Frenzy over slot club points hits fever pitch

Aug 13, 2002 6:55 AM

Without much hoopla, there’s been a growing popularity of video poker and slot machines in the last year or so. Last month I wrote about the increasing comeback of positive play (greater than 100 percent) video poker machines in the lower denominations that locals love to see. At the same time and seemingly in a very purposeful and attention-getting style, local casinos all over the city appear to be rolling out the ”˜multiple-point days’ red carpets in a fierce competition for players. In fact, so many of the gambling halls are constantly having promotions that players are now finding it extremely difficult to remain loyal to any one property for any length of time.

But what does all this mean to the industry and it’s players, and what are the Strip resorts doing, if anything, to keep pace? Well, since the Strip is loaded with players on vacation who mostly play one-armed bandits, they’re not really a part of the competition for local customers ”” although I think it would be a good idea if they were. In fact, whenever there’s a slight downturn in visitors, the first cry we hear is how temporary work reductions "might be a real possibility." In such cases, all the world’s most beautiful properties need do is beef up it’s inventory of full-pay video poker machines, toss in a good quantity of positive plays, and offer promotions similar to the casinos where most of the locals go for their play. This is not genius at work ”” merely common sense.

What the local casinos have discovered and apparently the mega-resorts have not is two very important desires of local’s play: They want to play video poker, and they want to get something for doing it. In other words, they want to play a game for long hours where they can make decisions that will affect the outcome of the game, and they want to have something to show for the many times when they go home with empty wallets. First the casinos around town stepped up to the plate with more and more positive play games. Now they are continuing to kick it up a notch with 2x, 3x, 4x ”¦even 5x point days, and they are becoming more the rule than the exception. They are serious in their fight for local dollars, and right now there’s no end in sight.

Certainly the local hotels are in business to make a profit and not just "give things away." The actual beauty of this promotional system is what many of them have pleasantly discovered. First they increase their 100 percent plus games and because of it, the local writers give them all the free advertising they could ever want. Then they publish whatever days they choose as being multiple point days ”” usually but not always during predictably slow periods or days. But by far, the most important link to all this is the slot club. They are the ones whose marketing department makes sure their promotions are constantly served up to the public in an enticing way. Once out, word spreads like wildfire among those who are obsessed 24 hours a day with casino play. And none is more consumed by all this than the video poker player.

Looking at this from the casino’s point of view, it’s a business ”” and nothing more. Their management is constantly demanding higher profit margins, and that simply translates into more customers walking through their doors playing for longer periods of time. So what does having multi-point extravaganzas do for the bottom line? If you believe some of the chat on video poker forums or in some of the articles written, you’d think there were multiple money-withdrawal days at casinos all over town. While much more fantasy than reality, it’s clear they’re writing with anticipation and pounding hearts. Always being better to travel Several days before a 4x point day we may be inundated with messages from the many fired-up individuals who just can’t wait to hit the machines, yet after the battle’s over there are but one or two who will make mention of anything positive that may have come out of it all.

One of the anomalies is this. Sure, the points piled up four times faster than normal. Yes, your cash back is four times what it normally would be. And without a doubt, your comp account has swelled faster than a vintage Muhammed Ali shuffle. But just how expensive was all that? Of course, the only bigger liars than fisherman are gamblers; so don’t expect to get a straight set of facts at any time. The only road to take here is the one called common sense. Do the casinos offer these "giveaways" just because they have an excess inventory of cash, food and drink on premises, and the accountants are telling them to reduce their short-term receivables? Or is it simply that these numerous multiple-point promotions were meant to separate the many lured-in gamblers who just can’t say no from as much of their money as possible?

Casino managers know the frenzied behavioral patterns of video poker players. While these "expert-strategy" players for some reason have talked themselves into believing all they need to do is play in order to win, the real problem for the players is that the casino manager has a goal and they do not. They just want to pound away at the buttons as fast as possible, believing that they will somehow approach the theories of winning that others claim to have done just before they sell a set of strategy cards. The casino manager is looking for deposits, and he gets many more of them on multiple point days. But he also knows that if he snoozes he loses. He doesn’t want to lose any business to the place down the street. It’s a crazy system, but it will remain until players are educated on the simplest casino-corporation bottom line: Offer them something, help them walk away with nothing, but make them happy. In this case, it’s points. Too bad that doesn’t pay the mortgage.