Understand rewards for slot and video poker players
By John Grochowski
There is no one standard for casinos in awarding free play, cash back, meals, rooms and other comps. Each casino has its own marketing goals, its own standards for determining what should be done to keep its most valuable customers coming back for more.
Slot players are rewarded differently than table players, and both are rewarded differently from video poker players. Size of wagers, speed of play and the house edge on the games you play all matter, but so do specific casino marketing goals. A player who’s an MVP at a mid-tier casino may find the comps are less generous at a place that’s popular with big players.
All this can be confusing to players, and a couple of emails arrived recently from players seeking clarification:
Q. I found it very interesting a while back when you explained slot players are more valuable to the casino than table players because they make so many more bets per hour. Does the same go for slot player vis a vis video poker players? I know video poker takes extra time to make the draw, and as a video poker player I get a lot less comps than my wife, who plays slots.
A. The reason why video poker is comped less generously than slot games isn’t as simple as making fewer wagers per hour. Video poker players can make just about as many wagers per hour as slot players. Most modern slot games have bonus events such as wheel spins, second screen pick’em bonuses or free spins. All of those events give you time on the game during which no wagers are placed, and that offsets the time video poker players spend making decisions for their draws.
So to see why video poker players are comped less generously than slot players, let’s use a moderate pace of 500 wagers per hour. It’s easy for a video poker player to play 500 hands an hour – most experienced players would find that a slow pace.
On a quarter machine, making maximum bets of $1.25 per hand, 500 hands per hour means an hourly risk of $625. But in 9-6 Double Bonus Poker, which returns 99 percent with expert play, the average hourly loss is only $6.25.
Try the same arithmetic on a 40-line penny slot game while playing just one credit per line, for a wager of 40 cents per spin. If you play 500 spins per hour, you risk $200 per hour. An 88 percent return, which is normal for pennies, translates to a 12 percent house edge, leading to average hourly losses of $24.
Note that even though the wager is much smaller on the penny slot and you’re making the same number of bets per hour, the average hourly losses are nearly four times as high on the slot machine.
If you’re playing a weaker game, such as 8-5 Double Double Bonus (96.79 percent), the hourly loss rises to $20 – still less than the penny slot loss.
Even when we look at a penny slot player making minimum bets vs. a quarter video poker player making maximum bets, the slot player is more valuable to the casino because of the difference in the house edge.
The slot machine-video poker difference also weighs into a second reader’s question:
Q. My wife and I travel to Las Vegas from England twice a year, and we stay for 14 nights each time. We always stay at the same downtown hotel. Our budget has increased over the years to around $500 per day, or $7,000 per trip. We have the second top level of player card.
In the past we often got the first week free and more depending on our play. Recently we only seem to get three of the 14 nights comped. Last trip we put another 14,000 points on our player cards.
In your opinion does this look normal? Could we get the same or more from another downtown hotel with this level of play or are we, as suggested by the new host, just low level gamblers?
A. When I received this email, I asked for more information and was told about 80 percent of their play is on video poker, with the husband mixing in some $10 blackjack and the wife playing some slots. The biggest change in the last few years is that the wife plays less on slots and more on video poker.
The increase in video poker play and decrease in slot play probably is a factor. Where they play, the players club awards one point for each $1 in slot play, but it takes $3 in video poker play to earn a point.
Once you have the points, if you redeem for free play, it takes 250 points to redeem for $1 in free play or comps. So 14,000 points is the equivalent of $56 in comps or free play. Even at the low room rates of downtown Las Vegas, that’s in the territory of three nights comped.
It might be possible to get a better deal downtown. VPFree2.com lists point compilation and redemption rates, and there’s a wide range. One shows a casino that requires $8 to earn a point at video poker, so 14,000 points at this couple’s casino would be the equivalent of 5,250 points. Raw points are fewer, but it requires only 40 points to earn $1 in cash back, and 20 points bring $1 in comps. So those 5,250 points would bring $131 in cash and $262 in comps, a step up from the couple’s regular casino.
That doesn’t necessarily mean room comps would be correspondingly generous, but with different casinos having different marking goals, a little comparison shopping could find greener grass elsewhere.