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Obviously, I got my math skills from my father, Lenny Frome.

Not that my mother was so bad at math either. But, from my mom I got my skill to hunt down a bargain, use coupons and send away for rebates.

There are times when it has become more of a game for me than it is about the money. When I first came to Las Vegas in 1984, casinos used to give out tons of stuff for free – keychains, pictures, food. I’m not sure what happened to the keychain with my initials on it from the Golden Goose Casino, but I still have the picture of my best friend and myself with the million dollars behind glass at Binion’s.

As Vegas grew in tourism, the casinos needed to adapt. They simply couldn’t afford to give away unlimited amounts of free stuff to everyone. One way to control how much stuff was given away was through what eventually became today’s Loyalty or Player’s card.

First, it allowed casinos to collect relevant information on players – namely name and address. With this, they could send you marketing material. Second, you could sign up only once as you needed to show a driver’s license. This reduced the ability to get multiple free items from the same casino. Third, it allowed the casinos to begin standardizing the comps process.

It no longer worked as a discretionary item from the pit boss, but became more of a math formula. It also allowed the slot and new video poker players to become part of this process.

Over time, I had collected a player’s card from most of the major casinos around. As merger mania hit in the 1990’s, somehow some of my accounts actually survived despite lack of use for many years. And, if my account was deleted, it gave me a new opportunity to get something out of the casino for signing up.

Over the years, I have occasionally written about these player’s clubs explaining the pros and cons. You should take advantage of these accounts. Some believe if a players card is in the machine, then the casinos will stop you from winning (especially if they see you are good).

To the best of my knowledge the casino doesn’t even track this information. Generally, they track how much you won or lost (so you can print out a log for tax purposes). They keep track of the total amount you wager and convert this to points to be used for some type of comp purposes.

So, with no determent, we take a look at the positives. Well, there are the comps, now more formulaic. You wager X and get a certain percent of X back, perhaps in free play, money you can use in a restaurant or in points to be used to buy things in a special shop.

The value of these items are calculated into the overall payback the casinos offer. This is one reason why full-pay machines have disappeared. But, if a game pays back 99.6% and you can earn another 0.4% back in comps, you’re still at 100%.

The key here is putting the proper value on the comps. Its real value is in play times the payback of whatever machine you play. In video poker, this means you should keep 98% (minimally) back, on average.

If you enjoy eating at the restaurants offered and the meals are not overpriced, you are getting the full value (or close to it). If the simple chicken dinner costs $45 (and you could get it elsewhere for $10), the value is not $45 (it is more like $10).

Then again, it is all free in the sense, assuming you are playing anyhow, it doesn’t cost anything extra to put your card in the machine. I am suggesting if you play, go get a player’s card.

I just celebrated the big 5-0. At Red Rock (and all Station Casinos) that qualifies me for the “my generation” program. On Wednesday, I get a free drink at Starbucks, discount movie tickets and discounted bowling (if I pay with points). They also have a slot contest every Wednesday.

It’s quite simple. You get one entry into the tournament for showing up. You can earn up to four more for every 50 base points earned playing. So I played for about an hour beforehand and earned a total of four entries. I won $10 during this hour. The machine was not a regular slot but one set up for this tournament.

Essentially you play for two minutes and hit “spin” as fast you can, not even paying attention to how many points you are racking up. Every once in a while a special symbol appears on the screen and you have to hit it to earn more points. If you score over a certain number of points, take your information down and check the winner board over the next 24 hours to see if you are in the top 50.

Ingenious how they come up with ways to bring you back into the casino on an almost daily basis! On Thursday, I went back to see how I did as one of my entries was higher than the threshold. I didn’t think I had much of a chance as I saw several scores above mine in the few rounds I played. I looked at the board and had score No. 50 for a $25 win. Hardly life altering, but it was free money.

The reality is, if you’re going to play in a casino at a game that is below 100% (which is most of them), you need to take your victories any reasonable way you can. Not everyone takes advantage of these items.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is Email: [email protected].

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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