A Buyer’s Market: The New Poker Rewards Programs

Poker Promotions

I remember something Bill Boyd, a Poker Hall of Fame member and the legendary poker room manager at the Golden Nugget, told me when I worked as a host for him around 1978. I asked Bill for a comp for two very loyal customers who wanted to have dinner in the restaurant.

Bill said to me it’s better to comp after they eat and do it as a surprise. He said if you comp players up front, they will eat you out of house and home.  Bill would walk into the restaurant and pick the check up after they finished eating. He saved the Golden Nugget a fortune.

It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

I have been on both sides of giving and receiving comps. Most of my meals over the past 25 years have been comped, but I have also used them to great advantage when I have hosted games, so I understand there must be a balance between cost controls for casinos and their value as a marketing tool to retain players.

Comps in Las Vegas always had limits to manage the cost. I remember in the old days the Stardust only had a free buffet, but regardless of the form they take, food comps have been the main marketing hook for casinos for sixty years, especially in California.

The cost of free food for top-section poker players has cost the top card rooms in Los Angeles millions of dollars a year. It was not uncommon for players to order up to $50 at a time and eat a few bites only to discard the food and order again an hour later.

I remember the Bicycle Casino would offer free food to Omaha players in smaller limits during certain lunch hours to get the games started. I would sometimes see 9 steaks and just as many shrimp cocktails and desserts ordered at once.

This kind of abuse reached a tipping point where it just was not cost effective to continue this traditional practice. Starting in March, card rooms in Southern California instituted a new policy.

From now on players will earn a certain amount of money per hour based upon their play. Reward cards and tracking systems are becoming the norm, and they are just as valuable to the players as they are to the casinos.

Both recreational players and pros alike need to understand the system and maximize the value they can derive from it. If you want to survive as a professional player, understanding the reward system is vital for you to be a winner.

Whether the rewards are in the form of freeroll tournaments or other special promotions, such as discounted hotel rates, not taking advantage of them is like throwing money away. Utilizing the money returned as perks can be the difference between being a winning or losing player in poker.

Some casinos do an outstanding job with player rewards such as Hollywood Park Casino. Hollywood Park Casino pays up to $6 an hour in some games, and players can use their points for cash and free massages if they wish.

In some card rooms, players get increased points for certain slow periods and certain days. However, nothing beats cash back or rakeback for players trying to earn.

Because the rake makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the game to be profitable for the players, it is imperative that players research the best rakeback deals. The hourly rakeback added to a player’s reward card can be applied to a player’s bankroll and help offset the heavy cost of the rake on a player’s earnings.

Even as we see read about a number of poker rooms closing, we also have many poker room expansions, such as The Gardens building a mega casino in Hawaiian Gardens, California.

In Bell Gardens The Bicycle Casino is adding a brand-new Hotel Casino, and the most ambitious project of all is Hollywood Park Casino’s new billion-dollar entertainment complex and state-of-the-art poker room.

The power is in the players’ hands now as casino marketing departments scramble for players. The rewards will get even better, so learn to use them to your advantage and remember it’s all about the ability to earn.

In my next article, I will cover specific rewards programs and promotions in poker rooms from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

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A Casino in Your Pocket

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When my son Jaden was five years old, I gave him a Los Angeles Lakers’ poker set given to me by the late Dr. Jerry Buss.  His mother hid it in the garage.  Jaden, now 14, found it and brought it to my house this Thanksgiving and asked me if I could teach him how to play poker. I had wrestled with what I would do on the day my children would want to learn to play and whether I should teach them.

I am sure many gaming industry professionals have had the same thoughts. All my children know their dad works in the gaming industry and has played poker for fifty years. My younger kids like to Google my name and tell me about what they read online, and they are starting to ask me many questions about gambling like why I haven’t won the Main Event. With the Internet and social media, young people today are exposed to social gaming at an early age.

Children today grow up playing games, and gambling is just an extension of gaming to them.  It is so much harder to shield children nowadays, so I decided if I am going to teach my kids about gaming, I will make sure they understand all the pitfalls–the good, bad and ugly.  In our conversation about poker, my fourteen year old tried to convince me that his video games Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are educational. Those games make gambling look like Candy Land.   I find these videos games very disturbing.  In fact, they inspired me to form my own company, Crown Digital Games, so I can develop games like Giant Paintball, which uses paint instead of bullets that my children can play that keeps the competitive element without the blood and gore.

I feel poker, unlike video games, can teach so much about life.  It teaches about winning and losing, math, money management and psychology just to name a few things; most of all, it teaches you about people. I teach my children there is a time and place for gaming, and it should never interfere with their family or education.  The key is to remember to keep it fun and to gamble responsibly within one’s limits and make sure it never interferes with family.  Poker has created a blessed life for me the past fifty years, but it has come with some pain and suffering. As I reflect back, I do have some regrets and wished I had spent more time on the important things in life.  As the Poker Hall of Famer Fred “Sarge” Ferris said when he realized he was terminally ill, he wished he had stopped and smelled the roses.

On Thanksgiving it’s a tradition at my wife’s family gathering to play poker. Her 21-year-old niece is very competitive and beat us all out of our $5 buy-in. She was taught poker at an early age. She informed me she is taking a course at San Diego State University called “Cross Cultural Gambling.”  She said she watched the movie Rounders in class where the students discussed the consequences of gambling.  At the peak of the poker boom, there is no telling how many students played poker online on their computers in their dorm rooms.  Now with smartphones in the hands of our youth, it is time for them to learn about the personal and social impact of gambling in the classroom.

The gaming industry is going through a seismic shift. For the first time, gaming has a chance to become mainstream.  It is moving from the back room to your living room. The leap from play money to real money is just a click away. Putting our heads in the sand pretending our children are not being exposed to gambling is naïve.

As parents we need to be aware of the proliferation of all forms of social gaming and know what our kids are downloading and playing.  As the Washington Post reported in February 2011, an eight-year-old girl rang up a $1400 bill in the Capcom game Smurfs’ Village. Though the game was free to download, the smurfberry purchases made within it cost real money. The lesson here is the virtual games in our children’s pockets are one step away from real gambling, and it is playing on their competitive and addictive behavior.

I am 65 years old.  One thing I want to leave in my children’s minds about the business I have been in for fifty years is that gambling has consequences, both good and bad.  I want them to be winners in life.  With gambling now becoming legal online and at our fingertips 24/7, it is imperative we educate the young as they walk around with a casino in their pocket.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. He is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

2013 WSOP: Year of the Woman

2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner Loni Harwood

2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner Loni Harwood

As I was reviewing the statistics for the 2013 World Series of Poker (WSOP), one in particular stood out.  With 79,471 total entries, women players represented a mere 5.1% of the field. Yet, at the same time, female cashes represented 9% of the total money won.  This is an encouraging fact.  Female participation in the WSOP has come a long way since I began playing it in the 1980’s, but we as a poker community can do much more to increase those numbers.

To move forward we must first look to the past and honor the achievements of the pioneers that blazed the trail for today’s women in poker.  No discussion would be complete without talking about Barbara Enright.  To this day, Barbara Enright is still the first and only woman to make the final table of the WSOP Main Event.  She accomplished this historic feat in 1995 when she placed 5th.  That was just the beginning of her firsts.  She was also the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets and the first woman to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Phil Hellmuth.  Enright is still racking up those chips.  To date, her total live tournament winnings exceed $1.5 million.

Though no woman has reached the final table of the Main Event since Enright, two women came close in 2012.  In fact, both Gaelle Baumann, who placed 10th, and Elisabeth Hille, who came in 11th, are tied for the biggest Main Event payday awarded to a woman with $590,442 earned by each.  By percentage, Baumann has the best record of any woman in the Main Event as she finished in the top .15% out of a field of 6,598 players. Only two women have lasted the longest in the Main Event twice—Annie Duke in 2000 and 2003 and Marsha Waggoner in 1993 and 1997.

This year, Loni Harwood’s spectacular run was the big story of the 2013 WSOP and was chronicled in a PokerNews article titled, “Loni Harwood Setting Records at the 2013 World Series of Poker” by Pamela Maldonado.  The 23-year-old poker player from Staten Island, New York, won her first WSOP bracelet this year in the final $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event of the series.  That win marked her 6th cash of the summer (accomplished by only three other players this year) and tied Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series.

And the records do not stop there.  The $609,017 first place money she won surpassed Allyn Jeffrey Shulman’s record set in 2012 of the largest payday awarded to a woman in a Las Vegas WSOP event. With $874,698 in tournament earnings for the entire summer, Harwood has also jumped to the No. 8 spot on the all-time WSOP money list for women. That total was also the most a woman has ever earned at a single WSOP in Las Vegas.

Harwood’s three final table appearances at this year’s WSOP is an impressive accomplishment for any poker player, male or female.  And the fact that the percentage of female participation is so small makes her achievement all the more stunning.  Harwood has just embarked on her career and has many more final tables in her future.  Some legends of the game have amassed an impressive number of WSOP final table finishes including Cyndy Violette at 12, Jennifer Harman at 11 and Marsha Waggoner at 9.  2013 marked not only the 10-year anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s historic win in the Main Event that helped spark the poker boom, but 2003 was also the first year 10 women made final tables at the WSOP.  2012 saw 14 women final table the WSOP and that number will only continue to grow.

Female players are just as skilled as male players, but I feel one of the problems facing women is the lack of sponsorship.  No matter what a player’s skill level, sponsorship money is critical in being able to compete in poker at the highest levels.  When online poker went live in Nevada, I noticed the new sites were mainly reaching out to male players.  I feel women make even better ambassadors for poker, and it is a mistake to overlook them.  It is time for both men and women, the legends of the game and the up-and-comers, to work together to increase the number of female players so that someday in the not-to-distant future we finally have a female World Champion of Poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. He is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. 

Robert can be contacted at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.