I know that I post most all the time about saving your money and scrimping each day to accumulate wealth and financial health and yada, yada, yada. But if truth be told, I do have some flaws in my game and yes, I do enjoy a bit of frivolous fun and entertainment that may actually sound as if I’m willing to throw some good money away.
Well, not exactly. I believe if I’m pretty careful, and I give it some serious thought and restraint, that every once in a while I can “entertain” the thought of going to a casino and having some fun without blowing my finances and risking my future! In fact, I can sometimes turn that occasion into a free trip with no expenses and even come home ahead. Although not a certainty, the opportunity to get “comped” is a tough one to pass up and every so often it works out that way.
Getting comped, for those of you not familiar, is receiving free credits to gamble (slot dollars or table play), free meals, free hotel rooms, free entertainment, free gifts, and/or free parking all because you have spent a period of time gambling in the casino. Most people think that those freebies only go to the high rollers and VIPs that you may see in the movies or read about. But over the past 10 years, I have received many free nights, used my comps for free meals, and actually gone home with as much as $1,000 or more, all from small wagers on the penny slot machines. I always set reasonable limits to my gambling, and often I don’t use any of my own money to play, but rather I use the “free money” that the casino offers me to play. And while it is true that some of those VIPs are flown in by private jet and wined and dined for their trips to the casino, it can also occur (on a smaller level) to regular people like you and me.
So, can you gamble at the casinos and still be frugal? I think you can occasionally if you’re willing to write off the expense as entertainment, and limit yourself to stay within your budget (leave the ATM card at home!). Clearly, this is not the activity for those who may have a gambling addiction or issue, but if you can “bet with your head, not over it” as they say, here’s how to make the most of it:
Select a home base casino
You can try many casinos if you happen to live near more than one. I’m in New Jersey so Atlantic City is within driving distance to try as many as 8 of them! As a new player in each location, ask about the free things you can earn and ask if you can get any comps today. Eventually you can pick your favorite casino and stick to it, so you consolidate your playing time to maximize your favorite casino’s offers.
Also, be aware that competition is your friend. Casinos with nearby competitors tend to give more favorable payout rates on their slot machines, as opposed to casinos with captive audiences (like on that cruise we took a few years ago, ugh).
Get your player’s card
All casinos offer free player’s cards (loyalty cards) that are used to earn you free items every time you play. There’s a misconception that the dollar amount you gamble is the only criteria used to earn freebies. Actually, it’s a combination of things that can make a difference, and the most important of which is the amount of time you spend gambling. The more you play, the better the comps. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose to earn the comps, the casino is only interested in the opportunity to win your money and not whether you have actually beaten it. The most important thing is to register and get your card at the customer service area before your first bet. Once you do, you will use the card to track your betting and times at slots and/or table games (called rating), and the free things will start being earned from day one.
Use your card every time
Having a card and not using it is like throwing your comps in the garbage. Never leave home without your card (or have customer service print you a duplicate) and always use it. Those people with the bungee cords attached to their cards may look a bit silly, but at least they don’t lose their cards!
Sign up for mail and e-mail offers
You will be overwhelmed with offers by both snail mail and e-mail to return to the casino with all kinds of stuff from free rooms, free show tickets, free slot dollars, match play table game coupons, giveaway gifts, meals, and other items once you establish your card and play the first time. Plan your next trip when the offers overlap and get the most out of your comps.
Keep your wits about you
Sure, you may want to indulge in a free cocktail or two (tip your waitress or waiter!) while you’re gambling, but know when to switch to non-alcoholic drinks to make sure you stay in control. Pace yourself and always know when to walk away from the machine or the table. You’re there to have a little fun, not to lose your shirt.
Befriend your casino host
A host can offer you comps that may not be available simple through your player’s card or mail offers. If you are playing for a long period of time at a table or slot machine, seek out a host as they walk around the floor, and simply ask if you can get a free meal, or a room for the night. They will usually check your player’s card and might just see that you are a good deserving customer who they want to please. It’s worth asking, and at some point the answer will be yes.
Keep your time clock running
When playing at table games (such as blackjack), if you leave the table for a bathroom break or a quick bite to eat, the time clock on your card (rating) can continue as long as you don’t abuse it. Being friendly with your host and/or pit boss can make that happen without an issue and help you earn more time towards freebies.
Have a Plan B
Since the purpose of your trip is entertainment, don’t limit yourself to gambling. Take advantage of everything the casino/hotel has to offer (especially if there’s no extra charge), like free shows, indoor and outdoor pools, gym facilities, and window shopping the retail stores. Ask the concierge about local attractions and other fun ways to pass the time. Spending some frugal time so that you’re not gambling constantly will make your trip more fun and less expensive.
Don’t let your points (and freebies) expire
When you earn points or freebies, you can use them on a future trip for a certain period of time (usually up to 90 days). If you’re planning to return anyway, try to use them while you still have them (but don’t go just because you have freebies…unless they are really significant). With free rooms, free parking, and some free meals, spending just a few dollars on slots, for example, may allow you to spend a couple of nights away for a mini-vacation at a luxury hotel!
Remember to always ask for what you want. Ask, ask, ask, ask, and ask again. The very worst thing you may get is a “no”, but there’s always the chance of a “yes”.
My wife and I enjoy one or two fancy trips a year like this, and why not at a casino with beautiful surroundings, great food and entertainment, and fun games to play at little or no cost? As long as you are sensible, plan and budget accordingly, and don’t go overboard, why not enjoy a bit of luxury and fun?
So if you’re still not convinced that you can take an occasional gambling trip and still be frugal, I’ll leave you with this last detail. Over the past 10 years, I have faithfully tracked my expenses against my winnings and losses at the casino, and I have basically broken even moneywise. Yet once or twice a year I’ve stayed at a nice hotel, eaten great meals, seen entertaining shows, and really enjoyed myself. Of course your mileage may vary on the financial side, because no one can predict the whims of Lady Luck (or pure randomness as my wife keeps telling me).
Have you ever taken a gambling trip to a casino? If so, did you earn any comps? Did you enjoy the experience?
Image courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)