NOTE: This entry was originally posted on a different site on March 13, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.
I hate being a hater, but MGM National Harbor’s poker comps system hates me back.
Last week I played poker nearly every day at this new poker room. Overall, it is excellent – spacious, comfortable, lots of action, competent staff and worthy of an overall highly favorable review. I’ll definitely go there again.
At a comp rate of $2/hour, I earned some decent meal money. Every so often, I get hungry. When I get hungry, I want to eat. The casino has an excellent variety of food options, all at resort prices. To offset MGM’s resort prices, I want to use the comp dollars as much as possible.
Seems simple, right?
If you order food at the table, to eat while still playing poker, it goes like this… Realizing you are hungry, you ask a server for a food menu. The server explains that there are separate food servers, and the beverage servers do not handle food. Look for a server with a purple shirt and black vest. Not seeing any, you ask the dealer if they can help locate a server. No problem says the dealer, and he pressed a button on his control panel beneath the letter F (representing a special 4-letter “F-word,” of course I’m talking about Food) and a light goes on. That should do it. About 20 or 30 minutes later, a food server appears, looking sharp in a purple shirt and black vest. The food menu is limited to a few options from each of the places in a food court, which includes a seafood vendor, fried chicken and donuts vendor, pizza, mexican, sushi, deli, Asian, ice cream shop, and Shake Shack. Except not the Shake Shack or the ice cream shop. And not everything at the other places, just 3 or 4 options from each.
I decide to go with the spring rolls from the Asian place. I give the food server my mLife card (MGM’s customer rewards program is called mLife) and show my ID, and all is good. 40 minutes later, the server returns and asks me if I ordered spring rolls. “Why yes I most certainly did, and I’m really looking forward to them.” “Sorry, they’re out of them. Would you like to see the menu again?” Hungry turns into Hangry. I go for the chicken tenders. Another 40 minutes later it is now nearly 2 full hours after the first hunger pains, my chicken tenders and fries arrive and I don’t really care how they taste. My comps paid for it, and the server returns my mLife card.
For dining at the table, start the process at least an hour before you will be hungry.
But maybe you don’t want to eat at the table. Maybe you want something that isn’t on the limited table service menu, or want to dine at one of the fancier restaurants and not the food court or you really like the Shake Shack.
In that case, you have to go to the poker check-in desk and ask the staff to transfer a portion of your comps balance, which is tracked on your mLife card, to a different category or bin or account which is also tracked on the same mLife card, in order to be able to use it at the food court or any of the fancy restaurants. With a line of people growing behind you, the conversation goes like this:
Poker staff: Where you are going to eat?
Me: I’m not sure… I’m going to walk down to the food court and see what looks good.
Poker staff: OK, that’s called The District. I can do that, as long as you aren’t going to the Shake Shack. If you plan to eat at the Shake Shack, I have to do it one way, because Shake Shack isn’t owned by the casino. For the rest of The District, I have to do it another way.
Me: Are you shitting me?
Poker staff: No. That’s really how we have to do it.
Me: Out of curiosity, what if I wanted to eat at one of the fancy restaurants, like Jose Andres’ place?
Poker staff: Then I have to specify which restaurant, just let me know and I can handle it.
Me: I hear the Shake Shack is really good, but I haven’t been there yet and haven’t even looked at their menu. I guess I’ll pass on that for today and eat somewhere else in the food court.
Poker staff: How many dollars do you want transferred?
Me: I don’t know… I’m still not sure what I’m going to get. Does it matter? If you transfer extra, the unused balance will be available to use later, right?
Poker staff: Wrong. Let’s say I transfer $20. This is only good for one transaction. If you only use $15, the $5 unused portion of your comps is forfeited.
Me: Are you shitting me?
Poker staff: No. If you know what you are going to get and how much it will cost, you can transfer the exact amount. Or you can guess and probably want to guess on the low side so you don’t forfeit any of your comps.
Me: [glance over my shoulder, line is getting longer] Uh… I guess transfer ten bucks and I’ll figure it out. The food court is a couple hundred yards away, and I don’t want to walk down there just to plan my meal so I can walk back over here and wait in line to do this again so I can walk back over there to eat.
Poker staff: You got it, my man. Give me just a few seconds. [He swipes my mLife card through a card reader, enters about the same number of keystrokes as a rental car clerk setting up a new reservation, then swipes my mLife card through a different card reader, a few more keystrokes, a fake smile and off I go.]
It’s clear that the poker room management didn’t design this system themselves. I feel sorry for them. Not every customer is as delightful to deal with as me. The line moves slowly, including mostly players who just want to sign up to get on a waiting list.
The next day, while walking to a restroom, I pass by a glass door with a sign that says Casino Host & Credit. On the way back, I decide to go inside and see if that would be the proper place to provide a little customer feedback. There is a management looking guy standing by the door, wearing a suit and MGM nametag. He looks very official. For purposes of this blog entry, I’ll refer to him as “Vlad.”
I ask Vlad if the casino is interested in hearing feedback from customers about their experience there. Yes, he says. I ask where I should go to provide some, and Vlad says “you can talk to me.” We are not inside the office, but outside the office near slot machines and other gaming. With head-thumping music blaring. Vlad does not invite me into a quieter place to talk.
Trying to explain that I feel sorry for the poker room staff who have to deal with this cumbersome system and resulting hangry customers, and that we’re all frustrated by the lack of integration of the poker comps system with the rest of the casino, I lay out my case. I probably look highly agitated. Partly because there is a very high base noise level and I practically have to shout just to be heard. Partly because I am highly agitated.
When I reach a pause, Vlad responds. First he explains that he has no involvement in running the poker room. He knows their comp system is separate, but doesn’t know how it works, the rate at which comps are earned or any other details whatsoever. But it’s that way because the poker room isn’t profitable and doesn’t make any money for the casino. Then he explains that if it were up to him – and Vlad wants me to know that he’s worked in the casino industry in Atlantic City for over 25 years – there would be no poker room at all. In Vlad’s opinion, poker is a waste of valuable casino space that could make a lot of money if it was used differently.
Translation: Dear customer, if it was up to me, you would not be our customer! So it is OK with me that the part of our business that you patronize is systematically pissing you off.
We actually chat for about 20 more minutes. Vlad isn’t unpleasant; he just knows where he stands and isn’t shy about it.
My points goes like this:
- If it was up to Vlad, there would be no poker room, right? [Vlad: right.]
- But there is a poker room, so that means somebody other than you decided there should be one, right? [Vlad: right.]
- And that makes the poker players in that poker room a subset of all of the customers of this glorious MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, right? [Vlad: right.]
- The poker room provides comp credits to its players, right? Whatever the formula is, it is a non-zero amount. [Vlad: right.]
- So if you are going to have a poker room and give the players comp dollars, why – when spending $1.2 billion dollars to build this place – would you design a comps system that systematically frustrates the poker room staff as it also systematically pisses off that subset of your customers? [Vlad: uh…]
Vlad gives me a long explanation of comps, how some comp dollars are automatically generated as a by-product of each game based on the amount of time and stakes played, and other comps are awarded at management discretion so he can give some extra meal money to some poor schmuck who loses his entire wad really fast. All of which applies only to the non-poker parts of the casino.
As for the poker room, Vlad maintains that he doesn’t have anything to do with it, doesn’t know how it operates, but a different system is justified based on the bad economics of poker rooms for casinos.
The same approach to using poker room comps is used at all MGM properties. At the Aria or Bellagio, however, you have to go to a different desk and not the player check-in desk, and get a paper voucher for the amount of comp dollars you want to use (or lose). And poker comps earned at one MGM property can only be used at that property – you cannot use Aria poker comps to buy food at Bellagio or MGM Grand and vice versa. It is equally maddening for the players, although not quite as bad as forcing the check-in desk to handle the comps too.
Given MGM’s otherwise strong commitment to poker, with large and active poker rooms in many of their properties (Bellagio and Aria are among the top poker rooms in Las Vegas; MGM National Harbor is now one of the largest poker rooms on the east coast), it is beyond my comprehension that they don’t integrate the poker comps with the rest of the gaming areas. Maryland Live! does. Caesar’s/Harrah’s/Horseshoe does. Other casinos do.
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