Hooked on a freebie

No need to lose your shirt: A beginner's guide to money-saving perks from area casinos

We’re not telling you to the break the bank, but …

We’re not telling you to the break the bank, but …


There’s very little quite as vice-y as gambling. Casinos are usually filled with alcohol, endless buffets of greasy, calorie-clogged food and cigarette smoke—and sometimes (unfortunately) gambling addicts. This is where it’s worth mentioning that most Sacramento-area casinos practice “responsible gambling” —a policy designed to prevent known pathological gamblers from participating (check out www.problemgambling.ca.gov for more info).

That said, it’ll behoove most beginners to sign up for a casino rewards card, with which such businesses entice both advanced and new gamblers with various perks. Master the rewards card and earn free food, soft drinks, free rides and credits. If you just enjoy free stuff, or have aspirations to be the next J.C. Tran, here’s a guide to the best ways to not break the bank at local casinos.

Free pho

Currently, one of Lotus' only promotions is its nightly raffle, but according to a manager, a rewards card will also soon be implemented. Plus, if you sit and play casino games for two hours, you get comped a free meal. Usually that's not a huge deal, but Lotus happens to be located in Little Saigon, and offers pho on the menu—which almost ensures it'll be great. So, if you're anything like me, and you've resolved to eat more pho in 2015, then this is a probably a good place to start gaming. 6010 Stockton Boulevard; (916) 399-4929; www.mylotuscasino.com.

Ride free

Red Hawk Casino is all the way up in the foothills, but sign up for the casino's rewards card and you can take a free bus ride from South Sacramento or Elk Grove (www.redhawkcasino.com /transportation-schedules). Accumulate points as you play games to earn free meals, gift-shop merchandise and even discounts on the casino's childcare service. Earning more points can lead to card upgrades, which lead to even more discounts on food, hotel and other services. Also, there's always on-the-house soda and the Red Hawk app gives iPhone and Android users access to other offers. 1 Red Hawk Parkway in Placerville; (888) 573-3495; www.redhawkcasino.com.

Gas, food and pampering

If you want to start off your new year with some free dough, Cache Creek Casino Resort is a good place to visit. People who sign up for the casino's Cache Club rewards card for the first time automatically get $25 in resort credit. It's not redeemable for gaming, but can be used to fill up your gas tank at the resort's gas station or to pay for food, anything in the retail store, or the spa. Card in hand, you can swipe it at a red kiosk (up to once per day) to get more rewards. Cache Club card holders get into performances by the Imperial Acrobats of China and a few other shows for free, as well as presale access to tickets for other upcoming shows. 14455 Highway 16 in Brooks; (530) 796-3118; www.cachecreek.com.

Get schooled

Capitol Casino boasts a Player's Club, which issues a free rewards card. Players Club members are eligible for discounted drinks and food, and invitations to special events. For first timers, just stop by any table (at least when the tables are slow), and dealers will be more than happy to give lessons and tips on various card games. If you still don't like gaming after your lesson, at least give the Capitol Casino Cafe a try. It has a pretty high four-star rating on Yelp, and a reputation for serving good late-night Chinese food—making it a good spot to visit after other downtown bars and clubs close on weekends. 411 North 16th Street; (916) 446-0700; www.capitol-casino.com.

Everyone into the VIP pool

Sign up for the Thunder Rewards card and immediately get up to $500 worth of free play credits, 10 percent off at the buffet, hotel discounts and 5 percent off at the gift shop and spa. Different tiers of cards (gold, platinum, president, etc.) unlock deeper discounts and access to VIP pools, VIP parking and other incentives. There's a free shuttle from several Sacramento locations on the grid for cardholders, too (www.thundervalleyresort.com/Transportation/Sacramento-Service). 1200 Athens Avenue in Lincoln; (916) 408-7777; www.thundervalleyresort.com.

Wheel of fortunes

Here, like most of the other local casinos, the rewards card is the key to perks. After receiving the Dreamcatcher's Club card, you'll spin a wheel to earn somewhere between $5 and $100 of slot play. Then earn discounts on entertainment, and while gambling, rack up points on the card to spend on things like the on-site hotel, gas station, gift shop and restaurants. Like Red Hawk's rewards card, the Dreamcatcher's Club has multiple tiers with different perks. The Jackson Rancheria Casino smartphone app also sends updates with the latest promotions. 12222 New York Ranch Road in Jackson; (800) 822-9466; www.jacksoncasino.com.