Slot clubs were born not in Las Vegas,
but in Atlantic City. All the casinos there are
practically indistinguishable from each other so the owners needed something to
keep people coming back to their particular casino.
The Sands Casino issued an executive-committee directive to
its slot department manager in 1982 to “create a plan that recognizes slot
players as appreciated customers.” A month later the Galaxy Slot Club debuted. Casino
staff, especially floor personnel, were told to look for familiar faces, even if
they played nickel machines, and get their names and addresses. These customers
were invited to special parties and given gold lapel pins to help identify them
as casino VIPs. By the end of the first year the Galaxy Slot Club had 600
members and was considered to be a great success.
Harrah’s Atlantic City expanded on the slot club concept
in 1983. They borrowed directly from frequent-flyer programs
of airlines. Harrah’s devised a system in which players received one ticket for
every hundred dollars they put through the slot machines. Players could redeem
their tickets in the hotel restaurants and gift shops or even apply them to
their hotel bills.
Steve Wynn brought slot clubs to Las Vegas in 1984. he
inaugurated the 24 Karat Club at the Golden Nugget which, as in Atlantic City,
employed ticket dispensers located next to slot machines. When the machine was
played the dispenser would count down a particular monetary amount. When the
counter got to zero a ticket was dispensed. This slot club also introduced an
enduring concept of direct cash rebates to slot players. The first brochure
about this club said that members could apply tickets toward the cost of
anything in the hotel, even additional dollar tokens. The fascination of the
customers to the cash rebate made the casino concentrate more on publicizing
that particular aspect of the casino. Many other Vegas casinos which were
located in the downtown region began to do the same. A lot of the industry took
a decidedly wait-and-see attitude, especially toward cash rebates, despite the
fact that the slot club concept showed immediate promise.
The casinos started attaching ATM-like devices to (and
later installed right into) their slot machines in the late 1980s. They handed
out personalized plastic cards to club members and now rely on computers to
manage the growing databases of information. These developments represented not
just a technological advance but also a huge conceptual leap in the casino’s
use of slot clubs as a marketing tool. Not only did the new “player tracking
systems” tabulate the kind of action slot club members were generating but were
also capable of making demographic data accessible on demand, identifying
gambling patterns, and even alerting the slot control room when there was heavy
slot action by a non-member, thus enabling the club staff to sign up a new
The next step was to expand computerized player tracking
beyond just slots to include table games. Bingo, keno, and sports betting
followed. Now the ability to track and reward all casino customers (not just high rollers)
Slot clubs in Las Vegas are only a decade old but their
future is assured. All the megaresorts that have opened in the last several
years have had their slot clubs up and running on opening day. The few
remaining hold outs either have fewer than 500 slot machines and cannot justify
the expense, or choose to employ other methods to attract players, like running
periodic promotions or monitoring player coin purchases.
Establishing a slot club is not an easy task. The up-front
costs including card readers, computers, printers, installation labor, and
staff training can easily run more than a million dollars. After that is the
annual upkeep such as labor (slot hosts, slot booth personnel, supervisors,
maintenance), new and replacement equipment, marketing, and advertisement and of
course the prizes.
Casinos have slot clubs to attract, reward, and ultimately
retain slot players. Slot players’ loyalties can be fleeting, which is
unfortunate for the casinos. Slot machines do not vary much from casino to
casino so a losing session can easily send a player scurrying across the street
to find better machines. Allegiances and relationships are not formed because
slot players have little formal contact with casino personnel. Usually slot
players go back to wherever they won the most money on their last trip.
Before slot clubs a lot of casinos rewarded slot players
based on the highly subjective judgment of a change person or host who had
observed the player in action for a short time. Nowadays casino managers prefer
using computers over hiring additional employees for tracking slot play and
When you join a slot club you must be aware that you are
giving the casino not only your name, address, social security number, and
birthday, but also how you play, how long you play, how often you play, and what
rewards you are playing for. Entire marketing departments, complete with
database engineers and direct-mail coordinators, are created to maximize the
value of this information.
One advantage of slot clubs for the user is that ties win.
A push is a profit. This is because every coin you send through the machine
counts toward something of value later on.
There are close to 50 slot clubs in Las Vegas and each and
everyone of them has their own way of marketing. No two clubs work exactly
alike. The one thing they all have in common is that the more you know about
any of them the more rewards you will take home.
Smart players join the slot club at every casino they play
at and never deposit even a single coin without their slot club card inserted
into the machine.
When you're at the booth to activate your membership, take
a moment to ask about activation points. Most clubs require a minimum level of
action to reach what’s called the activation point before any serious benefits
or discounts will be given. This is to separate the joiners from the players.
Most slot clubs issue you a card or two and any sign-up bonuses on the spot.
Your vital statistics go into the computer and you are eligible from that point
on to receive special offers in the mail. To guarantee this minimum-level
treatment, you should plan on putting at least $100 worth of action on the card
after each sign-up. However, you won’t really be considered a VIP until you
have reached and surpassed the activation point.
Several of the upper-class cash clubs initiate activation points when a person first signs up by giving out a temporary card. However, full membership is not issued until a specific amount, around $2000, is run through the machines. VIP status, a check for about $15, and elaborate room discounts are given to the player. There are varying qualification times. Certain establishments give you a year to rack up the required points while
others have a very short qualification period of sometimes only seven days.
Requesting and reading the newsletter for the club can help you find out how
many activation points are needed.
The most important distinction between clubs, besides the
type of prizes the slot club doles out, is the method they use to calculate
player rewards. One such method is coin-in, based on how many coins the
person plays. This is the simplest and most common method. This is based on a formula which is usually made public. Points are awarded based on how much money you
put through the machines. At most coin-in slot clubs, you can check your point
balance just by inserting your card into any machine’s reader. It usually gives
a welcome then displays your total points and often a countdown to the next
Some clubs award points based on the amount of coins that you win or take out, not what you put in. This system isn’t as good for the player as coin-in because inevitably most of the time you will deposit more than you’ll win. When playing a coin-out system it is important to remember to remove your card only when the credit meter is at zero (either by cashing out or tapping out). Since you’re credited points for coin-out you have to take out all your coins to accrue all your points.
A few casinos still use a buy-in system. In this system every time you purchase change or insert money into the currency slot, you have to call over a casino employee to note your buy-in on a special punch card. These systems can be very profitable to players who remember not to replay the same money over and over. Occasionally cash out, take your coins to the cashier, and trade them in for currency. Take a short break and take or go to the change booth or person and turn your cash back into coin—having the employee
punch up the transaction. This is ethical and acceptable to the casino as long
as you're giving them some play. What is unethical nor acceptable and could get
you barred and possibly even banned is buying coins that you have no intention
of playing and hiding in the casino while you unwrap them or sneaking them
unwrapped out of the casino.
The final type is time. Once upon a time slot players
wishing to be rated and comped were timed by a change person. Slow playing and
generous tipping could boost a player’s slot club haul significantly. Nowadays
time comes into play with some of the slot clubs that employ a “don’t ask, won’t tell”
secretive systems. Experiments have been done that show that today’s time slot
clubs are roughly equivalent to coin-in clubs, just with less information given
to the players.
There are several other things to consider besides what
type of system is used. For example, in many casinos the countdown resets to
maximum whenever the card is removed. Other casinos retain the countdown even
when you move from machine to machine. In a few cases the countdown is retained
by the machine and not the card, so if the person before you leaves with a
countdown at 5 you only have to deposit 5 coins to receive a point. In these
cases its best to look for a machine with the lowest countdown before playing.
Several low or no cash-rebate slot clubs offer double and
triple bonus times. The best way to find out about such things is to read the
newsletter and other mail the resort sends out and check out ads in Las Vegas
journals and magazines.
Some casinos that have non-cash-rebate slot clubs have put
all the casino action (slots, table games, the sports book, and even keno and
bingo) under the same award roof. By doing this, these casinos have merged the
slot club with the table-game complimentaries system, which makes it easier for
slot club members to become rated table-game players and vice versa. Table play
rewards are usually figured, under the subjective appraisal of the floor
personnel, by the standard comp equation: average bet times hours played times
house advantage times equivalency percentage. Even if the casino doesn’t use
slot club accounts for table play, show your card every time you sit down at a
table. At the very least it will prompt the floor person to fill out a rating slip,
so you will be earning comps while you play.
Most clubs will erase your points after one year of
inactivity to save computer space, but will keep your contact information. Many
clubs give you a small prize just for signing up. This can be a free drink, a
food coupon, dice, keychains, etc.
Slot club benefits can be divided into two categories. The
first being tangible benefits such as cash, comps, and merchandise. The second
being intangible benefits have to be discovered and to the best combination of
detective, diplomat, and behavioral researcher goes the loot.
To get the most out of the tangible benefits requires
information and some simple mathematical analysis. There are two things to
compare: casino to casino and the value of one benefit over another. While
more than half of all slot clubs award cash rebates there is several major
differences in the bottom-line amounts. The situation is changing but many
slot clubs give only free rooms and meals, no cash back.
Intangible benefits are those you receive from the slot
club that do not affect your point total. This could be a free room, a free
meal or tournament, a discount on shopping, or any other form of special VIP
treatment. You should carefully look at all of the club’s written material to
get the most from intangibles. Try to pick up tidbits from other members and be
friendly and courteous toward the staff and other customers, and most
importantly, develop a good relationship with a slot host.
The Las Vegas Advisor Guide to Slot Clubs by Jeffrey Compton