Coupons and Comps for Low Rollers
Courtesy of ET Fan:
Comp Secrets for Low RollersBy Dog-Ass Johnny
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XI #4, December 1991)
© Blackjack Forum 1991
[Editor's Note: How can it be that years after Dog-Ass Johnnyís untimely demise, Blackjack Forum continues to publish articles by him? Letís just say we have a backlog of his one time "works in progress" which we will continue to decipher and edit as the need arises.
There are many reasons, to be sure, why Dog-Ass Johnnyís writing should never be published. And certainly not at Christmas time. Dog-Ass Johnny was noted for his bad attitude. His grating personality endeared him to few. But he was the only person I ever met who literally made his living playing coupons.
He once told me that he had valid I.D. for forty different states. I donít know if that was true. He also told me he hadnít worked an honest job since 1967. I believe that. He felt that casinos were built to provide free food, free drinks, and free money to the unemployed. "Working," he used to say, "is un-American. It conflicts with the pursuit of happiness." Or something like that.
So, despite the inevitable letters of complaint I get any time I publish anything with Dog-Assís name on it, I feel that this is an article that I have an obligation to publish. In these hard economic times, the wisdom of Dog-Ass Johnny just might help one of Blackjack Forumís less fortunate subscribers to put a little food on his table. This article is my gift to my homeless readers. Remember, when the chips are down, the spirit of Dog-Ass Johnny is there for you, a shining light of hope for the wretched. --Arnold Snyder]
Say hello to Bill and Fred, a couple of low-rollers whoíve quit their jobs at the boiler factory to become professional gamblers. Bill is a card counter. Heís not a bad player, but heíll probably never be able to earn a living at the tables—counting errors, preferential shuffling, and sitting through too many negative decks all grind him down. Fred plays video poker; he makes errors too, and when he has trouble finding big jackpots, he plays anyway.
It seems clear that Bill and Fred arenít going to strike it rich as pro gamblers, yet the hapless duo just canít bring themselves to give up their dreams—the lure of living off the casinos is too strong. Mediocre gamblers, unwilling to work, without discernible moral qualities, Bill and Fred are well-positioned for the big move up to Coupons.
You Can Live on Coupons
If Bill and Fred had spent last summer doing coupons in Lake Tahoe (one of Nevadaís least profitable coupon venues), they could have averaged about $50 a day each with a lot less effort than they put into their gambling.
Thatís $350 a week tax free, plus complete personal freedom: Instead of inhaling asbestos fibers at the plant, Bill and Fred would get to enjoy the beautiful lakes and mountains. Theyíd lounge around in the sports books, watching five ball games at once while sucking down free casino alcohol. Theyíd dine on all-you-can-eat buffets at great prices, pocketing extra portions for later to keep those food bills down. And, of course, theyíd be a big hit with the ladies, because nothing attracts a beautiful woman like a guy with a fistful of lucky bucks.
You might even say that coupons turn every casino in the world into your private bank account. Granted, you can only withdraw a dollar or two at a time from these private bank accounts, but you can make up for that by visiting the bank a lot. Thatís what this article is about.
Do not think of Dog-Ass Johnny as a couponomist. Couponomists are yuppie intellectualizers. A little book-learning is fine, but the essential romance of coupon redemption completely eludes these people. They are all talk and no action.
Can they calculate the exact expectation of any casino promotion you show them, right down to the last tenth of a cent? Absolutely. Do they really bet their lucky bucks at the tables, do they actually eat coupon food? Maybe. Will you find them shaking down frightened tourists for their coupons, or dredging discarded fun books from the unspeakable sludge of snot and vomit at the bottom of some municipal garbage can? I donít think so.
No, couponomists are too good for that. After a hard day at the calculator, they just want to relax with their trendy foreign beers, maybe catch that new Elvis tribute at the Trop. They even have regular jobs! Couponomist Peter Griffin is a mathematics professor; couponomist Anthony Curtis is a publisher. Itís hard to believe what some people will do for a dollar.
Well, to hell with these raised-pinky dilettantes and their distorted values. Dog-Ass Johnny lives in his car and has a chronic cough. Dog-Ass Johnny drinks generic beer, and the only dinner show he ever catches is watching the other derelicts gum their free meals at the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission (Rev. Howard Cannon, Pastor).
However, despite these obvious disadvantages, Dog-Ass Johnny doesnít need a calculator to tell him when a promotion is worth cashing in on, and neither do you. To succeed in the redemption biz—really succeed, on the streets and not just on paper—what you need to do is get your hands dirty. Dog-Ass Johnny wants to help you get started.
Obtaining The Vouchers
The first thing you have to do is collect a lot of vouchers. Vouchers are the coupons you get at motels. You canít play them at the tables; instead, you turn them in at some special casino location, usually called the Fun Center, for coupon booklets that contain lucky bucks, food discounts, and the like.
Having plenty of vouchers is the basis of your life as a coupoñero, and the search for them should underlie everything else you do. Vouchers transform you from a bum hustling lucky bucks into a businessman, continually liquidating and replenishing his inventory. When good vouchers become scarce, as they inevitably will, you mustnít give up. Work harder! Never doubt that the coupons are out there; all you have to do is lower your standards to the point where you can get them. Here are a few of the methods Dog-Ass Johnny uses.
As a professional casino chiseler, youíll be patrolling the casinos constantly, looking for careless dealers, big jackpots, and money left in slot trays. As you walk around, grab everything that might have value; you can sort it out later. Learn the size and color of every voucher and lucky buck in town, so you can recognize them anywhere. Inside the casinos, those big sand-filled ash trays are always a good source; outdoors, try the streets around coupon-dispensing casinos, motel dumpsters, and municipal trash barrels. More on these later.
Sometimes you can get other blackjack players to give you their lucky bucks, especially if youíve already been conversing with them at the table. When the guy next to you pulls out his coupon booklet, express intense interest in it. Act as though youíve never seen such a thing before. Appear to accord him status and importance because he possesses it. When he plays his first lucky buck, watch the hand as though hypnotized. Then, affecting a wistful tone, say something like "Gee, that looks like fun. Sure wish I had one."
Now youíve turned the gift of a lucky buck into the means by which he can confirm his own personal worth. Your benefactor feels good about himself as he guides you through the mysteries of playing lucky bucks. You feel good too, as you rake in the free dough.
Ask for Coupons
Many casinos will give you their coupon booklet if you ask for one. If the casino handles its giveaways at a place like the hotel desk or cashierís cage, ask there. Avoid special redemption centers, where you need to limit your exposure.
Once you find the right place to ask, tell them youíve just arrived in town with your whole family for a two-week stay, and you want to be sure to cash in on every freebie the casino has to offer. Unless you look like a professional coupon sleazeball, theyíll usually load you right up. Of course, you canít do this every day, so save it for periodically checking what each casino is giving out. That way, youíll always know what to look for on the street.
Hang Around the Players Club or Fun Center
The pickings are always good around the area where the casino gives out their fun books. Not only is there a large amount of material available, but you get the actual lucky bucks instead of just the vouchers. Lurk nearby when conditions are busy; grab any discarded coupons as quickly as you can without appearing unseemly, because thereís always a lot of competition in these locations. Even amateurs know enough to pick up lucky bucks.
Platform the Trash Barrels
A lot of coupons and vouchers end up in the municipal trash barrels on the streets outside the casinos. You absolutely must maximize this rich and valuable source if you are to succeed. Unfortunately, image-obsessed casino towns have taken to emptying their barrels with such alarming frequency that the garbage rarely has a chance to accumulate. Instead of piling up in easily collectible mounds around the rim, the coupons fall to the bottom of the barrel, where they tend to degrade rapidly (and where you canít reach them without an embarrassing head-first plunge). Platforming is the answer.
What you do is simple. First, identify the most profitable locations and observe their maintenance schedule. Then, just after the sanitation workers empty the barrels, you stuff them full again, with those promotional newspapers most casinos leave lying around. You donít need to waste time and paper by filling the whole barrel; just wad up a good firm plug of Nevada Nite Life or Sports Form or Showroom Superstars and wedge it tightly into the containerís mouth. Now youíve created a sturdy platform atop the otherwise empty barrel. Dress it up a little with some candy wrappers, a crumpled cigarette pack or two, and your private coupon collection center is ready to go.
Return later to sort through the now-accessible trash for vouchers and lucky bucks. If you want to avoid looking like a bum, act like youíre trying to throw something away that doesnít quite want to go down (because of your platform, probably); meanwhile, mix the garbage around with a rolled-up newspaper, scanning for the good stuff. When youíre finished, push your platform into the barrel and brush most of the trash down after it, so as not to alert the sanitation workers (who, if youíve timed your collection properly, will be along any minute). Wait until they leave, then put a new platform in place and move on to the next barrel.
If the idea of flagrantly subverting municipal policies upsets you, well, you might not have what it takes to live wild and free like Dog-Ass Johnny. But donít despair; you can still enjoy the platforming experience with soft platforming. Instead of plugging the opening with a carefully wrought wad of newsprint, you just cover it up with a newspaper. Most people will still drop their trash on top of the pile where you can get at it.
Compulsively neat types and people with bottles or cups of liquid will reduce your profits, true, but in return, you get reduced effort and reduced detectability: you can apply the newspaper quickly and casually, plus you leave no concrete evidence of your intentions behind. And, whether plugging or covering, donít worry about the paper falling in; the mouths of public trash barrels are always unnaturally small, because the municipal agencies that maintain them want to discourage potential depositors from the industrial and household sectors. Another big advantage for the alert coupoñero.
Visit the Dump
Platforming is an advanced technique that requires a lot of energy and endless diligence. If it proves to be more than you can handle, donít give up; you still have a shot at those coupons. First, you have to find out where they empty the trash barrels. A call to the local Department of Sanitation will usually do the job -- tell them you accidentally threw away some important papers. Then visit the dump and pick through the garbage at your leisure. This is an especially apt tactic for the elderly and physically-infirm, who can go through a large volume of material without a lot of walking around.
While at the dump, be sure to take care of the attendants. Like dealers at a blackjack table, these people can make you or break you. If youíre able to establish a close working relationship with an attendant, youíll have a valuable ally who will direct you to the richest plots of garbage, tip you off when an especially promising load comes in, and even skim some of the premium stuff for you on his own. Donít let self-respect stand between you and this important resource. Youíll find the Reno Dump at 63029 Wasatch Flats Road, about ten miles southeast of the airport. Ask for Ernie.
Steal Coupons from Motels
One casino town, Stateline, Nevada, is so hip and trendy that you canít find any coupons on the street -- Northern Californians would rather set themselves on fire than litter. In Tahoe, therefore, you must rely on motels as your prime source of casinos vouchers. Unfortunately, most motels hide their supply of coupons behind the counter, rationing them stingily to their customers in a shameful display of mistrust and suspicion. What a sad commentary on the state of American business!
Happily for readers of this publication, however, Dog-Ass Johnny knows of at least eight Tahoe motels that leave the vouchers out where you can get at them. These benevolent establishments are: Trout Creek, Pinewood Lodge, Ski Bird, Midway, Elizabeth Lodge, Thunderchief, El Nido, and Cal-Va-Rado. You should be able to discover similar locations for yourself in other casino town. Of the above, Trout Creek is the cheapest, and Pinewood Lodge is probably the best value. Cal-Va-Rado is right across the street from Harveyís, so Dog-Ass Johnny recommends that you reserve it for emergency resupply rather than sleep there.
Note that you do not need to check into one of these motels to get the vouchers. Just walk into the office. If the manager is present, ask briefly about the rates or whatever, then leave. Otherwise, grab as many vouchers as you need. A bag can be a big help here, as things often get awkward when youíre hastily trying to cram a huge sheaf of paper into a pocket that turns out to be too small (Dog-Ass Johnny uses a special rubber bag sewn inside his shirt, an outfit he put together years ago for stealing food from buffets).
Best time to show up is between 10 AM and noon, when the managers are usually helping clean the rooms. Above all, donít spoil things for everyone else by emptying the rack; know in advance how many vouchers you can reasonably pass off, and take pride in being able to net just the right number in one swipe.
Be a pro.
Bus riders are knowledgeable about what theyíre getting. They rarely throw away anything of value, so there isnít much you can do to capitalize on bus coupons.
One exception involves deferred vouchers common in Atlantic City. If you frequent the bus platforms long enough, youíll eventually run into someone selling these turn-visit coupons at a discount. Get to know such a person if you can; with a goodly supply of these $5 beauties, you can pump up your rebate beyond the cost of the trip.
This in turn allows you to live on the bus. Instead of paying outrageously for an apartment, you spend your waking hours in the casinos; at bedtime, you just get on a bus to Boston or Washington or wherever, and curl up on that spacious back seat. When the bus arrives, you buy another round-trip ticket, get another set of coupons, and sleep your way back to the casinos.
In the morning, youíre a buck or two richer than when you went to bed, you didnít have to spring for a motel, and youíre still in Atlantic City -- a clear net gain! After cashing those vouchers, you have the whole rest of the day to spend looking for money on the floor, and probably make a bundle.
Redeeming the Vouchers
Most of the stuff you collect will have to be redeemed in the casinos before you can cash in at the tables. This stage is the bottleneck in the coupon process. Your approach here, your guiding light, your overriding goal, can be summed up in one word: multiple redemption. Okay, two words.
Multiple redemption means you show up more than once a day. More than once a shift, in fact. The $50 a day figure mentioned earlier assumes six cash-ins daily, two per shift, of the standard set of motel vouchers. The value of this set last summer was about $8.50. It takes about 45 minutes to redeem the whole Lake Tahoe set, and only about 20-25 minutes if you donít visit the distant (but always profitable) Lakeside Inn. That works out to between $10 and $25 per hour, even more when you consider the tax advantages. Of course, if the casinos realize how much theyíre paying you, theyíll take you off the payroll. Your job is to keep them from finding out.
Note Personnel Rotation
The most basic thing you can do is to take advantage of shift changes. At casinos where the coupon personnel work three shifts, you get three redemptions per day right off the top. If those employees get time off for lunch, you can get another three from their replacements. That gets you the desired six redemptions daily without ever seeing the same face twice. Concentrate on the casinos using the most people at their Fun Centers, and be sure to get at least one redemption per day from each employee.
Employ Master Techniques of Disguise
To get more than six cash-ins per day, or to work one area for longer than a month or two, youíll probably have to disguise yourself. Your disguise does not have to be complex or expensive; the Fun Center drones will always give you at least a glance, but theyíll only check you out carefully if theyíre already suspicious. You can usually get away with simple props like hats and glasses. The trick is to give them something to remember you by, like an unusual hat or shirt, an attitude, a strange facial expression, whatever, then show them the opposite the next time -- young/old, happy/grumpy, smart/stupid, etc. Polarity is the key.
If you are middle-aged, for example, you can go for a young/old duality. First, give them a younger look; cover your balding head with a wig or a baseball cap, and carry a Walkman. Wear a button supporting euthanasia.
After a few weeks of that, just when they might begin to notice you, change to the older look. Comb your hair back, and give it a few streaks of grey (drug stores sell special hair paint for this purpose). Wear a button supporting the draft. You might even put sharp stones in your shoes, to keep that youthful spring out of your step.
But the very best way to look older is to soak your face in brine for a few hours. Breathe through a straw while submerged. This treatment (immersion in salt water, not breathing through a straw) will dry and harden your skin, giving it that hagged-out look for several days. A copy of Retirement Times under your arm, and youíre all set.
At the Redemption Center
Optimally, there will be a crowd; if so, just blend in quietly. If youíre the only customer, try to avoid speaking or making eye contact (but donít appear furtive). Accept your coupon book as though receiving an honorary diploma. Examine it carefully right there at the Fun Center, as if stunned by your good fortune. Then shamble away, still completely entranced. Wait until you are on the street to rip out the usable stuff and throw the husk away (Dog-Ass Johnny tears all his empties in half and tries to dump them in the same general area, so as to avoid picking them up again later).
If You Have to Show a Motel Key
Many casinos want to see a room key before theyíll come across with the goods. They want to know that youíre an actual gambler, not just some scumbag off the street. Therefore, whenever you stay at a motel or casino hotel, steal the tag from your key. Acquire as large a collection of key tags as possible. Return the key itself by leaving it in your room, or on the counter when the manager is away from the office. The motel people wonít be too upset, so long as you donít take the actual key; theyíll think you wanted their tag as a valued souvenir of your wonderful motel experience.
Besides, you checked in under a fake name, didnít you? Attach some random key to the tag, and youíre in business.
If You Have to Show a Motel Receipt
Many casinos want to see a room receipt before theyíll come across with the goods. They want to know that youíre an actual gambler, not just some scumbag off the street. Therefore, whenever you stay at a motel or casino hotel, save your room receipt. Be careful not to fold or crumple it. When you encounter a promotion that requires such a receipt, paste a piece of blank paper over the date. Then visit a copy store and have them run off a few hundred copies using the highest quality color process available; ask the copy people to match the motelís paper as closely as they can. Fill in the current date on a fresh copy, and youíre in business.
If You Have to Show Out-of-State ID
Assuming you live outside Nevada, showing id is no problem. However, some casinos record your driverís license number on their computer, effectively limiting even the most skillful coupoñero to one redemption per day. For this reason, you should obtain multiple fake driverís licenses. Never carry more than one license with you at a time, and only drive with your real license; there will be unpleasant consequences if the authorities discover that your papers are not in order.
Rehabilitating Pebbled Coupons
One type of voucher you should not try to redeem is the pebbled voucher, also known as the braille voucher. These are vouchers that have been stepped on or driven over while lying in the street. They have the texture of the pavement imprinted on them, and usually a footprint or tread mark as well. When you try to redeem them, the casino people will recognize them at once as street vouchers, and mark you as a would-be pro. You cannot afford to let one of these persons peg you as a coupon hustler.
If you have a pebbled voucher that you absolutely cannot live without redeeming, Dog-Ass Johnny suggests you give it the old steam and press treatment. Hold onto the target voucher until you find yourself in a motel. Use a gum eraser to remove the footprint or tread mark, then take the voucher into the bathroom and suspend it somewhere near the ceiling.
Now turn on the hot water taps in the sink and shower, leave the room, and close the bathroom door. After a few hours, retrieve the steamed voucher and immediately press it between the pages of a large, heavy book. The preferred choice is the standard motel Bible -- that high page count per bound inch does a great job, and the top-quality paper quickly conducts excess moisture away from your valued coupon. Maximizing pressure by wedging the book under one leg of the bed until ready to check out. Badly damaged items may require more than one treatment.
Pebbled Lucky Bucks
As opposed to pebbled vouchers, pebbled lucky bucks are no problem. Play them as you would any other lucky buck. The dealers touch them only briefly, and donít much care anyway, since itís not their job to monitor your behavior. If a dealer does give you a hard time, you can just avoid that dealer in the future.
Now that youíve finally got the actual lucky bucks in hand, youíre almost home free. Should you run right over to the blackjack tables and cash in? Absolutely not. After all, youíre a pro, and you do things the professional way.
Because there are so many dealers in a casino, it wonít hurt much if one or two become aware of your activities. Still, you should do what you can to avoid recognition. For example, save up your stash of lucky bucks for a week or two, then play them all off on a crowded weekend or evening. Itís more efficient, plus itís much easier to blend in and go unnoticed among the throngs of tourists. (Donít hold onto coupons for too long, though, as they can suddenly become obsolete if the casino changes to a new promotion.)
Play a maximum of two lucky bucks per table, four per pit. This will leave you well below the amount of coupon activity most casinos will tolerate, but you must accept this inefficiency as the price of longevity. Play standing up, and avoid interacting with the dealer if possible; have your coupon book (not just the lucky bucks) plainly visible, and make it clear by your body language (checking watch, looking across casino as if trying to find wife or friend) that youíre only there for a couple of hands. Bosses just donít see you until you sit down or buy in.
Finally, to limit your exposure to blackjack dealers, play off your lucky bucks at the craps tables sometimes. Betting the Donít Pass line (against the shooter) gives best results, and also has an antisocial quality that resonates nicely with your parasitic lifestyle.
Play Multideck Games
Donít wait for a positive count at a single-deck table to play your lucky bucks -- it looks bad. Youíre playing for the 50% return on your coupon, not the 1% return on your bet, so you can afford to protect your enterprise by playing where they wonít notice you. That means multiple-deck games. An additional advantage of multideck games is that, when the shoe becomes favorable during your two-hand visit, you can sit down and get five or ten profitable blackjack hands without looking like a counter.
When you must play single decks, do so only off the top, rather than risk looking like a Wonger. Stay for a second hand when you have a second coupon, but donít throw out a big bet if the deck goes plus. Remember, this isnít card-counting, where you just want to conceal your abilities; with coupons, you donít even want them to know you exist.
Dog-Ass Johnny must now close his big book of secrets until next time. Some of the techniques he has revealed here may at first seem fanciful, but do not underestimate their power; Each is completely legitimate, and Dog-Ass Johnny has profited handsomely from all of them. Yes, thanks to coupons, Dog-Ass Johnny is sitting pretty.
Things might have turned out well for Bill and Fred too, if only theyíd given coupons a try. Bill busted out at the blackjack tables, and had to take part-time work at a Reno convenience store. Over the years, he and Fred gradually lost touch; Bill eventually married a lap-dancer from one of those topless joints out in Fernley, and developed an interest in monster truck rallies.
Fredís story is more sobering: Last year, he was arrested during a vice raid on a kiddie-porn operation up in Winnemucca. While subsequently serving a lengthy prison term, Fred was stabbed to death by another inmate, in a dispute over a Pez dispenser. Fredís cashing his coupons in Hell now. ♠
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