August 2009
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Day 18: How to break a perfectly good promotion

Alongside all the other great value at Terrible’s casino at the moment, there’s also been a swipe-and-win promotion which is linked to a $250,000 cash giveaway.

Every time you swipe you earn one entry into the drawing and some other prize that is randomly generated by computer.

To give you the impression that you have some kind of influence over what you win, you have to pick one of three alarm bells with Mr Terrible’s face on it to reveal your prize.

Sometimes it’s a two-for-one coupon for the buffet, which isn’t worth anything if you have points on your card, as comp is worth twice as much at the buffet as anywhere else.  Sometimes it’s a twofer for a particular kind of meal (e.g. a steak dinner) at the cafe.

It’s better when you get free players club points. I’ve had awards from 100 points (worth about 25c) up to 5,000 points (worth about $12).

There are also instant prizes, including a musical "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign ornament, Terrible’s t-shirts and (presumably because of surplus stock in the gift shop) a set of tupperware containers.  They’re not Terrible’s logo containers, it’s just a totally random giveaway.

And sometimes it’s nothing more than another drawing ticket to stick in the drum.

It’s not worth making a special trip just to swipe here, but as I’m playing at Terrible’s a lot lately I’m taking advantage of the extra value.  Especially as you could earn extra swipes every day by playing the machines: 250 points for each extra entry, but limited to a total of three entries per day.

That was until today.

After playing more than enough video poker to claim the daily maximum $25 of free fuel each, Claire and I stood in line to swipe – unaware of the change.  It was fairly unusual to have to wait at all for this, and even more so that it was moving extremely slowly.

It didn’t take long to realise that some players were getting more than three goes, and we quickly figured out what was going on.

In fact, only the first three selections give you a chance to win bonus points or free tat.  From the 4th one onwards, whichever alarm bell you pressed it is always going to give you a drawing ticket.

One player ahead had 61 goes.  The ever-growing mass of people waiting for their free shit started to dissent.  Many couldn’t connect the sign on the top of the kiosk that said "earn bonus entries for every 250 points" and the fact that some people had earned bonus entries.

"Why does he get so many?", came a voice from behind.  "What makes him so special?  Is he the son of the owner or something?".

They really must have special perks for family.  "Here boy, take this golden slot card and go swipe so many times that my customers will start spitting on you".

It could happen. 

Others, when it was finally their turn, swiped their card, took their one free entry for turning up and looked devastated that they didn’t get to go again.  A second swipe of the card proved fruitless, and the message "you need to earn another 250 points for another entry" just produced confused expressions. 

Newsflash: casinos give more stuff to those who gamble than those that don’t.

We finally got to the front of the line and Claire steped up to swipe.

You need to earn 1,000 base points for $5 in gas, but this was a 5x points day so we had earned tens of thousands of spendable points.  There’s no point in keeping count beyond 25,000.  But surely, only the base points would count towards these extra entries right?


Instead of the twenty-something entries I was expecting, the kiosk dropped a bombshell: "Play 1 of 135".

Oh. My. God.

It took nearly 20 minutes to clear them all, because you have to listen to a little cheering noise each time while the ticket prints, and then wait for the machine to reset to the selection screen.

This is how it plays out…

Except it went on much longer than that, without any way to speed it up or stop it.

You can imagine how popular we were.  Needless to say, I didn’t bother swiping my own card after all that.  I think it could have been the first time in Vegas history that someone gets carted off to a back room and taught a lesson – by other punters.

There is no need for this to be the way it is.  What Claire had actually earned was 3 plays on the swipe-and-win and an additional 132 drawing tickets.  It might take a couple of minutes to print all those, but there’s no reason to wait for the player to make a selection before printing each one.

Furthermore, there’s no way to cancel the session once it’s started and slot attendants are not interested – it’s not a slot machine.  You have to hit the screen the requisite number of times to give someone else a chance to play.  We could care less about the drawing tickets as we won’t be around for the draw, but if there’s a chance to get another Terrible’s t-shirt for nothing, I’m going to take it. 

I can understand them wanting to reward players with more entries for giving them more action, but doing it this way – especially when there’s only one kiosk in the casino – is quite simply a clusterfuck.

What I really didn’t like, though, was how it also drew massive attention to those who had clearly come to the casino with a bit of playing money.  This isn’t like them regular casinos – carrying a few hundred dollars makes you a high roller.

Tourists mostly stay away and well-off locals tend to choose the more upmarket off-strip resorts nearer to their more upmarket homes out in the ‘burbs.  As one slot attendant once told me, "this place brings out the crazies".

So I can’t tell you how how delighted I was to have to stand there with, effectively, a flashing arrow pointing at my head while dozens of frustrated bottom feeders got a little bit hungrier.

Even though it was still daylight, it was a relief to make a clean getaway.