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 recruit.

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) existed.

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 administering comps. 

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 point. 

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

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