizes mean extra cost. The question becomes whether it’s valuable enough to the casino operator to offer the free play to ease the disappointment factor when response to a promotion is greater than anticipated.

I have a little casino souvenir that’s a little different, I think It’s a cardboard ticket, a small one like you’d get in raffles or video arcades, from the Golden Nugget 24 Karat Club in Atlantic City. I’m told it used to come out of slot machines. Can you tell me anything else about it? Does it have any value?

The 24 Karat Club began in the mid-1980s and was one of the earliest slot clubs—some say it was the first. If you used your card when you played, as your play accumulated, the machine would dispense tickets instead of electronically tallying points, as in modern clubs. When you collected enough tickets, you could redeem them at the club booth for cash back and other comps.

The club launched at the Atlantic City Golden Nugget—the club later known as the Atlantic Club before closing last year. Later, the same system was adopted by the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas.

The system had a quirk that attracted advantage players. If you left a machine after partial play toward your next ticket, that partial play would stay with the machine instead of migrating with your card, as in modern systems. Advantage players would look for machines where they needed to play only a few dollars to get the next ticket, and when they got it, they’d move on to look for another such machine. Some small-time players achieved big-time comps that way.

Practically everything used in casinos is a collectible to someone, and there are collectors for redemption tickets. These are not big money items by any means, and its biggest value probably is to you as a keepsake. But if you’re curious about monetary value, you might try contacting the Casino Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club, Its members are familiar with a wide range of casino collectibles.

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