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My son is visiting from the East Coast this week. One night we did a “guy’s night out” and did dinner and a movie.

We didn’t have a lot of time before the movie started so it had to be a relatively quick meal. I decided since the movie was at the Red Rock theaters it would make sense to grab a bite to eat there. Then I remembered they are running a promotion this month for buy one get one free buffets for all Boarding Pass (loyalty card) members.

Perfect solution for two guys with vary disparate tastes in food. I love the huge salad bar and the desserts, and my son would prefer to eat something that used to go “moooo or baaaah.”

We parked the car and quickly headed over to the Boarding Pass kiosks to print out the coupon for dinner. Then we went over to “The Feast.” Not really surprising, but there was a sizeable line. I’m guessing it was about a 30-minute wait. Under other circumstances, this might not have been a problem, but with the movie starting in about an hour, we didn’t have that much time to spare.

So, we ate at the food court instead (ironically, spending more money than the buffet would have cost!). After our meal, we went to see “Ted.” I have a big soft spot for movies with big teddy bears that talk like drunken sailors.

After the movie, I went over to a video poker machine to find out how the Station Casinos deal with their “free slot play.” They are running another promotion for Boarding Pass members (or maybe selective members), giving away $10 in free slot play. In their case, you have to start with some of your own money, but then for every dollar you wager, they give you $1 of your free slot play.

My goal for this night was not to play for hours on the casino’s money. I had already done that last week at a different casino, using my “free slot play” to play for about 2-3 hours and then walked away with the free money and then some. This night, the goal was to simply keep as much of that $10 as possible and get on home.

After all, I have a deadline for my column!

When I’m in this mode, I try to select the least volatile, highest payback game I can find. In this case it was a Bonus Poker game. I won’t go through each hand, but suffice to say, I wagered the least I could in total and wound up walking away with $12 profit.

The $12 will certainly not change my life. That is not the point of the story. The purpose is to give you some idea how to evaluate the value of all the different types of comps casinos throw at you.

On one hand, it would be very easy for me to have started the night with the idea the casinos were giving me a free $15 (roughly) meal and $10 in free play for a total benefit of $25. But, now that the night is over, how much did I really get? Well, I wound up not using the free buffet coupon, but I wound up winning $12 with my free slot play.

So, my “comp” was worth $12? Well, sort of. In the end, because I didn’t expect as long a line as they actually had, I probably paid more for my dinner than I would have if we had gone someplace away from the casinos. So, perhaps my comp wasn’t worth the $12.

I was also lucky to have turned my $10 free slot play into $12 while playing a 99% game. I really should have won only $9.90. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve walked away with as much as about $16 and as little as about $6.

At the same time, if you were in my shoes and were able to wait the 30 minutes or so, the promotion would have been worth the roughly $25 mentioned earlier.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. If you go the buffet and hate it, but continue to eat there because it’s cheap, I have no idea how to tell you how much that promotion is worth to you.

Last but not least, my son asked me why casinos have promotions like the free slot play? My answer was most people do not do what I did that night. They don’t come in and play for five or 10 minutes and gladly take their $9.90 on average home with them.

Most play for much longer. Most don’t know the proper strategy for video poker and thus play at more like 95%. Or, they play slot machines paying 92%. Most eventually lose the $10 and then start digging into their own wallets.

A certain number of these people may not have come to the casino at all if not for the free slot play. So, for these people, the casino gives them 10-15 minutes of “free” play, hoping they will get 2-3 hours of “pay to play.”

The bottom line is it is important to take advantage of these promotions, and not to let them take advantage of you. If the casino is going to give you a free t-shirt if you collect 300 points in one night, but it will likely take you $300 in losses to get to that point, you’d be much better off just going to the gift shop.

If you’re going to play that money anyway, then take the free t-shirt. If, however, you’re going to play only so you can get a free t-shirt that costs you $300, you might want to re-think your strategy.

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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