A friend, Jake Jacobs, posted in passing on a Facebook page recently that he’d been active in car rallyes in the Chicago area way back when. Some of them were time-speed-distance events where you were timed and crossing a checkpoint 30 seconds early was as bad as 30 seconds late — but both were better than 40 seconds either way.
The other type of rallye was called a gimmick rallye, where time was not a factor, although you had to finish by such-and-such a time because that’s when awards were passed out. You were scored on the basis of your answers to questions, such as, “What is the name of the first street you pass on the right?” or, “How many streetlights do you pass between xxx and yyy?” There was always some sort of trick in the rules leading many participants to get the wrong answer.
I participated in very similar rallyes in Southern California. How they got from Chicago to Los Angeles (or went the other way), I don’t know. Why am I talking about these rallyes today? Because doing well on these rallyes required scouring and deciphering the Rallye Rules (sometimes called General Instructions, or something similar), and identifying what was unusual about them.
Today, when I read rules for promotions, I look at them with the same eyes. Often the person in charge of creating the rules “borrows” the rules from a similar (or not so similar) past promotion and makes changes where he thinks it necessary — but doesn’t realize everything that should be changed, or why a particular phrasing opens up an entire new avenue for players exploiting this promotion.
For example, in gimmick car rallyes, assume that STOP indicates a regular octagonal stop sign. Simple enough. But consider:
1. Does it have to be controlling you? That is, if an octagonal sign is on a side street, controlling traffic on that street, is it still a STOP according to the rules?
2. Same as before, except possibly the side street has been excluded (perhaps it’s an unpaved or private road — perhaps it’s on the left and only side streets on the right count — perhaps there’s no name on the side street and only named streets count — perhaps the street name has been excluded for one reason or another — whatever.)
3. Sometimes STOP might be defined to be the intersection rather than the sign, so the instruction to turn right after STOP puts you on a different street if you turn after the sign rather than if you turn after the intersection. A question (perhaps, “What is the name of the first xxx you come to?”) will be devised to determine what street you are on.
4. Sometimes there are priorities of rules, and the Rallye Rules define a STOP in one way, but the Special Notes (or whatever they are called this time) include something that overrides the Rallye Rules.
This list isn’t meant to be all-inclusive, but you probably get the idea. So how does this relate to casino promotions?
Starting and ending times are important. At one casino, a big point multiplier was in effect during the casino day, 3:00 a.m. through 2:59 a.m. the following day, but another promotion took effect at midnight. That gave you three hours of double dipping if you caught it and were willing to argue with the booth that the rules didn’t say what they thought they said. Most players didn’t. Most players don’t study the rules, or don’t study them with an eye towards finding mistakes. And I had to pick my spot carefully because after I took advantage of this double dipping once, it would go away.
Another example was at a casino where slots often have a 12x multiplier, but video poker never exceeds 2x points. This can make sense if their slots are really, really tight, and even with 12x points, at 0.30% per point, the house has a huge edge. But one promotion just said 12x points, without clarifying slot machines only. Smart players took cell phone pictures of the rules in case the casino wanted to deny the wording later, and then played like hell during the promotion. When it was over, they went up to the club booth and demanded their 12x points on video poker. Different executives got involved, and people got fired, but the wording was honored. In one such case, the wording was honored but the players who took advantage of it were kicked out.
Another example was “all royal flushes for maximum coins quarters and higher” receive a $1,000 bonus during such and such a time period. The casino intended natural royal flushes only, but savvy players argued (after they hit one) that a “royal flush with deuce(s)” would qualify because it said, “all royal flushes.” They were paid and the rules were changed.
In the early days of Triple Play, promotions weren’t explicit about differentiating between lines played and games. So, a “15-coin jackpot” could be a dealt pair of jacks, which gave you five coins for each of the three lines.
A casino-wide jackpot where all machines being played are equally eligible had players playing five separate machines, one penny at a time. One of them won, and thereafter the rules were changed to state that to be eligible, players must have $1
in coin-in in their machine the minute prior to the drawing.
Players with a clue never asked for clarification before the promotion. If they did, the casino managers would realize their mistake and fix it before it could be exploited.
My training in being a contestant or a rallyemaster in gimmick rallyes prepared me for exploiting these kinds of things. Someone who studied law, or perhaps computer programming, would be better at figuring these things out than somebody who majored in something that didn’t require such precise differentiation.
While I’m not directly using my degrees in Economics to play video poker, the way of thinking, the study of probability and statistics, and the willingness to study hard all matter. My study of other gambling games has helped as well. Each of you have to mine your past to figure out what you have done previously that will help you today. And if you don’t have a resume that helps, you need to work harder to compete. It’s never too late to begin studying.
When I find something like the difference between a promotion starting at midnight or at 3 a.m., I do not worry, “What about the people who don’t have the experience or study habits to figure this stuff out?” In a casino, I’m out for number one. I may write about such a promotion after it’s already dead and gone, which can be useful to others because promotions do sometimes repeat, but in real time I’m not worried about you. You’re on your own.