October 2008
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Ghosties in the works

Poker Stars was offline for a while earlier today.

Could it have been because they were installing these special spooky avatars into the lobby, in place of where they normally show a handful of sponsored pros and last week’s leaderboard winner?

Welcome to the cheap seats

At the weekend I went to see the NFL International Series game between the New Orleans Saints and the San Diego Chargers at Wembley Stadium.

There are a million bloggers who actually know what they’re talking about when they write about sports so I’m not even going to bother trying to analyse the game.  Except to say that it was a thoroughly entertaining evening and a cracking game and I loved it.

There are some things you can hope to see at a game and some you would probably never dream of.

It was high scoring (67 points on offense) and went to the wire with a hail mary pass at 0:01 remaining and only 5 points between the teams.  There was a coach’s challenge upheld, a 4th down conversion for touchdown, an "excessive celebration" (duly penalised) and an onside kick – which was recovered!

Add to that a missed extra point, which almost never happens, and an intentional safety play, which really almost never happens.

I can only remember ever seeing one intentional safety on TV – and that came after a botched punt.  This one was run straight out of the playbook:

Plus the team I bet on won, which never hurts.

Compare this to last year where we got to see a team that hadn’t found their form yet slip and slide in the pissing rain against a team who only won one game all season.  I think it must have put some fans off as it was a doddle to get tickets this year.

I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to bust a gut to get tickets or pay over the odds to have extremely bored security personnel who thought I didn’t really look like Club Wembley material harass me over my heinous plastic bottle.  The "cheap seats" (£55) were still a superb view.

Unfortunately, I only had a compact camera so most of the pictures I took serve only as proof – should it be needed – that "digital zoom" really isn’t any better than no zoom at all.  This is about the best of it.


New Neteller debit card more expensive, less safe

Neteller launched its new prepaid MasterCard product "Net+" today.

At least, I think that’s what it is.  This part of their blurb isn’t exactly clear:

So it’s a prepaid card that you don’t have to pre-load.  That would be free money then?

I think the idea is that it actually takes money straight out of your Neteller account – an idea that I’m far from keen on, given that this type of payment card has absolutely no consumer protection whatsoever.  I really wouldn’t want my entire balance to be in play on those terms.

A real bank would call this a debit card; they’d also let you dispute unauthorised transactions and your balance would be protected if the institution went busto. (Compare Net+ terms 2.5 and 4.13).

However most of what I’ve read so far is so badly written and confusing I really couldn’t say with any confidence exactly what is going on.

This is definitely the replacement for the old Altair card though, which is being phased out.  That one lasted just over a year.

In theory it’s is a good move, because if Neteller are dealing with both the e-wallet and the payment card, you only have to deal with one make-believe bank instead of two when you want to spend your money.

I’ve used my Altair card take some actual US dollars out of my Neteller US dollar account, from an ATM in America.  This is just about the only way to do such a radical thing.

Neteller will keep your balance in dollars, but you can’t take your dollars out without switching currencies, allowing them to use the exchange rate of their choice to cut you a cheque in pounds.

If you take a bank wire, the amount is converted from dollars to euros first at god-knows-what rate.  Then, unless you have a bank account in euros, it’ll be converted again by your bank when it lands at god-knows-what rate, plus god-knows-what additional charges.

The last time I tried to withdraw to my US Dollar bank account, I ended up losing $112 on a $3000 cashout.  I got that back eventually after complaining a few times, but they told me not to expect the same treatment again and that I would have to live with the unnecessary double currency conversion.

To make things even better, the charges for not being able to withdraw your own money the way you want also went up earlier this year.  It’s now $10 for either a bank wire in the wrong currency, or a cheque in the wrong currency.  Both used to be just $1.

Of course, now that Neteller operate their own payment card, the fees on that have gone up too.  Altair charged $4 for an ATM withdrawal; the Net+ charge is $6.

The thing that really takes the piss though is the new $3 "dormant account" charge, applied monthly if you don’t use the card.  If it’s like I suspect, you can’t just run your prepaid card into the ground and throw it away – this fee will come straight out of your Neteller account every month unless you cancel the card.  Which costs $20.

Anyway, I sort of saw this coming because at the end of September my old card expired and I asked Altair for a replacement.  No can do, they said:

I am sorry, but at this time we will not re-issue you a new Altair Card.  Our joint card programme with NETELLER has ended, and they have a new card offering for you.

The word "not" was indeed underlined as well as in bold type for emphasis.  But you know I’ve never noticed before that NETELLER is indeed officially written in all-caps.  That’s not for emphasis, it’s just their name.  The same thing goes NEOVIA, the awkward and instantly forgettable new name for their company, apparently.

Whatever.  They barely deserve one capital leter, never mind all of those.

I feared what money I had left on the card, all $33 of it, would be dead.  I snoozed, I lost.  However, despite their corporate bitterness Altair still offered:

If you would like a refund, we can send out a cheque to you, or if you would like your funds credited back into your NETELLER account please contact the NETELLER Card services team.

This I did.  Can you guess what Neteller said?

Unfortunately you will need to contact Altair for your funds thank you we do apologize for the inconvenience.

I asked a second time for good measure.

The funds is with Altair so it cannot transfer back to NETELLER we do apologize for the inconvenience thank you.

A real bank would be able to do something as complex as transferring money from one account to another.  How naive of me to forget who I was dealing with.

I got my cheque in the end – in pounds of course.  This shows just how impressive a financial instituion Altair was, to complement Neteller’s aspirations of greatness.  Hand-written cheque, number 23.


You know Las Vegas is desperate for visitors when…

… the Wynn wants to pay me to stay there.

The Wynn.  Me.  Really.

I always like receiving mailshots from the Wynn.  Their emails and printed mailers all have that fabulous De La Soul kind of flowery pattern on – the same one they have on their most excellent carpet.

I don’t really know how on earth this trippy flower experiment ended up in a high brow hotel, I’m probably missing the point.  I just like it cos it’s busy and colourful.  I wish they sold shirts with the design on, but sadly they don’t.

As attractive as their mailers are, they don’t usually have great offers.  I guess they’re reasonable deals but even a discounted room rate at a hotel which is normally $300/night is going to be more than I’d like to spend to stay in Las Vegas for a week.

This one, however, bucks the trend.

$119 for the room is one of the best I’ve seen, but to sweeten the deal they’ll also throw in $150 of slot play.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s an amazing deal – and that if you take it for just one night then it’s instantly +EV.

If you want to push that edge, the Wynn has plenty of video poker at 99.5% payback which would make it a 75c theoretical loss if you cycle the free play through once.

$119 for the room, $0.75 to unlock the free cash.  They’d be paying me $30.25 to stay there.

Oh there’s tax and stuff too.  But I bet they have some really nice soap to nick from the rooms.

Brag: In Hendon Mob database – twice

Sort of.

This is me, with the results from some real tournaments I played in and a little England flag, but no mug shot.

Then there’s this geezer – an American who dares to have the same name.  Apparently he cashed in the WSOP Circuit Event in New Orleans last year, so I know it’s definitely not one of my results!

I’m sure the other Christopher is delighted that the picture adorning his achievement is actually yours truly.  This was taken at the Liverpool GCBPT last month.

My staredown missed.  Wide left.

Mr Terrible’s new clothes

The holiday season is upon us, so it’s time for the lastest issue of Terrible’s Magazine to showcase their mascot’s new wardrobe.

I loved their efforts last year, with Mr Terrible as a mummy doing jazz hands.

This year, he’s dressed as a scarecrow, a pilgrim and Santa.

Each seasonal persona, obviously, is giving away lots of money.

Paying for hotels

I do try my best to make sure it doesn’t happen too often any more, but now and again I still have to pay for a Las Vegas hotel room.

For this Christmas I’d already scored 5 nights for free at the Rio and several months ago I booked the remaining 6 nights at South Point – purely because I thought there was a chance it was mispriced.  Only New Year’s Eve was listed at a higher than usual rate (many hotels bump up the cost of December 30th as well) so it seemed unlikely back then that we’d get a better deal by waiting until nearer the time.

Sure there’d be some more comps to come, but those 6 nights include a Friday and Saturday as well as the most popular (and costly) night of the year.  A weekend comp is a possibility, but for New Year’s Eve it’s extremely unlikely.

We might get 2 or 3 nights somewhere else, but it would mean moving hotel at least twice in order to try to save a few quid and still have to land on a good deal for NYE.

That Rio comp began life as 4 nights free and a 5th which seemed worth paying for at $50 so that we didn’t have to move hotels on Christmas Day.  I booked it way back in April, just as soon as the Las Vegas offers started to appear on my Total Rewards account.

Then we gave Harrah’s some more Las Vegas action in the summer on their only good video poker machine in town (which, of course, has been removed now) and they decided they loved me more than ever.  The rate calendar showed the $50 night was now a COMP so I asked if I could still get this rate and they said "sure", because they seem to think I am some kind of high roller.

Then Las Vegas got desparate for tourists and the room rates fell.  The basic rate calendar says that those five comped nights which I had noted should have cost me $70, $70, $70, $90 and $110 are now listed at $60, $60, $60, $60 and $60.

Even paying full price, $60/night is a steal for an all-suite hotel, this would have been unheard of a year ago.  I guess off-strip hotels are the least recession-proof, with those that are still making the trip to Vegas wanting to be in the heart of the action.

In fact, I had a general mailer today (i.e. you can book the deal without even having a player club account) from Harrah’s that’s offering certain nights for October to December at the Rio for as little as $45.  Anybody can book that deal using this link:

So with the Rio is slashing their rates, I thought it was worth checking what kind of deal we might get if we decided to stay on for the remaining 6 nights of our trip.  I’m glad I asked – here’s what they quoted:

12/21 – COMP
12/22 – COMP
12/23 – COMP
12/24 – COMP
12/25 – COMP
12/26 – $40.00
12/27 – $40.00
12/28 – $40.00
12/29 – $50.00
12/30 – $40.00
12/31 – $180.00

Sub-total – $390.00
Total with tax – $425.10

In total that worked out even cheaper than any of the rates I could see online (which I couldn’t use, because I was already getting staying too many nights for free) and even though NYE was a higher rate for that night, the total was only $30 more than the deal we’d already booked at South Point.

No brainer.

So yes, I’m paying for part of the trip but it’s still an immense discount.  If you were to book this same trip (the last 11 nights in December) via using the regular room rates – even now, with room rates at rock bottom – it would still cost $1300!

To complete the coup, all we need now is to hope for a strip-facing room for a view of the fireworks.  The room type I’ve booked does say "mountain view" but in June the same booking got me upgraded to an excellent Strip view.  You never know…

Warm and cuddly rooms

I’m a bit disappointed that Four Queens haven’t started sending me any offers yet.  The amount of play needed to max out their excellent summer promotion was also meant to be enough to start getting me free room mailers. 

Maybe it’s too early still, or maybe as that’s the only time I’ve ever played there (on my players card, at least!) they’re going to wait until I play again without a massive edge before giving me anything for free.

Still, Claire has been getting room offers from them for a couple of years and this month it’s suddenly been upgraded.  I don’t know if this counts as a full RFB comp (it would be our first if it is) but the deal reads:

A complimentary warm and cuddly room for three nights.

Delicious food in Magnolia’s Veranda, Chicago Brewing Company, Queens Coffee & Deli, Room Service, and one dinner for two in our gourmet restaurant, Hugo’s Cellar.

A special Winter Wonderland gift basket will be delivered to your room during your stay.

In the small print it does say "food limits apply", but they list almost everywhere there is to eat in the hotel and then there’s a dinner at Hugo’s as well.  It’s definitely more than one meal for free – it could easily be all of them!

Unfortunately this invitation is only good for one weekend in November, but Claire is going to contact a host to see what they can do for us at Christmas.  Definitely has potential.

A comped hotel room for New Year’s Eve and a free Christmas dinner would be living the dream.  I don’t think we’re quite there yet though!

Buffet overload

The latest batch of mail from my US mailbox has arrived and thanks to the global economic downturn it’s a good one.  Hooray for recession, I think.

Let’s start with one of the most peculiar Las Vegas casino offers I’ve seen.

This mailer came out of the blue from the Las Vegas Hilton.  They must have been desparately trawling back through their player databases of yesteryear to try to drum up some business.

We last stayed at the Hilton in December 2004 and have only been back since to watch several NFL games all at the same time on their giant HDTV setup.

Their excellent Sunday football party with $1 hot dogs and $2 parlay cards is absolutely the most fun you can have for $3, and it’s about the only thing left to keep drawing people in since the Star Trek Experience closed down.  Unless you really like Barry Manilow.

$115 for 2 nights, including six buffets!  Definitely good value, but it’s a pretty silly deal if you’re going solo.  Six buffets in 48 hours?  You’d probably explode.

It’s still a pretty extensive food comp even if you are sharing a room.  I guess if you have dinner for two after you arrive, a lunch or dinner the next day and breakfast before you leave on day 3 it’s easy enough to get full value from the offer but it does restrict your dining choices somewhat.

However if you can stomach it all, there’s at least $90 of buffets thrown in (it’s worth $108 if you leave on a Sunday and have brunch) making the room rate ridiculously cheap.

The reward credit promo – effectively a 4x points multiplier – is attractive.  The Hilton has some reasonable video poker, which would be a break-even or slightly better with this deal, but it’s an all-or-nothing proposition and to earn $50 in reward dollars would take $50,000 of coin-in.  That’s in the region of 40 hours of play on a 25c machine!

The best bit though?

"Offer can be used multiple times, with a minimum of 4 days between trips".

I think you’d need 4 days off to recover from all those buffets.

Jesus “almost as popular as chocolate”

It’s official.  These two appeared right next to each other in my Facebook news feed today.