My poker buddy and I believe slots are good for one thing and one thing only: Free slot play. Fortunately, it's not hard to come by. When you sign up for your player's card at a new casino, many of them will offer you five or ten bucks of free slot play for signing up. Some will offer you free slot play as a bonus when you stay at their hotel on a special package. The American Casino Guide is full of coupons for free slot play. Harrahs even had a couple in costumes offering you free slot play if you'd take your picture with them.
Once you've been awarded the free play, using it often works something like this:
- Put your player's card in the machine and wait for it to acknowledge you.
- Press the ENTER button on the machine's keypad.
- Enter your pin number (selected at the player's club desk).
- Select PROMO.
- The machine will tell you how much you have to play. If it's $10.00 and you want to play all of it, just key in 10.
- The free play will be loaded to the machine and you're ready to go.
My friend Steps and I developed an easy system to make sure once the free play is used up we don't end up giving the machine back any real money that we won: Every time you get paid on a spin, hit the CASHOUT button. The machine will print out a cashout ticket with the amount of your win on it. The rest of your promotional play will stay in the machine because those promotional credits cannot be cashed out. Once you've printed out all your wins and your credit on the machine shows 0, you're done.
My poker buddy Brian has refined this method: Once you've collected all your payout tickets, feed them all back into the machine, then hit CASHOUT again and it will print out a ticket with your total winnings. This saves time when you take your ticket to the redemption kiosk that gives you cash in exchange for your tickets; especially the machines at Caesars Entertainment properties that only redeem one ticket at a time and take their while doing it. (Most other kiosks allow you to put in multiple tickets and cash them all in at once.) If there's an idle machine next to you, you can actually feed each ticket from your machine into that one as you collect them, saving even more time.
At some casinos, you'll get a variation called "Bonus Play" instead of "free play." In these situations, once your bonus play has been installed on the machine, you have to put at least a dollar in the machine and make your first bet; every time you make a bet on the machine, the amount of your last bet will be restored to your credit balance from your Bonus Play balance. Usually the machine will keep a running balance of how much Bonus Play you have left; once it's down to 0, all that money that's left in that machine is yours.
Some places will match your play with "free" play if you put something like $10 through a machine, or match all your losses on your first day with a matching amount of "free" play. In these cases it will be up to you to track how much you've put through the machine.
Now, what machines to play? Depends on which you like more. My friend Steps is a wizard with slots; she once turned $5 in free play into $129 when she hit two of the mini-progressives on a Wheel of Fortune slot. Brian and I prefer video poker; if we play a Deuces Wild machine for low denominations, we expect to hit lots of little wins and hopefully a few big wins. These machines are designed to give you your bet back when you hit three of a kind, which means you're only breaking even when it's your money, but that's all profit when you're using free play. Yesterday I had $40 in free play at Harrahs and turned it into $39.50 in real cash, thanks in part to a wild royal flush and couple of five-of-a-kind; it was a rare machine that got hot and never cooled off during the time it took to put $40 worth of quarter bets through it.
So, good luck. Whenever I drive to Vegas with someone who's never been, I like to take the road down through Taos and Albuquerque; there will be lots of Indian casinos along the way and many will offer them free slot play as new members (although not as many as in the past, sad to say). Back in the day, it was not uncommon for them to be up by $100 by the time we were leaving Albuquerque, just on free play, a welcome addition especially when they left Colorado with no money in their pockets and a car up on blocks.
Come along! The streets are paved with gold! I'd whisper in their ears. They're just giving the stuff away!