January 2010
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Click here to play and it's all over baby

Yesterday, quite randomly, I found myself at the London Affiliate Conference.

You’d never know from the modest name, but this event is an expo specifically for affiliates of online gambling sites.

You know what?  Other affiliate programs are available.

I wasn’t there for a conference, or as an affiliate – just for a meeting with someone who happened to be in the country because of it.

All the big names were there, which meant I was happy enough wandering around and gawping for a while.  These things are usually pretty fun for about twenty minutes, after which they get really annoying.  Fortunately I didn’t have to wait too long before my meeting.

I wandered round admiring the usual collection of free giveaway tat.  Plenty of pens, t-shirts, calendars… that kind of stuff.  The chocolate dice were particularly appealing, although I couldn’t help wondering whether the stand giving away branded cigarette lighters was exhibiting in the wrong decade.

And then I noticed this.


Scotty Nguyen, baby.

There are not many well known poker players that I would stop walking to take a photo of, but Scotty is the man, baby.

But wait, round the corner there was more:


At first I thought this was a looky likey… any dude in a hat could be pretty convincing.  But it is your actual Texas Dolly, Doyle Brunson.

The godfather of poker, making a personal appearance because his online poker room has gone down the pan and they’re pushing a casino instead.

Quite a star studded line up for an event that I still haven’t really worked out why it exists.

After all, when your online business does online marketing for an online casino, what is the actual benefit of getting some face time – except to be able to pick up the odd Blue Square stress ball, or something.

You just make a web site that links to another web site and get people to read it, right?  And if banner A makes you more money than banner B, you run banner A.  You don’t run banner B because a pretty girl who was employed by them – probably just for the day – gave you a free umbrella.

It was only after I heard that one of the people I’d gone to meet – a gaming writer who relies on affiliate commissions to eat – had already interviewed Brunson that it dawned upon me: I was probably the only blogger there who had to sneak around with a camera phone to get pictures of these guys.

But along with that realisation came a reminder that I don’t write this rubbish for anyone other than myself.  That’s pretty obvious from the fact I haven’t even bothered trying to put a banner ad on the site in three years.  But I’ve come to realise what a world of difference there is between writing for fun versus writing for a living.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that (I’ve been paid to write before – albeit on a small scale, meaning I had plenty of freedom to choose the subject – and would do so again if the right gig came along) but it’s not what this blog is and I quite like it that way.

So to those of you that do actually bother to read this now and again and humour me when I talk crap or rant about things that aren’t really that important, I thank you.

What's your favourite posish?

Readers of, I’m afraid you are wrong.

The recently announced “Trippies” award non-ceremony included this spiteful slur on what has become my favourite place to play poker in Las Vegas.


They may lose points for having a name with two apostrophes (one of them borrowed from Caesars Palace, no doubt), and yes it is just three small poker tables dumped by the door.

But if you’ve never played poker at O’Shea’s – particularly on Karaoke night – you’ve missed out on the funnest poker experience on the Strip.  It always has the best view too.

Voters in this poll took themselves far too seriously and voted for the unwelcoming Bellagio poker room as the best place to play.

Do they have a house band that plays a cover of Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently” (and clientele that know every single word to sing along) over there?

Didn’t think so.  Viva O’Shea’s!

Americans don't do irony: discuss

A cash prize monies?  I assure you sir it is totally legitimate.


Oh come on, I thought that was funny… can I get a LOL?

While I can somewhat understand the sensible reply from the casino’s representative, the last poster clearly thinks I added Harrah’s Laughlin to my Facebook friends by accident.  Must happen a lot.

Everything you wanted to know about Caesars Palace but were afraid to find out the easy way

You can’t imagine how excited I was to see an offiical Caesars Palace iPhone app appear on the App Store recently.

It came with a big boast too: “The Caesars Palace Mobile application is a travel companion that can elevate your trip from ordinary to legendary”.

Sadly, I beg to differ.  It’s a bit of a turd.

The app weighs in at a tiny 0.4Mb, which tells you it’s going to have to fetch most of its data from the network.

This is good and bad.  It’s easy for them to update information when it changes (it’s Vegas – things change frequently) but it alienates iPod touch users and visitors from outside the USA who don’t want to get stung by horrendous data roaming charges, pay extortionate hotel wifi charges, or go to the effort of getting their iPhone unlocked and using a local SIM.

iPod touch users are also screwed over on the included gimmick to put your own photo onto a Caesars Palace sign.  It only works with the iPhone’s camera – you can’t use a picture from your photo library.  Although it’s a pretty piss poor effort at slapping two photographs together anyway.  I tried it with an old friend.


The other information you get is a subset of what you can find on the Caesars web site, thrown together in a style reminiscent of web sites from 1995, except without a hit counter or an animated “men at work” image.


The part I was really interested in though was how I would be able to “use Caesars Palace Mobile to find [my] way around the resort”, like they claimed.

Let’s face it.  If someone describes the floor plan at Caesars as “all over the place”, they’re being kind.

For what it’s worth, I actually find that meandering mess of a maze an endearing feature of a property which has evolved and grown in character over more than 40 years.  It’s just a nightmare to get to where you want to be.

So, what technological wonders that take advantage of the iPhone platform have they used to help you find your way?

It’s a map.


It’s the same map that you get when you check into the hotel or if you can pick up around the casino.

The user experience is somewhat different, however.  When they print maps, they tend to make sure that they’re readable, and they generally print them larger than three inches in size.  This is is pretty standard because, well, it just works.

Above is an actual size screenshot.  Tell me where Total Rewards is, or how to get to the Augustus Tower from the parking garage.

I’m being a little unkind.  You can actually zoom in enough so that the text size is almost the same size as it would be in print.  Of course, once the text is readable, you can only see a fraction of the map.

I guess it’s nice to have a map graphic on your phone though.  I’ve used that kind of thing before, with zooming and panning and what not.  I’d probably use this one too if it actually stayed downloaded to my phone long enough to use it – instead of requiring a significant download every single time you navigate away and come back.  It takes a good 5 seconds over wifi and 25-30 seconds on 3G.   (I didn’t bother trying over EDGE).  They should at least cache it within the app for a couple of hours.

I should probably have seen this coming, when the first thing in the product description is an attempt to claim that this is a “beta” release – despite being publicly available to anyone with an iPhone or iPod touch, and carrying a 1.0 version number.

Disappointing as the app is, it’s even more disappointing that Caesars Palace would put its name on what is clearly a work in progress.

Tesco Value toolkit for Mac mini

A steal at one pound seventy nine pence.  RAM upgrade complete.  And I only needed to use two of them.


The worst video poker game I ever played

The time has come to say a tearful farewell to my Diamond Total Rewards card.

The current card is still valid until the end of March, but as I won’t return to Las Vegas until the beginning of April, that does me no good whatsoever.  In order to retain it, I needed to have achieved the requisite number of tier credits by the end of last year.  I didn’t get there.

The number of tier credits required to achieve or retain Diamond is 11,000 – representing $55,000 of action on slot machines, or $110,000 on video poker.  Or some secret magic formula of time, money and whether or not the pit boss likes you when playing table games.

I’ve achieved this before, using a 50-line 9/6 Jacks or Better game in Harrah’s Laughlin.  It takes some commitment (and some balls to trust in the numbers when you run bad), but a 99.54% game with (usually) 0.3% returned as comp means it’s a decent proposition.  Cycle $110,000 on that game and you expect to lose about $500 in cash, but receive $330 to spend on food and stuff.  Net cost: $170.

Consider that most video poker on the Strip is in the 97-98% range.  A typical player qualifies for Diamond status with a theoretical loss in the region of $3,000 for a given year.  They still only get back the same $330 as comp, so doing it my way is a pretty good discount.

Yes, slightly better plays are available.  I just don’t have the bankroll for them.

Here’s one that you won’t find on the vpfree2 web site.  That could be down to a lack of casino monitors, the inability to actually find what you’re looking for since the site switched to it’s new craptastic format, or just that members of the so-called community are no longer sharing data like they used to (you know, the way most of them actually got started), just reporting a handful of so-so games but keeping the best information to themselves.  I liked the old site.  I miss the old site.

I may get death threats for talking about it, but Harrah’s Laughlin has a 9/6 Jacks or Better in a $1 Multistrike game.  Or at least it did in December 2009.  It’s a slant-top, just inside the high limit area, next to the poker room.

Multistrike video poker requires you to pay for four hands at a time.  If you win the first, you play the second with a 2x multiplier; if you win that you play the 3rd at 4x and – if you get there – the top line is paid off at 8x the regular win.  If you don’t win on the first attempt though, you’ve just lost four times the usual stake very quickly.

Yes, the swings are big.  But making some adjustments to the way you play the game teases the odds in the player’s favour.  You can get almost 99.8% payback (so it’s a profitable game when you add in other benefits) and at $20 per game it’s very quick to cycle money.  Perfect for a professional with deep pockets, but given that a not-insignificant part of the overall return comes from large 8x wins – including an extremely rare top line royal flush – I was only able to have a quick punt on this one.

How sweet it nearly was though.  One card away from thirty two grand…


I did actually abandon an attempt to achieve Diamond in a Day at Harrah’s Laughlin (requiring only 3,000 tier credits in 24 hours) on a $1 Deuces Wild machine.  Although it’s a solid play at 99.7% payback, I wasn’t familiar with the game and it was more volatile than I expected – and was comfortable with – so I bottled it, took the money and ran after hitting a lucky quad deuces.

After that, I got back to Vegas with roughly 3,200 tier credits showing for the year.  There was no way I’d get Diamond now, but I only needed to reach 4,000 to ensure Platinum for the next year.

Frankly, Platinum isn’t worth much.  At some hotels you can use the same VIP check-in as Diamond, but at others it looks like you have to wait in the pleb line.  There’s no queue-jumping at restaurants or for taxis, and if the valet is “full” you actually have to pull cash out of your wallet to make a space magically appear, not just a players card.

You do get some kind of show tickets offer though, and an invitation to the Summerfest tournament.  But mostly, well, I just wanted my players card to not be gold again.

Do you see why these tiered programs are so successful?…

It’s not (quite) all vanity.  I do like the idea of flashing a shiny player’s card when I sit at a poker table to let everyone else know I gamble.  I’ll then most likely turn to granite for two or three hours, by which time nobody is fooled when I check-raise with a sigh, but just in case I hit a monster early on it certainly can’t harm my action.

I wasn’t sure where that 3,200 number had come from.  In the summer, I used a Macy’s gift card promotion to play a few otherwise unfavourable games with an edge and Claire and I between us racked up about 1300 tier credits.  In December in Laughlin, we’d done a little more than 700 more in total.

So that’s 1200 tier credit that had to have come from somewhere….  Who knew it was from poker?

This is a new phenomenon, apparently beginning earlier this year and, according to Poker Grump, awards 28 tier credits per hour in addition to the usual 100 spendable credits (worth $1 towards eating).

A commenter on that post saved me some calculations by noting that you can reach Diamond status with 393 hours of play and Platinum with 143 hours.  That’s out of reach for me.  I’ve failed in three consecutive summers to reach my target of 100 hours play in a month-long trip.  I’m sure I could do it with a little more focus, but as I take real work with me on long trips, I don’t go to Vegas to make poker feel like a job.

It does actually sound like a great deal though. It seems that if you lived in Las Vegas and gambled recreationally, playing $2/$4 Hold’em would be a much less stressful way to get to Diamond than any other kind of low stakes gaming.  If you play poker with any kind of seriousness (and loyalty) you’ll do it several times over.

At least it feels like Harrah’s are being generous to poker players.  In fact, even using a conservative estimate of $10 rake paid per hour†, a Diamond poker player is worth at least $3,930 to Harrah’s.  That’s actually more than a video poker player who isn’t completely clueless about strategy, or a slot player who gets there by playing games with 93% payback or higher (which is about right for $1 slots on the Strip)!

[†20 hands per hour maxing out the rake at $5 per pot gives this number when averaged across a full table of ten players; it could be double this, which would put it on a par with penny slots].

Anyway, I’ll gladly take advantage of any opportunity to reduce the amount of machine play I need to put in to reach a player’s club tier, especially when the machines you can do it on just keep getting worse.

Last week, in a last-ditch attempt to try to salvage my Total Rewards status, I decided to play quite possibly the worst video poker game I had ever sat down at.  (Well, at least since I realised that not all games were created equal.)

Imperial Palace.  7/5 Bonus Poker.  98.0% payback with optimal stragtegy.  The last surviving 8/5 paytable (99.2% payback) is long gone.

Actually it was slightly better than that – it was a Super Times Pay game.  STP lets you play an extra coin on each hand for the chance of being dealt a multiplier card worth 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, 8x or 10x on a winning hand.  The multiplier appears every 15 hands and averages 4.05x, and those numbers actually make it a slightly profitable bet.  Unlike Multistrike, no change in strategy is needed to benefit from the additional payback, but it’s still quite volatile.  Even on a 25c machine the long-term return accounts for hitting a 10x royal flush, worth $10,000.

Super Times Pay is a slight improvement – worth about 0.3% overall – which, unfortunately, made this machine the very best of a bad bunch.

The question was: would this gamble be worth it?

I had to give Harrah’s $8,000 more action in order to retain my level.   Add on roughly 0.3% in comp credit to the 98.3% game payback and I stood to lose 1.4% of the total amount bet.  That’s an expected loss of $112 – too much to pay just for a free afternoon show (of someone else’s choice) and entry into a $40 tournament (if the dates worked out right).

But because I was doing it at a Strip casino rather than out in Laughlin (where being able to count the spots on two dice is generally enough to get you a free room) there was the possibility of that action being enough to qualify my account for the much more valuable Las Vegas comps again.

It’s not surprising that I had lost my free room privileges, but it’s surprising it took so long.  Nearly a year after I began booking weeks of free hotels at a time, doing little more than stealing the soap (or at least trying) and not gambling a penny in Harrah’s casinos in Las Vegas, they finally caught up and decided I needed to start paying to stay there.

What’s even more surprising though, is that it only took a couple of days after this short stint at Imperial Palace to get those freebies back again.  They started showing today!  It looks like almost any dates for five free midweek nights are available for at least one of: Flamingo, Bally’s, Harrah’s or Rio.  It only takes a couple of nights to cover that $112 loss in full!

I don’t really care that my offers don’t include Caesars or Paris, or even the “Luv Tub” rooms at Imperial Palace that had tempted me so much in the past.  Rio suits me down to the ground.  It’s within walking distance of places I actually want to gamble at (Gold Coast, Palms) and close to the freeway for getting places.  If I want to play poker on the Strip, I can be at Caesars Palace in about 5 minutes.

A good result then, but fortunately so this time, I think, rather than being a brilliantly calculated advantage play.  Even that 1.4% theoretical loss on a game is too high to justify retaining Platinum – and certainly too high to justify shooting for Diamond – for next year.  I’ll either have to find a better game that I am comfortable with, increase my tolerance to risk significantly, or just play lots of poker at Harrah’s casinos to bump up the numbers.

There is one more option.  A cunning backup plan.  It involves one of the spare copies of my old Diamond card that I started stock-piling last week and a black marker pen.  Can you tell what it is yet?

My supreme loyalty; or How to use your iPhone when you visit the USA

For those interested in how to travel to the USA and still manage to feed a healthy iPhone addiction without racking up massive data roaming charges, here’s how I did it.  YMMV, and various other disclaimers.

The answer lies with T-Mobile, not AT&T.  While AT&T still have exclusivity on the iPhone, they don’t offer any kind of service plan that is suitable for a visitor.  T-Mobile, on the other hand, has FlexPay – where you can pay for each month of service in advance, with no minimum commitment.

For 500 voice minutes, 500 text messages and unlimited “smartphone” data, the cost is $59.95 (+ local sales tax).

I’ve read some reports that you don’t need to admit that it’s a smartphone and the web access still works, saving you some money.  But this time I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems and was up front about wanting to use an iPhone work, so I can’t vouch for that.

It’s not cheap for a 10-day trip, but at least it keeps the costs under control and still comes in at less than the cost of a 50Mb data roaming bundle (£50 with O2) or about 7Mb otherwise (at a horrendous £8/Mb).  My thinking was that I’d probably top up $10 on my prepaid phone for texts and pay $10/day for hotel internet anyway.  That’s just to check my email, do random browsing and for blogging – nothing I couldn’t do on a handheld gizmo really.  The added bonus of being able to instantly brag about my jackpots on Facebook, or to say “where’s the nearest cinema and what’s on?” was pretty sweet.

Here’s the amazing thing: T-Mobile don’t (can’t) sell the iPhone.  But they already have enough of a customer base that it’s very well supported.  When I called to ask for the network settings, they put me through to the “unsupported handsets helpdesk” – which surely should not exist! – and got me up and running in no time at all.

T-Mobile certainly appreciated my supreme loyalty too.  When I got home and needed to make sure I wasn’t signed up to a recurring payment (I wasn’t) they thanked me for being a customer for almost two weeks.  Sarcasm?  I’d be surprised.


Anyway, here’s how I went about it:

I got my iPhone unlocked in advance the legitimate way – by asking O2.  I’d only had the phone a month, but that doesn’t matter any more.  They’ll unlock any contract iPhone for free and any pay-as-you-go for fifteen quid as long as you’ve had it at least a year.  (Other unlocking methods are available).

I checked what would happen when I put a US SIM card in it, using my basic T-Mobile pre-paid account.  The phone froze up and demanded it be connected to iTunes immediately to activate the new SIM and I obliged.

I expected that I would have to do the same thing again when I got a new SIM, so I prepared for this by loading just enough of my iTunes library onto my laptop to get by.  That is: iTunes Library.itl and the folder iTunes Media/Mobile Applications.  I couldn’t find a way to stop it wiping my apps if they weren’t present on the computer, but the music and video files don’t have to be there.  As long as the iTunes library on your computer looks the same as it does on your iPhone, there’s nothing to sync so it won’t bother trying to transfer any files.

I tested this several times before leaving the country as I couldn’t take my whole iTunes library with me (my laptop is a few years old and it didn’t have enough free space).  I also decided to uncheck “automatically sync when this iPhone is connected” and to turn on “manually manage music and videos” as an extra precaution.  This is actually the only reason I took a laptop with me this time.

In fact, once I got the new SIM card, I didn’t need to activate it. That’s probably because the phone had already seen another T-Mobile SIM, rather that it being a one-time only step so don’t bank on getting an easy ride if you try this.  If you switch the SIM and can’t hook up to iTunes, you might end up locking your iPhone until you get home  – or having to sneakily sync it with a random iTunes library at an Apple Store to bring it back to life (but wiping your music library and apps in the process).

But getting hold of the magic SIM was ridiculously easy.  I went into a T-Mobile store, said “I’ve got an unlocked iPhone, can I get a prepaid SIM card that will work in it?” and it was as easy as that.  No problems with being foreign or anything, they just swiped a credit card and I was on my way.

To configure the internet was pretty easy.  I should have printed this off in advance but it was easy enough getting instructions over the phone.  For future reference:

Go to Settings -> General -> Network, set Data Roaming on and 3G off (if you have an iPhone 3G; T-Mobile’s 3G frequency is different, unfortunately).  Under Cellular Data Network, set APN to That’s it.  You don’t even need to note down the old settings for later, as it will remember the right values for whichever SIM is inserted.

One mistake I made was not registering on the T-Mobile web site before I left.  You can only get a password to manage your account online via text message, and you can’t get international roaming – except for Canada and Mexico.

But as you can see from the online chat above, I managed to make sure the account was cancelled once I got home, and they said I can also use chat to get it reactivated before I go back next time.  The account remains dormant for 60 days (they say; I’ve read reports of it being much longer) before you lose the phone number.

This works out just right for when I go back to Las Vegas at the beginning of April 🙂