Play The Casinos – How to Drink For Free in Vegas?

Our reporter Nick Stinchcombe has been to Las Vegas over 30 times and he’s seen plenty of ups and downs during his visits.

He tells us how to save money on the $12 Coronas and shares his most profitable Super Bowl betting strategy. We also hear what Ira Glass thinks about playing poker for a living and what Matt Damon’s character in Rounders thinks about his attitude. 

Episode transcipt:

Henri: It doesn’t matter which way you look at in Las Vegas, you’ll see money.

Big wins, millionaires, luxurious hotels – they can have a humbling effect, but some of us will be thinking:

This could be me, I could live here. I could do what these people are doing.

My name is Henri Kukkonen and we are We want to find out if that’s really how it goes. One of our reporters, Nick Stinchcombe, he can tell us – he’s been to Vegas over 30 times!

Nick: My name is Nick Stinchcombe, I’m 57 years old. I worked in the newspaper business for 40 years. I’m now retired and I’m a freelance writer.

Henri: Listen, how Nick describes going to Palazzo, one of the hotels on the strip, for the first time.

Nick: We went into there and, ah, upon arrival, it was overwhelming, to say the least. Palm trees everywhere, luxurious views all over the place. It was quite overwhelming. Actually. My first time there, I had never been in a hotel like this before, so that was kind of exciting.

And the other thing about the Palazzo that was neat was every room. And there is a sweet. I’d never staying in a suite before in my life. So you go into this huge room with a bathroom the size of my living room and again just very overwhelming, but beautiful and appealing.

I mean, obviously I liked it. The bed was beautiful, the bathrooms beautiful. We had our own en-suite, with our own living room. Again overwhelming. I looked out from ceiling to floor windows out onto this mammoth strip of people talking, walking, sightseeing. I was quite impressed, quite excited and honestly, very glad that we made the decision to come there. And I’ve only been there for an hour or two. And I’m already happy about our decision to go there and I felt special right away. For sure, Vegas does make you feel special.

Henri: Overwhelming but special. Vegas is the land of opportunity; America in pocket size, but for a beginner, there can be a lot to learn.

Nick: You think these resorts are close when you look at them. They’re not. They’re a long way away. And we ended up walking from the Palazzo, which is basically the North end of the Strip, to Mandalay Bay, which is just about the South end of the strip. And you, when you’re looking at these buildings, you think, well, we’ll go to the next one. It doesn’t seem that far away.

Well, by the end of the day, we were very sore and realized: You don’t do that when you visit Las Vegas.

Henri: So all that walking around makes you thirsty. What do you do when you want to have some drinks in Vegas?

Nick: So, typically, if you’ve been out walking on the strip, you’re thirsty. You want a drink just to cool down and maybe relax a little bit instead of buying a drink at the bar. Sometimes my wife and I will just sit at a slot machine and put, say, $20 in that machine, but not hit the button.

Don’t play the machine. Don’t risk any of that money.

And what is likely to happen at most resorts is a server will come by, and their usual comment is: “Drinks?”

And, of course, my wife and I say “Yes, we’ll have a Corona with a lime please”, and they’ll serve you.

I’m I’m sure they’re told to be on the lookout for people that are playing or not, but honestly, the service just want your tip money. So tip them a dollar. They’ll keep coming by every 10 or 15 minutes. If you don’t tip, hm, you’re not likely to see them again. But the point is, my wife and I haven’t played a nickel, and we’re sitting at a slot machine drinking.

Henri: Did you hear that? Nick is playing the casinos.

Poker is one of the most popular games in Vegas. It’s on TV and most of us have played it with friends. In fact, it’s so normal that it can seem like anybody could do it. Listen how Ira Glass, the normally critical and analytical host of this American life, talks about playing cards in Vegas:

Ira Glass: Watching these people play cards all day for their jobs – it just seems so much better than any job I had ever seen or imagined. And tricky thing is, it doesn’t look that hard. You know, it’s not like pro basketball. It’s not like hitting a fastball like Alex Rodriguez. You know you can’t do that.

The poker, it’s just cards. You know, it’s only cards. How hard could that be?

Henri: Well, how hard could that be? Let’s listen to Mike McDermott. Played by Matt Damon in Rounders, explain Texas Hold’em, the game Ira Glass thinks is so easy.

Matt Damon/Mike McDermott: No limit Texas Hold em is the Cadillac of poker. Each player is given two cards face down. Five cards have been dealt face up across the middle – these are community cards everyone can use to make the best five card hand.

The key to the game is playing the man, not the cards.

There’s no other game in which fortunes can change so much from hand to hand. A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked. Go on till and lose his mind along with every single chip in front of him. This is why the World Series of Poker is decided over a no limit hold’em table.

Some people, pros even won’t play no limit. They can’t handle the swings.

Henri: Okay, so it sounds like Mike has a more realistic image of the challenges in poker. What does Nick think?

Nick: I think poker is a game of chance to a degree, probably a little less than 50%. I’d say, it’s the majority of poker, a skill. I don’t think it’s, uh, out and out gambling.

There are too many people in Las Vegas playing poker for a living.

Now, I have a stats degree. That’s, I mean, I love statistics and trends and analytics. I love that stuff. It drives most people crazy looking at all those numbers. I love it, but I am not going to. I’m just gonna give my money away in the poker room. I know it. Especially in Las Vegas.

I might as well just give them my (money).

You know what I should do if I buy in for $200 in Vegas at a poker in a poker room? Just go all in my first hand. I’m probably gonna lose it anyway, so I might as well go for it.

Henri: Did you hear that, Ira? If I were you, I wouldn’t quit my day job just quite yet.

But what do you do then when you want to gamble?

Nick: My gambling strategy has changed over the number of visits that I’ve been there. When I first went there, everything was new. So you tried a little bit of everything, and I found that I just ended up coming home down, uh, hundreds of dollars.

Obviously, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and I don’t like coming home with less money than I went there with. So I tried to develop a strategy that could be profitable for me.

And what I have found is, I still play table games. I still play a little bit of slots and I, but most of my time now I spent focused on what one or two games or what one or two horse races am I going to be playing today and I limit myself to that.

I’m not looking to just take a shot with my bat. I want to win.

I have the opinion that I’m making an informed decision and I have a good chance of winning. Based on the information that I have, I have looked at.

Henri: Nick, could you give us an example on how you conduct your research? And how do you figure out your strategy for a single event?

Nick: I go to Las Vegas every year for the Super Bowl, and I go for quite a length of time, because I want to study the lines, and the lines change. They, just because a line’s set at, say, two and 1/2 on the favorite, they move from there and they can move quite a bit, depending on the amount of money that’s being bet.

So I went about a week before the Super Bowl two years ago, in 2018, and I was writing a story every day on the Super Bowl.

Who was gonna be the M V P. Who was gonna win the game, who would win on the point spread bet, that who would win on the total bet, Who would win on the prop bets?

So I was obviously doing a lot of research, studying a lot of trends and statistics, and I had my mind set on the fact that the multi million bets coming into the game early on were on Philadelphia.

People don’t bet that kind of money on a hunch. They’ve done some homework. So that’s the first thing that caught my eye.

Secondly, I didn’t like the Patriots defense. They seem to give up a lot of points, and championship teams tend to have a decent, if not really good, defense. So it’s already leaning to Philadelphia anyways. The other thing, too. In Super Bowls, the quarterback tends to be the MVP.

So when I wrote that story, I’ve already made up my mind that Philadelphia was going to win the game. So I pick Nick Foles as the MVP, what, at the time was offering very good odds because his opponent was Tom Brady.

So I like Nick Foles as MVP and select Philadelphia to win the game. Obviously, I like the Philadelphia to cover the spread because they were the underdogs – they were getting, I believe four and 1/2 to 5 points at the time, and I like the over because I thought Philadelphia has a great offense and Brady’s going to get his points no matter who they’re playing, so they’re going to score a lot of points.

So here was my strategy for that Super Bowl, and I’m there again a week early.

Every time I make money in the casino, I’m going to bet it on Philadelphia. Every time I make $60 at the roulette table, I go to the sports book. I bet it on Philadelphia. I make $100 at the roulette table. I go and I bet on either the point spread the money line.

Oddly enough, I was unable to bet on Nick Foles to be the MVP because MGM Grand doesn’t take bets on where voters decide who’s going to win. (But) In many ways, that’s beside the point. By the time the game comes around, I have more than $600 on Philadelphia to win the Super Bowl.

Now, if you remember that game, it ends 41 – 33. 74 points are scored. The line was 48 and a half. The money line on Philadelphia was +170, I have hammered. The over and under I have hammered. The point spread bet I’ve automatically won since Philadelphia has won the game.

By the time the game was played, I have over $600 casino winnings all on Philadelphia to win.

I’m got back $1700!

My brother and I left the next day and came home. I was up 1700 months.

Henri: People always say that it’s really easy to get lost at the casinos. Is that true?

Nick: It is easy to get lost in certain casinos, like Venetian or MGM Grand. I don’t like MGM Grand because of that, because it’s so easy to lose your bearings. You don’t know where you are.

Obviously having been there so many times now I know my way around MGM Grand and the Venetian.

But it is true. If you’re a newcomer to Las Vegas, you will get lost in most of their casinos, and I think they do that on purpose.

They want you to stay in that casino. That’s one of the reasons why you won’t find windows or clocks and casinos, and most of them are fairly dark because they want you to think it’s night time all the time and just keep playing.

Henri: Nick, you’re going to Vegas soon, and it’s going to be trip number 33. Why do you keep going to Vegas over and over again?

Nick: The draw of Las Vegas for us is there’s always something for each one of us to do, no matter what the time of day is, if we want to do that.

Henri: So there you have it. Vegas can be overwhelming at the start. The hotels are far from each other, and the sharks will eat you as their dinner if you sit in the wrong poker table.

But if you’re smart, you can drink for free, and if you are even smarter, you can go home richer than you came. Just like Nick.

Thanks for listening.

I’m Henri Kukkonen from

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