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Day 1: Going posh

Never mind the huge lie-flat seat and free bar, the real perk of flying business class is being able to get off the plane first while the cabin crew restrain all the other passengers.

That meant we were at the front of the queue for immigration and with the luggage labelled as "priority" it was coming along the belt almost as soon as we got to the reclaim area.

All in all I don’t think it took more than ten minutes to get from the plane to the rental car shuttle bus. Simply stunning.

Besides unpacking, driving around the neighbourhood and shopping to stock up the refrigerator, we didn’t do a great deal before crashing out.

So here’s some pictures of the goody bag I got on the plane.

Toothbrush – good.  Socks – yippee.  Mirror on a chain – err, ok.  Little leather photo frame – wtf?

Day 0: Off to a flying start

What better way to begin a trip than to be greeted at the airport check-in by a disbelieving "you’re in business?". Nice.

They still lost my seat reservations too (this happens every time without fail, although it’s not really so important when the seats are like this).

They just announced a two hour delay to the flight too.

I’m passing the time by writing a stroppy letter (don’t need much of an excuse to try to get some free flyer miles…) and attempting to download last night’s Big Brother using my mobile phone’s internet. At a fairly impressive 40k/sec the ETA is 1h49… might just make it!

EDIT: Speed boosted up to 80k/sec. I should just cancel Virgin Media at home…

Packed

Tickets, money, passport.

16 Hawaiian shirts, three pairs of shorts.

What more do I need?

Las Vegas here I come…

How to abuse your friends’ identities and influence people

This just in on Messenger earlier today:

[20:43] Rich: hi chris!
[20:43] Rich: we are thinking of going to vegas next week
[20:43] Rich: – just wondered if you would have any hotel reccommendations etc?

I really hate the fact that anybody I’ve ever spoken to can see whether I’m actually available or not from my status on messenger.

Gone to make a coffee?  After a couple of minutes it automatically tells the world "brb", like it knows I haven’t gone far.

Stay away from the keyboard for ten minutes or more though and it marks you up as a guilty "away".  In my case it may as well say "probably gone for a sneaky game of Rock Band".

How am I supposed to avoid people effectively if "online" actually means "he’s definitely at his desk"! :)

So I’ve turned that feature off.  It looks like I’m online and active 24/7 and I do get quite a few messages while I’m nowhere nearby to reply to them as a result.

I missed this one while I was busy earning five gold stars playing Roxanne on expert level drums. 8)

However, I caught up with Rich later this evening and got the full story.

He knows a man who knows a man who can get discounted flights with Virgin Atlantic, so if that comes off he and his better half are going to put the baby into kennels for a few days so they can take a very short trip to Sin City.

Hey, it’s better than bringing the kid with you.  Don’t get me started on that.

Rich didn’t realise I’d be there at the same time.  Nor did he realise that he’d been checking out prices for a three nights hotel stay that was identical to a comp I’d already booked!

[22:01] Rich: one called flamingo looked ok, plus a big tower thingy was cheap

Well, forget about the Stratosphere.  I think Flamingo is a great location for a first trip though, it’s right in the heart of the action, a classic hotel that’s been kept up to date and it has awesome neon out front.

Summerfest (and Winterfest) should be the one comp that Harrah’s won’t take away from me – it’s a listed perk for all players Platinum or higher.  You get 3 nights accomodation (their choice of dates, your choice of hotel) and entry into some kind of tournament.

In this case, my package is staying at Flamingo and playing a Blackjack tournament at Rio.  Beyond that I really don’t know the details except it’s costing me nothing and there are cash prizes.

Hence why I’d already booked a free room I didn’t need, just so I could register for the tournament.

[22:03] Rich: what? you’re joking? you already have a room booked there?!
[22:03] Rich: what did you pay?

He’ll learn.

It’s just a bizarre coincidence that these dates matched so perfectly.  I’d been half-jokingly toying with the idea of trying to sell some room comps on ebay (last count: 19 nights during my trip), but I don’t particularly like the idea of having to trust a complete stranger to not trash the room.

For Rich, I’ll check in and leave my credit card on file, then just go up to the room and chain the minibar shut before handing over the keys… :)

In return, all I want is to be able to borrow some identities.  Not much to ask, is it?

New players get the easiest slot club offers, so it’s going to be a case of picking out the best deals then having Claire and me pile through as much action as possible in order to have Rich and Sarah qualify for all that lovely free food and whatnot.

They can watch the pirate battle and dancing fountains while we play, then later we all share in the spoils.

I know for certain that the signup offer at Wynn will be a can’t-miss deal.  It doesn’t take long – and only a theoretical loss of $6.75 – to earn two buffet comps worth about $70.

There’s also a rebate of your first $100 in losses for new Harrah’s Total Rewards players, although I think it’s a cheque in the mail that you can only redeem on your next trip to a casino, so that might not be quite as useful.

But sadly the superb sun shield, gas card and free play offer at Four Queens didn’t last the distance.  The offer is still good until the end of August, but all the video poker machines that would have let you max out the offer in a couple of hours have been downgraded.  You can still get good value, but it will take some marathon sessions to get there and probably isn’t the kind of thing we can burn through quickly enough during their three day trip.

Some recon work will definitely be required shortly after I land.

T-4 btw.

The bloody cheek of it

It’s even worse than I first thought.  Harrah’s really don’t like me any more.

My latest batch of casino mail just arrived.  I get three weeks worth forwarded at a time and the only free room offer this time was for a mid-week stay.

As I’ve been on the mailing list for a weekend promotion of some sort for every single weekend for the last three months, this pretty much spells out how worthless I am to Harrah’s as a player.

Which, of course, is completely true, I just didn’t expect them to realise quite so quickly.

I’ll paraphrase this excellently targetted mailer: "Dear mid-thirties male player, why not join us for a bingo tournament".

I did try playing bingo in Las Vegas once.  I wasn’t welcome, on account of me having both a Y chromosome and my own teeth.

Then again, I probably shouldn’t take too much offense at this.  At the poker tournament I played there last month about 95% of the field would never ordinarily play poker.  Unfortunately.

I also got a letter with another less-than-fabulous offer:

"Experience the jewel on the Colorado River in VIP style! August marks our 20th Anniversary and Harrah’s Laughlin is inviting you to help us celebrate with a vacation for two, including a round-trip charter flight and deluxe accomodations"

Sounds OK so far, but …

"Starting at just $149".

Right…

"Price based on double occupancy (additional $50 charge for single occupancy)"

and to top it all off…

"While you’re here, be sure to check out legendary performer Earl Turner in the Fiesta Showroom August 16-28.  Tickets start at just $17.95 and are on sale now at our box office."

So, they’re inviting me to fly, stay and see a show – and pay for it all myself.

The bloody cheek!

I’ve had flight offers in the past for charter jets departing various random locations from coast to coast.  Because they think I live in Southern California (my mailbox address is in Huntington Beach) the flight is from Long Beach only – hardly a cross-country trek.

I’ve been able to book up to 5 consecutive comped nights at the hotel through the harrahs.com web site, in addition to all those mailers with three-night stays included.  If this deal requires a surcharge for single occupancy then I’d certainly be paying something towads the room, wouldn’t I?

Some of those room offers included show tickets too.

This is definitely not a good sign.

This, however, is what a great room comp should look like:

3 nights at the Edgewater or Colorado Belle, twice a month, every month.  And $15 for showing up.  It didn’t take that much play to get on this list.

Claire also got one from River Palms for two 2-night comps with and $10 slot play and all she ever played there was enough to get a free chicken sandwich, which was ridiculously easy to earn on a positive expectation machine.

Even without any love from Harrah’s, it would actually be pretty easy to live in Laughlin completely free by hotel-hopping.  If you wanted to.

Summer of old rockers

Shakin’ Stevens and Neil Diamond at Glastonbury was just the start of it.  This is the summer of old rockers, and naturally the line up of pensionable acts playing in Las Vegas during my upcoming trip is pretty impressive:

Ringo Starr, Motley Crue, Pat Benetar and Rod Stewart.

Then there’s Steely Dan, Hall and Oates, Kenny G and Liza Minelli.

OK, so that’s possibly stretching the definition of "rockers" a bit too far, but you get the point.

There’s also the Regeneration Tour, including such 80s awesomeness as ABC, Belinda Carlisle and the Human League.

And, of course, Elton John and Cher are in town too.

This is just during the four weeks I’m going to be there.  Looking ahead to the end of August, it just keeps getting better and better with Poison, Extreme, KISS, Black Crowes, ForeignerJudas Priest and Berlin all playing Vegas before the summer is out.

Seriously, Berlin are still together?  And they have more than one song?

If only I was heading out there a few days earlier, the choice would be even more fabulous:

Boy George, Kenny Loggins and De La Soul.  Plus there’s a whopper night of 80s soft rock at Mandalay Bay with Journey, Heart and Cheap Trick all on the same bill.

Who knew that any of the above were still getting work?

Main Event begins, casinos hover

The four month slog to become World Series of Poker champion began earlier today.

Which means that about six thousand lucky Poker Stars qualifiers will have taken the special VIP shuttle they’ve put on to get you from Palms to Rio.

Seriously?  You’re about to spend (potentialy) fourteen hours sitting at a poker table and you don’t want to walk a couple of hundred yards across the street to get there?

I expect it’s a little quicker than walking if the bus takes you directly to the Rio Pavillion entrance so you don’t have to walk right through the casino to get there, but there’s probably not much in it.

[Rio's hotel towers are the two red and blue buildings. Palms says "Palms" on it like twice]

This is the first time I’ve played with Google Earth with the 3D buildings turned on.  Give it a go, it’s pretty cool when you have this many massive buildings so close together and can zoom and spin around them in great detail.

Zip code 89109 gets you pretty close to the Strip, or fly direct to "36° 6’52.99"N 115°10’49.83"W" to get to the intersection with Flamingo Road.

However it would be even better if all the building models were on the right z-plane.

The view doesn’t quite look like this at the start of CSI

Wannabe bank in greed shocker

Neteller just got really greedy, and not at all in a smart way.

Their promotion during April and May was awesome.  I ended up churning about $36,000 through various poker sites and had a $507.90 adjustment credited to my account as promised.  By my reckoning, it should have been $516.15, but I’m not going to argue over that.  Besides, hard as it is to believe, I do sometimes get things wrong.

The same kind of deal is back this month.  Here’s a snippet from the email I got:

Twenty two thousand, three hundred and twenty dollars.  That’s my target.  The amount I need to transfer to merchants in a four week period in order to get any cashback this time. 

Then if I do manage to reach the target, the cashback rate is only 0.5%.  It was 1.5% last time.

And just in case I manage to get really busy, there’s a $500 limit on the bonus.  Although, with these rules I would need to transfer $100,000 in total to max it out – that’s more than three grand a day.

I can appreciate the idea of wanting a promotion that gets customers to use Neteller more than they usually would, but this one just wreaks of greed and comtempt for their customers, as well as their merchants.

I have two major problems with this.

Firstly, the drop in cash back rate by two thirds is taking the piss.  If they could do 1.5% last time, they can do it this time.  We all know that this money doesn’t come out of Neteller’s pocket – they charge a fee to the gaming sites they’re encouraging us to abuse.  This is simply an exercise in seeing what they can get away with; seeing just how little of that extra revenue they need to pay out to keep it coming.

Last time they gave back about 25% of the fees they collected.  Now it’s about 8%.

Secondly, it absolutely penalises loyalty.  By loyalty, of course, I actually mean willingness to assist Neteller in fucking over their merchants for a kickback.  But let’s be honest, that’s a cause I’m prepared to be extremely loyal to.

I made Neteller a lot of money in the last promotion – a lot for one customer, anyway, and more in one six week period than they’ve made from my account in the previous six years.  How do they thank me?  By imposing an all-or-nothing condition on the next promotion that makes sure I have to work at least as hard as last time, otherwise I lose everything.  No slacking now.

It’s pretty clear that my target is the amount I transferred during the last promo, scaled down to the slightly shorter timeframe.  I don’t get any cashback until I exceed $22,300 in transfers which means Neteller can make up to $860 without giving me a penny if I fall short.  If I do make the target, I get $5 per $1000 transferred while they get the other $34.

This makes no sense.  If they offered me a good deal, I’d be making them money every day!  It’s a win-win situation!

Dozens of online poker sites which are prohibited from offering rakeback find ways around this by calling it another name and then inviting their high volume players to join the scheme and saying "Ssshhhh".  They go to whatever lengths they have to to offer the cash incentive because they know that 70% of all that player’s revenue is better than 100% of none of it.

It’s a bit different with Neteller, because there’s no game that you can play more frequently or at higher stakes.  They essentially want you to conjure transactions out of thin area to generate these bonus payments.  Day-to-day you would usually have no reason to move money from one place to another, so you have to look for excuses to make deposits.    It’s not like you can Neteller for your everyday shopping instead of cash or a credit card.

So surely 75% of a transaction that just wouldn’t otherwise exist any more is better than nothing?

I have obviously let my feelings be known to the Neteller VIP Club, of which I am a member despite not actually having the first idea what its benefits are.

This is a ridiculous target.

I did fairly well from the last promotion and Neteller must have made a bunch of money from me.  My payout was over $500, so Neteller must have made about $1500 that they wouldn’t otherwise have had because of my increased activity!

I’d find ways to inflate my usage every month if you always ran this offer, and we’d both be happy.

So why punish me now for having made you money in the past?  It’s dumb and insulting.

Sure, it’s a bit on the stroppy side, but if they want me to keep generating free money for them, I’ve let it be known that I’m open for business.

You can expect an update if/when they reply.

EDIT – the response:

I hope you know that the email that was sent wasn’t our intention to insult you. I sincerely apologize if it made you feel that way though. The reason why this offer has a lower cashback value is because this offer is for all of our NETELLER members. The cashback value was higher before since the last offer was exclusively only for our VIP members.

Again, I apologize for the way this offer was rolled out to you in the email. It is not necessary to participate in this offer if you feel against it.

Indeed everyone is invited.  Claire’s target is an easily achievable $1840 and my mum’s is the minimum $1000.

Glad it’s not necessary to participate though.  I would hate to have to accept some free money if I didn’t agree with it.

Free sun shields with added bonus cash

It’s never too early to start scoping out the best deals in Vegas, and I do only have 19 to go now, after all.

The following promotion, which starts today at Four Queens, is well worth a mention.

"Top it Off" promotion July 1 – August 31.

Royal Players Club members who earn their first 40 points will receive a
Four Queens Sun Shield.

Members who reach 400 points will receive a $10.00 gas card and $10.00
in Free Slot Play.

Members who reach 800 points will receive an additional $10.00 gas card
and $25.00 in Free Slot Play.

Members who reach 1200 points will receive an additional $10.00 gas card and
$50.00 in Free Slot Play.

Members who reach 1600 points will receive an additional $10.00 gas card
and $75.00 in Free Slot Play.

Members who reach 2000 points will receive an additional $10.00 gas card
and $200.00 Free Slot Play

It’s not quite clear whether the word "additional" applies to both the gas card and the slot play, but even if not this is a tremendous promotion.

Worst case: with 2,000 points earned you’ll get $50 in gas, $200 free slot play and a sun shield.  If the slot play does accumulate, it’s $360 slot play in total.

I won’t attempt to put a value on the sun shield.  I’m sure it’s a high quality item, but this promotion is already good enough that we don’t have to add it into the EV calculation to make the difference between it being a winning or losing proposition.

The best video poker games at Four Queens are 10/7 Double Bonus (100.2% payback) and 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.5%) and I think I’m actually going to play this one on JOB.

With $8 coin in required for 1 point, the highest award in the promo takes $16,000 of total action which, at 99.5% payback, is an expected loss of $80.

Add on the $50 in gas cards (which are as good as real money) and a further $50 in cashback (you get $1 back for every 40 points normally from the slot club) and we’re already in profit regardless of whether the free slot play (which is almost as good as real money) adds up to $200 or $360.  It’s all gravy.

Of course I’d do a little better playing the positive Double Bonus game.  A perfect strategy would turn the $80 expected loss into a $32 theoretical win.  That strategy is relatively complex, but even playing Jacks or Better strategy on the Double Bonus machine increases the payback to 99.8% (overall $32 loss) - although it also increases the variance significantly.

However the biggest attraction of this promotion is just how quickly it should be possible to rattle through $16,000 in play on a multi-line machine JOB at the Four Queens.

They have the same 50-play machine that I used to get Total Rewards Diamond fairly painlessly, and that I hit the $10,000 jackpot on last month.  Although that will never, ever happen again.

It’s $12.50 per spin, but much lower variance than playing a single line for the same stake (if, indeed, a $2.50 coin x 5 coins per hand machine existed).  You’ll always get something back on every spin, usually a little less or a little more than the stake, with significant wins mostly coming before the draw – so you can hold the winning hand 50 times.

On past form, I’ve been able to play about 500 games per hour on this type of machine (it’s slower than a regular game because it has to draw 50 hands every time).  That’s over $6000/hour cycled which means I should be able to rack up enough slot points for the maximum bonus in about two and a half hours!

Compare that to playing on a single line quarter machine at 1000 hands per hour ($1.25 per spin) - it would take more like 12 hours of play to get there.  Even so, this would be a fairly respectable hourly rate (as much as $30/hr if the free play does accumulate, or $18/hr if not).

However being able to play at turbo speed should give a theoretical hourly rate in the region of $90-$150, depending on the actual conditions of the promotion!

Now, to be able to quit the day job all I need to do is find a couple of deals like this every day…