Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cruisin' for a Bruisin!

After a week of vacation I'm back home and I have a post laden with F-Bombs for you! In general my vacation was great, but I have a few choice words (or more than a few...paragraphs) for a certain operation.

The main purpose of this vacation was to go on a 4 night cruise to Mexico with my wife and two of our closest friends (our son stayed with is grandparents and got 4 days of rule bending grandparent love).

I got a little sea sick (think 2 out of 10 with 0 being no seasickness and 10 being puking over the rail the whole time) once we pulled out into the open ocean even though we were sailing through calm waters. The food was better than I expected, and since we were paying for drinks they were very good as well. We drank a lot, sang karaoke (poorly, but with lots of energy) 3 of the 4 nights, and took part in a few of the organized cruise activities.

The highlight of the trip was a one hour Kayak tour of "The Bufadora" which literally means "blowhole". It's a geologic formation that is essentially a long, thin tunnel that fills up with a mixture or air and water as waves come in and then shoots the water between 30 and 100 feet in the air based on the intensity of the wave. We also spent some time paddling around the surrounding bay looking at star fish, rock formations and whatnot.

It was pretty amazing and was only over shadowed by the tacos we had afterwards. We had to take a bus ride from the boat to the Bufadora and on the way back our tour guide (who was a local) took us to a hole in the wall taco stand that was packed. The were making the tortillas and grilling the meat right in front of us. When a taco got to your mouth, 60 seconds earlier the meat was on the grill and the tortilla didn't exist yet. It was awesome.

But this blog is about poker and gambling so now I'm going to talk about the casino on the ship! Here is what I have to say about the Carnival Cruise Line casino (and this is in no way based on my results which were slightly negative, but not unreasonable)...FUCK YOU CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE CASINO!

I'm not sure how many casinos I've been to, but it's at least 50 and probably closer to 100. This was without a doubt the worst one. Allow me to explain why starting with the less significant and moving to the down right ridiculous.

There was a $5 craps game that had 2 times odds as the maximum odds you could take on a passline or come bet. I've never seen that before. But more annoying was how quickly they moved the dice. On a few occasions the stickman was pushed the dice to the shooter before the other dealers were done getting the odds bets from the previous roll set!

Another indication of the rushed atmosphere was that I didn't get at pass line bet down before the come out roll two times in a row. I don't think that's ever happened to me before and I've been drunk at a lot of craps tables for hours and hours. Over the course of 30 minutes there were a half dozen occasions where I thought "Holy Shit! There are the dice! I can't believe the rolled already!" To make things worse, the dealers were making mistakes here and there, so I didn't have confidence that I was being paid correctly (which meant I had to really pay attention) and most of the other players didn't know what they were doing so I had to make sure no one was going to scoop up my money thinking it was theirs.

But that's not really that bad. Worse was that they adjusted the payouts on some of the games! For example they paid 3 to 1 on a flush in 3 card poker instead of 4 to 1. That might not seem like a big deal, but in a normal Vegas casino 3 card poker has a house edge of 2.3% meaning for every $100 you bet in the long run you can expect to get back $97.70. Not too bad. With the table they were using the house edge was 7.3%! ACK! For a comparison roulette (which is one of the worst games) has a house edge of 5.25%. They'd also made similar draconian adjustments to the payout scales on Let it Ride and Caribbean stud which were the only other games that they offered using payout tables.

To sum up they made regular casino games HARDER to beat! The system that Vegas has used to build all those billion dollar hotels was too soft for them! I don't even want to know what they did to the slot machines.

As a brief aside we at dinner at a very large round table and one fellow kindly informed us, as if he was sharing a real gem that we should most certainly take to heart, that "craps and roulette are the best games in the casino." Why thank you kind gent for sharing your expert opinion and giving us lay folk the vital information we need to win in the casino. I'll get right to the roulette wheel. In your opinion what numbers are best to bet?

Some other douchebag (and it's a kindness to leave it at just that) was talking about his "system" for beating slot machines. Shortly after he had to think about hitting 7 in blackjack. You've got a 5 and a 2 pal! Even though they're trying to screw you at every opportunity, there didn't put any 15's in the deck!

Now is where I get extra worked up. On the website they go on and on about how it's a cashless boat and you can bet everything with this magic card. When you get on they give you a card that's liked to your credit card and you can use it to buy anything on the ship. It's also your room key and what you need to show to get off and on the boat at the various ports. In the casino you can buy chips with this card, but they charge you a 3% fee! You bastards are going to gouge me on every game in the house and before you do it, you want to take 3% off the top! FUCK YOU CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE CASINO!

But wait! There's more! You can go to old downtown in Vegas, play $1 roulette and drink for free all night, but the drinks were normal price in the casino! $4.95 plus an included mandatory 15% tip for a Budweiser!

Which leads me to another point. They had a group of $9 drinks on the menu all over the ship. They were good drinks and I was fine paying $9 for them. If you brought a receipt for one of those drinks to the casino cashier they'd give you a "$5 match play" card. Sounds like five bucks off a drink right?" WRONG! If you get promotional chips in a normal casino you play them like normal chips. You bet $5 and if you win you get a normal $5 chip while your promotional chip stays there. If you lose they take it. With these $5 match cards, first of all you had to put $5 of your own money into play as well to use it, and second of all they take the card if you lose AND if you win AND IF YOU PUSH! What's that all about?

I was with my wife and we went up to a black jack table, put down our card with a $5 chip on it, got a 20, the dealer busted and when he went to pay us he put down two $5 chips and took our card. My wife asked what was going on. The dealer and the pit boss then went on a rambling 60 second explanation of how the cards worked using the phrase "just like money."

Just like money? It's not anything like money you dicks! Did I mention that they were dicks? Because if I didn't allow me to now mention that these guys were total dicks! They treated us like we were trying to pull something and like we were idiots, instead of just explaining how it works. Try this you dicks "If you win we pay you an extra $5, but the card is only good for ONE hand and we have to take it every time, win, lose or push (slight understanding frown)."

I'm sure it's not great fun to work in a cruise ship casino, but everyone in there looked and acted like they were in the last 10 minutes of a 16 hour shift.

We haven't even gotten to the worst part yet, but before we get to that let me talk about the poker they had. There was an electronic table with a touch screen at every seat and a large sceen in the middle of the table. I've read a few articles about these tables, but I'd never seen one in person. My review of the table is about the only thing positive I can say about the casino. Actually it's not entirely positive, because I think they should have had a real table, with a real dealer and chips, because that's much more fun and that's what cruise ships are supposed to be about!

But the table itself worked perfectly. The game was $1/$2 blinds no limit hold'em and you could buy in for a maximum of $200 with your magic card. Actually now that I think about it there was one major flaw in the table, which I'm sure was just the cruise people choosing the options. There was nothing about posting blinds to get your first hand. When you bought in, they just dealt you in. If you sat out and missed the blinds when you sat back in they'd just post them for you without asking no matter what position you were in. I guess they thought that would be too complicated for some reason.

When you got dealt in your touch screen would have a picture of cards face down and if you touched them the top corners would peal up so you could see what you had. When you action got to you, you've have a set of options just like in online poker (you couldn't declare what you were going to do before the action got to you like you can in online poker). You'd select an option like check or fold or whatever and then you have to touch the top right corner of the screen to confirm that's really what you wanted to do. If you wanted to bet or raise there were pictures of $1, $5, $25 and $100 chips which you could touch to create a bet amount. So if you wanted to bet $39 you'd touch the $25, the $5 twice and the $1 four times, then touch the "bet $39" button, followed by the "Confirm Bet $39" button. It sounds like kind of a mess, but it was actually pretty easy to use and the action moved along smoothly.

The biggest problem with the poker was the rake. In the games I play they take $1 for every pot over $20 that goes to the flop, $2 for a pot over $40 and $3 for a pot over $60 with $3 being the max (and I get a bunch of it back in bonuses, FPPs and rakaback). In this game they took 10% of the pot up to $40 and some piece beyond that. I didn't play for too long, there weren't a ton of big pots, and I wasn't really focused on working out the precise rake system, but I saw $8 come out of a $150 or so pot. Since most pots were less than $40 they were taking 10% out of most pots. On average the players were in for about $100 each. That means if you took ALL of the money on the table it was enough to pay the rake for 5 or 6 hours (Maybe 200-250 hands).

I lost a few big hands and decided to call it quits with $37 left in front of me. Foolishly I thought this would be credited back to the account that it came from. What was I thinking? They'd have no chance to screw me over if they did things that way! I found out on the last night of the cruise at 11 pm as I was cashing in a few chips that I had to give them my card and they'd give me $37 in cash. Otherwise that money was gone into la la land. It didn't say that anywhere. The only reason I found out was I was in the casino when they made an announcement. I'd been in there for 5 or 6 hours over the course of the cruise and didn't hear a whisper before the 11th hour. FUCK YOU CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE CASINO!

I know this has been a long post, but I have yet to get to THE WORSE GOUGING OF ALL TIME! Yes folks I placed not one, but THE TWO WORST WAGERS OF MY ENTIRE LIFE on this cruise.

The first was bingo. They had a large theater for shows and such and on the first night we were there they had bingo (they had it there other nights, but we didn't go). For $10 you could get one bingo card, and for $20 you could get 3 cards. There was some other reason for this gathering other than the bingo, but I can't quite remember what it was. Maybe 200 people were in the room and it looked like half of them were playing bingo. Without a doubt they'd collected a few grand $40 of which came from our group. Guess what the prizes were? ONE $500 prize. Are you fucking kidding me? They played one game which took five minutes and paid out one $500 prize regardless of the money collected.

But wait! It gets worse! There was also a "black jack tournament." Notice the quotes. Calling this a black jack tournament is like calling goat a finely tuned thoroughbred. They told us that the tournament would last from 7:30 to 10:30 and I was surprised that they would run something that would take so long. It sounded like fun. I figured everyone would start with x number of chips and the minimum bet would gradually be raised or we'd play a bunch of hands and whoever had above a certain chip count, say in the top 25% or whatever would move on and then we'd do the same thing again.

Here is the way it actually worked. For $20 you got ten $100 tournament chips. You had 7 hands to turn those chips into as much as possible. We started at 7:30 and at 11:15 the 7 players with the highest chip total would come back and play 7 more hands at "the final table." By the time the action was underway there were 30 or so people signed up to play. The first set of 7 players played their 7 hands, and the best of them ended up with $1,800 in chips. Everyone in my group played in the second round and the best of us ended up with $1,500 in chips.

Here is where things get fishy. The action started at 7:30 and went until 10:30 and they allowed people to enter more than once. While I wasn't there the whole time as far as I can tell they ran this set up at one table constantly from 7:30 until 11:00. Each round lasted something like 6 or 7 minutes and at most 10 minutes. Every time 7 new players sat down that should have been $140 into the prize pool to be payed out to the players at the final table. Right? Isn't that how this should work? Isn't this just something fun to do on the ship or at worst a way to get people into the casino? After all there was plenty of fun stuff to do on the ship that was free. Karaoke was free, mini golf was free, the water slide was free. Hell even the food was free, with 24 hour room service!

So after three and a half hours of collecting $140 from set after set of players every 7 minutes guess what the prizes were? ONE $500 PRIZE! That's right. One prize. $500 regardless of the amount of money collected.

Even if the rounds all took 10 minutes that would be 21 rounds which is $2,940. That's the conservative estimate of what they took in, and they paid out one $500 prize. What a bunch of dicks! Don't do that to your customers Carnival! What the hell is wrong with you! Take 10% off the top or even 20%, but paying out one $500 prize when you've taking in thousands is just wrong. Even the lottery pays out 60% of the money they take in.

I knew ahead of time that there was only one $500 prize on the line, but when we got there at 7:25 and signed up there were only 10 people registered. I thought it was going to be whoever signs up before or at about 7:30 is in the mix. But letting people play as many entries as they want and continuing to take entries for over 3 hours is nuts! The top chip counts were all over $16,000! Guess what? It ain't easy to turn 1,000 chips into 16,000 in 7 hands and that was the worst of the top 7! How many entries do you think that took?


Everyone else who worked on the cruise was great or at least fine. The entertainment staff, the dining staff and certainly the bartenders, waiters and waitresses were all friendly and competent if not wonderful.

In other news, after my PANIC! post I have been doing amazingly well. In my last post I mentioned the tournament success. At my in law's house I played maybe 2 hours on Monday and won $700, and hour or two on Tuesday and won $550 and, and hour Wednesday and won $650. That makes 8 straight winning days with the worst of them being $500 to the good. Things have gone from about as bad as they could be, to great. I hope I can keep it up these last few days of the month and into November.


Anthony said...

When I got to that point of the post I indeed said it aloud. Fuck you Carnival Cruiseline Casino! You're a bunch of dicks!

Unbelievable! I don't ever want to see that. I hope you sent that to their HQ. Would love to see any response.

-Tony F

Jennifer said...

Well I'd tell carnival cruise lines where to stick it, but I think you've got that covered. Instead I'll just settle for saying the karaoke should always be done poorly but with energy. It's karaoke, not a concert. We should play karaoke roulette some time, since you're a gambling man.

Matt said...

I'm one of the worst degenerate gamblers you've ever met, and even I knew enough to not play in the casino when I worked on the cruise ships!

For what it's worth, their system with the match play coupons was pretty standard (except they should definitely be allowed to play again if you push). The reason they rush the dice at the craps tables is because, unlike real-world casinos, they only have so many casino hours during the cruise to try to rape you as much as possible. Whoops, I meant to make as much money as possible.

Either way, it's at least partially your fault for calling yourself a professional gambler yet bending over so Carnival could have the opportunity to shove one up your ass. Having said that, I'm glad you had fun, and congrats on the current winning streak!