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The first time I visited Las Vegas, people were tripping over each other to tell me the hottest tips for scoring the ultimate freebie: alcohol! All I had to do, they assured me, was gamble just a little bit and the complimentary drinks would flow my way. So I eagerly plunked myself down at a nickel slot machine, put in a dollar, and completed my gameplay in a matter of minutes. And I waited. And then waited some more. Thirstily.

Reader, no free drinks ever came my way. In hindsight, my mistakes were numerous and I would play my proverbial hand a bit different these days. But my awkward moment notwithstanding, Las Vegas is indeed a fantastic place for freebies and “near-bies” (that’s almost-freebies that come at a very low cost). All you need is a little insider information.

People gambling at a Las Vegas casino.

Yes, There’s Free Gambling In Las Vegas

First, a little tough travel talk. I expected Las Vegas to be incredibly glamorous. I’m talking Frank Sinatra hanging around with ladies wearing fur and diamonds glamorous. The reality is more stark, even sad. Gambling can be exciting and fun -- and it can easily suck you into spending far more than you can afford. I highly recommend setting a gaming budget before your trip, with the strict rule that when it’s gone, it’s gone.

The easiest way to make the most of your gaming budget is to take advantage of free play opportunities. Believe it or not, you can gamble for free in Las Vegas! Player clubs and loyalty program sign-ups are completely free. They come with a number of juicy perks, including some free gameplay. The Wynn, The Cosmopolitan, Boulder Station, and The Palms are all known for their free play perks upon sign up. Casino Royale has a bank of slot machines set aside exclusively for new player club sign ups -- and you’re given a whopping $50 worth of credits to play with!

Just remember that player clubs are designed to encourage more and more gaming. Consider these freebies a way to augment your existing, pre-established gaming budget, but play within your limit.

The Fremont Hotel and Casino's well-known buffet.

How To Get Free Food In Las Vegas

Player club enrollment doesn’t just mean free gaming. Membership often includes a coupon book or discount perks, allowing the savvy traveller the chance to have a casino meal on the cheap. The Fremont Hotel and Casino is well-known for offering a free buffet once you’ve reached a very modest amount of player points. Of course, it doesn’t make financial sense to gamble $40 just to get a $15 buffet, but if you’re planning to play a certain amount in a day regardless, it doesn’t hurt to be strategic.

Another way to get free food in Vegas is to complain. It sounds like a negative way to approach travels and, in general, I tend to agree. No one wants to be an ugly traveler. But Las Vegas is a very customer service-oriented town. If there is a genuine problem with your accommodations or other services, ask politely and graciously to speak with the customer service manager. Explain your situation and propose a solution. Can they provide you with complimentary buffet tickets to offset the inconvenience of having to change rooms? Buffet passes are inexpensive for them, represent good value for you, and are a reasonable solution to most aggravating problems.

While the days of the $1 buffet are long gone, there are many places in Vegas where you can eat very well for just a few dollars. To get the best value, you often have to eat very early or very late and sometimes you have to visit casinos and hotels situated off the Strip. The good news: No gambling is needed and it’s a memorable way to meet locals.

An alcoholic drink at a casino in Las Vegas.

Cheers! The Secret To Free Drinks In Las Vegas

If you want to succeed where I failed in my attempt to get free drinks while gambling, it’s time to take notes. First, avoid my mistake. Do not sit in the back at the cheapest slot machines. This is not where the big-time spenders sit!

A 25-cent slot machine close to pricier games is a good place to position yourself. Play just one coin at a time to make the fun last longer. Ordering a drink and tipping the waitress generously is another way to get noticed for a complimentary refill. You can also sit comfortably at a bar that has a built-in machine. When you order your first drink, the bartender will slide a bill your way. If you stay and play for a while, they’ll likely take the bill back.

A word to the wise on the free drinks: They are usually very small and very cheap. Imagine about a cup of house brand rum and cola, heavily laden with ice. I’m not sure if it’s really worth it. However, if a certain amount of gaming is part of your plan for the evening, there’s no harm in positioning yourself to get a round on the house.

Like many cities, Las Vegas clubs occasionally run promos offering ladies a free drink and club admission if they arrive before a certain time in the evening. You know the game here. They want pretty girls to show up and stick around to help create buzz. If this isn’t the experience you’re after, you can always ask the hotel concierge if they have complimentary guest-list passes for the clubs of your choice. You may not score the free drink, but you could avoid paying cover fees.

The front desk of a hotel in Las Vegas.

High Rollers Only? The Secret To A Free Vegas Hotel Room

For the longest time, I assumed that free accommodations in Vegas worked one of two ways. The first: You had to be a high roller. The kind of devil-may-care dashing figure who thought nothing of dropping $10,000 on a single hand of blackjack. And the second recipient of a free room must’ve been a soon-to-be murder victim in a scenario made for the popular crime show CSI. Within hours of winning a massive jackpot and receiving a gorgeous suite for free, they would inevitably meet their demise.

No thanks! Of course, now I know that if you have just a bit of nerve and an aptitude for planning, a free room or upgrade may be in the cards for you (pun intended)!

In reality, getting a comped room works something like this: First, you have to research which hotels are the most amenable to giving rewards and promotions to their player club members. You can find a good list of who’s most generous in this USA Today report. Secondly, you have to be willing to concentrate your gambling efforts at one casino. Finally, you have to have the moxie to approach the player club management booth. You tell them that you’ve been gambling exclusively with them for a long time and you have the player club transactions to prove it. Ask if there are any special promotions to reduce your room bill. It takes gumption and you have to be willing to accept a “no” with good graces. However, every night thousands of ordinary hotel guests spend a small fortune in the hotel casinos, and virtually none of them ask for a little appreciation in return. Fortune favors the bold. Just ask!

If this is too much for your personal level of pluck, or if you’re not interested in prioritizing gambling during your visit, you can give this “near-bie” trick a try. When checking in to your hotel and presenting your identification and credit card, slide a crisp $20 bill to the clerk at the same time. Graciously ask if there are any available complimentary upgrades. Yes, this is indeed a thing and I can attest to its powers! If the clerk can’t help you, the $20 bill will be slid back to you.

A show by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

The “Magic” Of Free Shows

Arguably, all of Vegas is one giant free show. Hello, people watching! There are plenty of free Vegas activities, from visiting Bellagio Fountains to touring the Ethel M Chocolates Factory. But if you dream of seeing a classic Las Vegas show like Cirque du Soleil, there is one way to get tickets for free.

In every hotel, you’ll find a desk offering “Free Las Vegas Show Tickets!” In reality, this is a timeshare information session sign-up booth. In exchange for attending a company’s information session on buying a timeshare, you will be rewarded with free tickets to the show of your choice. There are a few caveats to make note of. First, and most importantly, remember that these are some of the best salespeople in the world. Yes, people really do purchase wildly expensive and impractical timeshare properties on a whim, thanks to a salesperson’s incredibly persuasive pitch. Be prepared to stand firm! The other thing to know is that the plum tickets to the best shows are in very limited supply. If you are dreaming of premium seats to see Cirque du Soleil on a particular night, you may well be out of luck. However, if you’re flexible, this is one avenue worth exploring.

Fremont Street in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Flexing Your Coupons

I’ll let you in on a little travel secret. I once very nearly committed a most improper faux pas in Vegas. I passed a man on the street talking about two-for-one coupons. Being the Frugal Franny that I am, I walked over to grab one. Who doesn’t love a two-for-one special!? Thankfully, my husband yanked me back at the last minute. That one-for-one special was for hiring the services of…how do I say this politely?...the services of adult entertainers. Yes, I’m still blushing as I write this!

Thankfully, Vegas is full of coupons for much more family-friendly bargains. The ultimate resource is the Las Vegas Fun Book. You can get it from any hotel concierge or player club desk. The coupons range from discounts on restaurants and buffets to free desserts with purchase, free souvenirs at gift shops, and even some no-strings-attached free cocktails.

Falling somewhere between coupons and freebies is the My Vegas app, available for both iOS and Android. The app encourages you to gamble with virtual cash at no cost to you. The more you play, the more points you gain. Those points can be used for all kinds of fabulous freebies, including free meals, show tickets, and even rooms. In return, you are viewing ads and promos, honing your gambling skills, and likely trading off some personal information and willingly fueling consumer trends data.

If you love phone games -- maybe you play while you’re in waiting rooms or while you’re watching TV -- and it doesn’t truly cost you any time, it’s not a bad way to go. There are dedicated online communities who are devoted to maximizing the rewards and making the most of their gameplay. Like most freebies, remember to read the fine print. For instance, even if you get a free hotel room, you still have to pay the resort and parking fees.

While I wouldn’t suggest indulging in an unplanned meal or activity just to claim a bit of savings, if those treats already on your agenda, coupons and app points are great ways to save. And there’s no need to feel bashful about using them. In Las Vegas, people think you’re a bit nuts if you don’t use coupons and claim freebies!

Ready to splurge? Treat yourself to some relaxation at one of the best Vegas spas on or near the Strip.

Photo Credit: Daniil Vnoutchkov / Unsplash

Photo Credit: Peter James Sampson / Unsplash

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