by Steve Bourie
Slot tournaments are special contests arranged by casinos where participants who get the highest scores on slot machines within an allotted amount of time, or credits,  are awarded cash or prizes.  Some slot tournaments are offered free of charge but some may require an entry fee.
Virtually every casino today offers slot tournaments and they’re used by each casino’s marketing department as a promotional tool to generate more business for the casino. An interesting thing about slot tournaments is that they aren’t necessarily designed as money-making events for the casino. 
Some casinos will give back all of the entry fees in the form of prizes and some won’t. Those casinos that give back all of the money are happy to have the tournament’s contestants in their hotel rooms and playing in their casino. The thinking at these casinos is that the tournament is generating extra business and they don’t have to make money off the tournament itself. These are the best kinds of tournaments to play in but they aren’t always easy to find. In other instances the casinos look at tournaments strictly as a money-making venture and they’ll keep part of the entry fees for themselves. In either case, tournaments can sometimes provide extra value to you and they are occasionally worth looking into.
Years ago you used to have to check gaming magazines to find out about slot tournaments at casinos throughout the country, but nowadays it can easily be done with an Internet search. You can then visit the casino’s website to get more details. Once you see the page, be sure to take a screen shot. This way, you’ll have an official written record of the tournament’s rules and regulations, if you encounter any problems in the future. 

Slot tournaments can sometimes offer great values!

When looking at the prize structure of the tournament be sure to add up the total cash value of all the prizes and compare it to the total amount of money the casino will be getting in entry fees.  For instance, if the entry fee is $200 and they’re limiting the tournament to 200 entrants then the casino is generating $40,000 in entry fees. Are they offering that much in cash prizes? If so, then it’s a good tournament. If they’re only offering $25,000 in cash, then the casino is keeping $15,000 and you may want to shop around for a different tournament that offers you more “equity.”
By equity we mean the value you’ll be receiving in relation to the cost to enter. Positive equity means the casino is giving back more in cash and benefits than it’s charging to enter the tournament.  Negative equity means just the opposite: the casino is charging more than it’s giving back in cash and benefits. You should always try to find a positive equity tournament. 
Another thing you’ll need to add into the equation when considering your equity are the extra “freebies,” or discounts, that the casino will add to the package. Most casinos will host a welcoming party for the contestants, plus a free lunch or dinner and an awards banquet at the end when the winners are announced.
Generally, all casinos will also offer a discounted room rate to tournament participants and some will even throw in a surprise gift for everyone.  If you don’t need  a room then that benefit won’t add anything to the value you’ll be receiving but for some players a discounted room rate could mean the difference between a positive and negative equity situation. Each tournament is different and you should be sure to add up the total of all the benefits you’ll receive when deciding which tournament you want to enter.
One more thing to keep in mind when looking at a tournament’s structure is how the prizes are distributed. If too much is given to the top finishers that leaves less to be distributed among the other contestants. The chances are pretty good that you’re not going to win one of the top prizes so it will help if the lower-tier prizes are worthwhile.
One last thing to remember about tournaments is that in many of them it pays to enter early. Most tournaments offer an “early-bird” discount if you enter by a certain date and the entry fee rises after that date. The discount can be as high as 25 percent and, once again, the reduced rate could make the difference between a positive and a negative equity situation.
Once you’ve found the tournament that offers you the most equity you’ll need a strategy for winning. What’s the best strategy? Get lucky! Slot tournaments are pure luck and there really isn’t anything you can do to help you win. So, just keep pushing that spin button on your slot machine and hope for a good score!
Personally, I only like to play games of skill (like blackjack and video poker) so I usually don’t play in slot tournaments. There was, however, one instance where I played in a tournament because of the value it offered. 
Keep in mind that the following story took place many years ago, but the information is still valid for comparing the value offered by a slot tournament. My friend and I were planning a trip to Las Vegas to attend the World Gaming Congress and Expo at the city’s main convention center. This event is held each year and it’s the world’s largest trade show for the casino industry. The event took place during the middle of the week but we also wanted to stay over for the weekend. Unfortunately, the room rates are much higher on weekends and the hotels usually don’t discount their rates very much on those days. After calling around to check rates we also decided to look into slot tournaments.
Boulder Station Hotel & Casino was having its All Treats, No Tricks slot tournament that same weekend. The entry fee was $199 but by entering before a certain date, the fee was reduced to $149 and there was a total of $40,000 in prize money up for grabs. The rules required 268 entrants, or else the total prize money could  be reduced, but  based on  that required  number the casino would be  receiving $39,932 in prize money (assuming all early entrants) and awarding $40,000 in prize money which made this a slightly positive equity situation. Additionally, everyone received a t-shirt, a welcoming cocktail party, lunch at the Pasta Palace, an awards celebration and a reduced room rate of $25 for Friday and Saturday evening. 
We had stayed at Boulder Station before and we both liked the property very much. We called the hotel’s reservation department and they told us it would be $99 per night on Friday and Saturday. That was $198 for the two nights, plus 9% tax, for a total of $215.82 By entering the slot tournament our cost would be $149, plus $50 for the room for two nights, plus 9% tax (only on the room), for a total of $203.50 Hey, you want to talk about positive equity? This thing was great! Not only were they giving back all of the prize money, but in this case it was actually cheaper to enter the slot tournament than to get the room by itself!
The rules allowed us to enter as a team for the $149 fee and that also got us into the activities together. At the welcoming party we had an unlimited choice of alcoholic beverages or sodas, plus a large selection of finger sandwiches and other snacks. The Pasta Palace is a good restaurant and we had a great lunch there. 
We weren’t very lucky in the tournament and didn’t finish high in the standings. Actually, we received the lowest cash prize which was $40. That brought our actual cost for the room and the tournament down to $163.50 which was still $52 cheaper than just getting the room by itself.  Plus, we got the t-shirt, welcoming party and lunch as an added bonus. 
As you can see, we saved some money by entering the slot tournament and we also had a lot of fun. You can do the same thing by checking out some of the tournaments that are available the next time you’re planning a trip to a casino. Just do a Google search for the name of the city where you will be going, plus “slot tournaments” and it will bring up a list of available tournaments in that area: for example, “atlantic city slot tournaments”.
Have fun and good luck!