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#1 Aug-12-2007 02:50:pm


Players Club card rewards elusive at Seneca Allegany Casino

Players Club card rewards elusive at Seneca Allegany Casino
Players Club card confounding at Salamanca, N.Y., casino
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Susan Glaser
Plain Dealer Reporter

Salamanca, N.Y.- I kept my expectations in check when I crossed through the doors of the new $160 million Seneca Allegany Casino & Hotel in western New York.

I held no illusions that I would exit the next day with my kids' college tuition tucked inside my pocket.

My hopes were more mundane: a free breakfast, a T-shirt from the gift shop, or - in my wildest dreams - an hour of pampering in the hotel spa.

My goal, win or lose, was to become a Player, with a capital P - someone who earns freebies simply by sliding bills into the hungry gaming machines.

The quest began a month ago, when I phoned Seneca Allegany, the gleaming 11-story resort thatopened in late March. The facility replaced a temporary casino-only structure that is being converted to a special-events center. I requested a room for late July.

Instead of asking for my credit card number, the agent asked for my Players Club card number.

"Um, I don't have one, I've never been there," I said, feeling a bit like the kid in the class who didn't get invited to the popular girl's party.

"What percentage of overnight guests stay for free?" I asked her. About 75 percent, she replied.

That's definitely a guest list I wanted to be on.

Getting in the game
Immediately after stowing our bags in our room (beautiful, by the way, with granite counters, cherry-stained wood, a 36-inch flat-screen TV and huge walk-in shower), my husband and I headed to the promotions desk to sign up.
Immediately after stowing our bags in our room (beautiful, by the way, with granite counters, cherry-stained wood, a 36-inch flat-screen TV and huge walk-in shower), my husband and I headed to the promotions desk to sign up.

The cards are good at the Seneca Nation of Indians' other New York casinos, including the Seneca Niagara in Niagara Falls, as well as a small, temporary casino that recently opened in Buffalo.

The woman who gave us our cards told us how to use them: Slide them into the machine (or give them to your table dealer), and the rewards will accumulate as you play. Each point earned is worth $1 in the hotel's restaurants, gift shop or spa, now or during a future stay.

She was less clear about how the points add up - whether based on how much you gamble, how long you gamble, if you win or lose or the kind of game you play.

Before I set out to solve the mystery, I needed nourishment. We headed to the Western Door, the resort's acclaimed steakhouse, where an 8-ounce Kobe filet runs $58. It's one of four restaurants at the resort, which also has an upscale Italian eatery, Patria; the bountiful Thunder Mountain Buffet; and the 24-hour Seneca Cafe, which offers a full menu of sandwiches and dinners, along with a smattering of American Indian specialties.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, I couldn't help but notice that everyone around me was paying with points, not dollars.

Playing for points
Next stop: the casino floor.

Casinos generally are not architectural or aesthetic achievements, but this one is prettier than most. The Indian themes woven throughout the lobby and hotel rooms are present here. You'll find fire in the lighting (check out the gor geous chandelier in the lounge), wind and water on the walls and ceiling. Natural stone columns add vertical lift; leaves im printed on the carpeting bring the outside in (though you still won't find a window in the place).

More importantly, the 64,500-square-foot space holds 2,235 slot machines, 40 table games, a nonsmok ing room, a poker room and a high- limit area.

I scoped out a video poker machine in the non smoking area and in serted a $20 bill. I made the money last about 45 minutes, during which time I earned a grand total of zero
A victim of lousy cards, I lost $90 in four hands and under 15 minutes.

Surely, I thought, losing your money that fast must come with some reward. So I stuck my Players card in a nearby machine to see how many points I'd earned for emptying my wallet so quickly.

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

I remained cautiously optimistic after a fellow gamer told me it can take up to an hour for points earned at a table game to register. An hour passed and I faced the cold reality: $110 lost and not a point to show for it.

Nor did my husband, who lost even more at the craps table, earn a single point on his card.

Meanwhile, that evening, Kelly Gerard of Rocky River lost about $200 in the slots but earned enough points to buy her and her three pals breakfast the next morning.

Katherine Williams, too, had converted her frequent gambling junkets into a menu of complimentary goodies. Williams, of Greenville, Pa., was staying for free, eating for free and even driving for free (the resort sends her gas coupons, good at the reservation's service station).

She claimed she earned it all without spending too much: "I play the penny slots," she offered as an explanation.

Mystery solved
One person's "not much," of course, is another person's "too much."

After I returned to Cleveland, Seneca Allegany spokesman Philip Pantano explained the system to me. For every $110 spent at a slot machine, a Player earns a point (which is why my $20, even though I made it last nearly an hour, got me nothing).
Points at table games are trickier to calculate, according to Pantano, based on a subjective assessment of the game you play, the length of time you're there and how much you bet.

Pantano also confirmed what most club members - wherever they gamble - already know. The rewards are designed to keep them coming back. Again and again and again.

"We know they're doing it to get us back in here to spend money," said Katherine Williams' husband, Kim.

It seems to work. The Williamses make the 2 hour trip to the casino from their Pennsylvania home every few weeks.

As for me, well, I haven't decided whether I'll go back.

I can accept that even the smartest gambler loses money most of the time. What's more painful is losing all that money and still feeling like the party was held without me.

Even so, I'm reluctant to get rid of my Players Club card. It sits waiting in my bedroom dresser drawer. Just in case an invitation arrives in the mail.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

sglaser@plaind.com, 216-999-4240
http://www.cleveland.com/living/plainde … amp;coll=2

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