Sunday, April 5, 2015

How to Stay Free in Vegas - The Cheapstravaganza Formula

There's kind of a formula that we've found works for us around getting comped rooms and food. It's probably best if I lay it out in pieces. It may not work for you but it sure works for us.

On our first few trips to Vegas, starting in '93 June 1995, we played mostly slots. Nickels and sometimes quarters. Never dollars. We generally lost all of our budget each day, which started at $80 a day for the two of us. We paid rack rate for rooms. I remember paying $39 or $49 midweek, and $79, $89 or even $119 on weekends at Luxor in those days.

A week-long trip was costing us $1200 or $1500.

But we used our slot club cards faithfully and we'd get a little bit of cash back, and maybe a free t-shirt or something.

After a few trips, I learned how to ask at the slot club desk at the end of our stay if they could take anything off. After I got slapped a few times, I remembered to specify 'off the bill'.

Imagine my shock and surprise when they started comping some of our room nights off of the bill on the back end! What was going on here?!

I also learned about casino rate. You can call up the slot club or a host maybe the marketing folks at some casino/hotel where you have played, give them your card number and see what they can do.

Maybe you get casino rate, which is a heavily discounted rate for people who gamble. It's pretty easy to get.

After 4 or 5 trips, I started reading some things on the (then very young) internet, or maybe it was even a Compuserve news-group or something, about how Video Poker could pay back more than 100%, with very good or perfect strategy.

I knew if you played more coin-in (the total dollars put through the machine, cumulatively, regardless of payback) you could get more free stuff.

We purchased one of the earliest video poker trainers called VPTutor, which ran on DOS. Pandora's box was opened. And it was full of nickels and quarters!

With increased coin-in, we started to get mailed offers for some free room nights.

Use the players card, play enough, get free or discounted room offers, maybe with free food, and maybe with free gambling money.

This was the key to everything. Slots eat your money. With video poker, we had a fighting chance at increasing our coin-in to the point where we got free stuff, because they pay back better and your money lasts longer.

We got in on the tail end of the days when machines that paid back over 100% were common on the strip. Those days are gone now but there are still superior plays to be found, if you learn about paytables and scout around.

We happen to love video poker. There's a mathematical science to it, and a correct strategy. And luck. You don't have to be perfect at it, but if you want to get anywhere, you have to practice it.

I use my Video Poker WinSimulator 3000 featuring WinPoker.

To make this sort of 'formula' work, it takes a few repeat visits to the casino of choice. Here's how we put the pieces together.
  • have a big enough bankroll to play lower volatility full pay quarter VP for about 4 hours a day or more
  • use that player's card
  • use the points you generate wisely for free stuff - like food, which is discounted at Boyd properties when you use points, for example
  • plan your stays to use available promotions like point multipliers
  • play where you are staying, and don't spread your play out all over the damn place
  • stay at places where there is good VP and where the requirements for comps are lower - this is one reason we favor downtown
In the long run, we are losing something like $75 a day. After a trip or two to a casino and playing our asses off at it, we start to get offers for free stays, free meals, free play, shows and tournaments. Tournaments are great. We often get invited to tourneys where the top prize is $5000 and some are $20,000. No entry fee. The first 15 or 20 places win money. What's not to like?

Who knows, maybe you get a Royal Flush in a video poker tournament and take home some dough! It happened to me, I won $1500 that way.

Once you have a home casino established, get set up at another one or two casinos. By combining offers we jump from casino to casino every 3 or 4 days, using different offers at each one. We play where we stay.

Once the ball is rolling, you can generate enough offers that you can take extended trips and never pay for a room. We've had trips as long as 17 days without paying for a room this way.

The best part? Our trips actually cost us less than when we started all this back in '93.

We've added some games to the mix. I learned craps, and blackjack with pretty solid basic strategy.

And we still play some slots, and for some reason, probably the worst game in the casino, Keno - because its fun.

One key thing I had to learn was to up my daily VP bankroll. At $100 or $150 a day we were often getting blown out. That amount wasn't enough to overcome the normal swings of the game for quarter play. Around $300 a day each for Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker are enough to pretty much make sure we can play long enough to generate all those offers (and not be bored, obviously).

The worst trip I've ever had playing quarters was a little less than a $2000 loss. (Playing dollars... it's another story.) And on a small number of trips, we've won enough to cover all our hard costs - that's a totally free 15 day trip including airfare, kennel for Chippy our Dane-huahua, limos, room service, etc.

Typically we'll lose maybe $500 to $1000 between us. But we've also typically had all our rooms free and most of our meals.

You have to know the 'rules' at each place you want to get offers from. Ask around, talk to the slot club,  ask a host, how much coin in per day does it take to get a room comp?

The more you know, the better you get at this stuff.

You can also develop relationships with a host. See my experience at the Cal recently as an example.

I have to give a shout-out to Jean Scott, whose excellent books "The Frugal Gambler", and "Frugal Video Poker" laid out a lot of this stuff in complete and eye-opening detail for me.

I also have to give a shout out to the folks on VPFree, particularly a fine, helpful woman who consulted with me some years back on increasing my Jacks or Better bankroll and what I could expect with the additional risk. Thank you K., your advice changed my gambling world for the better!

And that's a thumbnail sketch of the Cheapstravaganza formula.

Addendum - I would be remiss if I did not mention the myVegas game on Faceblast. I got two nights at Mirage out of that before I got blacklisted. Apparently, threatening bribing one's Dane-huahua to play the game all day long using doggie treats on a string is against the Terms of Service.

The other thing to keep an eye on is coupons such as those which come with Las Vegas Advisor subscriptions and the American Casino Guide. That can get costs down big-time.