In case you didn’t know Vegas doesn’t have a weird and wonderful gambling currency of its own but relies on the good old US Dollar. If you’re travelling from the UK you’ll need to get yourself some. There are very many ways of doing this. I’m only going to be able to scratch the surface here but I will tell you what works for me as a regular visitor.
First and foremost the USA is rather keen on regulating the amount of cash and monetary instruments that enter and leave the country. You must disclose it if you enter the country with more than $10,000 or try to leave with more than this amount. Punishment for not doing so can include forfeiture of the money concerned so it’s a very big risk if you choose to keep quiet. If you want to comply you need to fill out a Form FinCEN 105 which you can obtain at the airport.
Most of you are laughing as you read this: who takes more than $10,000 in cash on holiday? Think about that again when you’re in Bellagio or Caesar’s Palace and you watch some ordinary looking guy play Blackjack at $10k a hand! Vegas baby!
There’s a legitimate way of getting around the problem and I’ll tell you about that later on in this post but firstly you must buy your Dollars. Every Post Office and bank in the UK offers foreign exchange facilities. If you’re not planning to travel to the USA often and you’re not expecting to win or lose millions at the tables you could do worse that just changing your Sterling for Dollars and taking it with you. The biggest downside to this is the rate you get.
Most foreign exchange providers now offer ‘commission free’ foreign currency. Whoopie doo, that’s not where the catch is. I’m not picking on the Post Office, I’m just selecting a random example. The banks work in just the same way. You generally get a slightly better rate if you order online rather than in the actual branch so that’s what I’m going to pretend to do.
I’m staying a full week with my family, I’m going to do some gambling so I’m taking £1,000 worth of Dollars (nice round figure). Today (8.1.16) the Post Office will give me just $1,427 because the Pound has crashed against the Dollar again. I have a good trip, win a little gambling and I come home with the same amount, £1,427. It’s no use to me in Dollars so I go back to the Post Office and change it back to Sterling. Today they’ll give me £904.43. So you see where the foreign exchange dealer makes their money – £95.57 on every £1,000; a very respectable 9.557%.
If I exchange less than £1,500 or exchange in branch I get an even lower rate. I know you may not be lucky enough to bring unused Dollars back but you can still see that the rate they’re giving you in the first place is artificially low and the rate they demand to change your money back is artificially high. You can shop around, these rates will fluctuate a little on the High Street, but not much.
I used to use a service offered by Travelex called the ‘Buy Back Guarantee’. For a modest fee (currently £3.99) payable when you buy they’ll agree to buy back your unused Dollars at the same rate you paid when you bought them. A healthy step in the right direction. The more Dollars you need the more this benefits you. One note: if you have a really good trip on the gambling front and you come back with more Dollars than you went with you can only ‘buy back’ up to the amount you originally purchased. There are other providers out there who offer similar schemes. There are additional T&Cs.
As you’ve correctly worked out I don’t use the service anymore. One downside is that you can only order £2,500 to be delivered to your home and £4,999.99 to collect at the airport. At the Post Office the maximum purchase limit is £2,500. This may not be enough for a long stay but I’ve found another way to do better.
You get the best available rates as an individual consumer by using a specialist currency broker. Not that long ago there were just a handful but now there are hundreds of operators fighting for your business. Examples you may have heard of include UK Forex, Tor FX, FX Pro and Forex.com. You open an account online, send them your Sterling by bank transfer (a few clicks from your PC) and they convert into Dollars. To give you an example on the same day as the Post office were offering me £1,427 UK Forex would offer me £1,452.40.
Now I hear you saying that £25.40 is not a great difference. Well that’s true if you’re only buying £1,000 once but if you’re taking more than £1,000 and you’re visiting a lot then a difference of 2.5% quickly mounts up. What’s more your broker will wire (transfer) the money to Vegas for you. Where exactly to, you ask? To your casino of choice, of course.
Let’s say you’re staying at Harrahs on the Strip. You email them, tell them you want to wire some money in advance of your stay, they email you back with their bank details, you tell your FX broker and, hey presto, the money is sent. The broker won’t charge you a fee but the casino’s bank might charge a small fee – it varies from place to place. When you arrive in Vegas you go to the main casino cage, you explain you’ve wired money, you sign a couple of forms and you then get to access your money. Simples.
There’s no limit to the amount you can send this way. You don’t have to tell the authorities because this is done for you. You don’t have to travel with large amounts of cash and you’ve got the best exchange rate going. Sound good?
There’s always a caveat. Some properties (shame on them) only let you immediately withdraw 10% of the money you wired. If they impose a restriction like this you take what they’ll let you have in cash and then you get to act like a high roller! At any gaming table you ask for a ‘marker’. You produce your ID and they’ll give you chips for whatever amount of money you want up to the amount you deposited by wire and have left in your account. Play a little or a lot, then take your chips to the cage and turn them into cash. The ‘marker’ amount is deducted from your account at the cage.
I usually stay at Harrahs. There are many reasons for that which I address in some detail in the Where to Stay and Play category but one reason is that they will let you have, in cash, as much money as you want from the money you wired. After all it is your money!
Because I’m a regular visitor I just leave the money I don’t use there in my account at the cage. I carry enough cash to pay for taxis and so on when I return to Blighty but most of my money stays in my Harrahs account. I can top it up by wire if I need to. If I do particularly well I can have them send some back to the UK for me for a small fee.
Before we leave this category you can, of course, buy your currency at the airport before you depart. There are issues as to rate and maximum limit but it’s simple to hand over the good old folding in Pound notes and get Greenback (Dollars) in return. You can buy it at the airport in Vegas when you arrive but the same issues apply.
Another alternative is to change your Sterling at the casino cage in your or another hotel. The exchange rate varies but can be much more competitive than it is at the airport where they have a captive market. Ask at the cage for a quote. Sometimes there’s a maximum figure you can exchange but Sterling is very widely accepted in large quantities. You might like to keep some Sterling back to do this in case of emergency or by way of budget control.