Casinos shouldn’t remove
their good poker machines!

Aug 14, 2006 4:42 AM

I have to admit: I’ve played a lot of video poker in Laughlin over the years, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it — even when I used to consistently lose as a "long-term expert."

Living in the Phoenix area, driving to Laughlin has always been so much less of a hassle than destination Las Vegas.

In my early years of being a video poker addict I used to be a regular customer of the Ramada Express. Even though their rooms were never anything special, they had many progressives, a slot club who’s benefits included cash back and easy-to-receive comps, lots of fun-filled weekend activities, the River’s best steakhouse hands down, good video poker pay tables, and many games even paid triple for hitting four 7’s.

For a player such as myself — who thought he had it all figured out — this was the place to be whenever I returned home from overseas.

Video poker players don’t like change, because change usually signals something’s going to alter their gambling experience. But for years the only changes that went on at the Ramada Express were the addition of a new tower, the opening of my kind of easy-going Italian restaurant, a new Mexican Cantina, some slight slot club revamp, and the evolution of the Grand Junction area as a tribute to its higher limit slot and video poker players.

But then something changed. Recently I made my first visit to the Ramada in over a year. I’ve heard from several sources that there have been some significant changes to their video poker offerings, and that more property upgrades were forthcoming in the fall. So I made a call, was offered a complimentary night, and was on my way to see what it was all about.

Just as my previous visits had been different in that I played only to attain specific goals and nothing else, so went this trip. I intended to play Romp-Thru-Town strategy with an overall goal of just $500, and I reached exactly that figure between play at Colorado Belle across the street and at the Ramada. Most of it was won at Ramada.

But the most eye-opening aspect of this visit was what has happened — or hasn’t happened — to the video poker and slot club at Ramada Express. There is a new, eclectic Eclipse Bar with multiple co-joined plasma TV’s, a sectioned off Sushi bar, and it’s equipped with the multi-game/multi-denominational games that I like, but the old standby bar in Grand Junction has added some of the strangest games — USA Poker, One Eyed Jacks, and very odd (and to me, unplayable) versions of Bonus Poker — with not-so-advantageous pay tables.

So I play at a different bar from now on. No big deal. They still have the world’s greatest steakhouse, and the staff is as friendly as I’ve seen in casinos across Nevada. But as I left in the morning, I stopped by the slot club to see what I earned under their new system of "you only get food comps based on points earned" which was a MAJOR change from the very easy attainable gourmet restaurant comps handed out or RFB’d (fully comped) over the years.

Here’s the figures: I put approximately $12,000 through the machines, and I was on some sort of double-point promotion — probably as a welcome back award or something. I’m not a comps person, but my eyes opened very wide when I was told I earned $18.88 in food comps and had $10 cash back coming! Gee, it’s certainly lucky for me that I got those double points!

Almost all of my play was on $1 and $2, so I asked to see the point accumulation system. What I was shown is so unusual I really didn’t believe it, so I spent this week in correspondence with casino management trying to get a statement on just why it is. What I was told to my direct question about the system was nothing.

This is the anomaly I found for video poker players: Penny and nickel players get 1 point for each $5 played; quarter players are required to play $7.50/point; for some reason, 50¡ players need to put through only $5.83 for a point; dollar players have to play $10 for a point; if you are a $2 player it takes $17.50/point; and for those who venture to the $5 and $10 games? (as I at times do) — be prepared to play $25/point.

I know, it makes no sense. Higher limit players are severely penalized in the Ramada comp system. What confuses me is that I would think they would want to defend their policy, and by refusing to do so makes me wonder if they understand it themselves. I certainly wouldn’t play there again when I use a slot card — which I do not do when playing my single-play strategy but do on all my others. And how in the world could I recommend others play there?

What I was told by Ramada management was how great the place is overall, their ambitious plans for upgrading the rooms later this year, and how they feel their slot club is on par with most others. I’m the type who doesn’t usually accept spins such as that, but in this case I simply let it go.

I have a lot of memories at Ramada Express, and over the years they’ve had one of the most moving exhibits of our wartime heroes I’ve ever seen. Besides, it’s a laid back property in a generally laid back town, and Laughlin has always been a little different when it comes to the gaming experience. But I didn’t expect it would become THAT different.