Our drive from Lassen Volcanic National Park to Yellowstone would be at least 14 hours without including any stops, and it would take us right through the heart of Nevada. That sounds pretty exciting until you realize that “the heart of Nevada” is a dusty and desolate landscape without many opportunities for human contact. There is, however, one consistent entertainment offering every few miles along the way — the iconic Nevada casino.

Nevada has more casinos than any other US state, with nearly 3 times as many as Oklahoma, the state in second place. Not only will you find standalone gambling establishments on every corner, but you’ll be greeted by blinking slot machines and even table games in restaurants, truck stops, and gas stations statewide.

Photo of Steven and Lauren in a Casino
We redeemed more cashout vouchers than we could count on this trip.

We normally don’t gamble much since it’s generally a losing proposition. On this drive though, we came up with an interesting method to beat the house and make a profit in every casino we stopped at — without risking any of our own money.

Is a personal finance website seriously telling you to go on a casino gambling road trip? Totally! Are we saying you can make a fortune doing it? Not exactly.

This isn’t some “genius” betting strategy that promises to make you millions of dollars. It’s actually a ridiculous idea we came up with while we were bored driving through the desert, and it made us about $350 in a very fun way that you can easily repeat for yourself if you’re so inclined.

How It Works: Playing With House Money

One of the tricks nearly every casino uses to get people to gamble (and lose) more is a loyalty program. You sign up for a card, swipe it every time you play any game, and rack up points toward free play in the future. This is supposed to keep you playing longer and coming back for more.

Most people don’t want the hassle of signing up in the first place, so casinos do two things to encourage it:

  1. They make the signup process extremely fast and simple.
  2. They offer some initial amount of free gameplay to people signing up for the first time.

These two incentives worked perfectly together to allow us to abuse the system.

Our process was easy: Sign up for a casino’s loyalty card (one per person), use the initial free play on an efficient game machine as quickly as possible, cash out as early as possible, and bolt out the door to the next casino. Because the signup process is so quick, we could complete the entire process from start to finish in 5-10 minutes on average, walking out with about $10-40 of cash profit between the two of us each time — and we didn’t have to bet a single cent of real money.

Photo of casino loyalty cards
Here are some of the loyalty cards we collected along the way. We actually threw a bunch of them in the trash before we got the idea to gather some for a picture, so this is only a small fraction of the total!

Our machine of choice was Deuces Wild video poker, which almost every casino in the state has. Deuces Wild video poker has an extremely high expected return compared to other casino games when played correctly, and it’s very easy to learn how to play nearly optimally.

Deuces Wild also has a pretty low variance on payouts because the most common winning hands (like three of a kind) occur often and result in your original bet being paid back in full. This is important, because free play credits cannot be cashed out; only winnings can. That means if you’re given $10 in free play, you need to play all $10 before you can cash out. With Deuces Wild, you often wind up with close to $10 still left in your bankroll after making $10 worth of bets, so it’s an efficient means of just extracting your free play credit as cash quickly.

On our way to Yellowstone, we stopped at nearly every casino we saw from Reno to Jackpot. We made a game of dashing in and out of each one absolutely as quickly as possible to increase our “hourly rate of pay” for the task, though on occasion, we would slow down and enjoy the free food and drinks you get while “gambling.” It slowed down our trip a few hours, but it netted us an extra $350 and was actually a lot of fun.

Where You Can Do It

The main road we did this on was Interstate 80 in Nevada, and there were a nearly endless supply of independently owned casinos along the route. It’s important for the casinos to be independently owned because if a loyalty program is shared between multiple casinos, you’re only able to sign up once. We didn’t run into that problem much.

Map of casino route in Nevada
This section of I-80 is where we did most of our gaming, although we did hit up a few casinos in Northern California and Montana. Nevada isn’t the only place this works. Update, June 2022: We recently found out that it works in Canada, too!

On the other hand, if you try this game in Las Vegas, you might have a bit less luck. For example, the Caesar’s Rewards (formerly Total Rewards) membership program alone covers more than ten Vegas casinos, meaning you can only use our trick at one of them.

It’s also worth noting that you’ll run into a few casinos whose offers differ slightly from the “free play” model. For example, some casinos offer a “matched bet” instead, where your first cash bet of $10 or so is matched by the house, so if you win, your profit is doubled. This is often a great one-time deal, and you should totally do it (and stop immediately after placing that single bet), but it does require risking some of your own capital.

Why You Should (or Shouldn’t) Try It

So, should you drive all the way to Nevada from wherever you are just to do this? Absolutely not. This isn’t a strategy that will make you rich. It’s just a fun and profitable game you can play with some friends if you ever happen to already be taking a road trip through the Silver State or somewhere else where casinos are common.

If you’re the type of person who gets a little too excited by gambling, this strategy might not be a good fit for you. For some, it can be very difficult to resist playing beyond the free house money. Actually, that’s exactly what the casinos are betting on by giving you the money in the first place. If you feel like you have an addictive personality or you can’t trust yourself in a casino, it’s probably better to pass right on by them.

Overall, our strategy is nothing more than a fun way to enjoy some casino gambling for a day without any financial guilt. It’s also a great way to break up an otherwise wearisome drive through the desert and pay for all your gas, too.

Have fun out there!

— Steven

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