The first lady of coupons and comps has graciously agreed to share some of her time with us and answer a few questions for ThePOGG readers. For those of you that don’t know who Jean Scott is, she’s an exceptionally successful player and gambling author who specialises in teaching players how to use coupons and comps to their advantage. Her advice has helped thousands of players get more entertainment for their money and a small number actually make a living out of playing casino games.
Most of the players I’ve had the opportunity to talk to have at some point or another, early in their lives, had a push into the field of advantage gambling; normally from a relative or through reading some related literature. What first led you to an interest in general gambling and how did this progress to advantage gambling?
Actually I had been frugal my whole life and so the first time Brad and I came to Las Vegas, just as an entertainment option on a vacation, I became interested in gambling. On arriving home I started getting promotional offers from some of the casinos we had played in. I then realised that gambling could be more than entertainment, although it was entertaining, and I could do more and have more vacations in Vegas if I didn’t lose as much money as I had the first time.
Before that trip I’d done some gambling at a game called “Tonk”, a mid-Western Gin Rummy-type game at the Moose Lodge where we had played for money (actually that is where Brad and I met, at a gambling table!). I realized then that I was kind of a natural gambler, that I had good card sense, and I loved the challenge. So when we went to Vegas and I saw that there were frugal opportunities I was just continuing on that road.
It’s interesting; I did not even know the four suits of cards until I was 35 years old. I had been raised in a very religious home where gambling was really a no-no. My father was a minister and we never had cards in the house. After I got out in the “real world” – and my game-playing expanded away from Monopoly and Scrabble – I had to learn the difference between a Spade and a Club. Even today I will look at a Spade and momentarily wonder if it is a Club, but there’s this little thing in the back of my head saying, “Spade – that looks like a shovel.” I don’t have that natural “I always knew that information” that other people who grew up playing card games will have.
You were just saying that you came from a religious background. Are you still religious? How do you find your interest in gambling sits with your faith?
I was raised in a very legalistic religious environment that was very judgemental. As I became older, I started questioning this hypercritical way of looking at religion. It was a slow awakening that took time – I stayed in that environment until around the time I was 35. Now I don’t consider myself a “churchy” person, but one who is continually working for deeper spiritual growth on a personal level.
Your daughter Angela contributed to the second book in the ‘Frugal’ series. When Angela was growing up how did you explain what you did for a living? How do you feel your alternative profession impacted her view of gambling and did you have any reservations about teaching her once she reached legal age?
From the time Angela was a little girl, casinos were already a very big part of my life. The best way to teach somebody is by example and she always knew that my frugal gambling was just a part of a totally economical way of living. It wasn’t an abusive or damaging tendency and she knew from a very early age that there was a smart way to gamble. By the time she got to 21 all she wanted to do was learn to play Video Poker and Blackjack and do it the right way. She had enjoyed for years many of the perks our casino play and had witnessed what they had added to our life – it was natural that she wanted to learn how to earn those perks herself. I never felt that this was something that could be dangerous to her because she’s always been around people who were gambling responsibly. Of course once in a while we’d meet somebody whose gambling had a negative effect on their life and I’d point out, “There’s somebody that shouldn’t be gambling.” However, those examples only served to strengthen the positive examples she saw elsewhere.
I’m sure you’ll have had this experience as a winning gambler, where friends or family members – often when they’ve got themselves into a tight financial situation – start looking at the success you’ve had gambling and want you to help them achieve similar financial success through playing. How do you deal with this type of situation when it arises?
I’ll tell you what I tell people who want to start gambling to make money – “Don’t even think about it,” and I emphasize how hard successful gambling is. Back before I’d written anything about this subject, I’d get questioned by a lot of people who would see us making money gambling and see all the perks we got for playing. Inevitably this would lead to the phrase, “Tell me how I can do that!” I would start explaining a few things and after about 2 minutes of conversation you’d see their eyes glaze over and I quickly realized that I could not tell people quickly how to do this. That was the main impetus for me starting to write books; especially the first one. I just thought, “I’m going to write all this down and when they ask I can just give them the book.” There is no 25-word magic bullet that will explain to people what they need to know to win at gambling. And even now, when people say, “I want to be a skilled Video Poker player just like you , move to Vegas and make lots of money,” I still feel it’s my duty to explain to them how hard it is –much harder now than when we started 30 years ago. Conditions have changed. When I ask about their gambling history, they almost always say they’ve been playing, “a little bit.” I tell them, “That’s exactly the problem! To make money you have to have a lot of experience before you can become a winning player.” Becoming a skilled player is a slow journey. Are you prepared to study like mad and practice on the software at home? Are you prepared to start small? This is another problem issue, people always want to start big. We stuck to quarter play for 5 or 6 years – and you have to build your bankroll up. The bottom line is that becoming a winning gambler isn’t easy. You need to spend a lot of time practicing and a lot of time gaining experience in the casinos – you also have to have enough money aside to survive the losing streaks, because they will happen!
I think it’s important to emphasize how hard this is and not to encourage anybody.
Once in a while I speak to a player who’s been doing all of these things and wants my help to move up or get other opportunities, then I will give them some specific help. But I wouldn’t want to encourage someone who hasn’t already started down the path. Someone who hasn’t already made a lot of effort will simply be told to go and read all my books and then come back. I’ve had to write FOUR books to show people that this is not one little thing you do, but literally hundreds of thousands of things you have to think about.
Your books are very good at breaking down complex ideas into straightforward explanations. This simplification of mathematical concepts makes the plays more accessible to the average player. Specifically you focus on getting the most out of the promotions and slots club programs many casinos offer (something that I think many online players would benefit from learning more about!!) and later on some of the finer points of playing winning Video Poker. Were you ever concerned that in making these plays more widely useable that the casinos would respond by reducing the quality of the promotions and offers? Has there been a noticeable deterioration in the quality of promotions and offers over the years you’ve been playing?
Yes, that’s always been a thought in the back of my head because I know that casino executives do read my books. I didn’t think about this at first, worrying that my writing would hurt my own playing conditions, but soon after releasing the first book (The Frugal Gambler) I realized that casino executives who had read my book might be more likely to take measures. Fortunately that didn’t happen immediately. However during the recession the casinos were forced to look more closely at their bottom line and began to target specific groups that were not as profitable to them. Of course “advantage players” caught their attention. They began to take countermeasures against video poker players just as they had against blackjack players back when the early books about card-counting came out.
I guess I could defend myself by pointing out that I’m not the only person writing books like this – there are software programs that help people learn and websites giving out much information as well – but while I feel that information becoming more widely available has contributed some to the deterioration of conditions – I don’t think it has had the substantial effect some people like to make out. There are other factors that have as big, if not bigger effects, for instance the general economy, that cause casinos to get more restrictive and take action against skilled players.
On that topic how do you feel game conditions have changed over the time you’ve been playing? Obviously they’ve deteriorated as you’ve stated that it’s harder to win now than it was in the past, but what specifically has changed?
The most substantial change has been the downgrading of paytables. You used to be able to find Video Poker machines with good (over 100% payoffs) paytables that could produce a player edge if played skilfully. Now you can rarely find Video Poker games that you can play with an edge without adding extras like comps and slot club benefits anywhere. Even these opportunities are disappearing fast, and if available, may be found only in a limited range of denominations.
The other big change has been in the casino’s approach to skilled players. What casinos will regularly do now if they think you’re a skilled player is move you on to the ‘No Mail’ list. There’s no law stating that any casino has to send you promotional incentives to play. If you get “No Mailed”, you stop receiving all of the offers that could take you from a negative player to a positive one where you have the chance to make a profit. So between the steady decline of the paytables and this move to No Mailing players, it’s become a lot more difficult to make money on video poker than in the past.
Playing professionally is a taxing endeavour both physically and emotionally. Physically you face the travelling and awkward hours, the bad food and smoky environment. Even if you play online you’re still faced with the psychological highs and lows that come with the wins and losses. Emotionally it can be very difficult to sustain any form of stable family life with so much time spent playing away from home and sleeping when everyone else is awake. How do you feel your lifestyle choices have impacted on your physical wellbeing and family life? Is there any advice you’d give to someone considering trying to play professionally to help them sustain an equilibrium between health, family and play?
Losing is never easy and even after 30 years of play it is not fun for us to cope with playing for 6 months and have our records books still show a red number. It is always more fun to win than to lose!! However, when experiencing a really bad losing streak, it helps us to be able to look back through our books and see records of all the bad spells we’ve had in the past and how we have eventually climbed out of the holes.
As to advice for someone considering playing professionally, I would generally try to discourage them. You have to be prepared to travel – I know pro players who don’t just travel around the US but they travel all over the world to find good games – and the environment and time frame you have to play in is physically draining. The reality is that an overwhelming number of the pro players out there are single. It’s very difficult to sustain a relationship travelling as much as is necessary to make money.
Brad and I have always had other sources of income so have never considered our play to be professional. We think of ourselves as skilled players but not pros. Even still what has helped us most is that gambling has always been a closely shared passion (remember, we met at a card table!). This common interest has strengthened our relationship rather than put stress on it. When looking for a mate, it’s not important that the two of you are alike in every way, but it is important to find that person with which you can share what is the major part of your life.
What’s been your most exciting win? Where did it happen? Do you find you still get an adrenalin rush when you win – or is winning now a normalised experience for you?
After 30 years we are still enthusiastic about gambling. We say that the day we don’t get excited about hitting a Royal Flush is the day we’ll stop playing!
Our most exciting video poker win – not just because it was a big one – but such a surprising one – was the time that Brad, on the very first hand of a playing session for the day at the Palms Casino, was dealt a Royal Flush on a quarter hundred play machine. One hundred $1000 royals – $100,000. That is definitely an adrenalin moment!
Our biggest win came when we were playing, teamed with another couple, in a slots tournament at Caesar’s Palace in 2006. This tournament was a million dollar event with a first prize of $500,000. We’ve played in many tournaments over the years, mostly with smaller prize packages, and we are always happy to even get into the lowest winning scores section. So winning the first prize in our biggest tournament ever – we were in a state of disbelief for days. That trophy and a photo of the 4 of us surrounded by casino executives and “Caesar” and “Cleopatra” still sits on the mantel in our living room today!
Moving on to online play – whilst the US officially exited the market in 2006 there have still consistently been some online casinos that would accept US players and now there are various states starting to legislate for online gambling. Do you ever think you’d be interested in playing online?
Most of the online play is poker and we don’t play live poker. It takes a lot of time and hard work to develop the skills necessary to win at poker and we haven’t put that time in so we won’t play.
There are some Video Poker games available online, but with my writing I spend so many hours every day staring at a computer screen that the last thing I’d want to do is play by staring at my computer screen. If there ever came a time when Brad or I were housebound I might consider it then. But I’d really have to study up!
Alongside writing books about how to get the most out of your gambling bankroll and books on Video Poker, you’ve also written a book of tax advice for gamblers. This sounds like a very dry topic, but for anyone looking to make a living out of playing, or even those who simply enjoy playing regularly, this is invaluable information. What led you to write a book on this topic? Have you got any more books planned for the future?
Like with all my books I ended up writing Tax Help for Gamblers because I needed to find information on the subject and I couldn’t find it anywhere else. I’ve read other books on taxes but they’re clearly not written by people who have actually gambled. I spent so much time in research and explaining this stuff to my own tax advisor that I figured I might as well write a book about it. And the book has done really well so there really was a need for it! So many people are buying it for themselves and even to give to their own tax advisors!
As to other books, I would really like to write an autobiography, just talking about all the fun times and interesting experiences we’ve had in the casinos over the years. I already write a blog which covers a lot of that sort of material but it would be nice to bring it all together in a book. But that’s all going to come down to time. Right now we’re still active players and I’m trying to update all my previous books, so finding time to write a new one is difficult. Although I have threatened to retire for many years, I probably never will, so I figure the book in my head will demand to come out some time!
You can read more from Jean at her website – http://queenofcomps.com/ – and her blog – http://jscott.lvablog.com/.
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