July 2009
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Day 13: Jackpot tune

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The music clip above is the actual jackpot tune from the royal flush Claire hit today at Terrible’s for $2,000.

There is no sweeter sound you can hear in a casino. 

WOOHOO!  Two grand baby!

The music is about a two-minute loop, and we got to hear it several times as it took a while to get paid, but in the end everything went smoothly.

As Claire has never hit anything large enough to trigger tax paperwork before we weren’t sure what would happen.  As I understand it, any machine win of $1,200 or more has to be reported to the IRS.

US citizens are expected to declare gambling winnings on their tax return (or be able to prove a net loss from gambling for the year).

Foreigners, by default, are deducted 30% unless they come from a country that has a tax treaty with the USA.  Fortunately, the UK does but I still thought it probably wouldn’t be so straightforward.

I already have an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) which I had to give when I hit a jackpot last year so I asked if we could put the payout in my name, but they insisted it had to be whoever was playing the machine at the time.

Not only was Claire’s players card in the machine, but I’m led to believe that casinos also have one or two cameras around the place, and that they take a special interest in players who win money, so it wasn’t worth messing about.  

I’ve seen in poker tournaments (where the threshold for reporting wins is a ridiculously low $600) that overseas players have completed the ITIN application on the spot and received the full amount straight immediately.

I’ve also heard of players getting stiffed because the casino didn’t know what to do with the paperwork (or couldn’t be bothered to work it out) so they just kept the 30% and left it for the individual to work out how to get it back.  If they didn’t pursue a claim, whether or not that 30% went to the government or to the casino’s stockholders is anybody’s guess.

To be honest, I don’t know how Terrible’s processed this one, it was all done off in a back room somewhere while we waited by the machine, bopping to the funky jackpot tune.

After about 20 minutes, a team of three slot attendants turned up with a wad of cash and handed Claire a "Foreign Person’s Income Subject to Withholding" form along with two grand in crispy notes.

The form said income: $2000, deductions: $0.

And, obviously, we didn’t question that 🙂

Day 12: The perfect gift for the upholsterer who has everything

It’s not immediately obvious why a watch store would be billed as a must-see attraction, but it is the (self proclaimed) World’s Largest and to be frank there’s not a great deal else to do in Laughlin when you want a break from gambling and it’s too hot to mess about on the river.

The Watch Man is inside the Riverside Resort and boasts 20,000 watches for sale all under $20.

Yes, of course they’re all cheap imitations or just plain tat, but what can you expect for the price.

20,000 watches for sale is a bold claim, and one that I couldn’t be bothered to verify, but there is a pretty impressive selection.

It’s like shopping in a giant motorway service station car park.

Of course, being in a casino, there is a fine selection of gambling-related watches.  Wheel of Fortune was one of my favourites…

… although some of the poker watches were impressive too …

In the more vocational selection, I was particularly impressed with the rotating stethoscope second hand on this nurse watch.

The best thing is that there literally is a watch for everyone.  Seriously.  Where else could you find such niche timepieces as these?

There’s even something for the Lady Bear lover in your life.

My absolute favourite, though, was one I didn’t even notice in the store.  It just caught my eye when I was reviewing these pictures and I’m gutted that I didn’t get chance to buy it.

After all, who doesn’t love chickeny things?

Day 11: 111 Fahrenheit “not excessively hot”

It’s not really any surprise that it’s hot in the middle of the desert in the summer.

Until a spate of storms cooled things down, Las Vegas was set to trigger an excessive heat warning with temperatures forecast up to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

Quite how they decide where to draw the line between "you’ll just sizzle a bit if you go outside" and "you’ll probably die if you go outside" I don’t know.  But apparently 112 F is that line in the summer, the point where it suddenly becomes unsafe to spend too long outdoors – even though it’s not much higher than the average 106 F in July.

To be fair, it’s felt quite warm lately.  Relative to the usual scorching heat, I mean.  This is my 5th summer here and, mostly, I’m used to it and know how to cope.

Wear a hat, drink lots of water, don’t assume those massive casinos are as close together as they look.  That kind of stuff.

And then, we went to Laughlin.  My dashboard says it was pretty hot there. 

I haven’t quite pinpointed my precise tolerance to desert heat, but 122 F is on the wrong side of it.  It was absolutely horrible.  Even on a short walk from car to casino, or back again, it felt like every drop of moisture in my system was instantly sucked away.

Because sweat was evaporating faster than I could produce it, my body basically turned into one big water pump, which ran dry in a matter of seconds.

Thank God for air conditioning.

The original plan to go jet-skiing on the Colorado River went out the window, and we stuck to indoor activities.  Like earning a free lunch.

The River Palms casino usually has a decent free grub offer.  This time it was a free burger or chicken sandwich if you earned 100 slot points – equal to $1000 cycled on video poker.

It used to be possible to get fed for free while also playing a positive expectation game, but sadly those machines have now been converted to tournament machines.  However, the next best thing was still pretty good: 99.7% Deuces Wild.

This game only exists there as "Spin Poker’ which is a strange beast.  You play video poker but the cards are dealt onto slot machine reels so you are paid out based on winning hands along a gazillion different pay lines.

The 0.3% house edge on $1000 gambled is $3, but that same 100 slot points also earned me about two dollars in cashback and another dollar in comp.  

Not that I wouldn’t pay $3 for the burger below, it just tastes that little bit sweeter when it’s totally free.

Day 10: That’s Señor Terrible to you

Overheard at the players club desk in Terrible’s casino, where I was waiting patiently to claim yet another free t-shirt (and if anyone actually wants one of these leave a comment with your size, I’m sure I’ll win some more before the trip is done).

One player was just signing up and had some sort of free slot play offer that you claim at the machine by punching in a PIN number.

"You need to follow the instructions on here", she said, producing a card.

"This one is in Spanish, that’s all we have left, but you can just follow the pictures".

Which just made me wonder why, if it was so simple, they’d bothered producing a Spanish version of the instructions in the first place.

EDIT: Managed to get hold of one… and an English version!

Day 9: Say no to overpriced show tickets

Never mind spending a hundred dollars or more on a ticket to see Circque du Soleil or Bette Midler, there are still some great entertainment deals to be had in Vegas

Check this out: fifteen bucks to see The Donnas at the Hard Rock!

Sure, with Ticketbastard fees it’s more like $50 for a pair, but what can you do?  Still an absolute bargai, and not to mention one of the greatest bands in the world.

I’d hoped to be able to catch a show at the new Joint at the Hard Rock but there wasn’t much that appealed this time around.  At a push there’s No Doubt in a couple of weeks, but with tickets starting at $121 I was just too meh about it.  That’s more than the Spice Girls, and there’s no comparison.

The Donnas played in the rock club venue, Wasted Space, which is a much more intimate affair.  It’s tiny – supposedly a 400-500 capacity venue but with the stage area separated from the bar last night there can’t have been more than 200 there.

The picture above is poor (my small camera appears to be on its last legs as it started doing some mad shaking instead of focusing properly, it’s about the best I could do) but it shows how close I was, with just a couple of fists in the air in front of me – and I was virtually standing at the back.

Day 8: Predictive text is bad, mkay?

Mandalay Bay is the latest casino whose text message list I’ve subscribed to.

They don’t make it particularly easy to fill your phone with their crap though.  To begin, text "MBTODAY" to 37160.  Then you have to confirm by replying with "MYES".

What’s wrong with just a plain "yes" I don’t know.

Fortunately I have a full keyboard on my phone, but I feel sorry for anyone trying to negotiate it using predictive text.  You’d get something like "oatodaz" or "navofax" when trying to write the signup message.

But are these moffers worth mfighting with the technology mfor?

Not really.  Here are what I’ve had so far – no special promotions, just a bunch of junk mail for stuff that’s already going on.

To compare, the Rio’s text list sent out offers last week for buy-one-get-one-free on drinks, free desserts with your meal, $5 off their buffet and $10 tickets to see the Chippendales.

The latter was available to the first 50 people to respond and for that night’s performance only. Although they could perhaps do themselves a favour by targetting these offers rather than sending out to the entire list, I can still recognise that this would be a great deal for someone who likes looking at naked men.


Day 7: A good beat story

At the Luxor, playing in a $1/$2 no limit, I have a pair and I’m one of 6 players limping in to the pot.

The flop comes low – 854 – and all different suits.  I quite like my overpair so after the big blind bets $5 I raise it to $15.  The button calls my raise cold but the original bettor gets out of the way.

The cold call scares me a bit, and the turn card scares me a bit more: it’s a 6.  There’s still no flush possible, but if the other guy has a 7 for a straight, I can’t win.  If he already made two pair or a set, I’m in bad shape.  I don’t see many hands that I’m beating liking this board any more, so I check but I still call a bet of $20.

The river was another 8, so there’s still no flush possible but now even more ways I can lose the pot.  I just check and call again, relieved that his bet was only $40 into a pot of more than $80.

"I have an eight", says the villain, before flipping over eight-nine for a flopped top pair with inside straight draw, which became three-of-a-kind on the river.

"Oh you do?  Nice hand", I reply.  "But I win too".

I table my pocket aces and wait for a floorperson to bring me a shiny new stack of red chips.

At Luxor, when you are holding pocket aces and lose, you still win $100.

Several casinos have "aces cracked" promotions, but one that runs 24/7 and with a substantial consolation prize (relative to the stakes) is pretty unusual.

At Imperial Palace, for example, you can win $100 when pocket aces are beaten and $50 when your pocket kings lose, but this is only on offer between 8am and 11am as an incentive to get their games going earlier in the morning.

While at Excalibur you get to spin a wheel of fortune any time your aces are cracked, but the typical payoff is about $30.  Certainly not to be sniffed at, but not enough to change the way you would play the hand in a no-limit game.

This is, in fact, the first time I have ever limped in with AA in a no-limit cash game.  And I think I just about got away with it.

If I’d raised pre-flop, I probably wouldn’t have seen much action.  That eight-nine offsuit might not have called a raise, and given that nobody else was interested in a fairly unthreatening flop there probably weren’t many other hands that would have paid to stick around either.

My net profit of $23 is quite likely more than I would have made by playing the hand "properly".  Which, of course, is results-oriented thinking, but what the heck.  I’m sure in theory I make more money by limping here too.

In fact, if I’d been playing a stack shorter that $100, you actually want your pocket aces to lose.  The minimum buy-in at Luxor is $40, so if you’re already playing a short stack strategy the value in this promotion is huge.  You would have to have an all-in bet called in three spots to win more money when your hand actually holds up!

As I was playing deeper than that (I began the hand with about $250 and the eventual winner had enough to cover me) I fancied a bit of two-way action: slow-play the hand for deception in the hope of winning a bigger pot, but with a $100 safety net if it all went pear shaped.

Back to the table: "Nicely done", says the winner of the pot and we almost high-five across the table.  Except because we’re sitting at opposite ends, there’s about six feet of air between our palms.  But the thought is there.

$100 for cracked aces is great value for the player.  You’re dealt pocket aces one time in every 221 hands, which means that roughly every 22 hands someone at the table will see them.  They win about 80% of the time against one other player, which means aces are going to be cracked roughly every 110 hands at any given (full) table.

It’s even more frequent than that when you slow-play and allow more opponents the chance to outdraw you.  Which is inevitably what this promotion causes to happen.

As the casino takes $1 from every pot to pay for promotions and pays $100 for cracked aces every 110 hands, it means that pretty much all the money taken is given back just in the aces cracked promo.

But as Luxor also pays an instant high hand jackpot (which is also fairly generous because for aces full of tens or higher counts, as well as any four of a kind or straight flush) right now they’re definitely giving away more to the players than they are collecting from the pot.

Another reason to love the aces cracked promotion is that it actually saved me money on a later hand as well.

I’d raised pre-flop with pocket queens and the player to my left – who I had pegged as a solid player and (from an earlier conversation about not chopping blinds with pairs or suited connectors to try to win a high hand jackpot) someone who knew about all the promotions at Luxor – just called.

Another player made it $40 to go, which I called and then my neighbour moved all-in for $106 more.

It was a fairly easy decision, so after the raiser folded I also threw away the queens and asked whether he wanted his hand to get cracked or actually to win a big pot.

He duly obliged in showing the aces, increasing my smug factor significantly, made some noise like "Bah!" and said "I wanted to have them cracked".

Aces cracked is a funny promotion and it does change the game, particularly when there is a decent prize at stake.  There’s just something morbidly appealing about the prospect of winning more money by losing a hand than you could by winning it.

Day 6: Three storms

There were three separate rainstorms visible to the South of the valley this afternoon, and even a few drops of water falling in Las Vegas itself.

I only managed to get a quick photo from my compact camera while driving (everywhere we stopped was too low down for a good view) but hopefully you get the idea.  It’s damn cool to see this extreme desert weather – from a distance at least!

Day 5: Sock news

I have never seen these socks before, or anything like them.

Just in case you can’t make out the detail among all those stripes, it says "Flamingo".

This is a very good sign.  Unless they’ve been sitting in a warehouse for nearly ten years, it means that Harrah’s are still producing new sock designs with their casinos’ logos on.

I’m still not 100% sure this is a man’s style (it’s a man’s size, but so were the baby girl pink ones I bought a couple of years ago, which are unsurprisingly still attached to the card they came on) but I didn’t think that was a good enough excuse not to get them.

A steal at $6 (with my Total Rewards Diamond discount) and hopefully the first of many.

Day 4: Gas man

Terrible’s casino looks set to be the place where I’ll be putting in most of my video poker action for the next few weeks.

There’s never just one promotion at Terrible’s, there’s usually dozens and understanding exactly what you’re entitled to is part of the fun.

I’ve long been a fan of their "gas days" (currently every day except Thursday and Sunday) when you can claim a $5 Chevron gift card for every 1,000 slot points earned – up to $25 per day. 

With the huge gas-guzzling Toyota Rav 4 (which I’m sure is almost double the size of a Rav 4 in Europe) we rented set to make some significant journeys as well as ferrying us around town for the next month, money to spend on fuel is as good as cash in the bank.

What makes this a great promotion is that you don’t have to redeem the points to get the gas cards, you can still use the same points for free slot play or spend them in the restaurants or gift shop.

To get 1,000 points you need to play $1,000 through a machine, which means a theoretical cost of about $5 on Jacks or Better video poker (99.54% payback).  The $5 value of the gas card therefore offsets the house edge of the game and the slot club points are all gravy.

The 1,000 points you accumulate are worth between $2.50 and $5, depending on what you spend them on.  At the gift shop – the easiest way to burn points on booze, soft drinks, cigarettes, coffee, donuts and sometimes even socks (although sadly none as yet this time around) – it’s 300 points per dollar.  You get a better rate at the buffet, or a slightly worse rate if you exchange points for more gift cards or gambling money.

It takes me about half an hour to cycle $1,000 on a 50c video poker machine (the highest denomination they have with the "9/6" pay table that’s needed for this to work) so assuming the 300 points per $1 rate, that’s normally a theoretical hourly rate of about $6.

Certainly not good enough to "go pro" for, but it’s not bad at all for a promotion that takes place five days out of every week.  If there’s nowhere else worth playing, there’s usually Terrible’s.

So you can probably imagine how excited I was when I read that Tuesdays and Thursdays were 5x points days – including (unusually) video poker as well as slots.  

I really didn’t expect the best video poker games to be included in the promotion, but I could only find signs indicating one particular game that was excluded, and that one wasn’t even as good as the one I’d been playing (Double Bonus, at 99.1% payback).

A couple of spins on the Jacks or Better game confirmed that they were indeed multiplying my points by five, so I made myself comfortable.

The point multiplier doesn’t award the gas cards any quicker (only "base points" count towards that) but the value it adds to the game is phenomenal.  It turns the 0.33% of money back from the slot club into 1.66% back.

Whenever you can get a full 1% back in any form – cash back, free play or comps – it’s worth taking notice of. 

Looking at it another way, for the first $5,000 you play the gas card still offsets the house edge but you also earn a whopping 25,000 points on top.  That’s worth $83.33 at the gift shop or $62.50 in gift cards or free slot play.

Pretty good for about two and a half hours work – it’s a rate of about $33/hr.

Beyond $5,000 played, it’s still a great deal (which means it’s also a great deal on Thursdays too, when it’s not a gas day, but you can still get 5x points and probably a free pack of beer or something too).  The point multiplier alone turns the 99.5% game into a 101% game.

Sure, it’s still a bit of a grind and I’m not going to come home from Las Vegas a millionaire because of it, but it’s an enjoyable way to earn food and beer.

And besides, if I spent every day chasing Megabucks for 5 weeks, I think the chances of going broke before the end of the trip would be pretty high…