At this time we had both been backed off blackjack tables at a couple of casinos, and the pit bosses were now watching players much closer than they had in the past. Unfortunately, if you looked like you knew what you were doing, you always had to do some sort of cover-up procedure - like acting dumb. We were just getting tired of the pressure of counting cards and feeling like we weren’t wanted.
Brad said video poker was so much more fun and you didn’t have to worry about some pit boss staring you down. We were at the Westward Ho at the time, but Brad said we should go to the Stardust next door because he had been there in his wanderings and he had played some video poker there.
The first thing I noticed when we played VP at the Stardust was this little sign on the machines that said “Join our slot club and get cash back” - and I thought - well, if we’re going to play video poker just for entertainment, because I knew we didn’t know what we were doing, we ought to at least be joining the slot club; so we did.
About the same time I read in the local gambling publication called Gaming Today an article by Lenny Frome that said video poker could be beaten. He said to “leave the slots and learn to play video poker.” He said it was a good game, that anyone could learn how to play better, and that he had a strategy for playing 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker machines. I told Brad, “If we are going to play VP, we’re going to learn the right strategy,” and then I found out that Frome had written a book with some strategies in it for video poker.
At first we thought, we’ll just play this 9/6 Jacks or better game that he talked about and I’ll wait until we go home to look for his book in the library. Well, his books weren’t in the Indianapolis public library. So the next time we came to Vegas I said, “Well, we must get Lenny’s book. I had called and found out it was sold at the Gamblers Book Club downtown. And so we walked – we still do a lot of walking - all the way from the Westward Ho down to the Gamblers Book Club, which is more than a three-mile walk.
We bought the book, walked back the three miles to the Westward Ho, and I went straight to the room to read it from cover to cover while I was resting my tired dogs. It was then that I discovered full-pay Deuces Wild and I was just thrilled to death because Frome said that the game had an over 100% long-term return if you used the right strategy.
I took the book with me everywhere, and Brad and I would sit down beside a full-pay deuces wild machine at the Westward Ho or sometimes we would go across the street to the Riviera, which also had the same game. Brad would sit at a machine and play and I would sit at the next machine with the book in hand and every time we had a hand that we didn’t know how to play, I would look it up on the strategy chart and then he would play it. We got to the point that we knew the strategy fairly well; even that first day we played hours and hours using Frome’s strategy. But, I’m allergic to smoke and the smoke was getting to me. Finally, I said to Brad, “I’m going to my room. I think we know the strategy pretty well, but I’ll leave the book in the tray and you can check it if you need it.” Anyway, I go to the room because I’m really tired and soon I get a phone call from Brad and he says, “Guess what - I got a royal flush!” That was December 31, 1991.
We actually had joined the slot club at the Stardust in January of 1990, but we hadn’t played too much. We still were playing blackjack most of the time and we just fiddled around with the video poker until I knew that we were using the correct strategies. Then, from the end of 1991 we weren’t playing blackjack much anymore. We were playing full-pay deuces wild exclusively for hours and hours. Brad got his second royal December 13, 1992, which was almost a year later, and I got my first one soon after.
Q Do you keep track of the dates of all your royal flushes?
Q How many have you had in your gambling career?
At the end of 1999, Brad had 94 and I had 47. I have more current statistics, but I’ll have to look them up and e-mail them to you later. (Jean later e-mailed me a note saying that she and Brad had gotten a total of 305 royal flushes through the end of 2003. She also pointed out that they have hit royals much more frequently since the advent of multi-line machines which allow you to play as many as 100 hands at one time.) Brad’s always played a lot more than I have. In fact, he has always played about twice as much as I have, because I spend a lot of time organizing our life and our casino visits. I try to make sure that we are playing at the very best times at the best places and this takes a lot of reading and organizing. I have an elaborate calendar to keep track of everything. This all takes time – but I say that being organized is the basis for our success in gambling.
Q How often were you going to Las Vegas after you started devoting your time exclusively to video poker?
Once we retired, we stayed for longer periods. The first time we stayed three weeks and then we just kept stretching that out further and further because we were getting all these free room offers. We would stay three days in my name and then three days in his name at the same casino because we would both belong to the slot club and we would both get the offers.
Q At some point, you decided you wanted to live in Las Vegas?
Well, we started staying longer and longer. Of course, we lived in Indiana, so one of our longest stays would be in the wintertime. We would drive out in November, usually right after Thanksgiving and we would stay until February. Then we would be staying until March, and then we would be staying until April. Although we were staying for free, we were getting older and we were getting a little tired of packing and unpacking our suitcases every few days. We were always frugal, getting good value for our money, but we had more money saved up now and we finally said we had to get our own place in Vegas.
Actually, two years before that, a friend of ours had a condo in Vegas which we used periodically. So we had lived in a condo and really liked the idea of not having to play for a free room. We could play video poker where it was best to play video poker, rather than where it was best to earn our room. We liked this idea so well that we decided to get a condo of our own. By that time we had gone up in denomination and we had made enough money playing VP to buy a condo of our own. We did that in 1999 and for two years we kept our place in Indianapolis and our condo here.
We thought we would always stay in Vegas in the wintertime and go back to Indianapolis in the summertime. But, after we had our condo, it was the same tiring thing – we had to keep going back and forth. We still had our feet in both places and every month I would see the utility bills coming out of that Indiana home and the upkeep and so forth. We would go back to Indiana and then we wouldn’t even be there very long because we would be packing up and we’d go up to the Joliet, Illinois riverboat casino and play every weekend, or every mid-week for 3-4 days. Finally, Brad said that we could sell our place in Indiana and when we come back to Indiana we could stay at the Hyatt Regency cheaper than keeping up with one condo here and one condo there. So we sold the Indy condo and we have never ever regretted that decision. Our life is here in Vegas.
Q Are you and Brad professional gamblers now?
We don’t call ourselves professional gamblers. We think that a professional gambler earns his living gambling, or at least a major part of it, and there are very few people who do that. Actually, we could have done that, but we were already retired and had a pension – and besides, we don’t want to play that much. If you have to classify us, you could call us “skilled” gamblers rather than “professional” gamblers.
Q What is a typical day like for you and Brad, now that you live in Las Vegas?
Once we moved to Vegas, we play less than we did before as far as hours per day because we don’t have to play for a free room. We can choose any casino in town and play just where there are good promotions.
I find this is true for a lot of people who move to Vegas. A few people, when they first move here, think “Oh, now I can play all the time!” They may do that for a few months and then they realize, “I don’t have to do this. It’s always going to be here and there is something called ‘life’ outside the casino.” Otherwise, it gets to be too intense. You want to just live your normal life that you lived back when you did not have a casino down the street.
Also, with us, we are getting older. I’m 65 and Brad is 72. We play less and less because our energy level isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes, we just get tired and of course Brad had a heart attack one year ago, and I’m allergic to smoke, so we feel like it is not a healthy situation to be in smoke-filled casinos all day. Brad still plays more than I do, because again, I am now at home writing articles and books as well as doing the usual organization. Plus he always liked to play a little more often than I do. We probably play about a total of 20 hours a week. That is about 12 for him and 8 for me. We do not gamble every day. We are in a casino most days to eat or pickup a bounceback cash offer, but not necessarily to play.
Q Obviously, you keep very accurate records of your casino visits. Have you always made money since you moved to Las Vegas?
We have always made money since we started playing video poker. When I say always, I mean at the end of the year we play enough that we get to the “long-term” in a year. On December 31st when we close our books, we are always in the black, but the dollar amount varies. One year, a couple of years ago, we barely did that. Actually, we did not pick up some of our bounceback cash on December 31st and on the books that resulted in about a $200 paper loss. We didn’t actually lose it; we just had not picked up the cashback from the slot club. There was going to be a TV show in January and they wanted to film us collecting cashback, so we didn’t pick it up in December. But we have really never ever had a year that we have lost money. That year we won just a little bit, but sometimes we make in the five figures. Playing video poker is a long-term game and you have to play many, many hours to realize the average expected return. On the way, however, it is definitely a roller coaster ride for your bankroll.
Q Are you talking only about cash profits?
This is counting only cash that we have won from the game and cashback, which you can collect the same day and bounceback, which comes in the mail.
Actually, the way we have made our money has changed. When we were playing quarter video poker, we were playing full-pay Deuces Wild which had a really high return, 100.7% We made most of our money back then from the actual game and since we were only playing quarters, our cashback was small - but it was steady. Cashback is always positive. Playing a game is not always positive; you lose probably two times out of three on the actual game, but cashback is always a plus figure. Even when we were playing quarters, we always looked for promotions. There are a lot of cash promotions - like a bonus for card of the day. For cashback, we would look for double points. We have always been heavy on the promotions.
We changed from quarters to dollars in 1995 and sometimes we now play much higher than dollars. We will play up to $100 a hand on a $2 10-play machine. Once we moved up in denomination, things changed, especially in the last 2-3 years. There is much less video poker with a positive expectation, especially at the higher levels of dollars and above. Now, we play almost entirely negative expectation games, but when you include cashback and bounceback cash, and most of all, the fact that we constantly take advantage of casino promotions, then that always puts us over 100%. It is not nearly as easy to make money now as when we started in 1991. You have to work harder and you have to be choosier about your plays.
Q So besides making money, you get all of the comps and other freebies?
We never count comps as profit. We consider it “gravy.” If I get a gift certificate for a grocery store, or for gas, or for shopping at Macys, I will count that as cash. That is what I call a cash equivalent. We get a lot of those. Instead of giving cash back, a lot of casinos are going to cash equivalents such as gift certificates or gift cards.
But I do not count any of our meals or hotel rooms. We almost never stay in a hotel now, but we get them for our friends and family because we earn them and it is a waste not to use them.
We get all the food that we can possibly eat and we throw away hundreds of dollars of comps every month that we just don’t pick up - you can only eat so much. Also, we get an awful lot of gifts from the casinos. Some of those have a high cash value, but we don’t count those because, for one thing, we get more than we can use and we mostly just give them away.
Q What is the best practical advice you can give people that are just starting out learning about gambling, or even people who have been gambling for a while?
Well, for the novice, I would say that you have to get a slot card and always use it, whether you are playing the slots or table games. The key to getting all the benefits is being recognized by the casino - and the only way you can do that is to join the player’s club and then you put your card in the machine, or you give the card to a pit boss at tables, and get rated. That is where all the comps come from. Casinos are not going to give you comps if they don’t know that you’re playing in their casino. A player’s card is the foundation for all benefits.
The second thing is to become more knowledgeable. Read. This is why I wrote The Frugal Gambler and More Frugal Gambling. My first book is especially good for the person who does not know anything about the math and needs to learn that some games are better than others. Most people think that casinos have the edge all the time, but that isn’t true. The people who study are the ones who find the better games to play and the better casinos to play in.
On every book that I have autographed, and there have been a lot of them, tens of thousands, I always write, “The more you study, the luckier you will be!”