(Note: I wrote this back when we were living in Indianapolis and came to Vegas for an extended vacation)

My friends say I must have been born organized. I don’t remember that far back but I do remember that my first-grade desk in the one-room schoolhouse I attended was the neatest one of the whole 6 grades. Fifty-five years later, my desk is not quite so neat but my file-cabinet drawers labeled "Gambling" are a picture model of organization.

I have never kept exact count of the number of hours I spend planning our casino visits, but I daresay that I spend 2-3 hours at my desk for every hour I spend in a casino. And I credit those desk hours for making our casino hours so successful financially. For every dollar you "save" by being organized that is a dollar "won."

Let’s take one of our usual annual 3-week July Vegas trips as an example. That sentence already contains an important planning detail. We know from past experience that July is getting to be as big a bargain time as the dead days of December before the Christmas-New Year holidays. We know that the casinos make some of their best free-room offers in July and run some of their most lucrative (for the player) promotions – anything to get warm bodies into their casinos during these days of triple-digit temperatures that scare off tourists "even if it is a dry heat."

I begin planning this July trip as soon as we come home in April from spending the winter in Vegas. It’s a good thing I am the planner in the family. If it were up to Brad, my very-laid-back husband, we would not even think about Vegas until we had been home and "rested" for at least 2 months. (We love Vegas, but we are always glad to get back to the less intense lifestyle in our Midwest condo.)

Because bargain-rate seats go quickly, the sooner we book airline flights the cheaper the fare. This can be a savings of $100-$500 over last- minute reservations. Or, if we want to use frequent-flier miles, it will be less likely that our chosen dates will be fully booked. We also want to have the best chance possible to get bumped and "earn" some more gambling money, so we want to try to book a flight to Vegas during the busy 4th of July holiday period. And we try to get a flight back home on a Sunday, the best day of the week to get bumped leaving Vegas. That is a potential $200 for the shortest-distance one-time bump with a mind-boggling figure of over $2000 if we would be lucky enough to have multiple long-distance bumps.

Now, out come the files – Free-room Offers, Casino Promotions, Rental Car Discounts, Coupons. I have a large monthly calendar and our 3-week schedule becomes a complicated puzzle to put together. First I call around to several rental car companies to see what is the best rate I can find, factoring in every affiliation discount we have (AARP, airline FF partners) and every coupon offer. When I find the cheapest, I make the reservation, knowing that I have locked in the price. I call them every 2 or 3 weeks to see if the rates have gone down or there is a new lower promotion price. If this happens, I can always make a new reservation and cancel the old. However, it has been my experience that rates usually go up as you get closer to the rental date but you have locked in the lower price by calling early.

Next, I look at all the casino free-room offers we have gotten in the mail and pencil in a tentative schedule on the calendar. I note the details carefully, so that I cover weekends first with offers that are good anytime. Then I fill in weekdays with those that are Sunday-Thursday only. To cut down on tiresome moves, I favor those offers that are for longer time periods and ones where Brad and I each have an offer that can be booked back to back. Next I call the casinos and make the reservations, usually having no trouble with booked-up dates because this is a slow time for them. I will work on the 4th of July holiday period first to be sure I have this covered.

There is one drawback to making our reservations 3 months in advance. Many casinos do not send out their offers early enough for us who want to book our air well in advance to get bargain fares. So frequently I have to do some juggling after the initial reservation period if we receive an "offer we can’t refuse." (In Brad’s playbook, this is an offer that includes a free jacket – even though we have a whole closet dedicated to casino jackets!!!!) Sometimes I will double-book with 2 casinos if we feel we can give both places enough play to keep qualified. Because we have been going to Vegas for many years, we have built up a good playing history with a number of casinos even though we usually play at only 3 or 4 "regular" ones. So in July (and December) our complaint is "So many promotions; so little time." One of my saddest jobs is to periodically clean out our gambling files and throw out expired offers and promotions that we just couldn’t fit into our schedule.

After our reservations are made for air, car rental, and rooms, I get out the Promotion file and start filling in the days on the calendar. Triple points at Casino A on Mondays - this casino doesn’t give cash-back but we will build up our slot club comp bank at this our favorite place to eat. Pool Party at Casino B on Tuesday nights – we won’t stay for the loud music but they are serving free hamburgers and drinks and they are giving out a valuable coupon book we can use in our VP play later that evening. Double points all month at Casino C – mark down that we need to register for that before we play the first time. The calendar is getting full - drawing promotions, free tournaments, casino parties, free bingo sessions. Maybe I can persuade Brad to do that last one alone – bingo bores me to death even when it is free--even the Queen has her limits!

We don’t forget Vegas for the next three months. We continue our preparations. The mail continues to bring new offers and promotions we add to our July calendar, and gaming magazines and newsletters arrive that keep us up to date on what is happening in that ever-changing city. We practice on our computer the various VP games we plan to play, honing our strategy skills. Better to make mistakes and learn how to correct them when it isn’t costing you any money. I am on the Internet daily, exchanging ideas about Vegas in general and VP in particular, getting information about where the new good games have appeared and, sadly, where our old favorites have been removed. I can read Vegas publications online and be up on the current promotions that are geared for the locals, ones that most tourists do not find out about.

July 3 arrives and we are at our home airport. We feel secure in the fact that we have done our homework; we are prepared and organized. We are very ready to tackle Vegas and video poker with the very best chance for victory!

But wait – when we checked in at the gate, the attendant answered our questions. "Yes, this flight is overbooked. Yes, your names will be at the top of the volunteer list." Hurray! We may again have a chance to "win" before we even get to a casino!  

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