Players clubs are kind of like filing taxes.
We all do it, but most of us have no idea what the hell we’re doing. There’s no tax class in high school or college, so nobody really ever learns how to do them; I can tell you that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but I have no idea what the difference between a W2 and W4 is. It’s just assumed that we all know how they work, and most of us don’t, to our disadvantage.
Those who are in the know take advantage of loopholes, exploiting them to get huge refunds. Meanwhile, those who are new to filing don’t know what they don’t know, and end up leaving tons of free money untouched. Efforts to self-learn are intimidating, since forms ask for jargon that isn’t even taught in college microeconomics courses and differences from state to state make it hard to even know what to ask.
While I can’t give you advice on sheltering money in the Cayman Islands, I can help you make the most of your gambling and entertainment budget.
FREE Players Cards
Every casino offers a FREE player’s card, so you should sign up and use it every time that you gamble or spend money on the property. If you’re not using a player’s card, you are literally missing out on free money; players cards are how you earn “comps” – all the free stuff you always hear about. Even if you don’t plan to gamble, you should still sign up! Every casino offers exclusive benefits to people in their players club… just for joining. These discounts can include room promotions, discounted prices at restaurants and buffets, and birthday specials, among other things.
Before we dive into all of the benefits of a players card, let’s first break down some key terms.
Players card is the general term for the free plastic card that will track your play and reward you for your spending in casinos. Different casinos call them by different cutesy names (some common ones include: Total Rewards, M Life, Club One, BConnected, Grazie, Red Card), but everyone will know what you’re talking about if you call it a players card. You will use your players card every time you gamble or spend money at a casino.
Players club is the general term for the desk where you will sign up for your players card and inquire about benefits or any questions you have. It can also refer to the program as a whole. Again, casinos brand them differently, but don’t worry about trying to keep them all straight – everyone will know what a players club is.
Often casinos are linked under one players club, especially in Downtown Las Vegas and on the Strip. The back of the card will tell you where it’s valid, and if in doubt, you can always ask! Check out my guide to casino conglomerates to see where your card is valid.
Players club will often send you special offers (often called “mailers”) with monthly promotions.
Points is the general term for the “credits” you earn when you gamble. The earning rates vary by casino and game, but they generally correspond to formula of 1 point per $_ coin-in (money wagered). You can also earn points by spending money at participating hotels/shows/restaurants/shops.
Casinos will frequently run promotions to help you earn more points. Common ones include point multipliers where every point you earn will be multiplied by a certain amount or a point bonus where you will receive extra points after earning a specified amount.
Many promotions will require that you earn a certain amount of points before you can redeem them. For example, a mailer may offer you a “free” gift after earning 200 points or a specified amount of freeplay for each 50 points you earn. Unfortunately, multipliers don’t count towards this, but they will increase your overall point balance.
Points can be redeemed for freeplay, cashback, resort credit, or gifts.
Tiers is the general term for the different levels of players cards. These levels are often named after gems or precious metals, which is why you may see different colors or designs on players cards. Each company has different tiers (and yet another confusing naming scheme), cutoffs, and benefits. The gist is that they work like a frequent flier program, with those who spend more getting more benefits. Even if you are the lowest tier, it is still worthwhile to use your card, because you will receive some benefits and earn rewards.
Nerdy note: some casinos use points to determine tiers, whereas others use a separate (and even MORE confusing) “qualifying tier credit” system to determine tiers. It’s not worth going into here, but I’m happy to explain further if you’d like.
It’s NEVER worth gambling beyond your budget to chase a higher tier — it’s not worth it to receive an extra 5% discount if it costs you an extra $1000 to get there.
Now that you have a better idea of what the hell I’ve been rambling on about, let’s break down why you need a players card.
Benefits of a Players Card
Discounted Hotel Rates
As soon as you sign up for a players club, you are eligible to receive discounted rooms. The rates available to players club members are almost always a better than a deal what you can find elsewhere, since casinos use them as a loss leader assuming you’ll gamble there. Whether or not you gamble, you can enjoy these cheaper rates.
I have scored rooms on the Las Vegas Strip for $40 a night (after taxes and resort fees) thanks to my Total Rewards card. I have also received discounts upwards of 50% in Downtown Las Vegas by signing into my players club accounts.
Many of the advertisements you see for buffets are a little sneaky in that you need a players card to receive the advertised special. If you don’t present your card when you pay, they may tack an extra couple of bucks onto the price. Since players cards are free, there’s no reason to get nickeled and dimed. As an added bonus, if you earn enough points, you can often earn a free buffet or pay with points; if you pay the full amount with your players card points, the meal can be cheaper since you don’t have to pay taxes.
Freeplay and Cashback
Just like credit cards give you of your spending back as points, players cards track your spending and give you a percentage back as points. You can spend these points for food, drinks, souvenirs, freeplay, or redeem them for straight cashback.
Casinos will send monthly mailers with offers. These will usually include an offer for a certain amount of freeplay. These offers are based on your gambling, but even with minimal to no play, they will usually offer $5 or $10.
A common promotion in mailers is a “free” gift after earning a certain amount of points on a specific day. This can be a great way to score a free gift.
These mailers will also have a calendar that shows monthly or weekly promotions such as 2x Point Wednesdays or $9.99 Seafood Buffet Fridays.
Redeeming ACG and LVA Coupons
Most players clubs have an online portal which you can use to keep track of your points and view your offers digitally. Some even offer online exclusives, so I definitely recommend sharing your email so you can get set up. Don’t hesitate to contact the players club if you get stuck here.
Sign Up Bonus
As if everything above wasn’t already a good enough deal, casinos will sweeten the pot even more to try and entice new players to join. Most clubs offer sign up promotions for new members that can include: free souvenirs, free/discounted food, and freeplay. Some clubs give these to you right away, while others will require you to make a few small wagers first.
Additionally, many clubs offer stacked promotions after earning a certain amounts of points, where you can spin a wheel or play a game for a chance to win even more free play, cash, or other perks.
Getting a Players Card
It can be intimidating to sign up for your first players card, but it doesn’t need to be! The people working at the players club are usually pretty friendly, so you’ve got nothing to worry about. Here’s what to expect:
- Locate the players club. Since each casino has a fancy name for their specific club, you can just ask an employee “where is the player’s club desk?” and they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
- Get in line. There will probably be multiple lines roped off, one with a big group of people, and the other with hardly anyone there. The short line is for people with higher tiers, so resist the temptation to go there, and head to the back of the bigger line. As you wait, you can get your ID out, because you will need that to sign up.
- Wait until you’re waved over. When you get to the front of the line, wait until the employee calls you; sometimes they will call the people with higher tier first, and it’s awkward if you try and go. So just wait until they wave you over to avoid any embarrassment.
- Ask for a players card. You can just say “I’d like to sign up for a players card” and they’ll take it from there. They will ask if you’ve had one before, and you can tell them no (or that you need to get it reprinted, if you have had one before). Don’t worry if you’re not sure – they can always look it up. Don’t be intimidated! Once they know you’re new, they will probably be friendly.
- Set your ID on the desk. The players club will need this to get you registered, so you can earn some brownie points by handing it over before they ask you. You should set it on the desk and slide it towards them (rather than handing it to them), because some casinos prohibit employees from making contact with visitors.
- Answer their questions. The employee may ask you some basic questions, like your preferred mailing address or email. This is so they can send you promotions, so I recommend sharing it. They may also offer you a string/lanyard, which some people find helps them keep track of their cards. They’re free, so if you want one, go for it!
- Set your PIN. The employee will ask you to enter a 4 digit PIN, which will be used to access your freeplay. I recommend using the same PIN for all of your players cards so you don’t get confused. They will usually give you a keypad and have you enter it, but sometimes they will enter it for you. Most casinos do not want you to press enter, so resist the temptation and ask the employee unless they specifically tell you. They’ll usually ask you to enter it again to confirm.
- Ask any questions you have. The employee will print your card and hand it to you. They may ask if you know how to use it or have any questions, and will probably tell you about whatever promotions are going on. If you have any questions, ask them!
- Take your card and use it. You may have a freeplay offer already loaded on your card, or you may have to earn a few points first. They will tell you what to expect, so follow their instructions!
Using Your Players Card
Every time that you gamble, you will insert your players card into the machine (or hand it to the dealer) and the casino will automatically track your spending. Use your card every time that you gamble — no matter how small — so that the casino can track your play and reward you. It may not feel like a lot, but it will eventually add up.
Slot Machines or Video Poker
When you sit down to play a slot or video poker, your first step should be to insert your card into the slot. You will be inserting the card hot-dog style, so look for a slot about that wide. It is usually next to a display of some kind — a rectangular touch screen on newer machines, or a black panel with green text on older machines.
Insert the card into the slot and make sure it’s accepted before you start gambling. You will know it’s accepted in one of three ways:
- The screen will say “Welcome _______”
- The screen will display your point balance
- The slot around your card will glow a steady green
If your card is not accepted, the slot around your card will flash or glow red, and/or the screen will say some self-explanatory version of “card read error,” “reinsert card,” or “try try again.” It is important to make sure that your card is accepted before you gamble so that you don’t miss credit for gambling that you’re doing.
As you play, your point balance will increase as you earn points. Some machines track “session points” which is how many you’ve earned at that machine, whereas others will track total points. As long as your balance is going up, you’re doing it right.
When you leave, remove your card from the slot.
Blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, or other Table Games
When you buy in to the table, place your players card on the table next to your money. The dealer will take it, and either scan it into the system themself or hand it to the pitboss. After they’ve got it entered, they will hand it back to you and say good luck. Some games don’t accept cards, but you should always try — worst case, they will tell you they don’t accept them and you can take it back. After the dealer has taken your card, you won’t need the it anymore, so you can put it back in your pocket/wallet.
As you play, you will accumulate points based on a function of how long you are at the table and your average bet. This is called your “rating.” You can ask the pit boss if you have any questions about how you are being rated, as it differs from casino to casino.
Restaurants, bars, gift shops, etc.
A lot of people don’t realize that they can earn credits for their meals by handing the waiter their players card with the bill, or that their sunscreen/alcohol purchases in the gift shop can be earning some points. Most places on the property can accept players cards and earn you points, so it’s always worth asking. The worst they can say is no, and they’re never upset. Whenever you pay, get in the habit of asking “do you accept players cards?”
The employee at the players club will give you instructions on accessing your freeplay when you sign up for your card. You’ll quickly get the hang of it and realize that it’s very similar across all casinos.
The steps will vary, since each casino will call it something slightly different, but the general steps are:
- Insert your card into the slot
- Insert at least $1 into the machine (sometimes machines require a non-freeplay balance)
- Select “my account”
- Enter your PIN
- Select “promo”
- Select “download to machine/game”
- Play through at least the amount you downloaded (if you cash out earlier, it either will not let you, or you will forfeit the remaining freeplay).
Paying with points
After you accumulate enough points, you will be able to pay with points at certain restaurants and gift stores on the property. I personally enjoy buying cans of beer from the gift shop, as it’s cheap (meaning I can afford it) and satisfying. When you’re checking out and handing the card to the cashier, you can ask if you have enough points to cover all/some of the balance; I normally do it in a self-deprecating way, which usually gets a (pity) laugh. The worst they can say is no, so it’s always worth a shot.
Shamelessly (try to) use it EVERYWHERE
I’ll beat this dead horse one more time: every time you spend or gamble any money at the casino, you should be using and/or asking if they accept players cards. Nobody told me this for the first two years I went to Vegas, and I still cringe over how many points I missed out on.
Make sure your card was accepted before putting money in
Get in the habit of checking (and double checking) that your card was accepted before putting money into a machine. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing after 30 minutes that your card wasn’t accepted and you haven’t been earning credit for all of the gambling you’ve done. I learned this lesson the hard way after a few too many times drunkenly jamming my card in the wrong way.
Manage your cards
I like to keep all of my players cards in a wallet that I only use for gambling. This way, I have them all together and in the same place. Other people like to put them all on a keyring (they come pre-punctured). My uncle uses a binder clip, and I’ve also seen people use rubber bands. There’s no right or wrong way, just whatever works for you!
Get a duplicate printed
If you plan to do a lot of gambling at a casino, it’s worth asking them to print you a second card. This way, if you forget one, you won’t have to wait in line again to replace it. This can be especially useful before a long night/morning of drinking and gambling.
Now that you’ve got your gambling budget and your players card, you’ve (finally) got everything you need to gamble! Not sure what game to play? Check out my overview of casino games to figure out which game(s) are best for you!
Shameless and Selfish Plug
Sign up for Caesars Rewards through this link and I will receive a 500 tier credit bonus, which will help me reach the next tier level (and it won’t cost you anything). You’ll be able to enjoy discounted/comped hotels as soon as you sign up!