Just returned from a weekend of grinding away in the poker room at MGM National Harbor casino. To be clear, I like this poker room very much. Mostly…
Early last year, I gave the room an overall positive review, and also wrote a lengthy post explaining that MGM Hates Poker Players – This is How We Know. Since then, the poker room has been moved upstairs and expanded from 39 to 46 tables.
The obstacle course you have to run through to use poker room comps to purchase food has also been rearranged slightly, yet fundamentally it is still an obstacle course. This offensive design is not the fault of the poker room staff – they are as much victims as the players. So let me make a clear distinction here: the MGM poker room staff is excellent, and they do like poker players. The problem is somewhere in senior management where actual, important decisions are made.
I was traveling for the weekend with a poker buddy, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Brian.” It was Brian’s first trip to MGM National Harbor. On the drive up, I explained to Brian that after getting an M-Life card, the system would track his time at the table and award him $2/hour in comps (i.e., complimentary purchasing power). However, the poker room comps system is not integrated with the comps system for the rest of the casino. So when you present your M-Life card at any of the restaurants, they only see the comps you have earned playing blackjack, craps, roulette, slot machines, etc.
We’re not into all that stuff.
To use the poker comps, I explained to Brian, you have to go to desk at the back of the poker room (separate from where you check in for table assignments), hand over your M-Life card, and tell the staff exactly how many dollars of your poker room comps you want activated and for which restaurant. If you activate more than you actually need on the next transaction, the balance is automatically forfeited. This is required even at the new snack bar that is literally right beside the poker room!
When he’s not playing poker, Brian works as a software developer. The traffic was bad and it took over six hours to drive to the casino. He spent a large chunk of that time explaining software to me, and that it’s inexcusable to spend well over a billion dollars building a fancy casino and have such a clunky comps system that mostly pisses off the very customers it is at least theoretically intended to reward. Hey Brian, I love you man, but please don’t berate the messenger!
Late Saturday afternoon, Brian and I decide to take a short meal break. One of the room promotions is a Lucky Table drawing every hour. Each player seated at a randomly drawn table wins $300. The next drawing is in 30 minutes, so we decide to stay close by and have something at the poker room snack bar. Otherwise, we have to take an escalator to the main casino level, walk a long corridor to the food court area, decide what to eat and verify prices, then return to the poker room to activate the right amount of our comps balances, and then return to the food court to place the order, wait for it, eat, wipe our faces and return to our seats before the next Lucky Table drawing, which we are confident one of us will win this time. I’ve just got a feeling…
After checking the snack bar menu, we are walking to the desk at the back of the poker room and Brian says to me, “I’ll help you make sure you don’t go on tilt this time.” It’s a fact that earlier this year, I went on a massive food tilt (at a different MGM property), but I’ve matured a lot in the 2nd half of my 59th year on the planet Earth, so I’m not too worried.
There is no staff at the desk. He’s scurrying around setting up to open a new table for players on the waiting list and let’s us know he’ll be back soon. Brian looks agitated. “We only have 25 minutes until the next Lucky Table drawing.”
Another guy-in-a-suit-with-a-nametag walks by and tells us someone will be over to help us shortly, but apparently he’s a supervisor-in-a-suit which means he doesn’t do actual work himself. We wait. A line starts forming behind us.
When the staff finally shows up, with 22 minutes until the next Lucky Table drawing, Brian asks for $13 of his comps to be activated, enough to cover an overpriced salad.
MGM Staff: “You only have $6 available, shall I activate all of that?”
Brian: “Don’t I earn $2/hour? I played nearly four hours last night and have been here for over six hours today. I should have more comps than that.”
Staff: “The system doesn’t recognize what you’ve earned today until the dealer swipes you out of the table. Right now it says you have $6 available. Do you want that amount activated?”
Brian (who minutes earlier pledged to help me avoid going on tilt): “That’s ridiculous! I’ve been here all day, and I should be able to use my comps.”
Staff: “If you want, you can go back to your table and ask the dealer to swipe you out, then wait a few seconds and swipe you back in. When the system refreshes, the additional comps earned today should show up.”
Brian: “I don’t have time for that. I just want a salad from over there, and I’ve played enough to earn way more than six dollars.”
Staff: “Just tell me what you want me to do, that I’m able to do.”
Me: “Brian, now you’re about to tilt. Let’s do this… I’ll active enough of my comps to pay for your salad, and we’ll just settle up later. OK?”
Brian: “I’M NOT TILTED! AND WHY CAN’T THEIR SYSTEM UPDATE ITSELF IN REAL TIME DECENT SOFTWARE WOULD DO THAT I HAVE TO BE BACK AT THE TABLE BEFORE THE NEXT LUCKY TABLE DRAWING OR I WON’T WIN CAN’T THEY GIVE US A BREAK FOR PETE’S SAKE IT’S JUST A SALAD!”
Amazingly, after wolfing down Brian’s salad and my bagel and racing back to our seats, neither of our tables is selected as the Lucky Table, a fact that is beyond my comprehension. The odds of your table being drawn are about the same as hitting a single number on the roulette wheel, and for that (and other) reason(s) we don’t play roulette, but this feels different after we pushed ourselves through MGM’s poker comps obstacle course, berated the low-level staff, and rushed through our snack break – the original point of which was to get some nourishment and mental refreshed following hours of grinding at the tables.
Later, we decide to call it an early evening, poker-wise, and cash out. The comps system is updated and decide to eat again, this time on the lower level. Among other things, we learn that a bottled beer is $9 and draught beer is $11.
This casino is right outside of Washington, DC. As I write this, it occurs to me that only a week earlier, all of the major TV and cable news networks breathlessly broadcast a certain candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court testifying to U.S. Senators under oath that he drank much beer while in high school and college, sometimes too much beer, that he still drinks beer, and in fact (under penalty of perjury) he likes beer! It was a sad spectacle for democracy and decency, but a good day for beer. Given the vast reach of the media and the economic forces of supply and demand, wouldn’t any beer seller immediately raise their prices to maximize the resultant windfall?
At least ours were complimentary, sort of.
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