Overview of the Major Comp Programs

Before we dive into the intricacies of blackjack and poker comps, I thought it might be a good idea to take a quick crash course on comp programs.

Thanks to the corporate conglomeration that has dominated the casino industry in recent years, most gamblers have two major comp programs to choose from – M Life and Total Rewards.

The M Life program is operated by MGM Resorts International, while Total Rewards is a product of Caesars Entertainment.

If you enjoy visiting sunny Las Vegas for a stroll along the Strip, chances are good you’ll wind up in a casino owned by one of these behemoths. And I’m not talking about the MGM Grand or Caesars Palace flagship properties, as the two companies own dozens of casinos between them.

Check out the list below for a full accounting of MGM-owned properties on the Strip where the M Life card is used to track and distribute comps:

ARIA Las Vegas
Bellagio Las Vegas
Excalibur Hotel and Casino
Luxor Las Vegas
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
MGM Grand Las Vegas
The Mirage Las Vegas
Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
New York New York Hotel and Casino
And below, you’ll find the Caesars-owned casinos on the Strip where the Total Rewards card is accepted:

Bally’s Las Vegas
Caesars Palace
The Cromwell Las Vegas
Flamingo Las Vegas
Harrah’s Las Vegas
The LINQ Las Vegas
Paris Las Vegas
Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino
Expanding the scope outside of Sin City, these are the MGM-brand casinos worldwide where M Life membership is accepted:

Beau Rivage – (Biloxi, Mississippi)
Borgata – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
The Water Club – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Gold Strike Casino Resort – (Tunica Resorts, Mississippi)
Grand Victoria – (Elgin, Illinois)
MGM Grand Detroit – (Detroit, Michigan)
MGM National Harbor – (National Harbor, Maryland)
MGM Springfield – (Springfield, Massachusetts)
MGM Grand Sanya – (Sanya, Hainan, China)
MGM Macau – (Macau, China)
Bellagio Shanghai – (Shanghai, China)
And finally, take a look below for the full list of Caesars-owned casinos worldwide where Total Rewards membership is accepted:

Bally’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Caesars Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Caesars Windsor – (Windsor, Ontario, CA)
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino – (Phoenix, AZ)
Harrah’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Harrah’s Cherokee – (Cherokee, NC)
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River – (Cherokee, NC)
Harrah’s Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, IA)
Harrah’s Gulf Coast – (Biloxi, MS)
Harrah’s Joliet – (Joliet, IL)
Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, NV)
Harrah’s Laughlin – (Laughlin, NV)
Harrah’s Louisiana Downs – (Bossier City, LA)
Harrah’s Metropolis – (Metropolis, IL)
Harrah’s New Orleans – (New Orleans, LA)
Harrah’s North Kansas City – (North Kansas City, MO)
Harrah’s Philadelphia – (Philadelphia, PA)
Harrah’s Reno – (Reno, NV)
Harrah’s Resort Southern California – (Valley Center, CA)
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, NV)
Horseshoe Casino Baltimore – (Baltimore, MD)
Horseshoe Bossier City – (Bossier City, LA)
Horseshoe Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, IA)
Horseshoe Hammond – (Hammond, IN)
Horseshoe Casino Tunica – (Tunica, MS)
Horseshoe Southern Indiana – (Elizabeth, IN)
Tunica Roadhouse – (Tunica, MS)
Along with these titans of the gambling industry, you’ll also come across a few smaller casino chains like Boyd Gaming or Stations. And of course, the over 400 tribal casinos operated on reservation land nationwide have their own in-house players club cards.

These smaller casinos tend to model their comp system after the big boys, however, so I’ll stick with M Life and Total Rewards going forward for the sake of clarity.

For both of these programs, you’ll also have two main forms of comp credits to work with – base points and tier points.

A base point equates to $0.01, so you’ll need to score 100 of them to add $1 to your comp account. Base points effectively serve as cash in an affiliated casino, so you can use your accumulated points to purchase that morning latte or some headphones from the gift shop.

A tier point doesn’t have cash value per se, but these points are how you climb through the ranks of either M Life or Total Rewards. You can visit the overview pages for each program that I linked to above to learn about the various tiers used in each. But put simply, accumulating tier points grants you access to a higher tier in the program, which in turn unlocks additional perks. Think priority access at the cashier’s cage line, free valet and parking, tickets to the in-house show, and even free rooms.

Now that you know who is handling your comps and where the players club cards in your wallet are accepted, let’s see exactly how they work for both blackjack and poker.

How to Find Profitable Video Poker Opportunities

Everyone has their favorite casino games and everyone wants a chance to win some money while playing these games. Some people are more interested in playing as long as possible than having the best chance to win on any given trip.

Video poker offers some of the best chances to extend your bankroll at the same time as having a chance to land a big win. The secret is finding a machine that offers a high percentage return to the player and learning to play using the best possible strategy.

Every game requires a different strategy, but there is a correct way to play every hand of video poker. Even in a situation that loses in the long run, there is a way to play that loses the least amount of money.

Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild
In addition to learning the best strategy you have to be able to find machines that offer the best payouts. I know I mentioned this already, but if you can’t find a machine it doesn’t matter how good it pays or how well you know the strategy.

For example, there are a few video poker machines that pay back over 100% with perfect strategy but they are almost impossible to find. This post concentrates on a couple popular video poker variations that are fairly easy to find, Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild.

You can find many different pay tables with some offering better payback percentages than others. Here are the pay tables that you need to find to have the best chance to win while playing video poker. (There are a few better pay tables available for Deuces Wild, but this is by far the most common “good” pay table you will find.)

The best Jacks or Better pay table is often called a 9 / 6 which stands for the pay back for a full house and a flush. The return is over 99.5% with perfect strategy on a 9 / 6 machine. Here is the complete pay table.

800 Royal Flush
50 Straight Flush
25 Four of a Kind
9 Full House
6 Flush
4 Straight
3 Three of a Kind
2 Two Pair
Pair of Jacks or Better
The most common favorable Deuces Wild pay table is called a “not so ugly ducks” machine. You may see this referred to as NSUD. The pay back percentage with perfect strategy is over 99.7%. Here is the complete NSUD pay table.

800 Natural Royal Flush
200 Four Deuces
25 Wild Royal Flush
16 Five of a Kind
10 Straight Flush
4 Four of a Kind
4 Full House
3 Flush
2 Straight
Three of a Kind
The next step after finding the best machines is using the best strategy. I suggest picking up one of the strategy cards that are about the size of a credit card and using it while playing. This way you can always see the best play.

Comps and Player’s Clubs
When you play the machines listed above giving the house less than a half percent edge you can play longer and keep playing long enough to give yourself the best chance at winning a top payout by hitting a natural royal flush.

You also should always combine your video poker play with as many comps as possible. Most casinos have a player’s club that you can join that rewards you for your play. You may earn cash back, free hotel stays, free meals or many other types of benefits.

Even if your rewards don’t include any actual cash, they are still worth something. If you get a free meal that would have cost you $20, it’s the same as winning an extra $20 because it is money you didn’t have to spend.

Most casinos don’t pay back enough through their player’s clubs to let you consistently play with an advantage against them, but you may be able to play a break even game in the long run.

The majority of players don’t play correct strategy so the casinos take their money quicker. Sometimes player’s club benefits are determined based on everyone’s play so if you play perfect strategy you may be able to gain a small edge with your benefits.

Either way, if you always play using the best strategy and take advantage of the player’s club benefits you are doing everything you can to reduce the advantage the house has.

Video Poker Tournaments
Another area that can offer extended playing time on a set bankroll and / or a chance to play with a small edge over the house is playing in video poker tournaments.

A video poker tournament is a contest where the players play video poker for a set period of time. The players with the highest balance at the end of the pre-set time either moves to the next round of play or wins the prizes.

You may be able to find free video poker tournaments, but most of them have an entry fee.

You may be wondering how you could play with an advantage over the house in a video poker tournament. Here is an example.

Many tournaments have a minimum guaranteed prize pool and sometimes there aren’t enough entrants to cover the entire amount. This is called an overlay. If the guaranteed prizes total $1,000 and there is only $900 in entry fees, there is a $100 overlay. This creates a profitable situation for the entrants. On average, each entrant will win a percentage of the overlay based on how many entrants there are. In real life only the players who finish in the money enjoy the overlay, but if you put yourself in enough situations with an overlay you will come out ahead in the long run (Assuming you play at an average or above average level. This isn’t difficult if you use basic strategy.).

Conclusion
You can use video poker to extend your casino play and combine it with player’s club benefits to give yourself the best chance to win. Always play on the best machines, sign up for the player’s club and use the best strategy.

BitCoin Poker – Is It Really a Thing?

It’s strange for an old-school guy like me to think that a virtual currency is being used to play poker.

I’m used to using what I’d consider traditional payment methods to fund my own action – cash, credit cards, and eWallets. A few months ago, I couldn’t have told you what BitCoin is if you’d sat down and patiently explained it to me for an hour first.

BitCoin poker is, really, a thing. A few poker rooms and other gambling sites are now accepting BitCoin as a payment method.

So what is it? And how is it being used to fund online poker accounts?

What Is BitCoin?
Bitcoin is a virtual currency invented in the year 2008 by a person going by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto.” The first mention of the currency was in a document sent to a cryptography mailing list made up of just a few people. Not much is known about the person (or people) behind the pseudonym, and they left the project altogether in 2010.

It’s interesting that the project was first mentioned among a small group of cryptographers – BitCoin was invented to exist without the need for a financial middle man. Taking banks and fragile world governments out of the equation produces a more stable and equitable currency, and it means that BTC (the currency’s acronym) are immune from seizure or asset freezing. Or so the theory goes.

So what is a BitCoin? You can’t hold one in your hand, in the traditional sense. It exists in the same way that an email exists – stored in a digital cloud. One important thing to note, for those of us used to fiat money, there is no FDIC or other insurance for your BTC.

Why Use BitCoin?
Here are some popular reasons suggested by blogs and message board posts:

BTC is crypto-currency, which means using it is completely private and anonymous.
Yes, transactions are recorded in a public log, for accountability purposes, but names of people involved in transactions are kept secret, hidden behind a generic wallet ID. There’s a dark side to this – goods can be bought or sold online and authorities can’t easily trace the people involved. That means lots of people are participating in illicit activity (see the story of The Silk Road for a perfect example) using this currency.

BTC allows you total control of your money.
Its value can’t be manipulated by any outside entity. Essentially, using BTC turns you into your own bank. The currency’s lack of physical production costs and non-existent need for storage makes it even easier to handle at the end-user level.

Big companies are bringing it into the mainstream.
BTC wasn’t well known until 2011, when the mainstream press got word of its early and rabid adoption by the Technorati. Now, thousands of businesses all over the world accept it as a mainstream payment method, including some surprisingly big names. You can buy your next Dell laptop with BTC, or shop for a cheaper alternative at Overstock.com. Cities saturated with tech geeks now have ATMs where you can exchange cash for BTC, and the other way around.

How Does BitCoin Poker Work?
The reason BitCoin struck me as so strange initially was simple – I am used to traditional (known as “fiat”) currency. So is everyone reading this – it’s what we’re used to, so any alternative feels a little strange.

The first thing a poker player who wants to use BTC needs to do is exchange their native currency for their new virtual currency.

The popular method of purchasing BitCoin is to deal with an exchange or brokerage. Exchanges are places where buyers and sellers are matched based on their bid criteria, while brokerages hoard large collections of BTC that they sell on-demand at a variable rate.

Exchanges and brokerages are pretty much identical for the end-user. It literally takes a minute or two to complete the transaction.

The BTC are then transferred to you through your unique Bitcoin wallet ID. Think of it as a hyper-focused email address for virtual currency. What’s neat about that is you can send money to anyone in the world using BTC, the same way you can send an email across the globe in a second.

Your wallet ID (BTC address) will be a randomized string of letters and numbers, anywhere from 27–34 characters long. That wallet ID is also the place buyers will send cash – which makes the whole email address analogy easier to understand. BitCoins can be sent or received from anywhere, or even sold among friends or in person.

Now that you’ve got your currency in your virtual wallet, it’s time to transfer it to the poker room of your choice. After confirming that the room you want to play at accepts BitCoin, simply send the appropriate amount to their wallet ID. It takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the BTC to appear in the receiving account.

As an added bonus for poker players, transferring with BTC is totally free, thanks to the virtual nature of the currency. It costs nothing to send and receive virtual money, so you shouldn’t expect any additional transfer fees from your poker room’s cashier department.