Freerolls Are Rarely Free

All the talk amongst the Las Vegas poker grinder scene the past few weeks has been freeroll tournaments at the various properties around town.

A freeroll tournament is offered by a casino to reward player loyalty. By playing a certain number of hours each week, month or quarter, a player is placed entry fee free into a tournament for prize money.

The concept, while quite simple overall, is actually quite complicated for the players involved.

Station Casino’s will host its $300,000 Poker Plus Tournament in January. To qualify, a player must log 50 hours of live play from November 1-December 31, 2011. Of the rumored 3,000 players who have qualified, each will start with 1,400 chips.

Each player is guaranteed $75 no matter their finish. By reaching day 2, a player is guaranteed $200. The prizes escalate the further a player advances in the tournament, with a top prize of $40,000.

The question that most players in this field cannot answer is, “How much did I spend to achieve 50 hours of live play?” Since most recreational players don’t track their wins/losses they have no idea how much this freeroll cost them. For a player who is a retiree/2-4 limit grinder this tournament can be expensive. A typical 2-4 limit game will average around 26 hands per hour. That means a player will have played about 1,300 hands of 2-4 limit to qualify for the freeroll. Have you ever played 2-4 for a long period of time? The only winner in a long 2-4 game is the casino. There is rarely more than $800 on the table. Once a player is down even as little as $60 it’s hard to make your money back. With approximately $4 coming out of every pot to cover the house rake and the promotions rake (including the freeroll), roughly $104 is coming off the table every single hour. There is almost no way for even the best 2-4 limit players in Vegas to turn a profit in the game over 50 hours. The low stakes of the game by a recreational player almost demands playing well over 40 percent of the hands dealt.

I run a poker room that spreads 2-4 seven nights per week. The average “regular” spends about $200 per week playing 2-4. There are some winning sessions and some high hands, but you can safely say a 2-4 player is going to buy in for between $150-$300 per week playing 2-4 limit on a regular basis. Even if you generously say the player is getting 15 hours of play in for this cash investment the player is probably in the “freeroll” for a “buy-in” of around $1,000.

To recoup this $1,000 in the $300,000 Poker Plus Tournament a player would have to finish top 20…out of 3,000 players! That’s right, you have less than 1% of a chance of breaking even if you’ve spent $1,000 over 50 hours to get in this freeroll.

In addition to the 50 hours played, how much more money did the average player tip the waitress for a drink or a bottle of water? Play a slot machine and lose before, during or after the poker session? Spend in gas to and from the casino? All these questions translate into real dollars that has to be tracked to figure out if a freeroll is actually free.

Now this concept doesn’t apply to all players. Some of the freeroll players will be 1-2 and 2-5 no limit players. In a no limit game you play many less hands per hour and many less hands overall. If you can have just one big night such as a $2,000 winning session you should be able to cover the buy-ins for 50 hours of play.

I will simplify this freeroll concept for you.

Club Fortune Casino, where I serve as Poker Room Supervisor, has a $500 weekly freeroll for up to 30 players who log 10 hours of live play during the week. This freeroll attracts an average of 12-18 players, though its been as high as 26 and as low as four players during Christmas week.

Club Fortune spreads mainly 2-4 limit hold’em and $.50/$1 no limit hold’em. Again I will err to the generous side and say the average qualifying freeroll player spends $150 in buy-ins for a ten-hour week. Although some players have spent at much as $700 to qualify (during a nasty NL session), some players do manage to stay close to even for the week or even turn a small profit. The strictly 2-4 limit players rarely turn a profit for the week, unless they hit a high hand or win one of the other weekly tournaments.

So in an average week, 12 players qualify for the freeroll having spent on average $1,800 combined to qualify for the event. The total prize pool is $500. And, the tournament is almost always chopped five-handed or four-handed, giving players a pay out of either $100 (five-handed) or $125 (four-handed)

Exactly how much did this “free” tournament cost?

The only solution to the solving the complexity of the freeroll is by tracking every single dollar spent at the casino during play. Every buy in, every cash out, every tip to the dealers, every tip to the cocktail servers, every dollar put into a slot machine. If you spent $150 playing poker on the week, tipped off $40 to the dealers and wait staff, put $100 in a slot machine and won an $1,800 jackpot you have a profit of $1,510.  You are definitely freerolling the freeroll. The only way to know this is to track it all, since we tend to remember exactly every big jackpot we have ever won, and tend to forget about the $20 here, $40 there we lose in the casino.

I am currently trying to qualify for Mirage’s $250,000 Freeroll Championship Series. To qualify, a player must play at least 25 hours between November 1, 2011-January 31, 2012. This gets the player a spot in the $50,000 Quarterly Tournament. There are also bonuses for playing 50 hours, 75 hours and 100 hours.

I have played three sessions of $3-6 limit hold’em so far. My results are +$31, (-$33) and +128. In 11.3 hours played, I have profited $126 and am more than 1/3 of the way toward qualifying for the freeroll. By using the Poker Journal App on my iPhone, I know this exactly:

Total Buy Ins: $420

Total Cashed Out: $546

Total Hours 11.3

Total Dealer/Wait Staff Tokes: $57

I have not figured in gas/food yet but as long as I am positive on poker profits I can play this freeroll figuratively free. That is, if I am still profitable another 13.7 hours from now.


One thought on “Freerolls Are Rarely Free

  • January 6, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Super interesting read, my friend. Keep it up. I am learning more from you about Poker than I ever thought I would. I am not even a player!


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