It’s just like one of those predictable movie scenes. You’re the main character. You say, “I’m absolutely not going. There’s nothing you can do to change my mind.”
Through the magic of cinematography, you arrive at Foxwoods (or Mohegan Sun) in a finger-snap with a few snickering friends by your side. They’ve won; you’ve lost. And you haven’t even opened your wallet.
You’re immediately drawn toward the Triple Seven slot machines that blare and flash their neon lights as you fidget through your pockets for a buck to try your luck. Of course, you realize the machine only accepts five, ten, twenty, fifty and one-hundred dollar bills. Bummer. You wonder, for a split second, what it would be like to pull a Clark Griswold (if you haven’t seen the movie “Vegas Vacation,” I’m referring to the part where Chevy Chase’s character withdraws thousands from the ATM). Except you, my dear, find out that YOU owe the BANK for leaving your checking account blank.
Still, the gaming tables–roulette, craps and blackjack, oh my!–are beckoning. You hear the smoky cackle of the 85-year-old lady who just hit the Wheel of Fortune jackpot and the cusses of college students who just lost their savings in a poker tourney. But through the clangor, the subtle shuffle of cards tickles your ears and you can hear the whisper of the gambling gods. The cosmos is coaxing you. You’re blinded by the bling of diamond pinky rings, neck chains and sequined dresses, sickened by the scents of Old Spice and cigar smoke, and distracted by the King of Diamonds winking at you from a nearby blackjack table.
It’s more than you can handle, so you escape to the restroom away from the noise…only to hear ABBA pumping through the overhead speakers: “Take a chance, take a chance, take-a-take-a-chance-chance,” luring you back to the slots, where you scour the casino floor for a friend to lend you a fifty. There’s no Suze Orman to give you a dirty look; no Kenny Rogers urging you to hold ‘em, fold ‘em and walk away.
If you, like many of us, are economically challenged and feel like a diabetic at Hershey Park the second you enter a casino, I strongly advise that you stay away. However, if you find yourself at the gambling scene, I’ll try to help you survive, and as oxymoronic as it sounds, I’ll help you save money.
Here are my ten tips to resisting temptation:
1. Say “no way” to valet. Park your own car and save the extra tip money for something else. If you have a BMW or Audi A4 that you don’t trust in the self-park lot, there’s a good chance you don’t need to heed my financial advice anyway.
2. Plan for FUN, not funds. Be a realist. Don’t expect to win a life-changing amount of money. I know it sounds pessimistic, but if you think you’re going to hit the Megabucks jackpot, it’s likely that your trip to the casino will leave you crestfallen when you realize you’re wrong. Yes, you do have a slight chance of winning, but do not make that the focus of your day. Enjoy the people around you and have a few laughs. The purpose is entertainment. If you think you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-522-4700 for the National Council for Problem Gambling’s 24-hour hotline, or visit their Web site at www.ncpgambling.org.
3. Eat before you go. Bring snacks in the car. Do whatever you can to avoid high-priced meals at the casino eateries. If you wind up at one of the restaurants, order a few different entrees to share among your friends. This way, it’s a lot cheaper, and everyone gets a bite.
4. Leave the debit card home. Bring a small amount of cash with you and if you must, carry ONE credit card in case of emergency (e.g. you need to stay overnight because your car won’t start). Do not bring the ATM card. There’s a chance you’ll be tempted to dip into your checking account at some point. Don’t do it!
5. Think before you drink. It may sound obvious, but the point of alcohol at the casino is to loosen you up so you’ll loosen your wallet. If you’re confident that you can tolerate a few drinks without making gambling decisions you’ll later regret, good for you. If so, your best bet would be to walk around and look for a cocktail server on the casino floor. When you see one, wait for the server to come around and take your order. Wine, beer, cocktails, coffee, tea, bottled water and soft drinks are complimentary. Wait around for your drink and be sure to tip. Do NOT order any drinks at the bar or away from the casino floor. It doesn’t make any sense because they’re too costly anywhere else.
6. Shop (lightly) instead. No, shopping does not help you save money in normal circumstances. However, it can lead to satisfaction and LESS spending at the casino. Sorry Suze, but in this case, if you’re itching to spend something, I think it’s better to spend a few bucks on the bar of grapefruit-scented soap from a spa shop than to let a slot machine eat that cash. At least you’ll be coming home with a tangible object–a consolation prize, to say the least. But don’t get carried away with the shopping! Reward yourself with a small, relatively inexpensive item.
7. Act like a kid. Visit the arcade with your friends and play some table hockey or Skee-Ball for about fifty cents to a dollar per game. The arcade kills time and can actually be fun when you need a break from the casino commotion. And who knows, you just might win a prize.
8. Let them entertain you…for free. If you visit a casino on a weekend, there’s always some kind of free band performance, magic show or comedy act to keep crowds happy. Visit the casino Web sites for a list of these complimentary concerts. Seating is usually available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a dime.
9. Hit the clubs instead. Visiting the on-site nightclub costs less than gambling and is, in my opinion, much more fun than staring at a video poker machine. You’ll meet new people and dance away the poor girl (or boy) blues. Just don’t waste your money on high-priced cocktails in the club unless someone else is paying.
10. When all else fails, sit and observe. After a few hours at the casino, your energy will be zapped. Instead of thoughtlessly throwing more money into a machine or at a table game, find a bench, pipe down and people-watch. Observing human behavior at a casino can be great fun. Try it at least once. If you’re a writer, you’ll get some great character ideas. If not, you’ll simply realize how many different, amazing types of people exist on this earth.
If you’ve got any other ideas on how to save money at the casino, I’d love to hear ‘em!
Until then, gamble, drink and party responsibly.