By Jean Scott
(Editor’s Note – Jean Scott is the author of several gambling books and also writes a gambling blog about Las Vegas. This story was originally written by her in 2002 and it chronicles the results of video poker play for her and her husband, Brad for one three-month period.)
Most people are surprised when they find out that it is possible to make money gambling in a casino. “How do you do it?”
I reply that it isn’t easy – that it takes continual study, strong motivation, and organized effort. It is hard work – but ‘work” that is fun for us! Because many still don’t understand and they want more details, I am submitting to you a piece of our gambling log, the figures for one fairly typical 3-month period. Every quarter is different, with the numbers varying considerably, but this one should shed a little light on the various elements that help make a successful gambler. (Minus figures are in parentheses)
1. Brad’s VP hours 240
2. Jean’s VP hours 77
3. Video poker results ($7,992)
4. Royals 11
5. Video poker tips ($285)
6. Slot club cashback $6,590
7. Bounce-back cash $4,153
8. Sports betting ($300)
9. Cruise gambling $259
10. Couponing $564
11. Slots $20
12. Drawing $2000
13. Net Profit $5,009
Here’s the story behind the figures.
1. +2. VIDEO POKER HOURS. We were out of town for 9 days during this period, vacationing in Florida and hosting the Frugal Gambler cruise. Of the 81 days we were home in Las Vegas, Brad played video poker on 66 of them, an average of 3.6 hours a day, although he had many much longer and shorter sessions. I didn’t play nearly as much as I usually do, because I was working long hours to finish up Frugal the Second; however, because of ongoing writing projects, I regularly play only about half the hours Brad does. This hour figure is a best estimate and refers to time actually playing video poker — the clock isn’t running when we stop playing to talk with friends (for me that’s often a large chunk of time) or are eating or seeing shows or going to a movie in the casino. Most people are surprised that we play so little even though we live in Las Vegas now. We blame it on a busy schedule and old age!
3. VIDEO POKER RESULTS. This quarter’s minus figure reflects the fact that we’re often playing video poker that’s below 100%, i.e. Jacks or Better at 99.5% or Not-So-Ugly-Deuces at 99.7%, depending on promotions and slot club cash benefits to make it a positive play. However, even if we always played 100%+ VP (like we did most of the time when we were only quarter players and chose full-pay Deuces Wild at a high 100.7%), because of the volatility of video poker, the actual return in any three-month period can be negative. It takes MUCH longer than that for us to get even close to our expected positive theoretical return, although we are quite close to it when we look at our last five years, during which we have been playing primarily at dollar and above denominations.
4. ROYALS. Even throwing out one royal because Brad got two in one play on a multi-line game, 10 royals is higher than one would expect in this amount of play. The long-term average is roughly one per 80 hours and we got one for about every 32 hours played. So why didn’t we win, with all those extra royals? I’ll tell you why — Murphy’s Law! We play a variety of denominations and we got those royals more often on the quarter and dollar multi-line machines, while we only snagged one for $8,000 on the $2 single-line game that we play most often. It will all balance out in the dim future, but in the meantime, it makes our line graphs look like a heart-stopping roller coaster.
5. VIDEO POKER TIPS. This is an expense that most regular players consider a necessary evil. We work so hard to pull out a gambling win that we wish the casinos paid their employees well enough so that tipping wasn’t expected. Are those employees ready to chip in some cash for us when we’re in those inevitable losing streaks? But like it or not, we always tip — usually $10 for a $1,000 royal and $30-$50 if it’s for $8,000. This figure doesn’t include tips for non-video poker service, such as drinks at the machines and meals.
6. SLOT CLUB CASHBACK. This is good old Mr. Dependable. Win or lose, this figure is always positive — and slowly but surely it mounts up to unbelievably large amounts, especially since we’re fervent fans of bonus-point promotions. Double points make us very happy; triple points or higher gets us giddy with ecstasy.
7. BOUNCE-BACK CASH. These benefits, which come in the mail, are becoming as important to us as regular slot club cashback, as you can see by the similar figures. This money may come in addition to cashback from some casinos, or instead of cashback in others. But the large amount we reaped shows that the sometimes-extreme efforts to learn the system and work to qualify are worth the time we spend.
8. SPORTS BETTING. Thank goodness football season is over. Brad loves to relax and watch a game he has some money on, and even I, the non-sporty gal, get excited toward the end of a close game. But this is definitely an entertainment expense for us, not a positive-expectation gambling endeavor on our part.
9. CRUISE GAMBLING. Playing in a cruise ship casino, where we rarely find positive-expectation games of any kind, is usually pure entertainment for us. However, we enjoy playing some low-level $5-$10 blackjack (when I’m not seasick). We set a modest loss-limit and often are surprised when we can pull out a win like we did in February.
10. COUPONING. We don’t coupon as much as we used to, but even the occasional pursuit of $25 matchplays produces a nice boost to our gambling bankroll.
11. SLOTS. Once in awhile we forget about all the math considerations of negative and positive expectation that occupy our brains most of the time – and play nickel video slots when we “just want to have fun.” And surprising ourselves, we sometimes do win.
12. DRAWINGS. We enter as many as are convenient and we have time for. And once in awhile we hit paydirt!
13. NET PROFIT. It’s the bottom line that’s most important to us. We don’t have a plus bottom line every week or every month or even every quarter. Gambling is not a smooth road on a flat plain; it’s a bumpy road that travels through endless valleys, slowly climbs to the top of high mountains, then drops back down suddenly on the other side.
Although that’s the end of the story the dollar figures tell, it’s not the end of our whole gambling tale. Comps, for example, are not included in the above list – we consider them “gravy.” We get so many that they’re almost impossible to keep track of, and we end up able to use only a part of them, giving many of them away or letting them expire when we run out of time. Furthermore, some have definite tangible value, but that would have to be estimated. Others are valuable to us, but have only an intangible worth.
The fact is, we’d never have to spend a penny on food in Las Vegas if we chose to eat every bite in a casino. However, that’s too much bother, so we have a small grocery bill each week for cereal, Atkins milkshakes, and snacks. We usually have our main meal of the day in a casino, whether we crave a big fat cheeseburger in a deli, the wide choice of a buffet, or a fancy multi-course gourmet-room blowout. We can treat friends and family to a meal anytime we want — and get them a free room too.
We could go to a dozen or more shows a month, but we give most of those free tickets away. The casinos give us so many gifts our garage barely has a path through it, much less a vehicle in it. And just when we think we’ll have to spend some of our pensions on clothes, or gas and a oil change, or cosmetics and toiletries, or household supplies and repairs, some casino offers us the opportunity to earn gift cards or certificates to Home Depot, Walmart, Macy’s, Walgreens, or a local service station.
The real bottom line is that we’re living our dream for next to nothing.
Jean Scott is one of the country’s most renowned and successful gamblers and has appeared on many TV shows, including 48 Hours, where Dan Rather gave her the nickname of Queen of Comps. Her first book, The Frugal Gambler, has been a best-seller for nine years. She also wrote a sequel, More Frugal Gambling, and a tax guide for gamblers. She provides a complete resource package for video poker players, from beginners to the experienced: the Frugal VP software program which goes with her book, Frugal Video Poker, and the must-have Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide. Her Web site is www.queenofcomps.com