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Players club card points can add up to rewards

| Friday, Jan. 27, 2012

Understanding the mechanics of players club cards is the key to getting the most out of them. Free food, free play and other awards await.

Casinos everywhere have players clubs, which, according to author and gaming analyst Jeffrey Compton, got their start in 1982 when the Sands in Atlantic City launched the Galaxy Slot Club to show appreciation to slot players.

"There's rarely any slot clubs left. They're all players clubs," says Chase Lough, marketing director for Meadows Casino and Racetrack in North Strabane. "People accumulate points both in slot and table play."

Rivers Casino on the North Shore rolled out a new players club this month. The Rush Rewards program replaced Rivers Edge, which had been around since the casino opened in August 2009.

Rivers marketing director Matt Stewart says the casino's two sister operations -- SugarHouse in Philadelphia and Rivers in suburban Chicago -- also use Rush Rewards.

The biggest benefit for players is that their Pittsburgh gambling could qualify them for free or discounted stays in Las Vegas or for cruises, Stewart says.

Tropicana Hotel and Casino is the first Las Vegas partner in the program, and more Strip destinations are expected, he says. The cruise partner has not been announced.

Players clubs track how much you gamble at slots or table games, giving casinos valuable information about players' habits. The free play and free food bring players back to the casino, and they're likely to spend more than they received.

Casinos add up players' bets just as airlines log the miles of frequent fliers and supermarkets track how what shoppers club members buy. Extra perks go to card holders who give more betting action -- either from multiple visits with small wagers or less-frequent visits with high wagers. The Meadows club has four membership levels, for example, and Rush Rewards has three.

"Base" or "tier" points reflect actual money bet. Casinos frequently offer "multipliers" to increase traffic on an otherwise slow day.

Players might earn seven or 12 times their base points on these days -- even more if they're in the upper membership tiers. Bonus points can be redeemed for free play and comps, but they don't count toward moving from one membership level to the next.

The points reflect more than the amount of your buy-in. Say you put $40 in a slot machine and decide to play until you've doubled your money or lost it. On the way to whichever fate is in store, you'll likely have a mix of wins and losses. Playing the money you won counts just as much as playing your original $40. If you hit a few payoffs before quitting, you easily could have $100 "coin through" during the session.

At Meadows and Rivers, slot players get one point for every dollar bet. At Meadows, the rate is the same for video poker and traditional slots, Lough says; at Rivers and in several other jurisdictions, video poker players must play $2 to get one point.

At Meadows, video poker players' multiplier points are half the rate of those at regular slots, Lough says.

Video poker generates fewer points because it typically has a better payout rate than traditional slots, especially for players who follow proper strategy.

Pennsylvania video poker machines offer a payback rate around 97 percent with perfect play; while less than the 99 percent or better rate found elsewhere, it's far better than the 90 percent rate for all Pennsylvania slots.

Table games players accumulate points at a slower rate than slot players. Meadows awards one point for every $5 bet at a table game; a tiny radio frequency chip embedded in each casino cheque helps record bets precisely. At Rivers, floor supervisors track players' average bet and time played to determine how many points they earned. The formula includes the casino's expected profit from a game.

"If you're playing the exact same amount of hours, the exact same bet on a blackjack game vs. a roulette game, you're probably going to earn more (points) on the roulette game," Stewart says. The house advantage in roulette is much higher than in blackjack.

At Rivers, 800 points translates to $1 in comps or free play. At Meadows, the figure is 1,000 points.

Poker players, who compete against each other rather than the casino, generally earn comp dollars but no base points for the players club.

Moneymaker back in Erie

Poker champion Chris Moneymaker will make his third visit to Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie on Feb. 11 and 12. He'll play in a tournament with a prize pool of $45,000 if all 90 seats are sold.

Satellite tournaments, with a $71 buy-in, start Wednesday. One player of every 10 will get a seat in the main event.

Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Even as an amateur and is credited with triggering a poker boom in the United States.

Money trail

Slot players lost $38.5 million at Pennsylvania's 10 casinos during the week ended Jan. 22, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's up from $37.6 million in the comparable week last year.

The state takes 55 percent of that "gross slot revenue" -- or what's left of players' wagers after all jackpots are paid.

Statewide, slot machines have paid out at a 90.1 percent rate since the fiscal year started in July. For every $100 bet, machines returned an average of $90.10. Payout rates for Western Pennsylvania casinos:

  • 89.88 percent: Rivers; revenue for the week ended Jan. 22 was $4.88 million, up from $4.18 million last year.
  • 89.79 percent: Meadows; revenue for the week was $3.94 million, up from $3.62 million last year.
  • 90.45 percent: Presque Isle; revenue for the week was $2.38 million, just below the $2.4 million of last year.


I had a $5 match play coupon, but the only open seats I could find were at a $10 table. Can I use a coupon that's worth less than the table minimum?

Yes. Most casinos require you to meet the table minimum with chips. In your case, bet two $5 chips and the coupon. If you win, you get $15; if you lose, you're out $10.

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