by Linda Boyd
There’s been lots of grumbling lately about the downgrading of both video poker and table games. The fact that most good plays have evaporated can’t be denied, even for talented players in games requiring skill.
You can grab some of the expected return (ER) back by making the most of casino coupons and promotional offers. In fact, the term, coupon run, has entered the lexicon of advantage players and it refers to the speedy redemption of the most valuable coupons by rushing from casino-to-casino.
If you want to just disappear any time the pit boss shouts “coupon in play,” or “you can’t use POV and ACG coupons on the same day,” or if you’re like me and tend to socialize (that’s stopping when you’re supposed to be running) then don’t even attempt it. You’ll still get more than your money’s worth from the coupons by making sure they’re well-organized and redeeming on your visits.
For those who consider gaining an advantage over the casino like a sport and have thick skin, stamina and know their way around Las Vegas casinos, a coupon run is likely to be part of your vacation’s entertainment. Residents with high energy and excellent organization skills will be good at fast and profitable coupon redemption as well.
Best Coupon Sources: A coupon for anything you value is good, but make sure you’re not wasting time on something you don’t really want just because it’s free. Here’s a list of some excellent coupon sources.
American Casino Guide (ACG)
Las Vegas Advisor’s (LVA) Pocketbook of Values (POV)
Casino Mailers: Sent with the purpose of getting you inside the casino, they tend to be good– otherwise they wouldn’t work
Others: Examples are fun books, gaming magazines, newspapers, publications/offers in hotel rooms, and on restaurant placemats. Keep your eyes peeled once you get to Vegas because coupons and special offers are all over the place.
Best Vegas Coupons: You may wonder why you would purchase coupons when you can get so many for free, but the adage, “you get what you pay for” really does apply. ACG and POV will cost money, but are worth it since they have coupons that can return the purchase price in a single visit. Here’s a list of the offers that I consider most valuable because they translate to cash, directly or indirectly.
Bounceback Cash: Coupons that are good for cash but require you to redeem in person, usually on specified dates; mostly, these come in mailers and are based on past play.
Free Play: Sometimes bounceback is in the form of free play, which has to be downloaded onto a machine and run through once before it can be cashed.
Matchplay (MP): The casino matches your bet for the amount indicated on the coupon. For example, if it’s a $5 blackjack matchplay, then you wager $5 of your own money and the casino matches it for a $10 bet.
First Card Ace: Used to represent an ace and the dealer simply skips you on the first card dealt in blackjack.
Multiple Points: Slot club points earned are multiplied by a specified number.
Free Tournaments: Competition for blackjack, video poker, slots, or any other game selected by the casino.
Slot Club Points: Free points are added to your slot card.
Fun Book: Some require a coupon before you receive a special book of coupons from a casino.
Bingo: Use this coupon to play free games of bingo.
Gift Cards: There’s a wide range of gift cards for Visa, gas, department stores and other businesses; these are excellent for gifts or personal use.
Card of the Day (COD): You’re paid extra cash if you get a specific four-of-a-kind on video poker games.
Drawing Entries: Good if they’re for major prizes, like a car, and you’re going to be present (usually required) and have a reasonable chance of winning; lots of conditions, but mostly common sense and easy to determine.
*Note that I didn’t list food comps, although you may want to “eat and run” along the way. Mostly, the best ones are for relaxed/fine dining and you’d want to spread them out rather than worry about a few dollars off fast foods. Also, if you’re really pinching pennies, focus on food coupons that can be used in casino-owned restaurants, that way it’s non-taxable inNevada .
Getting Organized: You’re likely to have coupons from many sources so it’s important to put them in order before you leave for the casinos. The object is to zip in and out quickly, leaving others to wonder “who was that masked man?” as you gallop away.
It’s worth the time it takes to arrange your coupons, make notes and determine which casinos you’ll visit before you leave.
Arrange Coupons: One good system is to put all the coupons for each casino together, regardless of the source, and then put them in alphabetical order. If you want to further organize, then you can prioritize by putting the “best” ones on top. For example, you may have some food or inexpensive gift coupons in the stack that you probably won’t use on the run, but want to keep them for possible future use–put them last. Another method that works well for Vegas is to follow the same procedure but alphabetize by location–the Strip, Downtown, off-the-beaten-path.
Make Notes: This is a huge time-saver for both your planned run and future visits. Two kinds of notes, specific coupon and future reference, will be helpful.
Coupon Notes: Write these directly on the coupon as reminders. For example, promotions that don’t require a coupon, like COD or days where double points are given can be recorded on a coupon. Usually this information is on the marketing mailers and jotting it down on the first coupon doesn’t take long. You can include the casino’s phone number as well if you have questions.
Reference Notes: Most frequent players already have a small notebook for tax win/loss information; this is an excellent place to make alphabetized casino notes for Vegas. Include things like the phone number, “special rules” (for example, some let you use more than one MP coupon on the same visit while others don’t) or any other reminders for future visits. This is especially useful for keeping track of long-term bonuses. For example, 500 points for 2 free buffets or extra coins for four sevens on video poker.
Making Your Coupon Run: Now that all your coupons are organized you’ll be able to chart your course saving the “best for last”.
Casino Locations: You may not have time to go to all the casinos you want to, especially if you don’t have a vehicle. Whether you have your own car or you’re relying on public transportation you’ll want to think about the most logical route before you take off.
No Vehicle: In Vegas you can make a “casino run” without a car but your options are limited. Hitting the Downtown casinos using a free shuttle to get there, for example, is an option. If you want to redeem offers on the Strip be careful because some of the locations using a map are deceptive. The Wynn and Venetian, for example, look close together, but it takes a long time to get from one to another on foot. Going from one locals’ place to another will take lots of planning and you’d have to study the public transportation schedules–taking a cab would defeat the purpose.
Private Vehicle: If you have your own transportation you’ll still have limitations due to time constraints. Give careful thought to the places that have the best coupons for you and be reasonable. Parking and traffic on the Strip can be a problem, especially if there’s a convention or special event in town; it’s easy to find a spot and get in and out quickly at many locals’ spots, even though they’re further apart.
Make Notes: You’ll know right away whether or not this is your kind of activity. If it is then make notes for the future runs. For example, if parking on the roof near the door at Caesars works for you (it may not during peak times) make a note. Also, if some casinos give you a hard time, like requiring you to keep the coupons in the book or show your ACG card, then record it (use the reference notebook mentioned above) so you’re prepared for the next time.
Take a Shot: Don’t be afraid to use a coupon for a new game once you get to the casino. Most dealers are more than happy to help and BJ players grumbling about “third base” usually know less about the game than you. (Position is important in some table games, but BJ isn’t one of them.) If you get a grouchy dealer or unfriendly players then use your coupon anyway–you’re not likely to see them again and the next time you use a similar offer you’ll know what you’re doing.
Saving the Best for Last: It makes sense to save the casino where you want to spend the most time for your last stop. This could be the place where you want to dine or the spot with the games you want to play. You may have to go north by northwest, but it’s worth the extra miles.
Final Thoughts: Coupon runs clearly aren’t for everyone–you have to be skilled and have the right temperament. If you were “born to run” (you’ll definitely know after one try), then you’ll improve every time you go. Those cut out for it not only come out ahead, but have a great time in the process.
Linda Boyd was a long-time table game player before turning to the more profitable game of video poker. She writes columns for Arizona Player, Southern Gaming and Midwest Gaming and Travel. Boyd’s book, “The Video Poker Edge”, includes free strategy cards and removable pay schedules/ERs for over 200 games; available in major bookstores, amazon.com and Square One Publishers www.squareonepublishers.com
Excellent Software: WinPoker