I spite of what most people in the industry believe, few APs are card counters making their living playing blackjack. They just aren't. They are finding edges and opportunities that are much stronger. And these opportunities aren't just other games and side bets. One of the strongest sources of ongoing income is poorly conceived promotions. There is an erroneous sense that beatable promotions are rare. But APs are relentlessly scouting for opportunities. With hundreds of casinos and hundreds of marketing departments, it's no wonder that beating promotions has become so popular among APs.

Recently, a director of table games shared an experience with me:

“Last Christmas we had a cash-for-points promotion at our casino - marketing got the conversion wrong and we paid out $300k more than we meant to pay out. The idea was that people should use this cash for gaming while on our property, but most people just cashed out and left. This sort of thing happens all the time, but no one wants to talk about it.”

Why do APs love promotions? Here are a few reasons:

  • There is no “heat” from the casino.
  • The edge is often far greater than card counting.
  • It’s possible to make a lot of money very fast.
  • It is usually very easy strategically to beat promotions.
  • There are secondary benefits. For example, RFB comps, cash back, re-sale items.

The first opportunity I had to play against a promotion was at a local casino that offered a promotion called "Catch 22." This was back in 1997 when the California casinos still had a "pay-to-play" Ante requirement. Every Tuesday and Thursday for a 4 hour block of time they would pay $22 every time a player busted with a 22.  The downside was that the player had to ante 50 cents to play each hand. That wasn't much of a downside if you think about it.

Beating this promotion was trivial. The table minimum was $3. I played 3 hands at $3 each (plus the 50 cents per hand) and busted out the hand nearly every time. A couple of strategy changes (like not splitting A-A and hitting 12 vs. 4, 5 and 6) and the edge was astronomical. Think of betting $3.50 to win $22, with a decent chance to win back your original wager on top of it. Wow! Even betting $3 per hand, I typically came away ahead $800 to $1000 per night. This went on for several months until most players learned to play this way. Winning nearly $2000 per week for several months was nice. I was hooked. The story of Catch 22 is not the story of a one-time/one-place opportunity. Such promotions are still going on in casinos everywhere.

For almost 15 years I have visited AP web sites. During these visits, some remarkable accounts about one-time promotional opportunities have been shared. APs are usually very careful to not disclose the particular location or other information that could compromise an opportunity they have located, even after an event is over. That's a good thing for them. After all, beating casinos is their livelihood and there is no positive EV is sharing too much information. But what they say after-the-fact about these opportunities is often stunning.

What follows are a few quotes from APs about beating promotions.

Five Card Charlie Promotion, March 2006

“We ran $1,500 to OVER $37,000 in 4 hours. Another team was up $24,000 at the same time. Together we were up $61,000 on a table with a $200 table maximum bet. The promo was cancelled after 18 hours.

Unnamed Promotions, August 2003

“I was lucky enough to run into some very nice promos that earned me about $10,000 in two days; less than a month later I earned over $20,000 in 3 days on another promo.”

Blackjack Promotion, 2010

  • “Our team made a grand total of $76,150.”
  • “Did we kill it? Well the six of us on our team made around $90,000.”
  • “I won over $15,000, and have over $2,000 in comps. I bought a bunch of iPods I’m going to sell on eBay.”

Free Play  / Match Play Promotion, 2003

“Several years ago, around Christmas, local casinos put out various coupons: match plays, big aces, lucky bucks, etc. with a total expected value of just under $200.  I would “shift change” them and play all of them twice, bringing my EV up to just under $400 per day. I started paying people $160 to play them for me so I was making about $200 from each person …”

Multiple Point Days, August, 2010

“I recently played a 10x point day at the XXX Casino. I found a 9/6 Jacks or Better, $5 machine in their high limit area. I played for about 12 hours straight at about 800 pulls per hour. I earned 2,400,000 points, worth $6,000 (0.25%) against a Casino THEO of $828. I am getting a lot of other great offers because of my play.”

For the last two years I have spoken at marketing conferences. I will be speaking at another at the end of July. One of the topics I have repeatedly discussed is the problem of APs beating promotions. My talks on this material have been very well-received, often shocking the audience. The surprise from my end is that I have received zero call-backs from anyone in marketing asking me to check the mathematics of a promotional idea.

I am certain opportunities to beat promotions will continue to be easy to find.

Received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1983. Eliot has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. Eliot retired from academia in 2009. Eliot Jacobson