Recently, while updating my first book, The Frugal Gambler, I was struck by how much fun we had back when we first started coming to Las Vegas, playing quarter full-pay deuces wild, and walking all over town chasing down promotions, no matter how small they were. Here is an excerpt from that first book:
In those dizzying early years, I sped around like a whirling dervish, taking advantage of every promotion I could find. I used every coupon that was worth anything at all, entered every drawing, and collected as much free merchandise as the casinos would give me. I’d make a special trip to an outlying casino on a shuttle bus for a free spin on a roulette wheel. I made it a point to play in casinos that awarded extras—logo caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, drawing entries, even six packs of soda—when you hit four deuces or four-of-a-kind or a royal.
I dragged Brad all over town to attend all the drawings we’d entered. I scoured casinos looking for discarded funbooks, to the extent (much to Brad’s dismay) of looking in wastebaskets; I only drew the line at digging through half-eaten mustard-laden trash. The importance of promotions doesn’t stop at their cash-making potential, either. Brad has a thing for casino jackets. He has at least 50 logo jackets, six for every outfit he could possibly put together.
Promotions also account for a lot of the fun we have on the casino circuit. I’m going to play video poker anyway, so if the casino wants to give Brad a logo jacket to celebrate my hitting a royal flush, that’s just an easy extra. If I get entries into a drawing for a car by hitting four-of-a-kinds, that’s free action just for doing what I do. That’s why I like promotions: they offer a financial and a psychological lift.
I just read this description to Brad and we discussed whether we had increased our fun when we had accumulated a bigger bankroll and started playing at a higher level. We decided we have had the opportunity to enjoy many more different kinds of fun activities, but everything is relative in gambling – hitting a royal flush top jackpot has always been exciting at whatever level we were playing.
Then Brad quoted something he has said over the years, “It’s only matchsticks.” If that sounds flippant, remember we have never had to make our living expenses by gambling. When we started visiting casinos, we were still working at our regular jobs: I was teaching and Brad was employed in a government civil service position. Once we retired we had a small but comfortable retirement pension. We have never spent our gambling profit on day-to-day routine expenditures. It has just provided us with the ability to help – spoil? – our families and allowed us to save for a more secure and luxurious retirement lifestyle.
Why am I writing about this?
People are more and more asking us how we are coping with the decrease in good gambling opportunities. And we are having to remind them of the title of the last chapter in the first edition of The Frugal Gambler, written so long ago: “Breaking Even is a Terrific Thing.” Back then I wrote:
“So, how did you do?”
That’s the most common question we’re asked after we return home from an extended stay in Las Vegas. Very often, we say that we broke even on the gambling and got all our expenses paid. People tend to turn up their noses and make some remark like, “What’s the point of going?” They expect to hear a dramatic story that involves large sums of money changing hands. Breaking even is about as undramatic as it gets.
But here’s how we figure it. At the end of the year, we’ll have spent up to five months in casino towns. If we stay free most nights, eat free once or twice a day, see a few free shows, play up to eight hours a day, and recoup what we do spend out of pocket, we’ve actually made money by breaking even. We haven’t had to spend any of our own money, so our ordinary income continues to go into the bank and pile up. Anything we don’t spend is the same as winnings, and it’s tax free to boot.
Look at it this way. If someone told you that you could take the kind of vacations that I’ve described in this book and you could do it all for free, would you also insist that you had to make some money while you were at it? Take home a profit from a free trip to paradise? Maybe, but that sounds a little greedy to us. If you spend half the year away from home with no expenses, it means that the other half of the year you have twice as much to spend at home. That’s plenty “dramatic” for us.
Back in March and April of 2015 I did a 4-part series in this blog about the decline of good gambling and how various gamblers were coping. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem and no “right” or “wrong” answers.
We made our first trip to Vegas during a windy March – 31 years ago. It isn’t just the casino world that has changed. We have changed too. We aren’t tourists any more but Vegas residents. Our bodies are not holding up quite as strong as we would like. Our energy levels are low and we seem to enjoy our home recliners more than casino chairs much of the time.
However, we still enjoy the challenge of sparing with the casino, and look for an advantage play wherever we can find it. That has been the fun factor for us for 31 years. But just like in the beginning, breaking even on the game and enjoying the comp “gravy” is still plenty of fun for us.