The Great Shell On Wheels Casino Run of ’18

Since our big run through the Pacific Northwest and then Wisconsin last year, we have fallen out of the habit of visiting casinos, either for free overnight parking (sometimes with hook ups!) or to exercise our “sign up for the players club and gamble only their free play money” method of fun and profit.  Some of the regions through which we have traveled have had a dearth of casinos, and sometimes we just didn’t make the Google effort.  But with our impending journey south through Wisconsin towards Iowa, we recalled the ludicrous deal we had taken advantage of at the Ho-Chunk casino in Nekoosa last year, and this inspired an aggressive bit of internet research and route planning.

The end result of which was a six casino run through Michigan and Wisconsin over two days, with an overnight stop at that same Ho-Chunk Casino in Nekoosa.  It was kind of ridiculous, but the idea was to make a game of the journey, enjoy a free night stay, and perhaps make a few bucks along the way.  Yes, our mileage was a bit higher than a straight run to Ames, Iowa, but not by a silly amount since I only included venues generally along our way.

And it was fun.  But it was tiring.  I had not accurately anticipated how long we would spend at each casino (nearly an hour once you account for parking, signing up for promotions, selecting a machine and then actual gambling.)  This meant that the first leg of the journey, encompassing five casinos, turned into a very long day.  The 6 1/2 hours of drive time combined with four hours of stops meant we finished the day driving in light rain and fog, after dark, on back roads with all kinds of potential for deer collisions.  Never again: next time we start earlier, hit fewer venues, or stop sooner.

Despite that first day stress, the casino run was a rousing success.  At each venue we received, on average, $30 worth of free play money.  Usually this was $5 or $10 each for signing up for their players club, another $5 or $10 for it being my birthday month, and miscellaneous promos for providing an email address or text enabled phone number.  The Ho-Chunk promo in Nekoosa was not as ludicrously great as last year, but it still provided us $40 in free play and $20 in surprisingly decent food.

Our final tally was $137 real dollars earned for the nearly $200 in free play provided.  This is in addition to the food, free soda, and overnight parking with power.  For the curious and uninitiated, here is how it works:

  • Most casinos in the US have a “players club” sign up option.  You provide a drivers license and they provide a member card that inserts into all of the electronic slot machines.
  • As an incentive for signing up, most casinos offer “free play” money to new members.  It’s usually $10.  They often give an additional $5 to $10 free play during your birthday month as well.
  • This free play money is an incentive to get you to sit down on the machines and gamble, with the casino hoping you will fritter it away (because you won’t keep track of how much you lose from the free play pot vs how much you gain from winnings) and then feed some of your real, actual cash into the machine.
  • A big part of the casino’s angle is to lure you into spending more based on “the points” you earn for shoving real cash into the machines.  It’s truly a suckers game: though you might earn a free trinket, food, or even a complimentary stay in their hotel, what it cost you to get there is so much more expensive.  If you do not actually enjoy the process of slot machine or table gambling, avoid this trap.  If you do enjoy the process, then you might as well reap the limited benefits of their players club.
  • Our “method,” if you want to call it that, is to only spend their free play money.  Some casinos don’t make this easy: you have to keep a running tally of how many slot machine “spins” you have used and for how much so that when the free play money is gone you can pull out you winnings.  Others make it a lot easier if you pay attention to the betting screen on the machine.
  • To make matters even more complicated, some casinos require that you feed the machine a buck or two of real cash to cover your first bet.  E.g., if you want to hit that slot machine for an 88 cent bet?  You do it with your own cash, which is then refilled by the “free play money.”
  • I know, it sounds confusing, but we have figured out the system, exercise discipline, make a small amount of money using their promo dollars without gambling any of our own, and do so enjoying the atmosphere, free RV parking, and a whole lot of free root beer.

44 Months Fulltiming: August 2018 Report

The Distance:  470 miles, the vast majority of it in the first week of the month as we finished our Canada to Grand Marais, Michigan journey.  Our running total for the year is now 6,016.

The Places:  We had our last two days in Canada at Panorama Camp in Ontario before reentering the U.S. for a three day stop in Sault Ste Marie.  Alarmed at the reports of a rapidly filling campground in Grand Marais due to the music festival, we accelerated our plans and arrived there for a full three week stay.  Then it was on to Marquette for our final U.P. stop. 

We spent 2 days in a private park and the remaining 29 in public (municipal) campgrounds.  We had partial services the entire month: power and water for 26 days and power only for 5.


The Budget:  Nearly 15% under budget!  The limited mileage (and thus reasonable gas expenditures at U.S vice Canadian prices,) slight reduction in campground fees with a weekly rate in Grand Marais, along with generally conservative living helped a lot, but the real budget savers were the 10 market events we participated in.  Four of them we consider highly successful, and all but one of the rest generally satisfying.  We finished so far under budget despite having to pay our annual motorhome insurance and a $251 medical bill that caught up with us from Key West. 

September may be a different story: our mileage will go up significantly as we work our way back south, and we expect to have some repair and upgrade costs on Serenity as well.  Alas, we foresee few, if any, market opportunities to help offset such things. 

The Drama and the Improvements:   Very little to report.  The stairs, which gave us a problem leaving our last Canada stop, have worked well the entire month.  The windshield remains popped out and the seal secured with duct tape until we are able to coordinate a repair in a larger city or town.  We have started to make some cosmetic improvements to the bathroom, but nothing spectacular.  Hopefully September will show some major improvements: we are routing our trip through Elkhart, Indiana, arguably the RV capital of world, and hope to get a few things improved upon there.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

And here are our 20172016, and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Marquette, and our last week in the U.P.

After thee fantastic weeks, we finally departed Grand Marais and headed west to Marquette, stopping one last time in Munising to grab some of our favorite smoked fish dip.  We had reservations at the city owned Tourist Park Campground for four days in advance of the next Saturday downtown market, and would need only to find one or two more days to make things work out (unlike Grand Marais and Munusing’s Tourist Parks, Marquette’s is reservable until you get inside a five day window of your planned arrival.)

PKM saying goodbye to the glorious warm sand on the shore of The Lake in Grand Marais.

We had contemplated spending this time in Munising or even Copper Harbor, but Marquette had the market and positioned us exactly right for the first leg of our return south.  Besides, we had stayed in Munising nearly a week last year, but had yet to explore Marquette beyond the one day market runs. 

This is the third municipal park at which we have stayed at in the UP, and they have a lot of similarity: medium to very large spots, a good amount of trees, a lot of power or power and water only sites, and a partial hook up price around $30 a night.  With the coming Labor Day weekend we were lucky to get an additional two nights by checking back daily for a cancellation, though it entailed having to move to a different site.  If there is one drawback it is the trains: though I find it nostalgic and it doesn’t bother or even wake me, it drove Rosemarie a bit nuts to hear the train whistles deep into the night.

Our huge site in Marquette.

We had mixed weather, and tried to take advantage of the dry days and explore the area a bit.  We located the Dia de los Tacos food truck, hit a couple of thrift stores, and the local food co-op.  We spent a little bit of time in the downtown area, as much to secure Rosemarie’s UP hat as anything else, and then hunkered down for a day and night full of rain and thunder.

Our best find was Presque Isle park, a really nice bit of land with trails and a beach.  The rugged coastal scenery was great, and the deer pictured up post was right out in the open, allowing us to get rather close for a nice shot.  We were surprised to see a few guys actually surfing, reminding us yet again that a lake the size of Superior acts a lot like an ocean. 

PKM really enjoyed this park; though the squirrels were far too clever, the chipmunks exhibited almost no life preservation instincts.  Despite being on her lead she managed to catch one of the things while we were outside supposedly supervising her.  We weren’t’ the only ones to see the horror unfold, our young neighbors in the next spot got a front row seat at the event.

The animal in this picture as a completely unjustified belief in its immortality.

Kitty was nearly at the end of her lead, which meant the thing would have to approach within two feet for her to even have chance at it.  And that is exactly what it did.  She was on one side of a big oak tree, it walked right up to the other side, and she made one solid pounce, snagging it with ease.  I ran over as fast as possible and shook her a bit and tapped her head until she finally let it go.  I missed it but our now amused neighbors said it went straight up the tree and appeared no worse for the wear.  Come on chipmunks, compared to you our cat is a Balrog, and the best advice is “Run, you fools!” 

We attended our final UP market in downtown Marquette the day before our departure.  Though not a record breaking event like the first two weeks, it was a great sales day, starting off our September right.  We stocked up on heirloom tomatoes, three different mushroom varieties, sweet carrots, and peppers.  We would be meeting up with family soon, and this would add to a planned feast.