Bankroll 101

A great Vegas trip requires $500 to $750 per day in total expenses.

About a month ago I polled VLO readers about appropriate bankroll levels for a good trip to Las Vegas. Comments, provided mostly by Twitter, scattered across the board.

Based on reader feedback, personal experience and the opinions of various Vegas insiders of our acquaintance, I’d offer the following very loose guidelines for calculating your Vegas bankroll.

First, think through where you want to stay and what you want to eat. You can get very cheap rooms and very cheap meals in Las Vegas, if you so choose, and the food/lodging part of your budget really is a function of pure personal preference. I think a decent Bally’s or Harrah’s room mid-strip make a great deal and depending on the calendar you can get in for $80/night or less.

Second, think about the “extras” like paid drinks, shows, souveniers and activities that cost money (e.g., a visit to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay or a cruise down the zipline on Fremont Street).

Now … where are you at, budget-wise? The food, lodging and incidental expenses for a very fun time on a mid-strip, mid-tier property will realistically cost you about $300 day, on the high end, assuming you do a fancy meal each day and don’t splurge but don’t pinch pennies, either. You could get away on a cheap room and cheap food and no real incidentals for as little as $100/day, but you’ll likely have to hunt for bargains.

And it must be said: If you *are* pinching pennies, a trip to Las Vegas probably isn’t a good choice to begin with.

Beyond the basics, you’ll want a separate budget for gambling and entertainment. You can do shows and spas and shopping, if you wish — and you’ll pay a fair amount for the privilege. A full-price spa treatment can set you back hundreds of dollars, and premium seating for big-name talent will often cost $150 or more.

For gambling, you can play for hours on a modest bankroll if you pick lower-demonination games with a decent payback and proper strategy. In June, I played for three full hours on full-pay video poker at Four Queens on a $20 investment, but I was lucky insofar as I kept hitting quads. When the session was done, I was up $50 and had enjoyed several steins of premium microbrew, comped, from Chicago Brewing Company. So basically they paid me to drink and gamble and smoke cigars. Good gig if you can get it!

If you want to get on the radar screen, the name of the game is play-through. That is, casinos will look at how much total “coin-in” you put into the machines or slapped down at the betting table. Coin-in isn’t just how much cash you feed into the beast; it’s how many times and at what denomination you hit the bet button. If you fed $10 into a slot machine and never hit a single win, your play-through is $10. If you hit a bonus round good for $40 and never hit another win, your play-through is $50 (your $10 plus the $40 in winnings). Thus, games like video poker or conservatively played craps that have a narrow house edge will last you longer and increase your play-through on a modest cash investment, especially if you can find decent odds and follow ideal betting strategy.

Casinos calculate “average daily theoretical” — a score of how much you’re good for in an average gaming day. These formulae, and the relative tier scores that matter, remain closely guarded secrets, but in general, if you play through a solid amount of money — like $10,000 or more — you’ll get on the radar for special offers. You can run through $10k in a hurry and potentially not even “lose” much. You could even come out ahead! Just be sure to use you player’s club card and concentrate your gaming over one or two substantial gaming days. Don’t play through $10k on one day and $10 on the other, else your trip ADT will look like $5,005.

Thus … a good rule of thumb for a comfortable Vegas trip, with plenty of gambling and decent rooms and plates full of delicious food, comes at roughly $500 per day on the low end and $750 per day on the high end, not including transportation costs to and from Las Vegas.

You can have a lot of fun in Vegas for less, and if you can afford more then you probably don’t need to worry much about budgeting in the first place.

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About jason

Jason is the principal of Gillikin Consulting, a business-media and ethics consultancy based in Grand Rapids, Mich.