John Grochowski, Casino Answer Man

Q. In 9-5 Double Double Bonus Poker with a three-way progressive on the royal, four Aces with kicker and four Aces, no kicker, I was dealt Ace-2-3-4 of clubs and the Ace of diamonds. I know the play is the four-card straight flush in a non-progressive game, but if the Ace progressives get big enough, would you ever just hold the Aces?

A. There are turning points where holding the Aces becomes better play, but it’s an interaction of the two Ace jackpots. That’s very difficult to evaluate.

If the only progressive taken into account was the jackpot on four Aces plus kicker, the turning point is a jackpot of 6,280 coins instead of the starting point of 2,000. At that level, the average return per five coins wagered is 11.9149 coins regardless of whether you hold Ace-2-3-4 or the two Aces plus one of the low kicker cards. You’re not likely ever to see a progressive that large, but if you do, the proper play is to hold a kicker along with the Aces from that turning point onward.

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If the Aces-plus-kicker pot was constant at 2,000 coins, but there was a progressive on four Aces, no kicker, starting at the rollover of an 800-coin payout, the turning point is 1,923 coins. When four Aces, no kicker, pay that amount, the average return for holding Ace-Ace is 11.9160 coins, nudging past holding Ace-2-3-4, at 11.9149.

But both jackpots increase simultaneously. Let’s say four Aces, no kicker, pays 1,200 coins, a 50 percent increase from the usual 800-coin pay. How big does the Aces plus kicker pay have to be for a strategy change? The turning point is 4,890 coins. If four Aces pays 1,200 coins and four Aces with a kicker pays 4,890, the average return per five coins play is 11.9149 coins regardless of whether you hold suited Ace-2-3-4 or Ace-Ace.

If four Aces are worth less than 1,200, it will take a bigger Aces-kicker jackpot to bring a turning point, and if the Aces alone are worth more, a somewhat smaller Aces-kicker prize will turn the strategy around. But one or both jackpots will have to be at a level much higher than you usually see in the casino. As a practical matter, holding the four parts of a straight flush is almost always the way to go.

Q. I was talking with a guy who was my host for a long time. He’s out of the business now, but I told him my current comp offers weren’t quite what some of my colleagues were getting with about the same play. He suggested that the others might be spending more away from the casino, eating in higher end restaurants or going to the spa. I’d never given any of that a thought. I’m there to play. Does that really make a difference?

A. With ever more sophisticated player tracking systems, there has been an emphasis in recent years on total customer value. Not every casino operator bases comps and bounce-back offers on the customer’s spending total, but it’s a growing trend.

Those with the most sophisticated systems are not only tracking what you spend in the hotel, restaurants, spas and other amenities as well as your casino play, they’re using predictive analytics to spot customers who might be induced to spend their time and money in ways that increase the operator’s profits.

I spoke with a maker of data warehousing and analytic solutions who said, “You’re tracking not just worth, but behaviors. That starts to build the profile of what a customer is. And when you’re looking at it, especially in real time, your goal is to kind of modify those behaviors while they’re taking place. Maybe you want to transition someone from a less profitable channel to a more profitable channel, knowing what their behaviors are, knowing whether they have an inclination to go to your shows or to your spas. That type of information is critical in delivering a message or an offer that’s going to resonate.”

It’s a huge change from the days when non-casino amenities were regarded as support services and loss-leaders, with profits to be made on the games.

That’s a long, roundabout way of saying yes, it is possible that your colleagues are getting better offers because they spend more on non-gaming amenities.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.

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