In casinos throughout the Silver State, from the Red Lion Inn & Casino in Elko, the Nugget in Carson City and Wendover Peppermill to clubs on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, weekly and special event slot machine tournaments are popular promotions. These tournaments come in a variety of formats, with differences as far as eligibility, entry requirements and prize structure are concerned

While most of the tournaments are held at Las Vegas and Reno casinos, there’s plenty of action in the clubs lining the Colorado River at Laughlin, too. For example, daily “Man vs. Machine” tourneys are sponsored by the Colorado Belle, while “Spin to Win” competitions are featured at the Golden Nugget on various days of the week. Entry fees at the former are $10, $20 and $30 (first place prizes of $1,000, $2,500 and $4,000), while all the “Spin to Win” tourneys have a $10 entry fee and $1,000 total prize money each day.

Comparison Reveals Differences

Although almost all weekly tournaments involve metered machines set so each participant plays for five minutes, there’s no sameness about their entry requirements, prizes awarded or other features. Weekly slot tournaments at two Reno “neighborhood” casinos (casinos away from downtown patronized largely by locals) illustrate these differences.

Weekly tournaments at the Atlantis, about two miles from downtown on S. Virginia Street take place daily 1 to 6 p.m., with winners announced at 6:30 p.m. They are free and open to all members of Club Paradise, the casino’s players club. Individual play lasts for five minutes on metered machines. Prizes awarded each day are 1st Place, $100 cash with other prizes of “free play” on the casino’s slot machine. These are, 2nd place, $75 free play, 3rd place, $50, two 4th places of $20 free play and 15 of $10. Winners need to be present at 6:30 in order to receive these prizes.

Gold Dust West Has Additional Requirements

At Gold Dust West, about a half-dozen blocks northeast of downtown, the weekly Wednesday tournaments begin at 11 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. , with each player having five minutes at a machine. Prize winners — $200 for first, $100 for second and $75 for third — are announced about a half-hour later. Entrants must be members of the Gold Dust West players club and over the age of 50 to participate. In addition, each participant must accumulate 50 points on his or her players card on tournament day prior to entering (each entrant gets a free dinner voucher).

While tournament play is free at most Reno casinos, other clubs, such as John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, have set entry fees (the Nugget’s is $5). Video poker tournaments are also held on certain days of the week at several casinos.

Special Event Tournaments

In addition to weekly tournaments, casinos often sponsor special event or themed tournaments. These are usually two-day competitions, but unlike the Invitation Only and High Roller tournaments, are affordable as far as most gamblers are concerned.

The tournaments are generally themed, with names like “Shamrock Celebration” or “April Showers,” and flyers are sent out in advance to both local players club members and those who live elsewhere. Although formats and prize structures vary somewhat, the majority of these tournaments have an entry fee of $200 or less. This fee includes a complimentary room for two nights and a meal or two. Discounts are offered to the second person sharing a room and participants who don’t require accommodations.

Two-day tournaments usually consist of three rounds, the first held on one day and remaining two on the second. The typical tourney round lasts from ten to twenty minutes, and prizes are sometimes awarded to the winner of each round. Since not all participants can play the tournament machines at the same time, each entrant is assigned a playing time.

Entry Fees and Prize Money

Total prize money for a recent tournament with 600 participants and an entry fee of $199 ($100 for person sharing room; $149 for person not requiring accommodations) totaled $40,000, with cash prizes of $10,000, $3,000 and $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000 for the top five players; $500 each for players who placed sixth to tenth; $300 for those who placed from 11 to 20 and $25 each to those placing 21st to 40th. Players who came in from 185th to 41st received $100 or $25 in free play, depending on their ranking.

A variation of the above is the single-day special event tournament such as the 2010 “Millionaire Maker” tournaments held at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. These competitions,, based on 350 players at each tournament ($200 buy in), award a total of $30,000 to 15 players. The top prize is $15,000 and top two finishers get to advance to the Millionaire Maker Slot Finals at Harrah's New Orleans in October.