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.

Finding the Edge in Poker and in Life: Part 2

De Niro

At the end of the movie Casino, Ace, the Robert De Niro character, laments the passing of the old Las Vegas. “In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played.” I miss the old days, too, but if you are to survive today, you have to adapt to the changing landscape. In Part 1, I touched on the subject of finding the edge in poker if you want to survive. I would like to expand on that idea and show poker players how they have the power to improve their playing conditions and even elevate the game itself.

Poker players may not realize how valuable they are. A player supporting a card room could be worth up to $50,000 a year to that casino. If your favorite casino provides all the right deals, you will become loyal and very valuable to them because you support their games with all the hours you play. I have always preached you can’t produce revenue if the players are not coming through the door. Whether you are a professional or recreational poker player, as a group we are worth millions to the gaming industry.

Casinos should understand a high limit poker game is worth over a $1 million in real money per year. When you factor in the money from their friends and other income they bring in, that is the X factor. This is an intangible number the bean counters miss on their spreadsheets, and that’s when you see perks start to disappear. The casinos have a bottom line, but you have to operate your poker business and manage your bottom line above all else.

However, some casinos do understand your worth and really reach out to their players. Many casinos are now adding extra perks for the poker players. They have rakeback up to $6 per hour and even free transportation to and from the casinos. That’s important as players search for the best return on their investment.

One of the casinos that is listening to their players is Pechanga Resort and Casino around 90 minutes outside of Los Angeles. They offer high hand money every hour beginning at noon, a free roundtrip bus ride and $10 in free play for patronizing their casino on certain days. The drop is $1 cheaper per hand than other casinos in Southern California. That alone is a reason to consider playing there. The $50 they give away every hour in high hand money for the Omaha game and $250 per hour for hold’em games is an added bonus. The fact they are adding that much money back to the table really helps a poker player’s bottom line.

Where you spend your valuable time and money is a very important decision that affects not only you, but the entire gaming industry. It’s time for players to take a stand and not just accept the status quo. Express your opinion to upper management. As someone who has spent many years on the tables and in boardrooms, I can say that the higher the decision maker the more receptive they are to suggestions. They did not get to the top without the ability to listen and adapt.

If they don’t listen, play somewhere else. It’s that simple. This is the only way things will improve. The casinos are all vying for your time and money. Take the time to find the best deals and patronize those places that cater to their players and avoid the ones that provide no added value.

Speaking of added value, it’s long overdue for tournaments to add money for the players. In the old days tournament players would say, “That was a great tournament. They treated us so well. I can’t wait for the next year.” Nowadays I often hear players grumbling about the fees, the structure and all the other things they don’t like about the tournaments, yet they continue to play them. Instead of complaining to each other, wouldn’t it be more productive to take grievances to the decision makers who can change it?

At the end of Casino, as the images of the old casinos being imploded are shown, Ace says, “The town will never be the same….Today it’s like checking into an airport.” In the old days, everyone knew your name. Now registering for a tournament does feel like checking into an airport. The accountants have taken over, and casinos can sometimes feel like cold, sterile places. But there are still some places that remain dedicated to their players; it’s our jobs to find and support them.

Remember you are the most powerful weapon. Your choices matter, whether it’s in poker or in life. That’s the greatest edge of all.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and 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 and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. 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. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Follow Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.