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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: Cruising to video poker profits

Ask the Slot Expert: Cruising to video poker profits

10 October 2018

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: Part 1: Regarding your comments about cruise ship casinos

For what it is worth, I would offer the observation that several land-based casinos offer promotions that include cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has been a popular partner. It would stand to reason that NCL would recognize the fact that many of their passengers have other casino experience and would expect a certain level of rewarding play. NCL has a Casino at Sea program that is on their website. Further, a casino publication or two have recognized NCL in the past as having been voted the best cruise line casino by their readers.

Part 2: a personal, once-in-a-lifetime experience

I have been playing video poker since the early 1980s. We all have those couple of VP hands we will never forget. For me, a dealt straight flush on spin poker, dealt five of a kind on JP and so on. I have one night, actually about two hours, that occurred in a Norwegian Cruise Line’s casino on the last night of a Greek Isle cruise I will never forget. Thankfully, my wife was next to me for most of it to share the experience.

My wife and I had enjoyed playing in the casino during the cruise. She hit for $800 the second night on some variation of Double Diamond and I was down about $3,000 (known to be expressed by VP players as "holding my own") playing on the best VP in the casino I could find, a $1 triple play 9/5 DDB.

We had a nice dinner, cocktails and a bottle of wine that last night as we had said we were done in the casino and had to pack our suitcases for hallway pickup. Changing our minds, we hit the casino for a half hour or so.

After about 10 minutes, I hit four of a kind that gave me some playing room. I hit a couple more good hands, including hole-dealt sixes or eights, something like that, cashed out some slips, put some more cash or slips in, and kept playing and winning. Then, I hit a diamond royal after holding only a jack: $4,000! My wife came by to see what the excitement was and was as thrilled as I was. I told her that we were up maybe $1,000 for the trip. Let’s get the money and get out of here. The attendant came by, did some paper work, reset the machine and we agreed that I would come by the cage to clear up my markers and take my winnings when I was done playing.

As I had some credits in the machine and a pocket full of slips, I thought I would play just a bit more. I picked up four aces plus a kicker in a couple of hands. The attendant cruised back, said I was the luckiest guy, all smiles, paperwork exchanged, and reset the machine. Just a couple of hands later, I got 4 aces in the hole on the deal and picked up one with a kicker on the draw! The attendant came back and stared. The "luckiest guy" talk was all over. He left with a comment that he would be back in a minute. He went over to the cage and went behind the counter. He came back with someone I took to be the supervisor, but who never introduced himself. They used a key to check some codes on the machine and both disappeared. They did not reset the machine so I could continue to play.

After a bit, a host came over and commented that he had heard I was having some good luck. We talked, and I mentioned that the machine had not been reset and we had not been given paperwork, etc. and it was getting late. He said why don’t we take a break, go to the bar here, let me get you some drinks, etc., while you wait. Then the attendant, the supervisor and a third suit came up, gave me the paperwork, reset the machine, all looked at their watches, and left us. This routine unnerved us a bit, and my wife said, "Let’s get out of here, get our money, and head back to the room." I gave it a few more hands (of course), held an ace pair, and drew four aces with a kicker on one of the redeals. Crazy!

No one showed up for a long time after this hit, the machine happily playing a loud tune and other customers coming by to see what we had won. Looking over at the cage, I saw there was a discussion going on. My wife was watching them as two of the suits went into the room to the left of the cage with Security on the door. We waited. I said to my wife that this was nuts, and put a $100 bill into the machine she was sitting at next to me, dialed up DDB, and started to play a couple of hands. I was dealt four twos in the hole and picked up one kicker on the draw.

We both panicked; now what had we done? All the thrill melted as a group of suits with the attendant came up and saw the hit on the second machine. Was I playing this one also or was the young lady? My wife quickly pointed to me and backed up. The host joined the group and stayed making small talk after the others left. Was I a professional gambler? No, just having a very lucky night. Neither machine was reset and they continued to bang out a duet that I wished would stop.

After some time, the attendant and two suits returned, did the paperwork, and reset the machines. I pulled my player cards out of the machines, cashed out and took all my slips to the cage.

Then the fun began trying to get the money. They were in no hurry. I needed to produce all the marker slip copies I had even though the marker dates and amounts were clearly recorded on their system. Back to the room and tearing through my drawers/suitcase/pockets, I found them all, $3,500 worth. Back to the cage.

There was a new attendant at the cage and we had to start all over again. The supervisor was not on the floor, and he asked if I could come back in an hour. Back to the room to pack. Back to the cage in 45 minutes. Painfully slow process. Markers paid, winnings totaled: $22,500! Check? No way, I said, give me the cash. Slow count twice with everyone watching the count. And off we went.

Arriving in the States on our flight back, I saw to my horror that having over $10,000 in cash was one of the reasons to get out of one customs line and into a different one to have a discussion with a customs agent. When my turn came up, I produced the cash and told him we were on a cruise and had won the money in the casino. He could not stop laughing, thought he had heard them all, but not that one before. I produced the W2Gs, which totaled over the $22k. He was amazed, shook his head, called the supervisor over, both laughed, stamped my paperwork, passing us through the line.

As you said in your column, John: "Even the tightest machine in the world pays its jackpot occasionally."

My good luck stars lined up like never before that night, nor ever since. Lucky too, that we were not tossed overboard!

Answer: You have to take those polls in casino magazines with a grain of salt. The main problem is that the poll respondents are self selected. You can't really say that "the readers of Slot Players Illustrated chose Capsize Cruise Lines as luckiest cruise casino" because you don't necessarily have a representative sample of the readers. You can however say that the results represent the opinions of the readers who bothered to respond to the poll, whatever their motivation for responding.

Congratulations on your good luck. I've never had a streak that long, but I did get two royals an hour apart on a multi-hand machine. And playing Trade Up Poker, I got four 10s for $1375 and then eight minutes later got quad 10s again. In both cases, the attendants who handled the first phase of processing the jackpot congratulated me, entered whatever minutiae they had to enter into the slot accounting system, and said they'd be back with the money soon.

Your experience reminds me of the scene in Casino in which Lefty Rosenthal — er, Ace Rothstein — says that it was impossible for the progressive to hit so many times in such a short period on a bank of machines. Someone must have been cheating.

Today's machines are much harder to cheat than those in the movie's day, but still unusually high payouts in a short period of time can raise red flags.

A casino had a really lucky video poker player. It didn't disclose exactly what about this player caused him to appear on its radar. Maybe he always won when he played. Whatever it was, this casino kept an eye on him when he played but they never saw him do anything suspicious. It looked like he was just incredibly lucky.

The casino showed surveillance footage of the player to a testing lab. They said, "We know this guy. He's one of the programmers for the machine." He knew a way to cheat the machine.

Something similar might account for the delays you experienced in getting paid. So many payouts so quickly might have triggered a procedure to verify the payouts. The suits might have reviewed surveillance footage to see if you appeared to do anything suspicious. You said that they did check some codes on one machine.

Each casino has a different trigger point for what makes them nervous. A lady hit a jackpot on a slot machine near the video poker machine I was playing. Before she was paid, a slot technician had to come to verify that the machine had not been tampered with.

While she was waiting to be paid, I hit an $8,000 royal, which they paid without checking anything than my drivers license.

The amount of her jackpot? $20,000. Of course, this was not a strip casino. But even off-strip I've seen $5 royals get paid off with two $10,000 bundles without any special ceremony.

Question: I know there are many people wondering why so many casinos in Vegas feel the need to charge a “resort fee” to their guests, regardless if it is a “comped” room or not. There are people such as myself who don’t use any services a casino provides and are there strictly for gambling, eating and sleeping. Charging for fast internet service, spa, gym, etc. and disguising it as a resort fee is simply wrong. Those items should be charged on a “use-or-don’t use basis”. In addition, the fee is incurred on a daily basis, which is also totally unfair! They certainly are not losing money on their guests, so then why do they feel the need to be so greedy?

Answer: First, let's look at the positive aspects of a resort fee. Um, er . . .

OK, let's move on to the negative.

No, seriously, there are about a dozen people who like the resort fee. These people use the services included in the resort fee and find it easier to just pay one all-inclusive fee than to have to pay for each service individually.

If you don't use the services included in the resort fee, then you're stuck paying for something you don't use or want. Bet let's look at the alternative.

The resort fee spreads some of the cost of the amenities over all hotel guests. Without the resort fee, the hotel would have to charge guests for the use of the amenities. But it probably couldn't charge the guests who use the amenity enough to pay all of the costs of offering the amenity. So some of the room rate has to go towards the amenities and the guests who use the amenities pay a reasonable fee — or no fee — to use them.

The bottom line, I think, is that you're going to end up paying for those amenities whether their costs are added to the room rate or charged separately as a resort fee. And maybe you're paying a little more in the resort fee model than in the add-it-to-the-room-rate-and-charge-the-users model.

An analogy is an airline that charges for checked bags. Checked bags used to be included in the airfare. Now many airlines charge twenty-five bucks per bag, which is nowhere near enough to cover the costs of baggage handling. Some of your fare still goes to handling baggage, even if you carry on. Charging a separate fee for checked bags allows the airline to advertise a lower fare. It's a way to raise revenue without raising fares.

And that's the real reason hotels charge a resort fee. Breaking out the resort fee enables them to advertise a lower nightly room rate.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John  Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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