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The Match-Play Coupon Circuit



This is the final installment in my ongoing “seven days of living low on the Coupon Circuit hog” series. 

Wagering countless match-play coupons resulted in mid-range (~$400 per day) revenue, and I learned a lot of new angles that can generate tons of free rooms, free food, free shows, and a high expectation of low-risk profit.  On the other hand, it was a lot more work than my current 25 to 35 hour per week Precision-Shooting regimen.

Are Match-Play Coupons Relevant to Serious Players?

This series has garnered a fair bit of e-mail asking that very question. 

Can m-p’s figure into a serious players game, and if so, are they worth the effort? 

My initial response would be to indicate that if you’ve read this far, and you haven’t figured out that a 49%+ advantage over the casino IS SERIOUS; then you have much more to worry about when you walk into any casino, and it doesn’t matter if you are armed with a fistful of coupons or not.

Of course, that would be my initial response.   Upon reflection, I would probably suggest that you read as much as you can on the subject, and then make up your own mind with an informed decision as to the pertinence and applicability of match-plays for your own game.

My own experience indicates that anyone who has access to multiple match-plays for the game that they play, yet chooses not to use them because the “cheapskate” image might reflect badly on their self-esteem; indicates that this is the same type of player who will probably only be contented with huge ego-satisfying wins (or ego-deflating losses), and still remain largely unsatisfied with moderate, yet frequent profit.

Match-plays can and DO figure into many players game-plans, and in that vein, they are definitely worth the effort.

Even Stanford Wong Recommends Match-Plays

Most of you will recognize the name of Stanford Wong.  He’s the noted author who has written a dozen or so books about blackjack, casino tournament-play, and horse-racing.  His real name is John Ferguson, and I was tempted to say that he is a professional blackjack player, but unfortunately that would almost no longer be true.  While he still gets to play in a few casinos, he’s been banned in more casinos than he is still welcome at.  For those of you who still think that the casinos will never catch onto Precision-Shooting advantage-play, or that they won’t start barring players; you would do well to have a look at some of the discussion about it over on bj21.com, especially in the “Green Chip” section of his board.

Unfortunately, these days, Wong is mostly relegated to writing about the game instead of being able to play it at an advantage as often as he might wish.  Fortunately his ability to sell his writings about the “good old days” (before mass card-counter barrings and multiple disadvantageous rule changes) keeps his wallet full and his conscience somewhat clear.

In any event, Wong believes that with the steady elimination of opportunities for advantage-play BJ aficionados, some of the best revenue-prospects for blackjack players today may be in the special match-play and cash-incentive promotions that some casinos are offering.

Wong recently wrote:

"One of the best things now is all of the ‘freebies’ that the casinos are giving out.  Anybody that plays a lot of blackjack has got more than they need in the way of room and food comps, plus many casinos are sending out coupons that are valid for cash at the cage, or they’re sending out match-play offers that can be played at the tables just like cash.

There’s a lot of free money being given out to entice people to play. So part of the income for a professional player now, or even a regular player, is in these free cash and match-play offers. That wasn’t the case 20 or 30 years ago.   I recommend match-plays for any player who takes their winnings seriously."

Match-plays are one method that savvy players use to bulk up their winnings.  If gaining an advantage over the casino is the main reason you are at the tables in the first place (instead of being “entertained” by the thrill of the risk); then match-plays can play a significant role in augmenting your casino-earnings. 

For some players, match-plays will actually consistently move their plus/minus (win/loss) figures into positive profit-territory for the first time in their gaming adventures.  Now THAT is something to think about!

What’s It Worth?

We already know that match-plays provide roughly 49-cents of profit for every dollar/coupon played.  That equates to a ~$2.45 profit on a $5 m-p, and a ~$12.25 profit on a $25 m-p.  Not too bad, especially when you consider that they are giving them away for free.  Obviously, their hope is that you will stick around and LOSE much, much more than that initial advantage costs them, but there is nothing that says you HAVE TO.

Las Vegas Advisor recently “did the math” to determine the relative value of their Pocketbook of Values coupons that I mentioned in Part I of this series.  A random look at the results is quite interesting.

       For Gaughan’s Plaza (with it’s BJ m-p, $10 bonus hand for Paigow Poker, a keno coupon, entry into their daily slot tournament, a 99-cent breakfast buffet coupon, a $5-off lunch coupon, photo key ring, plus a coupon for 1000 slot points, the cash-value for the m-p, bonus and slot-point coupons is $20.73.  


       The LVA Poker Palace funbook voucher includes three low-buck BJ m-p’s, plus four free drinks, and a 50 burger coupon.  At first glance, the $4.22 cash value for the match-plays may not be very enticing, but for the budget-player; ANY positive value adds up to a better than 50/50 expectation of profit.

       Likewise, the Sahara coupon that gives you $50-for-your-$40 buy-in, and their matching $5 BJ-Ace, plus a free Sahara cap, yields an $11.93 advantage to any player who chooses to use those gaming coupons.

As far as WinCards are concerned, the calculation looks like this:

       You can purchase $15 of non-negotiable chips for $10 at each of the following casinos:  Aladdin, Boulder Station, Circus Circus (monthly), Excalibur (monthly), Fiesta Henderson, Four Queens, Santa Fe, Sunset Station, and Texas Station, to name a few. 

       On average, you will be ahead $4.82 each time you use the WinCard promotion.   In some cases, you can do it every day, while at others you are supposed to use it only once in a lifetime. 

       Of course, there are multiple ways for you to get around this once-in-a-lifetime restriction, and we covered that quite thoroughly in Part VII of this series.

Like I’ve said previously, there is a distinct and DEFINITE value to match-plays, along with the attendant advantage-plays like WinCards, Phantom Stays, selling discounts and freebies, subletting comps, coupon-swapping and swooping, purchasing discounted gaming chips, and using BJ-only m-p’s at the craps table.  

You aren’t going to get rich off of any single one of them; but anytime you can walk out of a casino with a dollar more than you walked in with…well…that is a VERY good thing!

Another Sampling of Opportunities

If you take a look at some of the ongoing casino offers, you’ll quickly realize that there are ample profit opportunities that can augment even mediocre dicesetting skills.  It is opportunities like this, which enable some marginally-profitable Precision-Shooters to move their game into the “steady earnings” category.  Here’s a couple that highlight what I’m talking about:

       Imperial Palace’s current promotion of twenty $5 match-play chips that you can wager at any table, in any amount up to the full $100, has a positive value of just over $49.   The only catch is that you have to do your buy-in at the casino-cage, and you have to buy a full $100 worth of real $5 chips, which they “match” with $100 worth of their own $5 match-play chips.  The prospect of nearly fifty bucks in quick profit CANNOT be ignored by savvy players.

       If you stay at Barbary Coast (on a comp or as a paying guest) you receive their coupon-sheet which currently includes two more free nights (in addition to your current stay), a dinner for two at Drai's (their excellent top-drawer restaurant/nightclub), plus breakfast and dinner for two in their Victorian Room restaurant.  To top it all off, you get $25 in non-negotiable (must-play) gaming chips, plus one-thousand in slot-points are loaded onto your Players Card, and you get a $5 Pai Gow match-play to boot.  Those “must-play” gaming chips can be used at the craps table for any bet, and if they win, the whole thing (the initial wager and the subsequent winnings) are paid off with “real” (regular) casino cheques.  It’s an excellent deal that can be garnered even if you only stay for ONE night.   Some savvy players alternate one-night stays at Imperial Palace (to get multiple shots at their $100 in match-play chips) and Barbary Coast (for this offer) on alternating nights during their entire Las Vegas vacation.  

       Terrible’s Hotel-Casino has semi-frequent car sales out in their parking lot.  If you take a test drive, you get a free buffet for two (or in some cases, a $10 match-play).  These are three-day sales, so three test-drives will garner you six free meals (or three m-p’s).  Again, for the value-minded player with a limited bankroll, these types of offers serve to extend and strengthen your bankroll (or at least your waistline).

From just this small sampling, you can quickly see why even guys like Stanford Wong are jumping on the Match-Play bandwagon.

From The “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” File

I met up with the Coupon-Rustler once again during my last two days on the Circuit.  We were enjoying free pizza out at Barleys Casino & Brewery, when he brought up the subject of advantage-play against break-in (new) dealers.  He stated that they were good targets in which to not only pass additional Match-Play coupons (beyond the stipulated daily limit), but also that their relative “weakness” in being new to the game could be exploited since they tend to make LOTS of mistakes. 

He opined that an astute player could go to El Cortez Casino-Hotel and play craps at an “advantage” based “strictly on the amount of mistakes that the dealers make in your favor”. 

Since the Coupon-Rustler only corrects a weak dealers error if the miscalculation goes against him, he intentionally makes “off-sized” bets and then quietly “helps” the new dealer with the calculation, especially on center-of-the-table Proposition bets.  In this way, he is able to engender more-than-perfect payoffs that are fueled by a few meager tokes and some “helpful” payoff advice. 

He said he found the best opportunities (wrong payouts in favor of the player) at the Gold Spike (for BJ and Roulette) and the Western (for BJ only), and at a growing number of major Strip casinos that have eliminated their craps-table boxmen, and reduced the number of Table-Game Supervisors.  He feels that this new trend in corporate cost-savings will actually generate many MORE advantage-PAY opportunities than his current “weak-dealer” gambit.

I’ve got to tell you that it was at that point that I fully realized the extent to which the Rustler would go, to gain a positive advantage over the house.  It was also the exact moment that I realized my slightly-more-honorable disposition was not cut out for a full-time spot on the Coupon-Circuit roster.  It was not only hurting my wallet (due to lower earnings than my Precision-Shooting), but it was also starting to hurt my conscience.

“If You Let Me Put it In, I Promise it Won’t Hurt

That’s the basic approach that the Coupon-Rustler uses while cruising the high-denomination slot areas of the mega Strip-hotels.

Here’s the scenario:

       We’ve all heard of the savvy players who obtain many extras Slot Cards (Players Cards) in their name.  We’ve also heard of those same people getting friends and family to use the one card so that more comps accrue to the one account as opposed to being diluted over several peoples accounts.

       We’ve also heard of a number of people who will put their card into unattended high-value slots or into Big Bertha (those LARGE $1 slot machines usually located near high-traffic entrance areas) in the hopes that points will rack up when a tourist comes along for some impulse play. 

       However, casino point-tracking computers usually “time-out” after a short period of inactivity, so an unattended card will not rack up any points when someone else begins play (it has to be re-inserted to “re-register” any activity at this point).  So obviously, the Coupon-Rustler and a few of his associates have to be much savvier than that. 

       Surprisingly, in the big Strip resorts, there are more people who play slots WITHOUT the use of a Slot Card than those who do.  The Coupon-Rustler will approach them and explain that he is close to winning some obscure “locals only” gift but he needs a few more slot points.  He’ll then ask if he can insert his card into their machine while they play.  To sweeten the deal, he’ll often offer some discount vouchers or coupons, all in exchange for them letting him put HIS card in THEIR high-denomination machine.

The reason it works in the big places and not in the smaller off-Strip ones is that: 

       Most off-Strip casinos are frequented by more knowledgeable locals who wouldn’t dream of putting one red cent into a machine before first inserting their own Players Card. 

       Most first-time LV visitors (who can afford to play at the $5 and higher denomination machines) are not even aware of how the whole nether-world comp game works. 

       In fact, most tourists are not even aware of what a “comp” is, however, to the Coupon-Rustlers chagrin, the Travel Channel is changing all of that. 

       Nevertheless, most people don’t think that their level of play would warrant a comp, and therefore many don’t use a card even if they have one. 

       On the other hand, people who stay at the smaller lower-budget hotels tend to be more in tune with the freebies that their low-stakes action can bring.

       There is never a shortage of drunk, young high-rollers at the Hardrock, Palms and Mandalay casinos who like the attention that their $5, $25, $100 and $500-machine play attracts.

       In the alternative, the same type of player will load up a $25 machine with $1000 or $2000 for their girlfriend while they go off to smoke a cigar at the BJ tables with their buddies.  The high-denomination areas are PRIME slot-point hunting territory for the Coupon-Rustler.

The other factor that plays right into his hand is that, as the major casino–corporations tighten their comp policy; more and more players understand that they are entitled to get less and less.  Therefore, many players are now less likely to go to the trouble of using their Players Card every time that they play.  The Rustler and the rest of his confrres take advantage of that new reality, and milk it for all its worth. 

If he can talk someone who’s playing max-coins on a $5, $25 or $100 slot-machine to allow him to use HIS card on THEIR play; his comps (and in most cases, his CASH-BACK) rises quickly and dramatically. 

Total cost to him? 

A few minutes of patient “cheering” directed towards his newest best friend.

When you look at the numbers, the cashback component alone becomes a mighty big incentive:

       At places like Aladdin, Bally's, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Excalibur, Flamingo, New York-New York, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, Monte Carlo, Paris, and Treasure Island, the cash-back is set a .67%.  That means for every $1000 fed through one of their slot machines, you’ll receive $6.70 in cash (on your Players Card account).  This is in addition to and on top of any comps that accrue to your account.

       At some other gaming-houses, the cashback percentage varies within that same narrow band.  For example, you’ll get back 0.5% at the Hard Rock and MonteLago (at the Ritz-Carlton), while Gold Club play at the Venetian garners .75%.  You’ll receive 1.11% from the Las Vegas Hilton, if you can convince a drunk conventioneer to let you use your card in any of the Hiltons high-buck machines.

       To put that into perspective, that means that a willing $5 full-coin slot player can earn you ~$80 PER HOUR for their kind generosity; so you can imagine how much even a few minutes of slot-mooching will generate (in cashback and comps) when he sidles up to a lonely had-a-few-too-many-Long-Island-Iced-Tea $100-machine matron.

       Now, I am NOT suggesting that you play slot machines ANYTIME or ANYWHERE.  Rather, based on the Coupon-Rustlers “If you let me out it in, I promise it won’t hurt” mandate; if you get to slip your Players Card into someone else’s machine, the cash-back can be OUTSTANDING, not to mention what it does in terms of building up your comps entitlement.

       If you add in the Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun, Double Your Cash-Back benefit of “double-points” days, then you’ll have little difficulty acknowledging the advantage of this particular type of play.

Let Me Sweeten That Deal

How about if I throw in a mug?” has got to be one of the Coupon-Rustlers favorite lines.  Armed with overflowing boxes of those freebie Aladdin and Riviera mugs, NYNY taxicab caps, and Hardrock shot-glasses that he keeps in the back of his SUV; he’ll use those items to “sweeten” some of the deals he makes with the never-ending stream of not-quite-as-knowledgeable tourists.  It shouldn’t really come as a surprise as to how attracted they are to the casino-logo trash and trinkets, but each trade and coupon-swap never fails to elicit a smile on the face of both the trader and tradee.

Just A Reminder…

There is a fairly active “coupon trade forum” over at Las Vegas On-Line (http://pub112.ezboard.com/flasvegastalkfrm3).  For those of you whom are thinking about increasing your access and use of match-plays; this spot might be a good place to start.

The End of My Coupon-Circuit Journey

The final two days of this adventure ended none too soon for me. 

I was exhausted from virtually non-stop running around from casino to casino in an effort to maximize the number of coupons redeemed.  At the end of seven day, I still had a pile that I hadn’t gotten around to cashing, simply because of the one-per-day restrictions, and the fact that I was just too darn tired to continue the ‘round the clock, “three-shifts-means-three-opportunities” method of redemption.

So how good was the idea of spending an entire week on the Match-Play Coupon Circuit?

Well, it was interesting, it was enlightening and it was profitable.

It was also a hellish grind.

On one hand, it generated ~$400 of profit per day, but that was gained through roughly 13+ hours of concerted mentally and physically taxing “work” per day.  When compared to my normal Precision-Shooting profit (and MUCH shorter days), it pales in comparison.  On the other hand, it is a valid and tangible method for aspiring PS’ers to supplement their current shooting income.

In any event, it opened my eyes to a whole sub-culture that I hadn’t previously seen a lot of in the quarter-decade that I’ve spent at the craps tables.  As enlightening as it was, I can tell you that I won’t be saddling up to play again on the Match-Play Coupon Circuit anytime soon.

Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.


The Mad Professor

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