Ever find yourself wandering through the casino on a weekday afternoon – no wait, am I the only one who does that? – and wondering where the heck all of these people come from?
Grey-haired great-grandparents in their 80s can’t exactly hit the highway and make the trip to their nearest casino or card room. And in gambling meccas like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, there simply aren’t enough locals who love casinos enough to haunt them day in and day out.
Obviously, Sin City benefits from the world’s top tourism-based economy, as millions of people – gambling enthusiasts, business conventioneers, and families on their annual vacation alike – head out to the desert every year. But in locales like Atlantic City which have seen their better days (more on this to come), and the tribal casinos located off the beaten path from coast to coast, tourism hardly explains how so many people come to pack the casino floor.
As it turns out, these players didn’t organically arrive all on their own accord. Instead, the casino actually enticed them to come and play for the day or a weekend by using casino bus tour junkets.
After digging into the casino junket scene a little deeper, I became fascinated with the idea of being “wined and dined” by the very same house I’m trying so hard to beat. While I’m down on the floor doubling down and hollering for a Hard 8, the casino bigwigs are in the backroom actively trying to court my regular business. And although comps sent through the mail are certainly a nice offer, nothing beats being asked to hop on a casino bus junket and gamble to my heart’s content.
Having researched the casino bus junket services in my area, which happens to be Southern Arizona, I recently headed up to sunny Scottsdale for a session at Talking Stick Resort – the Copper State’s largest and most luxurious casino.
I just returned home from a successful journey, and my experience with casino bus junkets was so pleasant and positive that I wanted to let interested readers know how it went. With that in mind, this page will provide you with everything you need to know about casino bus trip junkets:
What Are Casino Bus Trip Junkets and How Do They Work?
Think of a junket as the ultimate comp, a freebie offered by the casino directly to its preferred players.
But instead of tossing you a buffet voucher or show tickets to recognize your status as a regular, casinos use junkets to provide an all-inclusive experience. I’m talking about shuttle or taxi service to the bus station, seats on a fancy casino bus that serves drinks and food depending on the trip, and a night or two in a nice suite. The best casino operators even add a free-play voucher in there to get your session started on the right foot.
Once you’re in the doors, you’ll still be on the hook for routine expenses like a latte from Starbucks or a shopping spree at Dolce and Gabbana. But junket players do receive discounts and other perks as part of their exclusive status.
As far as in-house expenses like room service and the like, most junkets will gladly keep you happy free of charge – provided you don’t go overboard and take advantage. An hour at the spa won’t be a problem, just try not to ask for a full day and you’ll be fine.
If all of this sounds too good to be true, here’s the “catch” – if you can really call it that – the casino not only expects you to gamble, it’s required. That’s the entire premise of a junket tour, after all, getting high-value players through the doors and at the tables.
At this point you might be asking yourself what exactly defines a “high-value player.”
Well, that all depends on the specific casino operator in question, but generally speaking, junket spots are awarded to folks who play high and play often. A low-stakes player firing $5 minimum bets in blackjack, and leaving after they win a little dough, will barely get noticed by the pit bosses who perform casino player “ratings.”
But step your game up to $25 per hand betting and stick around to weather the swings for a while? In that case, you might just get rated for a potential junket invitation.
And remember, junkets aren’t limited to table game players by any means – on the contrary in fact. Slot players are always considered to be of a higher value to the casino simply because they choose to play a pure game of chance. You’ll still need to set yourself apart from the pack by betting higher and longer, but whether you play slots, table games, poker, keno, video poker, or bingo, the casino has no problem offering a junket tour to high-rolling regulars.
That’s exactly what happened to Jean Scott, who you probably know better as “The Frugal Gambler.”
The author of several popular gambling instruction books, Scott’s “Frugal Gambler” persona is based on the idea that a little savings can go a long way when trying to beat the house. By searching for deals, pressing every angle of a Player’s Club promotion, and most importantly, playing skill-games well, Scott has traveled the world as a casino junket specialist.
As she tells the tale, a fateful trip to the gambling library in Las Vegas led to a chance encounter with a junket representative who took a liking to Scott and her husband:
The days of private planes ferrying junket players to and fro are long gone, but bus tours are just as good if you’re simply looking to maximize your gambling bankroll.
Casino Play Requirements and Other Odds and Ends
As a junket player, you’re not just there to sit by the pool and soak in the sunshine. You can catch some rays, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll need to reach certain play requirements in order to keep your junket free of charge.
For the most part, casinos will set a four- or six-hour daily minimum on your play. To make sure every hand, spin, and roll is accounted for, you’ll simply present your Player’s Club card to the dealer or pit boss and let them know you’re playing as part of a junket. Along with preferential treatment going forward, this “meet and greet” provides you with clear and concise documentation of your play requirements.
It’s not all as strict as it sounds though, trust me…
Let’s say you get caught up on The Strip and can’t quite get four hours of play in on Saturday. No problem at all with a reputable operator, as they’ll just roll the missed time over to tomorrow and let you make it up then. In other instances, I’ve had pit bosses shave an hour or so off of the requirement because they noticed me betting bigger than usual. Junkets can be fluid like that, which is all part of the fun.
The only tricky situations I’ve come across involve fellow players not bringing enough money to weather a tough downswing. In these cases, a cold run of cards can cause the player to run out of available funds quicker than they anticipated. Without any way to meet the play requirements for their junket, these players can enjoy the rest of their stay without getting hassled, but they will find an invoice for the junket cost waiting in the mailbox when they get home.
Fortunately, junket players who regularly take the same tours together tend to have one another’s back. When you have a trusted friend along for the ride, securing a small loan to squeeze out the last few hours of a play requirement isn’t out of the ordinary.
On the flip side, many players believe their winnings are capped somehow based on playing as part of a junket. This couldn’t be further from the truth though, as all winnings are yours to keep by the junket’s conclusion.
The casino isn’t running any sort of bait and switch bull here. Nope, they’re just asking for a fair chance to take on high-value players at the tables. If you’re willing to mix it up and take that gamble, beating the casino at its own games comes with no strings attached.
Tips on Tipping and Other Points of Etiquette
As a junket player, you might get the impression that “everything is taken care of,” meaning the house is happy to lavish you with comps and freebies.
And for the most part, that’s true…
But differentiating between the house and casino staff is an important concept in the junket games. Remember, while the casino operators are raking in millions in revenue every year, your average blackjack dealer or cocktail server is working on a salary of less than minimum wage. These are service industry worker who rely on tips to make ends meet, just like a barista or diner waitress.
The sad thing is, I’ve seen too many junket regulars forget that fact, mistakenly lumping in service workers with the house they represent. A casino might be happy to offer junket players a free weekend’s stay, but the porter lugging your luggage up to the room has nothing to do with that arrangement. In most cases, they won’t even know you hold junket status, so just imagine what they’re thinking when you stiff them without a second thought.
All of that is to say, tipping is encouraged across the board. For the bus driver who puts in a day behind the wheel, a few bucks from each passenger aboard can go a long way. When the roulette dealer spins the wheel in your favor and pushes over a pile of chips, toss one their way as a toke to signify your appreciation. And complimentary cocktails might be just that, but the server walking several miles a day to deliver them definitely deserves a dollar or two for their trouble.
Another point of etiquette I’d like to see more junket players adopt involves trying to turn an inch into a mile.
These folks are already getting a free room, usually a suite at that, but they just can’t help but ask for a second room for their kids or best friend. Or maybe they press the frazzled cashier at a retail outlet to shave 50 percent off just because they’re on a junket. I’ve even watched junket regulars berate low-level employees for not adding even more incentives to a trip that’s already almost completely all-inclusive.
Scenes like this aren’t pretty, and they give us normal junket enthusiasts a bad name among the gambling set.
Junkets on the Downswing but Still Crucial for Casino Industry
Back in Scott’s glory days as the “Frugal Gambler,” junkets provided a vital infusion of energy into the casino gambling industry.
As she mentioned in the interview cited earlier, Scott and her fellow junketeers regularly hopped aboard a private jet sent straight from Harrah’s HQ to their local airport. If that’s not swank and sophisticated, I don’t know what is.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, as Scott explained when describing the denouement of junketing in the lap of luxury:
Scott’s intuition about the “golden era” of junkets ending proved to be prescient.
In a research study entitled “Lessons from the Junket Business in Atlantic City and Macao” – published within the Journal of Gambling Business and Economics in 2015 – a three-person team of gaming industry experts examined the demise of junkets in two major gaming destinations.
Using statistics provided by the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) – covering a two-decade period from 1994 through 2013 – the researchers honed in on how casino bus junket tours contributed to Atlantic City’s overall gambling tourism activity:
As you can see, Atlantic City’s casino scene has been in steep decline across the board over the last 25 years. But by focusing on the bolded column labeled “Casino Bus,” you can see how junkets have borne the brunt of this decline.
The peak year for junket tours in A.C. was 1996, when 10,011 buses delivered happy patrons to the Boardwalk. That number dipped under 10,000 two years later, under 8,000 two years after that, and never recovered. By 2013, just 2,040 casino junket buses made their way to Atlantic City, representing an 80 percent dropoff from peak levels.
The same study compiled licensing data from three state agencies – the State of New Jersey, the Casino Control Commission, and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement – to show how local bus tour operators have largely abandoned casino junkets:
Atlantic City Casino Junket Licenses by Year
These numbers may be a little worse for wear based on their scope being limited to Atlantic City, but you get the idea. Scott’s fond memories of junketeers being treated like royalty are just that – memories.
Even so, players can still extract a ton of value from junkets if they’re willing to climb aboard a Greyhound and hit the road. Casino corporations – from titans like Caesars and MGM to smaller outfits like Boyd Gaming and Penn National – need junket players like never before.
Just because the tour operators aren’t doing big business like they used to doesn’t mean you can’t score a sweet junket experience. Play big, play often, and pester the staff until they realize you mean business… and you won’t be sorry.
Comprehensive List of Casino Junket Operators in the U.S.
Speaking of those operators, below you’ll find a full list of the most reputable casino bus junket tour providers from coast to coast:
Allied Casino Junkets & Charter ToursSt.Louis MO
|Black Curtain||Las Vegas||NV|
|Bobbit Travel Club||Raleigh||NC|
|Byrdman Casino Trips||Durham||NC|
|Casino Accommodations||Atlantic City||NJ|
|Casino Connections Inc.||Lawrenceville||GA|
|Casino Express Junkets||Florida|
|Casino Gold Tours||Sugar Hill||GA|
|Casino International Inc.||Dallas||TX|
|Casino Junket Club||Atlanta||GA|
|Casinos Unlimited||Virginia Beach||VA|
|Casino VIP Travel||Port Saint Lucie||FL|
|Classic Travel International||Deerfield Beach||FL|
|Corona Casino Marketing||Nevada|
|Casino Services International||Georgia|
|Dee Casino Tours||Ventnor||NJ|
|Executive Casino Tours||New Jersey|
|Gaimari Gaming Group||New Jersey|
|Gamblers Express||Carmel Valley||CA|
|Gem Casino Travel||Pleasantville||NJ|
|Grand America Company||Winston-Salem||NC|
|Grueninger Travel Services||Indiana|
|Host Connections International||New Jersey|
|John Taylor & Co.||Corpus Christi||TX|
|Ken Froom Tours||Florida|
|LOK Hospitality Marketing Services||New York||NY|
|Lucky Junkets Inc||Cleveland||OH|
|MES Travel & Junkets||Charleston||SC|
|My Casino Agent||Houston||TX|
|My Vegas People||Nevada|
|Palm Beach Casino Tours||Palm Beach||FL|
|Personal Travel Corp.||Avon Lake||OH|
|Players Club Tours||Tampa||FL|
|Players Travel||Las Vegas||NV|
|Preferred Casino Player Inc.||Las Vegas||NV|
|Preferred Casino Tours||Aliquippa||PA|
|Ron Zoby Tours||Virginia Beach||VA|
|S & S Casino Tours||Absecon||NJ|
|Steve Cyr||Las Vegas||NV|
|Top Casino Host||Las Vegas||NV|
|VIP Gambling Tours||St. Clair||PA|
As always though, be sure to do your due diligence and research any prospective junket company thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.
Being paid to play by the casino might seem like a fairy tale at first, but when you look into casino junket tours with an open mind, you’ll find them to be invaluable for any serious gambler. And hey, nothing is free in this world, so you’ll surely need to work hard to eke out a profit at the tables. But even if you don’t, having much of the expenses non-junket players must endure subsidized by the casino is almostas sweet as cashing in chips at the cage.