How to Spend Less Money in the Casino
Published on July 28, 2016
The global land-based casino industry brings in $350 billion a year in revenue. They don’t make such huge amounts of money by accident. They use multiple techniques to get gamblers to part with their money.
Casino gambling can be fun, but it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. You can still enjoy the fun of gambling in a casino without breaking the bank.
Below, I’ve listed some conventional and unconventional tips for saving money in a casino gambling setting. Keep in mind that these are just suggestion. You know better than I do what you enjoy doing and how much it’s worth to you.
If you’ve never gambled at a casino before, you probably won’t take long figuring out that as long as you’re gambling, the drinks are free.
Here’s what you need to remember:
Casinos don’t do ANYTHING unless they expect it to generate a net profit.
What does that mean when related to the free drinks?
It means that an actuary and an accountant and a manager all figured out what it costs to give gamblers free drinks, and then they compared it to how much additional money those gamblers lost on average compared to when they were sober. If they weren’t making a significant amount of profit by getting their customers drunk for free, they wouldn’t do it.
You might think you hold your liquor well. You might think that since you know about this going in, you’re immune.
Most people who lose more money gambling than they intended to did it under the influence of alcohol.
So if you want to save money in the casino, start by staying sober.
Another easy tip is to budget out your expenses for the trip and then stick to that budget with a legendary fanaticism. It’s impossible to spend more than you expect to if you have a budget that you stick with.
You should plan on how much you’re able to afford for your accommodations, then stick with that. Plan how much you’re going to spend eating out. Plan how much you’re going to be willing to lose while gambling.
Then don’t deviate from those numbers.
You’ve probably heard it said that failing to plan is planning to fail.
Nowhere is that more true than in a casino.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating:
If you have a budget to stick with, you’re avoiding a situation where you are likely to make a rash decision in the heat of the moment.
Casino games can be compared base on their average hourly cost to play. When you compare them this way, blackjack played with perfect basic strategy is clearly one of the best gambles in the house.
Here’s how you calculate the average hourly cost of playing:
You multiply the number of bets you’re making on average per hour by your average bet size. That tells you how much money you’re putting into action each hour.
You then multiply that number by the house edge.
If you don’t already know, the house edge is the percentage of each bet that the casino expects to keep. Sometimes you’ll win a bet, and sometimes the casino will win. But if you average enough of these wins and losses up over time, you’ll eventually see losses in keeping with the statistical probabilities.
Let’s look at the hourly cost of playing a decent quality slot machine game at an average casino on the Strip in Las Vegas.
Most people make 600 spins per hour on a slot machine. Suppose you’re playing for $1.25 per spin, which is a quarter machine where you’re making bets on 5 paylines. That’s $750 per hour of action.
It’s not uncommon for a slot machine game to have a house edge of around 6%. That means you can expect to lose, on average, over time, $45 per hour.
Let’s compare that to blackjack played with perfect strategy.
We’ll assume you’re playing for $10 per hand, and you’re at a fast table with few other players. So you’re seeing 80 hands per hour, and you’re putting $800 per hour into action. That’s more than you were putting in at the slot machines, but not by much.
But if you master basic strategy, the expected loss is between 0.5% and 1%. That makes your cost per hour somewhere between $4 and $8 per hour.
That’s a huge difference. You just plain get more gambling for your money when you play blackjack sing basic strategy.
Blackjack isn’t the only game with great odds. Some video poker games offer a house edge similar to that of blackjack, and you can sometimes find them in quarter denominations, which means you’re putting less money into action per hour.
An example is Jacks or Better. If you can find a quarter game with a 9/6 pay table, you’re looking at a house edge of just 0.54%. With 600 hands per hour, that’s $750 in action, but you’re only expected to lose about $3.75 per hour.
Of course, not all the video poker games have such generous pay tables. You can find more information about video poker pay tables in that section on our site, but let me just say this about video poker:
Even the worst video poker games are a better gamble than your average slot machine game, and these games are more interesting to play anyway.
Even an 8/5 Jacks or Better game only has a house edge of less than 3%. That’s twice as good as the average of 6% or more on most slot machine games.
Also, when you’re playing video poker, the decisions you make actually have an effect on your outcome. Make good decisions, and you’ll win more often and lose less often. Make bad decisions, and the reverse is true.
And with video poker, you can calculate the house edge based on the pay table. This is simply impossible to do with a slot machine game, because you have no idea what the odds are of any particular symbol coming up on any particular reel.
Video poker games base all their odds on a virtual card deck. That means each card has a 1 in 52 chance of showing up, so mathematicians can easily calculate the payback percentage and house edge for the game.
I prefer my casino games to lack that air of mystery. I want to know what kind math I’m facing when I gamble.
Most table games also have a known house edge, but it’s almost always significantly higher than the house edge at video poker. Roulette, for example, has house edge of 5.26%, which is 10 times the house edge on a full pay Jacks or Better video poker game.
I would NEVER advise you to not tip. But a lot of newcomers to Vegas tend to over-tip.
Here’s an example:
You’re eating at an expensive buffet, and you get the check. You’re used to tipping 15% or 20% at your restaurants back home.
But here’s the thing:
The waiters and waitresses aren’t working that hard at a buffet. You’re getting your own food, and you’re usually standing in line in order to do so. All they’re doing is bringing you drinks.
Here’s my suggestion:
Tip $1 or $2 for each member of your party. So if there are 4 of you eating at the buffet, you’ll tip $4 to $8.
Trust me. There’s enough traffic going through that buffet that the servers are making plenty of money.
Also, yes, you should tip your dealer when you’re gambling. It’s just polite.
But you don’t have to tip her on every hand.
The idea is to tip occasionally.
If you want to be really classy and cool about it, place a bet on behalf of the dealer. They like an opportunity to win some money, too.
I already gave you some advice about avoiding the free drinks, but if you do imbibe, you should tip the cocktail waitress at least a buck every time she brings you a drink.
I’ve seen a lot of strange suspicions and conspiracy theories about slots clubs at casinos.
But here’s the reality:
Playing without joining the slots club is just wasting money.
The casinos know that having you as a member of the slots club enables them to advertise to you on a regular basis.
They also know that other casinos are competing for your business.
Why would they NOT be willing to offer real and legitimate incentives to players who are loyal to their property?
Here’s how most of the casino loyalty clubs work:
You sign up. You get a card that looks like a credit card. Any time you’re playing, you insert that card into the video poker or slot machine, and it tracks how much money you’re putting into action. You earn points for every dollar you wager.
You don’t have to lose money to get rewards from the card. You just have to put money into action.
You can have a winning weekend at a casino and still earn plenty of comp points.
And you can use the card playing table games, too. All you have to do is present the card to the dealer.
Some conspiracy theorists are convinced that having the card inserted reduces your chances of winning.
That’s just silly.
Casinos don’t have to cheat. They already have an unassailable mathematical edge.
But these points that you’re earning—they’re worth comp rooms and free travel. You can earn free meals and entertainment tickets. Put enough money into action, and the casino will bend over backwards to earn more of your business.
You should pay special attention to when the casino is running its promotional offers. Certain hours during certain days of the week are worth 2X as many points, or even 3X as many points.
Take advantage of these as often as you can. If you combine those with games with a really low house edge, you can even come out with a mathematical advantage over the casinos.
Most major casino destinations, especially Vegas, offer coupon books. You can usually buy these online. They’re a tremendous value.
Casino destinations offer more than just gambling, and you should take advantage of these other entertainment activities. Using a coupon book to save money on these is just plain smart.
The coupons and offers in these casino destinations are usually really aggressive, because everyone’s competing for your money. Buying a coupon book will usually pay for itself several times over.
Las Vegas Advisor is one great example of a high value coupon book and membership site. They’ve been in business for years, too.
Don’t forget that you can find free coupons for attractions in Las Vegas and other destinations, too. All you have to do is a quick search in Google or Bing.
I worked for Hotels.com for almost 10 years, and I learned one important thing about travel prices:
If a hotel is almost sold out, and if most of the other hotels in town are almost sold out, then you can expect to pay top dollar for a room. The hotel doesn’t have much incentive to offer a discount if it’s almost sold out on a particular night.
On the other hand, if a hotel is running below 50% occupancy, it’s losing money. It has a huge incentive to fill those rooms.
In Las Vegas, the best times to get cheap hotel rates are when no one else is there.
As a general rule, you can almost always get a better rate on Sunday through Thursday at a Las Vegas hotel than you can on a Friday and Saturday.
But certain months and times of year are also considered off season, while others are considered peak occupancy dates. For example, New Years Eve is an expensive time to visit Las Vegas. Everyone wants to do something special and exciting then, of course.
The best time of year to hit Las Vegas is after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. Most people don’t want to gamble in Las Vegas for the holidays. Their loss is your gain, and you can find rates that are remarkably low during this time period.
Keep in mind, though, that sometimes there are conventions and events going on in the town even during those dates. If you can be a little bit flexible about when you travel, you can save a lot of money.
I’ve recently become a big fan of Getaroom.com. They offer great discounted and unpublished rates for Las Vegas hotels. The founders of that company also founded Hotels.com in the 1990s, and they practically invented the merchant hotel model.
Earlier I talked about how the way you calculate your expected hourly loss starts by determining how many bets you place per hour on average. The more bets you place per hour, the more money you’ll lose in the long run.
You can reduce any of those 3 factors in order to lose less money gambling, but the one to start with is the number of bets you’re making per hour. This is especially true if you’re a slot machine player.
Of course, if you’re playing table games, it’s easy to slow down. Just sit at a crowded table instead of a table where no one else is sitting. Any time you’re one on one with a blackjack dealer, you’re going to be seeing twice as many hands per hour.
Reducing the amount you bet has a similar money-saving effect.
And playing the games with the lowest house edge is also hugely important.
This one might be controversial, but think about it. If you don’t have to pay for a flight or a hotel room, aren’t you saving a lot of money?
And online casinos offer additional funds just for signing up. It’s not unusual to get a $2000 bonus on top of a $1000 deposit. That gives you $3000 to play with.
People with gambling addictions should avoid online casinos, of course. But they should also avoid land-based casinos.
Gamblers can also find other kinds of gambling at online casinos where the house edge might be really low or even non-existent. Video poker pay tables for online casinos are generally excellent. And even the slots tend to have better payback percentages on the Internet. They just have lower overhead.
You can find lots of ways to spend less money in the casino, but most of them relate to being a better-educated gambler. If you combine the tips for saving money in Vegas in this post with each other, you can probably slash your gambling budget by a huge percentage.
All it takes is a little bit of willingness to try something different.