Today Las Vegas is well known for its billion dollar center strip casinos Caesars, Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio, Aria and the like. Although Mom and Pop casinos are mostly a thing of the past, there are still some major corporations that embrace the old school Vegas spirit of relaxed atmosphere with simplistic décor, great odds, generous comps and the goal of offering the best overall value in the city. A good example of such a company is Station Casinos, Inc who opened their first property (Palace Station) in 1976, and today owns 18 Las Vegas casinos including Red Rock, Green Valley Ranch and several Station, Fiesta, and Wildfire branded casinos, all of which are located off the strip.
The reasons to play at Station Casinos over the large Las Vegas strip properties are many. Some of the reasons include better odds, better comps, lower limits, and just overall better value. Of course with room costs often 1/10th or less the price, drinks ¼ of the price (free when gambling) and video poker, slots and often times table games offering far better odds, you’re not going to find as much “luxury” at Station casinos as you’ll find center strip. Keeping in mind value and luxury are two different things, Station ranks #1 in the value department. Now I do need to make clear here Station’s Red Rock property, as well as several of their other properties, do also rank well for luxury.
The bottom line about Station Casinos, if you want a casino group that offers an old school Vegas experience mixed with an 18 casino networked comp card loyalty program, Boarding Pass player’s club by Station is a great choice. This rewards program was completely revamped on September 15, 2011 and has also been merged with Amigo Card for Fiesta Casinos, and Wild Card for Wildfire properties. In this article I’ll cover full details of the new program, some information for archive purposes on the old program, and then provide mini-reviews of some of my favorite Station owned Las Vegas casinos in order to show what I mean by “Best Odds”.
How to Earn Boarding Pass Points
Boarding Pass members earn three reward credits and one tier credit for every $1 wagered on video poker and slot machines. One tier point and reward credit and tier point is earned for every $1 wagered on sporting events. Race book wagers earn one tier point and 20 reward credits for every $1 wagered. Bingo players will earn one tier point and five reward credits for every $1 in bingo cards purchased. Poker players earn 1000 reward credits for every 1 hour of play, but do not receive any tier points. Players also earn tier points for playing table games. The points earned vary widely depending on the game played, the amount wagered, and the speed of the game. While tier points are earned for playing table games, reward credits are not earned. Table game comps can be requested from a pit boss or from a casino host.
Expert’s Tips on Point Earnings: Clearly marked at some Station Casinos are 100+% payback video poker machines that require $4.00 to be wagered to earn one reward credit and tier point. If you’re not video poker savvy, understand despite earning rewards credits at 25% the normal rate these are GREAT games to play. Now if you’re chasing higher tier on their VIP program, or are video poker savvy and can spot a high 99% payback machine then in some cases it makes more sense to play these over the 100+% payout machines. Note: The Heads-Up Texas Hold’em video poker tables also earn credits at this same one-quarter the normal pace reduced rate.
Expert’s Tips on Table Comps: Be sure to tip the dealer! Tipping customers well liked by staff generally get added comps. From here do not be shy when gambling table games to ask for things like a buffet voucher, free cigarettes and room comps. If declined ask how much a person generally needs to wager and what comps are available. Generally speaking, sociable table game customers who tip the dealers are well taken care of by the floor and casino host at Station properties.
Redeem Your Boarding Pass Points and Credits
Players can redeem their points in multiple ways. For every 1000 reward credits a player has earned, the player can request $1 in free play or comps. To request free play, a player must go to a Boarding Pass kiosk with their player’s card. The player then enters in their PIN and chooses “Redeem Points”. The player can then request any even dollar amount up to the full amount of reward credits that they have available. The player then goes to a video poker or slot machine and enters their PIN and the amount of free play that they would like to withdraw. Free play is earned after making a wager on a machine so the player will have to insert cash into the machine that is at least equal to the amount that they wish to bet. Free play may be withdrawn from the machine after it has been wagered one time.
A player that wishes to use their reward credits at a restaurant can take their player’s card directly to the restaurant and use it like a credit card at the end of the meal. If a player wishes to redeem points to use in the food court, a player must print a voucher from the Boarding Pass kiosk machines as these restaurants are not owned by Station Casinos. Boarding Pass cards can also be used at bowling alleys and movie theaters that are on Station Casinos’ properties. An ID is required for all Boarding Pass transactions made away from a Boarding Pass kiosk.
Station Boarding Pass VIP Tiers / Levels
As in this case with most casino rewards programs, the more active you are the more you’re rewarded. To help keep track of this, and to encourage loyalty, Station Boarding Pass offers a progressive VIP tier level system. Just for joining their VIP program you’ll be given a status of Preferred Tier VIP which will come with between $5 and $500 in free play credits (lottery selection) and also with $5 in reward credits. You also receive a $2 discounts at the casino’s buffet and a 10% discount at the gift shop just for presenting you Preferred Tier Boarding Pass Card. As you make wagers in the casino you can advance to upgraded VIP tier levels and receive added benefits, as covered below.
Gold Tier: once a player has earned 1000 points, they will achieve the Gold tier. In addition to the buffet discount, Gold players will receive a 15% discount at gift shops located on Station Casinos’ properties.
Platinum Tier: once a player has earned 40,000 points in a six month period, they will become a Platinum player. Platinum players will enjoy 20% discounts at gift shops, a 25% buffet discount when using points for up to four people, and invitations to private events.
President Tier: when a player earns 100,000 points in a six month period, the player will become President. The President tier is where the benefits really become great. President players can take advantage of 25% discounts at gift shops, a 50% discount when using points at the buffet for up to four guests, private secure parking, a personal host, VIP check in, and a private parking area. President players will also never have to wait for a table in a Station Casinos’ restaurant as they receive priority seating. There are also exclusive President only parties and tournaments.
Chairman Tier: Chairman is the highest tier offered by Station Casinos. Chairman players must earn 300,000 points in a six month period to reach and maintain their tier. In addition to the President benefits, Chairman members also receives immediate valet service, VIP seating in movie theaters, VIP bowling lanes and limo access. Chairman players will also be invited to lavish, Chairman only private parties. These parties are offered during holidays and for special sporting events such as the Super Bowl. These parties include Hors d’oeuvres, deserts, an open bar, and sometimes even celebrity guests. Chairman players are also offered the opportunity to receive back stage passes for concerts. Chairman players also receive a free pack of cigarettes with each visit.
* Expert’s Tip: A couple times per month specific Station Casinos run reward multiplier promotions for Video Poker and Slots that negate the house advantage entirely at certain machines. If you’re looking to progress to higher tier levels it makes a lot of sense to put in extra play on these days as on average most of what you’ve lost will be made up for in reward credit comps.
Length of Tier and Point Expiration
The Boarding Pass has two time periods every year. The first is January through June and the second is July to December. When a player achieves a tier, they keep that tier through the current period and also hold that tier into the next six month period. All excess tier points that were not used to achieve a tier carryover into the next time period. For example, a player that earns 200,000 tier points in a six month period will have 100,000 tier points removed when the next six month period begins. The player would then start the next six month period with 100,000 tier points. Note that tier points are not the same as reward credits, the player will not lose any comps moving from one tier to another, nor will they lose comps when a six month period ends.
Expiration of Points: If a player is inactive for 13 straight months, the player will forfeit all of their reward credits.
Station Casino Hosts
Casino hosts are available to all President and Chairman card-holders. If a player has achieved President and has not been contacted by a host, the player can visit the host desk and request a comp and set up an arrangement with one of the casino hosts. Casino hosts can issue comps upon request and make restaurant reservations.
Online Boarding Pass Features
Boarding Pass members can log onto mystation.com to see the latest promotions available to them. These promotions include point multiplier days, free slot play, free table game play, free hotels, and other special holiday promotions. Special holiday promotions include car giveaways, candy, wine, and cash promotions.
Boarding Pass members will receive regular mailers from Station Casinos. These mailers will include free table game play, coupons for restaurant discounts, hotel coupons, and coupons for free merchandise. Boarding Pass members will also receive mailers that will advertise promotions such as point multiplier days and slot tournaments.
Previous Boarding Pass Program
On September 15, 2011 Station Casinos merged all of their player’s clubs into one card, the Boarding Pass card. The previous Boarding Pass rules were different than the new program. In the past, players would only have to redeem 600 points for every $1 spent at Station Casinos’ owned restaurants and amenities. Restaurants and amenities that were not owned by Station Casinos required 1000 points per $1 redeemed. Free slot play was also 1000 points per $1. Reward credits were only earned at a rate of one credit for every $1 wagered, so the new Boarding Pass program is better for all players since three credits are awarded for every $1 wagered.
The tiers also changed. The Gold tier went from 500 points to 1000 points. The Platinum requirement was almost cut in half, from 75,000 to 40,000. President players are now only required to earn 100,000 points, down from 250,000. Top tier Chairman players are only required to earn 300,000 points. In the previous program, 725,000 points were required for Chairman.
While the tier requirements went down, so did some of the benefits. For example, a Gold player used to be able to get 25% off a buffet when spending reward credits. Gold players no longer have that benefit. Platinum players could receive 50% off of a buffet for up to four guests when spending reward credits, now it is 25%. Platinum players also lost private parking privileges. President and Chairman players also lost some of their buffet discount. President players now receive a 50% discount when using reward credits for up to four guests, the discount used to be 75%. Chairman players also dropped from a 75% to a 50% buffet discount. Chairman players were also eligible to receive this discount for up to eight guests, but now Chairman players can only receive that discount on up to four guests.
All in all while there was some loss in benefits, the fact points are earned much faster now, and the tiers are easier to achieve means a larger overall value for most players.
Station Casino Scouting Report
To really show the difference between Station Casino and the big name strip properties I decided to visit four of their properties and take notes on the games offered. Even though I’ve visited these properties a dozen times each in the past I felt the notes were necessary to make sure I could do my favorite VIP program Station Boarding Pass justice. Here is quick summary of my February 2012 scouting report.
Texas Station Trip Report
Texas Station is located in on Rancho Drive in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Open since July 12, 1995 this casino made history in April 2000 when it became the first to offer Child Care centers. The casinos primary market is casino employees, and likewise they deal with savvier clientele who understand the importance of getting the best odds. Having been a couple months since I last visited, I noticed on my February 18, 2012 visit for taking notes, nothing has changed. This was of course a great thing due to just how much value Texas Station offers with their casino games, including Texas hold’em for money.
Texas Station Video Poker
The first thing worth noting is most of the good video poker games are located within the parking deck side of the casino. This includes 6 full pay machines that are not 100% payback (which mean full rewards points are earned). For these the denominations are $.25/$.50 and $1 and the games include 9/6 Jacks or better, 9/7/5 Double Bonus, 9/6 Double Double Bonus and 8/5 Aces Bonus. There are additionally 12 100%+ machines that offer 10/7/5 Double Bonus and Loose Deuces, plus 15/10 Super Deuces in $.25/$.50/$1 denominations. They also have ten Triple Pay Bonus Deuces machines half of which are nickel machines and the other half quarter machines.
Editor’s note: For anyone not familiar with advantage video poker play, 9/6 means 9 on full house, six on flush. Most serious advantage players recognize these terms as video poker is the top game in most casinos for earning comp points at the lowest house advantage available (so as long you choose the correct machine). On the strip video poker machines don’t pay nearly as well.
Texas Station Blackjack
For Blackjack, Texas Station had an impressive ten double-deck tables with rules double anything (DA), double after split allowed (DAS) and dealer hits on soft 17 (H17), nine of these were $5 min / $1,000 max while one was $25 min / $1,000 max. There were also two six-deck shoe tables with a $3 min / $1,000 max which used the same rules PLUS allowed RSA (resplit aces allowed).
Other Table Games
Although not an advantage game Pai Gow Poker caught my eye. It’s worth mentioning here there were three Progressive Pai Gow Poker Tables (these are networked with all Station Properties) and one Emperor’s Pai Gow Poker table (this is a game that features a Pai Gow Insurance side-bet); all four tables had $5.00 minimum. Another non-advantage game that caught my eye was their three double-zero roulette tables for the reason they allowed bettors to buy in for $0.50 denomination chips as opposed to the one dollar minimum at the gaming tables of other casinos. Additionally I spotted a couple $5.00 minimum Three Card Poker tables, a single Let it Ride Table and a single Deuces Wild table game.
As I finished up my notes I did decide to take a peek in their sportsbook which I found to be very old school. This had magnetic whiteboards holding in place the teams with odds and scores handwritten on the whiteboard. Finding nothing of interested in the sportsbook, I concluded my day playing the best game available in all Station Casinos, which is craps. At Texas Station the minimum bet is $3.00 and they offer 10x odds. In comparison on the strip you can only take three-times odd on points 4&10, four-times odd on points 5&9, and five-times odds on points 6&8. At Texas Station you can take 10x full pay odds on any point, no matter if you’re playing pass, don’t pass, come or don’t come. The only place you’ll find better is the 20x odds $3.00 game at Sam’s Town on Boulder Highway which is property of Boyd Gaming’s B-Connected program.
Palace Station Trip Report
A near Mecca for any serious advantage player is Palace Station which is located on Sahara Avenue (a 10-minute or less cab ride from the strip). This property opened on July 1, 1976 under the name The Casino, before being renamed Bingo Palace a year later, and then in 1984 taking on its current name Palace Station. This is of course was the very first casino owned by the Station Casinos group who now owns 18 Las Vegas casinos. Here you’ll a plethora of great games including all the ones I mention in this section.
Located right inside the front door of the main Palace Station entrance is a several 100+% payback video poker machines. Here I was able to spot 10/7/5 Double Bonus, 10/6 Double Double Bonus and Loose Deuces in denominations of $.05/$.25/$.50/$1. At first thinking this was all there was for advantage video poker machines, I did some more searching and found six additional machines. These included full pay deuces wild and several machines in Palace Station Sportsbook (which is archaic like Texas Station). The one downside I spotted was high stakes video poker was unplayable due to only finding mid-tier machines on the casino floor.
As far as blackjack, these games were all similar to the solid games found at Texas Station. Here there were twelve double-deck blackjack tables with rules of DA/DAS/H17 ($5 min / $1000 max) and seven six-deck shoe tables with rules DA/DAS/RSA/H17 (also $5 min / $1000 max). All six-deck games had side bets such as Lucky Ladies, Buster Blackjack and Push Your Luck (10 to 1 on tie). I also spotted a single Super Fun 21 table game which made sense due to Palace Stations being Asian focus. Perhaps for reasons they were located near Chinatown, Palace Station has a plethora of Asian games including ten Baccarat tables, 1 Pai Gow Tiles table, and five tables of progressive Pai Gow.
Boulder Station Trip Report
Open since August 23, 1994 and located in Sunrise Manor (part of greater Las Vegas about 15-20 minute cab ride from the strip) on Boulder Highway is the famed Boulder Station casino. This is a favorite of Las Vegas locals living on that side of town due the huge number of advantage player video poker machines they offer. When I visited here on Feb 23, 2012 I counted fifteen 100% payback machines. Of these, two were Deuces Wild in $.05/$.10 denomination while the $.25/$.50/$1 machines were 10/7/5 Double Bonus, 10/6 Double Double Bonus and a couple machines of 25/15/10/4/3/2/2/1 Super Deuces Bonus and Loose Deuces.
Additionally I found a whopping thirty-one Triple Pay Deuces Wild machines scattered about Boulder Station casino, as well as ten full pay machines that included 9/6 Jacks or Better, 9/7/5 Double Bonus and 9/6 Double Double Bonus. I also found three 9/6 Jacks or Better quarter machines by craps tables.
Running quickly through games I covered in the trip reports of Texas and Palace Station, here at Boulder Station I found twelve double-deck blackjack games with rules DA/DAS/H17 and limits $5-$1000 and two six-deck shoe games with rules DA/DAS/RSA/H17 and limits $3-$1000. Worth noting is there were two-tables each of Super Fun 21 Single Deck and Two Super Fun 21 Double Deck but neither was open. Also not open was their two Baccarat tables and a Seven Card Thrill table. What was open was their famous $3 min 10x odds craps, and their 0.50 denomination roulette which I’m still loving due to having always known table games to have $1.00 betting increments.10 number at fifty-cents each makes $5 low limit roulette a bit more exciting to me.
The final area worth commenting on from my Boulder Station trip is Pai Gow. Here I found both games Station Casinos are famous for in their three networked progressive Pai Gow Poker tables, and single game of Emperor’s Pai Gow (the table that offers a side bet on being dealt a Pai Gow), but also found a unique game I hadn’t previously played in Las Vegas “Commission Free Pai Gow Poker”. How this game works is if you play the bonus no commission is taken, so long as your main Pai Gow bet is not more than 4x the bonus bet.
Red Rock Trip Report
Located in the Las Vegas suburb Summerlin is the flagship casino of Station Casinos, Inc named Red Rock. This is a luxury casino resort with 815 rooms that targets upscale locals and has been opened since April 18, 2006. Although way more fancy than other Station Casino prosperities, this is not at the expense of advantage video poker tables which are still widespread here.
On my February 25, 2012 visit to Red Rock, I spotted twelve 100%+ payback video poker machines in denomination of $.25/$.50/$1 which included Full Pay Deuces Wild (only available for quarters) and 10/7/5 Double Bonus, 10/6 Double Double Bonus and Loose Deuces (available for all denominations). I also found 20 full-pay video poker tables including 9/6 Jacks or Better, 9/6 Double Double Bonus, 9/7/5 Double Double Bonus, 9/6 Bonus Poker Deluxe, Not So Ugly Deuces, 8/5 Super Aces, Full Pay Bonus Deuces and Full Pay Triple Double Bonus Poker.
One area where value is lost for luxury is their craps tables. Here rather than the famous Station tables of $3 min 10x odds, you’ll find five tables of the same 3/4/5x craps with a $5 or $10 min that you’ll find all over the Las Vegas strip. They did however have one advantage craps game, which was a video machine called “Shoot to Win” Video Craps with $1 minimum bets and 5x odds which pays winnings down to the penny.
For blackjack the same player friendly games available at all Station casinos are available with higher maximum bets. This includes six double-deck blackjack tables with rules DA/DAS/H17 and twelve six-deck shoe tables with rules DA/DAS/RSA/H17; both these version had $5 min / $3000 max betting limits. They also had two single-deck blackjack tables of DA/DAS/H17 however these only paid 6/5 on a winning blackjack. Finally in the high roller pit I found four double-deck tables of DA/DAS/H17 and two six-deck tables of DA/DAS/RSA/H17 each having $100 min and $5,000 max limits.
As far as other games I spotted, these included four Progressive Pai Gow Poker tables with a $10 minimum bet, a $5 minimum Deuces Wild table game, a $5 Mini Tex table and two baccarat tables. There was a couple double zero roulette games where the minimum denomination was $1.00 (as opposed to the $0.50 found in other Station casinos), however anyone looking to play in $0.50 denomination could do so at their double-zero video roulette table. In short there was still plenty of great value to be found at Red Rock, however much of it was with video poker, while the table games provide a tradeoff to standard Las Vegas value, in exchange for luxurious atmosphere.
Final Though on Boarding Pass Player’s Club
I’m the type of guy who loves finding value. This is true even though I make a great living working on the internet and writing reviews such as this one in my spare time. For me discovering some barely known about beach resort in South East Asia where from my $40 a night room I can walk across white sand into warm crystal clear water is like heaven. When returning home to Vegas it’s all about getting VIP treatment while playing casino games that are so friendly to the player no one in their right mind who is profit driven should be offering them. This what I find at Station Casinos and is the reason I’ve been able to reach Chairman level VIP without ever having a day where I was stressed about how much I lost. Although I won’t claim to be up lifetime, when I consider all the free drinks, free smokes, free food, occasional free stays at the upscale Red Rock (despite playing at Palace Station), killer VIP parties, and backstage concert passes, I’ve gotten far more than my money’s worth while enjoying a great life thanks to Stations Casinos, Inc.
Now I also understand everyone comes to Las Vegas for different reasons. If you’re looking for a magical Disneyland type experience, this can be found on the center of the Las Vegas strip and you’re better off with a rewards program such as Total Rewards by Caesars, or M-Life by MGM. If on the other hand you’re looking the best overall value in Las Vegas and don’t mind staying a 15-30 minute cab ride off the strip, then Boarding Pass is incredibly ideal. The closest Station casino to the Las Vegas strip is Palace Station. This is a 15 minute cab ride to/from McCarran International Airport (LAS) and is only 3.3 miles away from The Bellagio and Caesars Palace. Hotel rooms at Palace Station start at just $24.99 per night.