You sit down to play the Wizard of Oz slot machine in your favorite casino. You whip out $100 – your entire bankroll – and insert it into the machine. You set it to play all 40 lines at one cent each.
Now it’s time to get to work.
You win a few pots – a 10 here and a 20-spot there. But your money slowly dwindles down to .35. It’s not enough for another spin, so you cash out.
But here’s the crazy part:
As you stand up to leave, a casino rep walks over to you and says:
We want to thank you for playing at our casino. As a token of our appreciation, we’d like to offer you twenty free spins OR a complimentary…
- Buffet coupon…OR
- 10% cashback on your losses…OR
- A pair of tickets to see this hot new show.
It’s your choice, and it’s all on the house.
That’d be cool, right? We sure think so.
Well, that actually happens. It’s called a VIP, loyalty, or rewards program.
This is nothing new — VIP programs have been around forever.
Go to any coffee shop and you’ll get punches for every espresso you buy. The same for haircuts. Ulta, a beauty salon and supply chain, gives you points for everything you buy. These points convert to cash, which you can apply to future purchases.
The point is that you’re getting a bonus for spending your money – something you were going to do anyway.
Casino VIP programs are a great way to offset your losses or even prolong your play. It’s an indescribable feeling to burn through $20, only to see you’ve earned $10 worth of free play. You go from feeling bummed out to being excited because you get to play a little bit longer.
By now we’re sure you’re thinking, “Where do I sign up?” And we totally get it.
But, like everything else, there are things you should know about VIP programs before you blindly sign up for one. Otherwise, you might sign up for a program that doesn’t reward you for playing your favorite games. Or you sign up only to find out the bonus you “earned” has terms (in small print) that prevent you from cashing it out. Or some other sneaky thing.
The bottom line: it’s in your best interest to have a thorough understanding of casino loyalty programs before you join one. Otherwise, you can do yourself more harm than good.
So let’s start at the beginning.
How Do You Get Signed Up?
Getting started is pretty simple.
Online, you’ll be a VIP member once you make your first real money deposit. Sometimes it’s after you make your first (real money) bet. But there’s usually nothing you have to do other than that.
Offline, it depends on the casino.
At some casinos, like Treasure Island or New York New York, you have to go to the customer service desk and ask for one. The M is like that, too.
Other casinos will walk around and ask (aka badger you) if you’d like a VIP card.
And some programs are exclusive; you need to be invited or ask for permission. These are usually reserved for “high rollers.”
But except for those, VIP programs are not hard to get into. And they’re always free. If you have to jump through hoops or pay for access, just run in the other direction.
Once you’re in, you can now play and earn points.
Playing Games and Collecting Points
Looking from the outside in, VIP programs are simple. You play. You earn points. Points are exchanged for goodies.
Online, you don’t have to do anything. Just choose your game and play. The casino’s software will figure out what points you’ve earned and tally everything up for you in your player account.
Offline, it’s similar. The biggest difference is that you’ll have a player card. You’ll put that into a special slot (if you play a slot or video poker machine). Or you’ll give it to a dealer or customer service rep (if you play a table game like blackjack or poker).
But there’s one thing that’s not so simple. And you should know about it before you join a VIP program, let alone blindly sit down at whatever game or table on the casino floor. And that is:
Games are not treated equally. Each game will earn points at a different rate.
Playing slots will earn you the best conversion rate (your money to casino points) possible. That’s because they have some of the worst odds in the casino.
Blackjack, on the other hand, has some of the best odds in the casino. But it’s because of that that casinos handicap the conversion rate to where you’ll need to play more to earn the same number of points.
Meaning that if you have to spend $1 for every point playing slots, you may have to spend $3 or even $10 to get that same point playing blackjack.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Maybe not, but you have more of an advantage playing blackjack than slots, so the casino needs to tip the scales in their favor. And they do that because they exist to make money. Remember that.
From there, the casino will have a minimum number of points you need to gain before you move up in levels, convert your points to cash, or anything else their program may offer.
For example, if you wanted to convert your points to cash, many programs require you to have enough to convert to $5 cash back. Say you need 100 points for every $1 in cashback. You’d need 500 points before they’d convert it for you.
But if you play a game like video poker or blackjack, you’ll earn points at a slower pace. It could be something like 10% or 25%. That means you’d have to wager 4x-10x more – or 2,000 to 5,000 points – to earn the same number of points you’d earn playing slots.
This is not to say you shouldn’t play games with a low house edge. Not at all, and especially if you’re any good at them. Because you can win money and rewards. You just won’t earn rewards as fast as slots players will.
And keep in mind that many multi-tiered programs offer multiples for points. Instead of earning points at a rate of 1:1, you’ll earn them at 2:1, 3:1, and so on. The more you play, the higher up you’ll go and the faster you’ll earn points.
The point is that all games will earn points at different rates, but don’t let that affect what games you choose to play, because you can play any game to earn points and thus some great rewards.
What Perks or Rewards Can You Get?
Loyalty programs vary from casino to casino.
Some casinos that share the same parent company or software may have identical programs. This isn’t a bad thing if you can collect and use your points across every property. Some let you do this, and others don’t.
Some programs will just use a straight ‘you spend x, you get y’ sort of scheme, while others use a multi-tiered system where you move up in levels as you earn more points.
With a ‘spend x, get y’ sort of program, you’ll usually collect points that you can exchange for cashback.
With a tiered system, you’ll be able to get better perks as you move up in tiers. You might earn points faster. You might get larger bonuses. You might get personalized service. The list can go on and on.