Getting almost as much for a lot less in Vegas

Just a couple weeks from today, the NCAA tournament selection show will air, and two days later I’ll board a plane with a few friends headed west to Las Vegas.

Thirteen years ago, the Fear and Loathing Athletic Club Fantasy Football League began a tradition of spring practice in Vegas for March Madness. We were all working men with kids in high school and college back then, so frugality was a major concern. We never slept more than two to a room, but we refused to pay retail for anything. We’d typically arrive on Wednesday morning and then leave on Saturday to avoid the most expensive hotel night.


One year we all got free airfare through a promotion by Wendy’s. All you had to do was collect 75 stickers from Wendy’s soft drink cups and mail them in for free roundtrip airfare from the now-defunct Independence Air. Most of us weren’t willing to rummage around in trash cans for cups (looking at you, Charlie), but at about $1 per drink we still got the tickets for less than $100 (not including the cost to our bladders).

Kids graduating college and moving out of the house have eased some of the financial pressure, but we still use coupons and exploit special deals that we find online. We don’t gamble enough to score free rooms, but we still get discounts and book early to minimize the cost. Now, obviously, we don’t stay in the trendy, night-clubby hotels on the strip. (Though last year I did get 1.5 free nights at the Mirage through a Facebook promotion.) But when you spend 80% of your time outside the room, it’s a waste to pay more for an upgraded hotel.

Like everything else, the cost of going to Vegas has risen over the years. A lot of the casinos have even tightened up on free cocktails, which disrupts one of our favorite approaches to watching basketball. In days past, when the sports books were packed we’d make our bets and then adjourn to the casino bar to play video poker –  very slowly – as we watched TV and soaked up free drinks.


Photo by Joe Gauder

But there are still ways to save money on a trip. We always buy the two main coupon books (Las Vegas Advisor and American Casino Guide), which quickly pay for themselves with half-price meals, gambling match plays, slot free-play, and free drinks. We still share rooms, and book our flights as early as possible. There’s a page for March Madness in Las Vegas on Facebook that gives details on free watch parties that include match play coupons, T-shirts, etc.

To maximize efficiency in using coupons, I draft an itinerary for each day. Though we always go off script a few times to watch our favorite teams, it’s a good tool to avoid having six guys standing around deferring to each other on where to go next. For example, here’s the plan for Wednesday on this year’s trip. (No basketball games on that day.)

Wednesday, March 15

9:00 AM……………………..Breakfast at Hash House A-Go-Go (CET comps)

10:00 AM…………………….Poker tournament at Harrah’s OR Flamingo

1:00 PM……………………..Gold Coast/Palms/Rio (GC Senior Wednesday drawing at 4:30)

6:00 PM……………………..Dinner at Hard Rock ($7.77 Gamblers Special)

7:00 PM……………………..Double Down Saloon

8:00 PM.…………………….Ellis Island match plays

Since breakfast and dinner are often buffets, we only plan two meals a day. Hash House A-Go-Go is not a buffet, but serves huge portions (think platter-sized waffles and 36-oz. Bloody Marys). Though there are no coupons available, we use the minimal comp dollars we generate gambling to cut the cost. We usually hit the Gold Coast at some point anyway, so we might as well go when there’s a cash drawing for seniors. The gambler’s special at the Hard Rock is a decent steak and shrimp dinner for less than $8. Then we wind up at Ellis island to exploit a number of match play coupons from our books ($10 free slot play, $10 table game match play, and $25 free bet).  


If you know where to look (and we do), there are free shuttle buses to get between the strip and off-strip casinos. If you don’t want to wait around for the shuttle, Lyft is a cheap alternative to taxis.

So if you put in a little effort and it doesn’t embarrass you to use coupons, you can still have a fun, reasonably-priced trip to Vegas. As long as you don’t drink alcohol while playing No-Limit Texas Hold’ Em. Trust me on this.   




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