by Joshua O’Connell
One of the biggest draws for casino players is casino offers, and one major component is free play. Free play gives players the chance to win some money on the casino before they’ve even had to invest their casino budget.
In this article we’ll go over various aspects of free play and how it benefits players.
What is Free Play and Why Do They Give it to You?
Free play is effectively a wagerable offer from the casino. The value of the free play is the amount of wagers you can make with it before exhausting it. Whatever you win off those wagers is cash and can be used as you wish, whether to play more or to cash out for real cash.
Casinos most frequently give free play as part of offers designed to entice a player to return to the casino. The amount given is based on your previous play history and your expected losses. This calculation tends to be based on your wager size, how long you play and the house advantage of the game you’re playing.
Often it doesn’t matter if you win or lose; the casino is expecting over time for players to lose to the casino, given every game in the casino has a house advantage. Slots tend to have a higher house advantage than most other games in the casino, so slot players tend to get rewarded more for their play with free play accordingly.
At one point the casinos would give cash or offer cash back offers, but players could show up, collect the cash and leave. The switch to free play requires some amount of play, and once players get going it’s not unusual for them to keep going. Modern systems also make it easier to calculate a precise amount of free play based on the play level.
How Do You Get Free Play?
There are a variety of ways you can get free play, although not all casinos offer all the types – many select certain types only.
Most frequently, casino offers are the core way you get free play. This is as described in the previous section – the casino incorporates free play into their marketing offers as a way to encourage you to make a return trip. The amount offered is decided based on your previous casino play when visiting their casino.
Offers typically lag your visit by 1-3 months; occasionally casinos can be faster than that but it really depends on the offer cycles and when they draw fresh data into their calculations.
Sometimes if you’re playing with a larger casino company like MGM Rewards or Caesars Rewards, you may receive offers for markets you’ve never played before based on your play in markets you have visited. For instance if you play in Atlantic City you might get an offer to visit Las Vegas casinos. They will use the data from your casino play they have on you to decide what makes sense to entice you to visit somewhere else they have casinos.
Some local markets, and more competitive markets like Atlantic City, might deliver a bounceback offer. It tends to be a time-limited free play offer based on your most recent visit. The goal is to get you to come back within a month or two, vs. standard marketing offers which may be delivered for 6, 12 or 24 months from the time of your last visit.
Bounceback offers can sometimes be in addition to the standard marketing offers; since the goal is to drive another visit in quick succession they may be trying to get you to become a more frequent visitor than you are today.
Converting Comp Dollars
Some casinos will allow you to convert comp dollars to either cash or free play. In the latter case, you are effectively opting to use your comp dollars to gamble instead of food, hotel stays or shopping. It can sometimes be converted at a worse ratio than other comp spending, but if you aren’t going to be visiting for awhile can be one way to ensure you use all your comps and avoid them expiring.
Slot Dollars Comp Bucket
In a few cases, players clubs can even include a slot dollars comp bucket all on its own, that lets you earn free play in real time like you would other comp dollars. MGM Rewards is the most prominent example of this, with a separate slot dollars bucket from the comp dollars bucket, but I’ve seen it in action at Four Queens and Binions in Las Vegas, and at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, just to name a few.
Table Games Players Generally Don’t Get It
In most cases casinos don’t issue free slot play to table games players. Instead, they will often get either casino chips offers or just flat comp dollars offers for spending on property.
What Are the Best Ways to Use Free Play?
I often get asked the best way to use free play. Is it worth going into the high limit room and taking a swing at a big hit? Or is it better to bet more carefully with the goal of converting it to cash? Here’s my thoughts.
Treat It Like Any Other Part of the Bankroll
I’m not a fan to taking it into high limit and doing some small number (10, 20, etc.) spins on a high denomination game. While I have said in the past (as have Matt and Steve in their videos on American Casino Guide book’s YouTube channel) that higher denomination slots can pay better over time than lower denomination ones, that happens over many, many spins. In a few spins it can go great or it can go bust.
If you wouldn’t bet your casino bankroll on a bet like that, I would advise against doing that with free play. While it’s “free money” provided by the casino, they’re going to know they gave that to you and factor that into what they expect you to wager on your visit, and if you burn through that fast you’re going to have less to work with.
Video Poker Overall is the Best Bet
Video Poker, when allowed, is going to be the best option, especially lower volatility games like Jacks or Better or Deuces Wild. Even if the pay table isn’t “full pay,” where the payout is going to be close to or even a bit over 100% overall, the house advantage will be lower than slot machines, especially lower denomination ones.
Some casinos know this and will restrict free play from being used on video poker, but that tends to be the minority of situations. Most casinos will let you play free play on video poker. Of course, it is important that you know how to play with correct strategy to attempt this option; if you don’t know how to play it, it could be more costly than even a slot.
Play a Lower Volatility Slot Machine
A lower volatility slot machine is best described as a game designed to pay more often, in smaller amounts. Examples of this is many of the Quick Hit series of slots machine by Light & Wonder (formerly Bally and Scientific Games), as well as the Quick Spin series of slot machines by Ainsworth.
Lower volatility slot machines are better for free play conversion as you don’t have to pray for a big win on a high volatility slot machine to deliver the value – the continued smaller pays gives you more reasonable expectation of some cash at the end of a session.
Why is cash important? Because presuming you keep playing with cash, the casino now rewards you with that play in the form of comp dollars, tier credits and so on. Free play does not traditionally count towards your tier, earn you comp dollars, or help you earn future comps, so getting to a cash conversion that lets you keep going is helpful for your future casino visits.
Big Progressive Machines Are Often Not Accepted
One other note is that many casinos will not let you play on games that have what are known as a Wide Area Progressive jackpot. This is one that breaks out of the casino’s walls and is shared by a variety of casinos.
There are some logistical and practical reasons for this, but ultimately many casinos will require you to play on machines that don’t have these over the top jackpots. Often these jackpots will be the six and seven figure ones, or games like Megabucks that go even bigger. But playing link games with $10,000 jackpots will often be OK, as those are contained to the casino itself.
Payback Will Be the Same as a Cash Wager
Regardless of your choice, in today’s casino environment your payback will be the same as if you inserted cash into that same machine. Slot machine payouts are not programmed to have different payout percentages between cash or free play when talking the same machine on the casino floor.
In a previous era, casinos like Bob Stupak’s Vegas World would have a specific bank of slot machines for your free play opportunities, and those would certainly be set up differently than cash slots on the floor. But players would be playing a different bank of machines, whereas today players do it on the same slots that accept cash.
How Do You Keep Getting It?
Keep playing at a similar level every visit, and your offers should stay the same, more or less. Play more, and the others will generally over time increase. Play less, and they can go down.
If you go to the casino with the intention of taking the free play and not playing, you’ll likely be dinged for what’s called a “no play” day. Some casino companies are more strict about this than others; Caesars casinos tend to be among the most strict, shutting down offers if you don’t play even to your normal level at times.
Also be sure to take a look at how long your free play lasts. Sometimes you can bank it for another visit later in the month for places that let you keep it on account for up to 30 days, but be sure to use it before it expires, or else you’ll lose out on that opportunity.
Other Free Play Considerations
If you pick up other offers on a casino visit, the same rules around play requirements could apply, so picking up gifts and not playing could also hurt your free play. Casinos calculate the value of whatever gift, comps, free play, etc. they give you into their calculation so a gift pick-up still counts.
Redeeming free play works one of two ways. In one format, you put the free play into the machine and play it like cash. In another, you are rebated your wager after each spin, meaning you need to put a bit of cash into the machine and activate your free play to rebate your wagers. Both ultimately yield the same result, just handle the process differently.
And finally, it’s important to always play with your players card to ensure your play will be recorded and the casino can give you those earned casino comps and other offers. The only exception to this would be if you know you’re going to play much lower than your normal play – in that case the casino would record that as a below average day and likely lower your comps. If that is going to be a one-off, it may be best not to use your card on property that day.
Free play is a key aspect of benefits for slot machine players, earned based on their volume of wagers and visits to the casino. I hope this guide to free play helps you have a better understanding of how you get it and what it can do for you on your casino visits!
Joshua O’Connell is the author of Know Your Slots, a casino website that talks about slot machines and how they work,
comps, travel, cruises and other casino-related topics. New and updated content is posted daily.