Vegas Strip casinos vs. locals joints

May 23, 2005 5:00 AM

If you’re a one-armed bandit player, chances are it really doesn’t matter a whole lot where you choose to play — Strip, local, tribal or any casino anywhere. Payout percentages are pre-set, and most of them are bad for the player. In instances where you sometimes see "100.5% payout!" in big neon letters on top of a bank of machines, it’s usually only one or two of them that actually pays that amount over an undetermined amount of time.

There’s not a heck of a lot of information out there on how to play or beat the bandits, and that’s for good reason. There is none. Some people write about obscure patterns, observing certain machines being played for hours before playing them, or hunches. One thing is for sure, however. The machines are popular, they can be very interesting with all their sounds and graphics, and some of them offer life-changing jackpots. But whether one plays them outside town or on the Las Vegas Strip, it’s all the same crapshoot.

When we talk about what’s available in the world of video poker, the conversation quickly changes tone. And when we talk about what video poker is available in the city of Las Vegas, we find mystery. For example, why are the pay tables much better off the Strip than on it? Why do the local casinos offer some of the heaviest promotions with the video poker player in mind, while Strip casinos all but ignore such deals? And why do those who live in and around the city see far more lucrative mail offers from Stations, Fiesta, Sam’s Town and Coast casinos than any of the mega resorts?

Certainly, those executives who run the big resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard should be able to figure out what’s going on with the local gambler. Those who run the local casinos sure have. After all, there’s probably millions of them, and that number is growing daily. Granted, many do not have the resources of those who come into town for a gambling binge, but numbers do add up. For every day that goes by, casinos that continue to "diss" this all-important market segment are seeing exponentially decreasing profits because of it. Time to wake up!

Earlier this year I wrote about how Wynn Las Vegas still had time to be a pioneer on the Strip. All it took was to incorporate a favorable inventory of video poker games on the casino floor that would pull in locals at unprecedented numbers. Instead, the floor is littered with video poker machines that give a great big slap across the face to any local visitor, and the denominations are highly geared towards the high-roller crowd.

People ask why these new mega resorts just don’t get it. The executives seem to be putting all their eggs into one basket. They want more one-armed bandits because that’s what uninformed gamblers mostly play, and they can take more of their money that way. They put in higher limit machines because they want to be known as a classy place to gamble, and they like to cater to the out-of-town binge player.

But they seem to always forget one major point: They have thousands of employees who can’t play on the Strip because most don’t have the money to do so.

Mega-resort executives, listen up! Here’s your chance to learn, and your opportunity to get it right for a change. Here’s your chance to take those blinders off and pay attention to your neighbors! These are the steps I would take at a Strip resort if I cared anything at all about the local clientele, if I wanted to have more overall visitors at all times of day or night to my casino, and if I wanted to consistently build on my overall take.

1. Increase my machine inventory so at least 40 percent are video poker machines. Right now it’s a travesty at most Strip casinos, and it’s akin to telling the locals to Keep Out!

2. Have every one of the video poker machines be the new ticket in-ticket out technology. Tourists may like the sound of coins clanging and they might not care about getting their hands dirty on vacation, but locals have grown up.

3. Put in only multi-game/multi-denomination machines, and give all machines at least five levels of denominations. And in case no one’s noticed, locals like nickel machines! They get tons of play all over town, and here’s a flash: 5 percent of $4,000,000 in 5-cent play is better than 4 percent of $3,000,000 in $2 play.

4. Improve the pay tables. I play a lot of Bonus Poker, and so often it’s available in short-pay format. Why would somebody want to come in and play a game that pays 6 or 7 credits for one credit bet on a full house, when it’s available all over town at 8? Anyone ever heard of 10/7 Double Bonus Poker or 10/6 Double Double Bonus Poker? How about the game that’ll REALLY get the locals in — full pay Deuces Wild? Yes, these games take in a little less money percentage-wise per machine than those short pay versions, but the bad part of the business decision is the same as the 5 percent vs. 4 percent example in item No. 3 above.

5. Offer cash back in your slot club program, and not at a pathetic pace either. Nothing means more to a local than getting cash for his or her play. And don’t offer confusing bounce back/free-play benefits that challenge a player’s intelligence. They know you are trying to get them back in to play, so give them a clear explanation of what kind of play it takes to get X amount of cash or free-play, etc., just as you should clearly explain what it takes to get ANY of the benefits being offered.

6. Recognize that locals actually live and play in Las Vegas! Send them lucrative promotions, enough to get them to WANT to drive through gridlock. Don’t patronize them with miniscule offers when you send out-of-towners dazzling perks. Locals aren’t stupid.

Typically, a few casino managers like to blame those who come in only when special deals are offered and give that as their reason for not offering better paying video poker games on the Strip. My response? If the local casinos can do it, so can you! Only a fool would ignore a local population as large as the one in Las Vegas. It’s a fact that their game of choice is video poker, and there’s enormous profits made off of these players every year. So does anyone have an answer to this mystery?