Why won’t the Strip go with poker?

Jun 12, 2005 11:59 PM

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 casino, neighborhood pub — the odds are basically preset as are the payoff percentages.

There’s no question the reel and video slot machines are popular, they can be very interesting with all their sounds and graphics, and some of them offer life-changing jackpots. But, in my estimation, they don’t offer the kind of payback on my game of choice, video poker.

And when we talk about what video poker is available in Las Vegas, the best games are usually found at Station Casinos, Fiesta, Sam’s Town and Coast Resorts.

I’m still perplexed why the casino operators on the Strip haven’t learned from the success of the locals casinos. All it would take is a favorable inventory of video poker games on the casino floor that would pull in locals at unprecedented levels.

Yet, the Strip operators stick with the kind of machines that the unsophisticated gamblers want to play most. 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.

For once, I’d like to see a major Strip casino take its blinders off and pay attention to their neighbors in the suburb.

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.

First, I would increase my machine inventory so at least 40% are video poker machines.

Then I would make sure each of the video poker machines was a ticket-in, ticket-out machine. Tourists may like the sound of coins clanking and they might not care about getting their hands dirty on vacation, but locals have grown up — coinless machines allow for movement in the casino and patrons can play longer because they don’t have to wait for an attendant to "cash out."

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% of $4,000,000 in 5-cent play is better than 4% of $3,000,000 in $2 play.

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 on a full house when it’s available all over town at 8?

Has 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 percentage-wise per machine than those short pay versions the casino managers like, but the bad part of the business decision is the same as the 5% vs. 4% scenario mentioned above.

Offer cash back in your slot club program, and not at a pathetic pace either. Points for dinner, cartons of cigarettes or logo T-shirts are okay, but 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 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.

Recognize that locals actually live and play in Las Vegas. Send them promotions lucrative enough to get them to WANT to battle the worsening gridlock. Don’t patronize them with ridiculous offers (would you battle that bumper-to-bumper mess on Tropicana to get a $20 slot machine credit that dissipates in about three minutes?), when you send out-of-towners dazzling perks.

Typically, Strip 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 they! Why ignore a local, gambling 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 in the neighborhood casinos. So why won’t the Strip casinos follow suit?