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.