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Last column on Harrah's

27 March 2006

The letters about Harrah's continue to pour in. Let me clear my inbox with one last mega-column devoted to Harrah's. I'll save my comments until the end.

I just want to comment on Harrah's casinos in Las Vegas. I worked the rewards center at the Flamingo when the takeover took place and I can tell you that Harrah's kept telling us that we should never say we were sorry about anything that happened with a customer complaint, that if we stated this we would be admitting we were wrong and we never wanted to own up to this as it might cost Harrah's money.

Needless to say, I am no longer there because great customer service is always saying you are sorry. I am now at the MGM and the customer is always right and we do say, "We are sorry. How can we help?"


Just a comment on Harrah's service.

We are Diamond members and have really enjoyed their amenities. We do not live in a state that has a Harrah's property but always try to play and/or stay at a property when we are near one. Once one understands their point system, it is quite easy to know what you have as far as tier points and reward credits for food, gifts, etc. They have frequently flown us free to Tahoe as well as Laughlin, and we have free nights to use all over the country.

Tight machines? We have found them everywhere. My belief is that some days you are just lucky and other days you are not — no matter what the percentage payout of the machine. I have had days when a machine wins continually and other days when that same machine will not pay a thing.

It also irks me when someone is playing more than one machine in the same bank because usually it happens on those machines that are quite popular and seem to pay better. I have done so myself, but I have no problem giving one up if someone else wants to play.

I would like to hear from others who also feel the way we do about Harrah's properties because we have met many in our travels that feel the way we do.


I really am surprised at the many complaints about Harrah's and especially the Rio.

A month ago I was in Las Vegas with my boyfriend, who was playing in a Texas Hold'em tournament. I played dollar slots at Harrah's and went to bed about 10 o'clock, woke up at 2 a.m. and decided to shower, get dressed and take a taxi to the Rio. I sat down, lost about 300 dollars at my favorite machine and kept on looking for a cocktail waitress to get a cup of coffee, no luck, I pushed the red button and within a couple of minutes had a supervisor there. I voiced my request, about 5 minutes later my coffee was there and about 5 minutes after that, the supervisor was back to make sure I had my coffee.

Is that bad service? No.

As far as machines being tight, I have found that lately in all sorts of casinos and blame it on Katrina and Rita.

Had to put in a good word for my favorite casinos.


Maybe people that don't like Harrah's should try some good old Midwestern hospitality.

My wife and I really enjoy Harrah's Bluff's Run Casino in Council Bluffs, IA. Their new casino is very nice. The slots have always been generous to us. As far as Total Rewards, one night about 2 a.m. the hostess at the Rewards Center explained things in so much detail, I could not believe it.

Come to the Midwest. They love you here.


Just returned from Harveys in Lake Tahoe Every employee was great. Meals quite delicious.

The paybacks: 172 people on our Harrah's sponsored junket, 42 were at Harveys, the others were at Harrah's Reno. Only two people expressed they were flying home to the good.

Boyd/Coast casinos are looking better and better.

Hi, John,

I have read your column for many months and always look forward to it. As to your readers comments about Harrah's, I have not had better service anywhere!

I typically visit Harrah's Las Vegas and Rio and everyone is so nice and their hand pays are very quick. While I have had my share of quiet machines, I simply go to one of their other properties and things seem to change.

I like being able to accumulate points at many different properties within the same area.

I am sorry to hear some of your customers' comments. We have visited many different Harrah's properties in many different states and have found them all to be very friendly and enjoyable, although we realize you can't win every time.

Keep the enjoyable and informative coming,


I enjoy your column and find it to be a help.

As for the recent letters on Harrah's service that were posted in your column, please allow me to relate my sad tale.

After being a Diamond card holder from the very beginning when it was just a gold card with a silver star on it. I played mostly in Atlantic City, never having a problem it was full comp all the way, including suites and meals. Now I might add that I don't consider myself a high roller, I play mostly dollar and five-dollar slots. My play must have been enough that my host bombarded me with offers.

My problems started when I had some serious health problems several years ago. I was then unable to make the number of trips every year that I had previously. I did however play the same or more each day I was there, the only difference being I simply could no longer make the same number of trips.

My yearly point total dropped along with the offers. I have had free rooms in Reno and Las Vegas since then, and comped air to Reno in the last year. It just bugs me that I no longer get the Total Rewards benefits that I had as a Diamond card holder, even though I am still spending the same amount per stay.

It looks like Harrah's has outgrown me. I will miss them.

Thank you,

Dear John:

I recently booked a two-night complimentary stay at Caesar's AC and asked if I could have a "casino rate" for another couple I was going to bring along who had never been to Atlantic City. In the past years I had done this several times and it made for a nice two-day vacation that also introduced people to Atlantic City and gaming.

This time however I was told by the VIP rep that Caesar's no longer has a "casino rate" since Harrah's took over and that they could only offer me the rack rate, which was extremely steep for mid-week February.

We ended up canceling our reservation and went instead to dinner and a show in NYC.

Harrah's better wise up fast because their bubble is about ready to burst.


Living in New Jersey, hitting Vegas is difficult, and we are stuck with Atlantic City.

Harrah's is the best Atlantic City value, as we get two free nights almost every month, for minimal (less than $100 each) play. We also get free parking, a mighty big small perk. I don't mind spending a few hundred dollars on gambling, food, and entertainment. I hate spending $5 parking for the privilege of giving a casino my money.

Thanks for letting me vent and express.

No questions, John, just some positive comments about Harrah's.

We play regularly at Harrah's and Showboat in AC. We have continually been treated very well with rooms and other comps. We even got two nights free in New Orleans (pre-Katrina). Their employee service has not diminished.

Jack & Barb

Hi, John,

Just wanted to tell you about my treatment at Harrah's. Last year in July, I received a two-night comp for my birthday. I also had my regular monthly two-night comp, so I asked if I could use these comps in conjunction with each other. The young lady said, "No problem." As we were going to stay 5 nights, I asked her what it would cost for the last night, a Friday night. All she said was "Happy birthday, we'll take care of it." I have stayed here every birthday for the last 6 years and they have never failed to comp my room.

I get comp offers from a lot of other casinos in Las Vegas, but Harrah's and the Rio are considered my home. Now that the Flamingo, Caesars, etc. are part of the Harrah's family. I hope to try them all.

I've never run into a problem with anyone who works at Harrah's, always friendly and smiling. Maybe that's because we don't expect the world just because we are doing something we enjoy. Lighten up people, have fun and don't little inconveniences ruin your trip.


About Harrah's...

Have read several of your columns and I, too, have a gripe, although not as bad as those of other folks you published.

My gripe is that at every casino Harrah's has taken over the slot system has changed and not for the better.

In a "normal" casino, if you are playing on a quarter machine and it takes 20 quarters to make a point, should you stop playing at 10 quarters and move to another machine, the countdown on the new machine starts at 10. Not Harrah's properties . . . not Biloxi, not Tunica and not Las Vegas. There, if you don't play the full 20 quarters per machine, you have no chance at making a point. So it is play $5 or get nothing even if your machine is as cold as ice.

So, I'll just forgo slot play and spend my time at the tables while playing at Harrah's properties until things [hopefully] change.

On the upside of the consolidation of the Harrah's computer systems is now when I need a free room in Las Vegas or Tunica, I get a choice of their properties (per the mail offer). If my first choice is booked (seems they only have a set number of rooms available per promo code) I can at least try for another as the offer for free rooms is good across almost all their properties per geographical location. And the reservation clerk can check availability of the properties and book you without your having to make multiple calls. That's nice.

Sorry, John,

I ramble when I am a little angry about something.

Just to explain the things that don't add up — my husband used to play for years about $2,000 two or three times a month at Harrah's. We finally quit going to Harrah's and now go to the Grand about every two months and spend about $3,000 between us. I mean that is the average that we lose. Sometimes we will come out about even, but mostly we go there for him to play cards and me to sit somewhere with no phones, no windows and pure relaxation.

I am not upset that we don't win every time. I know you go to enjoy yourself. I love to win — but this is sort of mini-vacations for us. We can afford to do it because at the Grand, we do not have to pay for the rooms for two nights and we have never had to pay for a meal and they send us enough free slot play to more than compensate for the gas we use to get down there and back.

The Total Rewards program charges about twelve or thirteen thousand points to stay in their hotel. It cost 1200 points to eat at the buffet. When we stay at the Grand, my husband just asks for a comp for the meals and has always received it. The last time he went to Harrah's, they said he did not have enough comp points saved up for a meal and he had just lost about $1,600 playing blackjack within eight hours. I just hate that they are going to install this system at The Grand.

Thanks for listening.


Hi, John,

Just to put in my two cents on the Harrah's debate.

I live on the South Side of Chicago and over the last 10 years have gone to all the casino properties in Illinois and N.W. Indiana owned by Harrah's three to four times a year. Also all the other casinos not owned by Harrah's with the same frequency.

It's my opinion, along with most of my gambling friends, that the worst paybacks, the worst customer service and the worst reward system were at ANY HARRAH'S PROPERTY that you happened to be at.

I also go to Las Vegas three to four times a year and have seen the Harrah's go from one of my favorite casinos to one I don't even go to anymore, or at least not to gamble.

Just one guy's opinion.


Dear John,

My husband and I live in Las Vegas and always played at Caesars and Luxor. They both had liberal comp programs and recognized the local and their importance to their business. Harrah's and MGM never did. Well, they now own these casinos and my husband and I will no longer be going to their venues. The comps are almost nonexistent and no cash back whatever. I guess they will only get the message when business drops. I listen to people from California every week and they tell me how the Indian casinos are looking better all the time.

Las Vegas better wake up before it is too late.



I read all the comments that were written about Harrah's. I can't judge Harrah's on what someone else experienced.

But I can say this. I am a Diamond player and I love all the slots. The ones I love most are the nickel machines. I win good on them. On a bad night, I can win $200 or $300 on the nickel machines with a $20 to $40 investment.

In addition to winning, Harrahs' gives me a free room. Plus money to play with and a discount on my food, free valet parking and courtesy that's out of this world. I don't have to spend a thousand dollars in order to be treated nice by the folks there at Harrah's Cherokee Casino. I have also been to Vegas eight times and New Orleans numerous times. I always visit Harrah's. They aren't as great as N.C. Harrah's, but they are still really nice. I will continue to patronize Harrah's as long as they are there.

As for the comps on the meals, I give the cashier my card at the time I go to the buffet and whatever comps I have are applied to the cost. Then I pay the balance. If I've played enough, then my meal is free. Fair enough.


No question, just a comment.

I am a Diamond Card holder at Harrah's. My wife and I go on three vacations a year. When we travel, we save hundreds of dollars because of Harrah's.

I can carefully plot our trip so that we stay (for free) in a Harrah's almost every night. Plus, between free food at the Diamond lounge, comped buffets at many places, and the comp points I have amassed, our vacation food budget is cut considerably.

Furthermore, my home casino was Lake Charles, LA. Due to Hurricane Rita, the casino was destroyed. As a result, I was only able to gather about 8,900 of the required 10,000 points to maintain my Diamond status. Harrah's, however, realized this was through no fault of my own and renewed my status anyway.

My view on the merger is that it provides me with more free rooms when we travel.


As many readers pointed out, one of the biggest benefits of the consolidation in the casino business is being to play at one casino and use the comps you earned at another.

Rich says that benefits have decreased because he is no longer able to make as many trips per year as he used to. Unfortunately, that's the way things go. How much you play per stay and how many times you visit both go into the formula the casinos use to figure out how valuable a player you are.

As for whether the Harrah's slot club counts every coin played or requires you to complete a point or forfeit it, I'd be surprised if Harrah's system did not count every coin. Fortunately, almost every slot club has abandoned this silly policy of requiring players to complete a countdown to earn a point. And just because the countdown may reset when you switch machines, that doesn't necessarily mean that every coin isn't counted. Not all slot club software provides a "following countdown."

Finally, many readers complained about the level of comps they earned for how much they lost. Keep in mind that usual comp formula is based on the amount of action you give, not on your actual loss. Let's compare two players. They both put $100 in a dollar video poker machine. Player A can't catch a break. He plays 25 hands and goes bust. His total action is $125.

Player B is on a hot streak. He hits right and left and plays for an hour on his $100 buy-in, but he too goes bust. Let's say he played 300 hands. His total action is $1,500.

Both players lost the same amount of money, but Player B gave over 10 times as much action as Player A and he's seen as the more valuable player in terms of the comp formula.

The same thing can happen, of course, with much larger numbers. In the old days, hosts had the "power of the pen" and could take into account how much players lost when issuing comps. But that requires taking a personal interest in the player, something we haven't been able to program into a computer or express in a formula.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't send a reply to every question. Also be advised that it may take several months for your question to appear in my column.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots