PAUL'S POINTERS: ANATOMY OF A COUPON RUN
by Paul Wilson
BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man and graduate of Millsaps College. Some of his interests and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. He's an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously. As we learned in the November 2014 issue, he also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman. Follow him on Twitter @ PaulsPointers.
One of the first things I learned about Las Vegas during my "formative years" was "never pay full price for anything." It's certainly more difficult to do these days and "full price" costs a lot more than it did back then. However, there are still ways to save money during your Las Vegas casino visits. In this month's Paul's Pointers, I'm going to examine one of the primary ways to extend your bankroll and save money on your other casino expenses by using coupons. This topic applies to most casino destinations to some degree, but for the purpose of this article, I'll be referring to Las Vegas unless specifically stated otherwise. Continue reading as I share my expertise on coupons and how I use them. Maybe you can use them too!
WHAT ARE CASINO COUPONS?
Casino coupons are just like any other coupon. Generally they are paper coupons and often come from a third party who has made arrangements with a particular casino to print and distribute them. Some coupons come in the form of marketing offers from a casino property. Often these can be printed from a kiosk inside the casino. In the ever evolving technology age, you might find them with QR codes to scan or upload off your mobile smart device. They can be sent via email or text message. Examples of common casino coupons are match play bets, point multipliers, two-for-one dining coupons, two-for-one cocktails, two-for-one show tickets, and a discount in percentage- off purchases. I'll go into more detail in the next section.
You'll need to have a player's card if you want to play the current version of the casino coupon game. These are free. Just visit the player's club and ask. Photo identification will be required. Expect to be asked to present your card when redeeming a third party coupon or a coupon received directly from the casino. By providing a mailing address and email address, offers can be sent to your physical mail box or email inbox. Provide your cell phone number and offers can be sent via text messages.
Some casinos still offer "fun books." Fun books are literally a small book with the pages stapled together. The "pages" are coupons with tear-out perforations. Simply tear out the coupon when you want to use it. The idea is to get guests to participate in all the property has to offer by offering an incentive to spend or gamble. To the best of my knowledge, the Four Queens in downtown Las Vegas and many Boyd Gaming properties such as the Gold Coast, Main Street Station, and the Orleans, still offer them. Generally you must be a hotel guest to receive a fun book and they are provided at hotel registration during check-in. If you are staying at any casino hotel property, it doesn't hurt to ask if they have a fun book. Fun books were once commonplace, but have been diminishing the past decade or so as corporate casinos have become the norm. Have you noticed your comps declining in recent years? It's the same thing with casino fun books and coupons in general.
HOW DO SOME COMMON CASINO COUPONS WORK?
I listed a few common types of casino coupons in the previous section. In case you aren't familiar, let me explain them a bit more.
As a blackjack player, match play coupons are one of my favorites. A match play allows you to make a bet on a table game by presenting the coupon along with your betting chips in the circle. If you win, the casino matches the amount of your payout. For example, let's say you bet $10 on any even money bet at any table game (think blackjack, craps, and roulette) and win. The dealer pays you $10 for your winning bet, then "matches" that amount by giving you an additional $10 for a total payout of $20. Match plays can be used once - win or lose. Common denominations are $10 and "up to $25." "Bet $5 and win $7" on tables is a common fun book coupon. I'm not a roulette player because the math is so bad (5.4% house edge on double zero games), but I love to make a $5 wager to make $7 on red once or twice a year. These coupons turn an even-money bet into a +140 bet. Granted if my color doesn't hit, I get zero, but at +140 odds I'll make that play every chance I get. Unfortunately, I don't see many of these coupons any more. (Do any of you remember the great, and easily acquirable, fun books from the Riviera casino?)
A casino coupon I use frequently is a two-for-one or 50% off at the buffet. These are self-explanatory and often referred to as "buy one, get one free (BOGO)." I often dine alone and take advantage of the half price offer and then pay the remainder with player's club points. If you play slots or video poker, these are a great way to maximize value, whether eating alone or with someone else. Currently Boyd Gaming properties offer a 40% discount when paying with points, and the former Station Casinos (now Red Rock Resorts) properties offer discounts when paying with points depending on your player's club tier status. Using the coupon and paying with discounted points is a winning play!
You'll often find two-for-one coupons on entrees at casino coffee shops and themed restaurants as well. Don't expect to always pay with points though. There's a sign in my honor at the Magnolia's cashier register at the Four Queens in downtown Las Vegas. Let me explain. A couple years ago, I redeemed one of these coupons and attempted to pay the balance for the second entrée with player's club points. The cashier would not allow it. Understand, I had done this in the past and there was nothing on the coupon stating that I could not. As you might expect, I pushed back and refused to open my wallet for cash. I pointed out there was nothing stating that I couldn't pay this way. The cashier held firm and I asked for the manager. Naturally the manager was unavailable and a line had begun to form. Out of respect for my fellow customers and with enough slow, deliberate English in a low volume, but easily heard and understood, I protested once more to no avail and reluctantly agreed to charge the remaining amount to my room. The next time I ate at Magnolia's there was a sign at the register explicitly stating that points cannot be used if redeeming a coupon or promotional offer. I call it the Paul Wilson Rule (I may be exaggerating just a bit as I'm sure I'm not the only one that protested.) That sign has been there at least two years. I haven't visited Magnolia's this calendar year, but I'm guessing it still is. I'll probably visit this month and redeem that same coupon. At least I know the rules and give them props for codifying it. Heck, you can't win them all; but you gotta try!
Most of the other coupons I mentioned above are self-explanatory. I caution you to read the fine print that is often printed at the bottom or on the back of the coupon. For example, many coupons aren't honored on holidays or during special events (especially dining ones). Many of the percentage off coupons are tiered or require a minimum purchase amount. For example, 25 percent off on purchases over $100 means just that. If you spend $120, you can redeem the amount in this example and pay $90; that's 25% off. Another similar example is a coupon that offers $10 off on purchases of $20 or more. This is a flat dollar amount, but you have to spend the required amount. A $19 ticket in this example will cost you $19, but a $20 ticket will cost you $10. If I'm at a restaurant, a play I often use if my total bill is less than the required amount to use the coupon is to order a dessert to go. This gets my total bill over the threshold limit and allows me to use the coupon.
Other gambling coupons you might find are point multipliers and point bonuses. Generally you present the coupon at the player's club and they activate the multiplier. If you don't know the casino's policy, ask before playing. Some require you to present the coupon first to gain the multiplier on your play that has yet to occur. Others will adjust at the end of the night after you have completed your play for that day. Bonus points require a certain number of points to be earned during the allotted time frame. Once the minimum is met, redeem the coupon and the points are added directly to your account. The Four Queens offers a coupon that will allow you to add up to 500 bonus points to your account (currently worth $12.50 in addition to the $12.50 you would earn by earning that number of points). This coupon matches your points earned for that day and tops off at 500. I do this every year, but to get the full benefit you need to earn 500 points. At $8 in coin-in (CI) per point, that's $4,000 in CI. That's a long day of single-line quarter video poker. I do it when I have a room at the hotel. That way I can break it up into multiple sessions. I redeemed this coupon from the American Casino Guide (ACG) earlier this year. That book can be found for under $20, so I figure that play pays for over two-thirds of the purchase price.
You may also find coupons for $5 or $10 of free slot play with no strings attached. If you are an infrequent gambler or visitor to that casino, play these. Any winnings are pure profit, however, you'll be tempted to play more and that's the point. You have to make the decision if $5 or $10 in free play is worth your time and effort to redeem it. I have a couple of these coupons to redeem this month and will redeem some as part of a longer session, and others, I'll simply take the money and run (provided I have any credits when the free play is complete.) Yet another version of the free slot play (you can generally use these at video poker also, like I do) requires you to play $10 in CI, then the free play credits are added to your account. Check with the slot club first before playing. I've seen it done where you play first and then redeem the coupon and also the other way where you redeem first, play the required amount, and the credits are then available at your machine.
Before I close this session, let me caution you about respecting your bankroll and never risking more than you can afford simply to maximize a coupon offer. The "never play for comps" rule applies. Play and collect what is owed you, but don't play simply to try to earn a comp, or in this case, redeem or maximize the value of a coupon. It's not worth it and anything can happen in the short run. Remember my Four Queens bonus point example. The $4,000 in CI is potentially a lot of money.
WHERE CAN I GET CASINO COUPONS?
By now you're probably thinking, "Paul, this stuff is all well and good, but it doesn't mean diddly if I don't have any of these casino coupons for my next Vegas visit." If that's the case, you are correct, Sir. In this section, let's take a quick look at some places to find casino coupons and start saving you money.
My number one source for casino coupons is the Las Vegas Advisor Member Rewards coupon book. This is available to members of Anthony's Curtis' Las Vegas Advisor (LVA) newsletter (lasvegasadvisor.com).The annual membership (subscription) will cost you somewhere between $37 and $55. The paid membership includes a monthly newsletter full of recommendations, reviews, and gambling related content; access to the online forums on the website; and the coupon book. For me, this is a must-have. The membership cost can be recouped by simply using a few of the dining or entertainment coupons. I used the two-for-one coupon to take my Mom to the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues this spring. That alone saved me about $50. The two-for-one at Cravings Buffet at the Mirage is worth another $39. Those two moves alone cover the cost. Plus there are lots more dining, entertainment, and gambling coupons.
Another great source for casino coupons that I mentioned above is the American Casino Guide (ACG) (americancasinoguide.com).It has a great collection of coupons similar to those offered in the LVA book. There is a lot of regional casino information and some basic articles about casino games in this book. I haven't read the articles this decade, but I buy the book every year for the coupons. It's also a good resource for casino information in various markets across the United States. I consider this annual purchase and the LVA membership "business" expenses.
Other great resources for Las Vegas coupons are the free tourist publications often found in your hotel room or at the concierge desk. These include Today; What's On; and the Las Vegas Pocket Guide. There are probably others as well. Coupons can sometimes be found in weekly periodicals such as The Sunday. Kiosks with individual coupons for discounts on Las Vegas activities such as food, shopping, and shows can be found at the airport, car rental center, retail outlets, and some casinos (often downtown). Direct mail or marketing offers from the casino based on your player's club information and casino fun books are also part of the mix.
IT'S GO TIME: PLANNING A RUN
Now that you're aware of some common casino coupons, how to use them, and where to find them, let's discuss making a plan to get them into play during your visit. Let's start with one of the infamous "Wilson Rules;" namely, "You have to have a plan, so you can deviate."
Some of my early Las Vegas visits involved driving through the desert from Santa Monica to Las Vegas with a long-time college friend behind the wheel. One of our rituals involved coupons. Neither of us had much money, but you didn't lots to have fun in Vegas back then. We always stopped at the welcome center at the Nevada state line. There were coupon racks everywhere. We split up and grabbed two of everything that might be of use. We dumped them on the floor of the passenger's side and my job was to sort them by category while we discussed the one's we wanted to use (we scoured the freebie magazines too), as the final miles clicked off on our way to Sin City. This exercise invariably led to great conversations and some pretty cool adventures, including $5 each spent to see an actual Las Vegas show at Vegas World; good times! As I recall, we collected a lot of coffee mugs and never went hungry thanks to our coupon collections too. There is no one size fits all when it comes to getting the most out of your Las Vegas coupons. I won't even try, but let me offer a few short considerations that I used when planning my former Las Vegas visits.
Time waits for no one. Let's face it; the time you'll spend in Las Vegas in any given visit is limited. That's why the rule above is so important. I used to prepare a literal game plan which included my airline, rental car, and hotel details, including confirmation numbers. I'd then list which casinos I planned to play at and how many sessions at each. I included restaurants, shows, and nightclubs I wanted to attend and what day. I also included coupons I planned to use as I executed my playbook. The last section included a "maybe" section of things I might want to do if time permitted or the opportunity presented itself. Despite having a relatively strict plan, I also built in flexibility for new finds and new adventures. This document could not be more than one sheet of paper; printed front and back. This script keep me organized and helped me to stay disciplined in my gambling pursuits. It also helped me maximize my time and still have some flexibility.
I advise that you start simple. You'll need to eat every day. Start with your dining coupons and try to use one or two of those each day. Don't constrain your choices just because you have a coupon though. If you plan to play at a certain casino and you have gambling and dining coupons at that property, plan to use them. Las Vegas is big and traffic can be brutal. Figure out how you will move from casino to casino - walking, shuttles, driving, taking Uber or Lyft, perhaps even a cab. Try to group your coupons geographically and build around meals.
No matter what part of Las Vegas you are staying in, Fremont Street and downtown is worth a coupon run. You can walk from casino to casino and there is a plethora of gambling coupons in the sources I mentioned above. There are dining offers too. If you want to see a show while you are in town, there's a Tickets for Tonight outlet at the entrance to the Four Queens (and several others throughout town including the Strip). Check out the lineup and grab some discounted vouchers for a show. It's an easy in and out (think time management). If you get an early start, you can gamble, eat, and gamble some more and still get back to your hotel to catch an evening show.
One caveat to using coupons that I should caution you about is that if you plan to "hit and run," you should only do it in casinos where you aren't a regular player. For example, if you have $5 in free play and plan to play a few spins on the slots or make one roulette bet then leave, don't do it at a place you are frequent player. This move will kill your player rating. This is where having a players card can hurt you. However, you'll need it to redeem the coupons. If it's your first visit, or first in a few years, don't sweat it too much. Be sure to ask if there is a sign-up bonus for new club members too. I have core properties that I play at and will roll coupons into my regular play. However, there are properties that I have no relationship with and don't plan to (or vice-versa), so I don't mind the "use the coupon and go" play.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER, PART I
In this month's Paul's Pointers, I explained some common casino coupons such as match plays, bonus points, two-for-one's and more. I explained how they work and shared some of my experiences on how to redeem them. I listed some of my personal go to sources, namely the LVA and ACG, as well, as direct offers from casino marketing at properties I frequent. I listed some secondary sources that should be readily available to most Las Vegas visitors as well. In the final section, I provided a few tips on making a plan that will maximize your individual experience. Coupon values, like comps, are diminishing. Some casino decision makers view coupons as advertising and worth the cost; while others see them only as lost profits. So get out there and use them while you still can. If you are efficient with your time and win your fair share, even the small amount free plays and match plays can add up over the course of a trip. The two-for-ones on meals and tickets can potentially provide tremendous savings. Don't be afraid of using coupons. By saving money on non-gambling activities, you're still winning. You're in Las Vegas to have fun, so use the coupons to augment your fun, build your bankroll, and save some money to get a head start on your next trip. Ben Franklin once said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Who am I to disagree?
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER, PART II
As you probably know, this month's issue is the last issue of Blackjack Insider for the foreseeable future. I'd like to offer some thanks on the way out the door. First, thanks to the readers for reading my stuff the past 3+ years. Paul's Pointers' goals were simply to educate; help you win more, loss less, and save some money in your casino adventures; and encourage you to listen to some good music and smile while doing so. If any of that happened, then my efforts were not in vain. I hope to continue writing some in the future and invite you to look for me on Twitter sometime in the first quarter of next year for a possible announcement on that topic. I'd also like to thank Henry (and his partner, Dan Pronovost), for giving me the opportunity to put my words in their long-running publication.
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