By David Stratton | Las Vegas casinos are betting their future is in the cards – slot club cards, that is.
Now more than ever, slot clubs – or rewards programs, as casinos prefer to call them – have upped the ante with a myriad of promotions and giveaways, all designed to induce slot players to belly-up to their favorite machines.
"Our reward promotions have become a cornerstone of our casino marketing efforts," said the floor supervisor at a locals-oriented casino in Las Vegas. "Virtually every day there’s something – free slot tournaments, bonus points, free gifts – available to our valued slot customers."
Indeed, any player with a card from Station Casinos, Arizona Charlie’s and the Palms, for instance, would have been busy last week collecting freebies.
For instance, a slot player with a Palms card could have stopped by on Tuesday to swipe his card for a chance at a free gift, then schlepped over to Arizona Charlie’s on Thursday for a free bathroom set. On the weekend, Palace Station gave away a set of microwave dishes on Saturday and a six-pack of Budweiser on Sunday.
Judging by the long line of card-carrying customers waiting for their free six-pack, the promotions seem to be working.
"It’s hard to turn down a free gift, even if it’s only a six-pack of beer," said Gloria Phillips, a Palace Station slots player. "I don’t even like beer, but it’s nice to have it in the bottom of the refrigerator."
That seems to be the sentiments of many slot customers, who acknowledge that most of the giveaway items are refugees from the neighborhood 99¢ Store.
"I’ll probably never take them out of the box," said 66-year-old Gerald Augustine of his color-coordinated microwave dishes. "But it’s one less gift I have to buy at Christmastime."
In addition to gift promotions, slot clubs now rely heavily on kiosks, which are used to deliver benefits – free slot play, comps and cash back – to card-swiping customers.
For instance, club members have a chance to "win" up to $500 in free slot play at Station Casinos, and up to $100 at Arizona Charlie’s, with a swipe of their cards.
Recently, the "swipe and win" promotions have also included gas cards, dinner and buffet comps, entries for cash drawings and thousands of slot points.
While some players view the swipe and win promotions as adding an element of excitement and mystery to their benefit package, others – notably high-end players – feel the promotions are less than rewarding.
"For the amount of money I pump into the casino every year, I shouldn’t have to hinge my benefits on an electronic lottery, where my chances are slim and none," said Arthur, a 55-year-old video poker player who asked that his last name be withheld.
Arthur said he doesn’t consider himself a "high roller," even though he spends (aka loses) more than $30,000 a year in the casinos, and is ranked at the top or near the top of most slot club tiers.
He said the free slot play he has received as well as comps and cash back never came close to matching what he spent.
"One month I amassed over 150,000 slot points, which meant I spent over $15,000 in the casino," Arthur said. "But over the next four months, my free slot play only once exceeded the $20 minimum, and that was for about $60."
Arthur also took a swipe at the "chance to win" concept of rewarding players.
"You don’t see a blackjack or craps player roll the dice or cut the cards to determine whether he’s entitled to comps or benefits," he said. "Why should I be put in the same boat as a penny keno player stuffing singles into a machine when I’m firing off hundred dollar bills?"
Arthur said he’s been playing at other casinos, notably Wynn Las Vegas and The Venetian, in hopes of finding a rewards program that doesn’t require players to "win" their comps and other benefits.
"I live in Las Vegas because I like to gamble and I have the resources to gamble at a substantial level," he says. "I’m just looking for a program that recognizes and rewards that kind of play."
Incidentally, Arthur said he passed on the six-pack of Bud. He only drinks Heineken.