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Last Updated: July 18, 2003

Wizard of Odds Newsletter | July 18, 2003

How much to play when using bonuses?

Last week some of you took exception to my comments that a player should play 50% more than a bonus offer requires at an online casino. Some said that players shouldn't have to go above and beyond what a casino requires in its own promotion rules, and used the analogy of buying only items for which you have coupons, which is obviously fair game.

I fully agree that a casino should honor the terms of its own bonus. The reason I suggested playing more than the bonus requires is that if you look like you're playing only for bonuses then a number of bad things can happen: the casino might not offer you future bonuses, they might bar you from future play after they've awarded the bonus and you've played it, and they might put you on a bonus-abuser list that they share with other casinos, preventing you from opening accounts elsewhere.

Nevada casinos routinely bar players who count cards at blackjack because the casino doesn't like to have players who are too good. In fact, Nevada casinos don't even have to have a reason for barring players. Internet casinos are no different.

I don't dispute that you're entitled to a bonus by playing only the necessary amount. But if you want to keep the bonus offers coming in and protect your ability to play at other casinos, it pays to not look like a bonus player. 

Suncoast Drawing

This month the Suncoast casino in Las Vegas, which is very close to where I live, is giving away $400,000. Each Thursday they give $5000 to 20 people in a drawing. On Saturday when I went to the Suncoast I noticed the number of tickets in the drum was not very high, about 1000 I estimated. At that rate of growth I figured there would only be about 5000 tickets by Thursday at most. The most lucrative way I figured to earn tickets was to play 100-play 2-cent video poker. All I needed to do was double my $10 total bet to get a ticket. According to past research this will happen about 8% of hands. 

So I bounced my theory off of a friend here and (he) got excited and met me at the casino.  I got there first and quickly found I spent much time waiting for a slot host to acknowledge a winning hand, so I played two machines at once. When my friend came we monopolized all five 100-play machines in the casino. We were earning tickets so fast a slot person finally just stayed there and handed us tickets as we earned them right and left. A small crowd started to gather watching the two of us bounce between five machines and getting lots of tickets. Although the payback of the game was only 96.89% I felt at the time the tickets made it very worthwhile, and besides it was a lot of fun.

However the slot hostess handing us tickets told us the previous week the drum was about half full by drawing time. By my estimation it would have only been about 10% full. I explained at the existing rate of growth that didn't make sense. She replied that most players hoarded their tickets until the last minute, thinking if they are on top their odds are better. Although they rotate the barrel this theory did make some sense. 

So after this session we decided to hold off until we could observe ourselves how many tickets were in the drum by drawing time. If it was less than 30% full or so I reasoned it would still be playable and I would hit it hard the following week. However come Thursday the drum was indeed just about half full. People lined up to put in handfuls of tickets at the last minute. There were so many coming in they took off the panel with the slot so people could just dump them in by piles. 

Although it was discouraging I reasoned I still had about a 7% chance of winning one of the twenty $5000 prizes. Unfortunately my 7% didn't come through. My strategy this week is to earn some tickets through the sport book (any winning ticket of $100 or more gets a ticket) but I'll mostly leave the video poker machines alone. 

So I think the point of this story is that to not be lulled into playing based on the number of tickets in a drum and assuming linear growth. 

Thanks for reading. Until next time, set your expectations high.