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aka Sponge-Bob, Elvis Pants


Las Vegas is a great town, but I do not recommend it to anyone who is not at least 21 years old. Although there are many things to do such as shows, restaurants, and shopping, you really need to be 21 -- as many areas of Vegas are not accessible to minors. Vegas has returned to Sin City in a big way. Leave the kids at home because they don't belong here and aren't entirely made to feel welcome. "Las Vegas is equal parts Nirvana and Tenth Circle of Hell." -- Wil Wheaton.

In Vegas, I usually walk andsometimes take the monorail everywhere and so should you – it's all cheap, easy, and convenient. I rarely take taxis. I prefer to walk, but when it's August and 117°, it's just not enjoyable. Mind you, I have walked from the Mandalay Bay all the way to the Stratosphere (6.8 miles) in this very weather, but it wasn't nearly as fun. Trust me, the saying about "Dry Heat" is hogwash. Taxis in Vegas can be difficult to get. Around dinner hour, showtimes, and morning airport time there can be queues in excess of 30 minutes to get one.

When you arrive in Las Vegas, it's a great view, especially at night so be sure to look out the window of your airplane! The light on top of the Luxor can be seen as far away as New Mexico according to pilots. Once you land, you will find the wait at luggage claim to be excessive. Knowing that, as soon as you descend the escalators into baggage claim, go to your hotel's check-in area. By the time you're done checking in -- thus avoiding the one hour waits in many hotel lobbies at certain times of the day -- your luggage may be waiting.

Go directly to the taxi stand and wait. There is no special shortcut, no cheap way out. Get in line and shut up. The taxi is cheaper than the shuttle and generally quicker. Many cab drivers will say "the expressway is faster" but that is a lie. It is never faster. Tell them to take "Paradise down Harmon" and they probably won't take you for a ride.

Every casino has dozens of ATMs. Don't use them because the fees are exorbitant. These are private ATM machines and not governed by banking regulations -- fees can exceed 12% of what you withdraw. It's often cheaper to take a cab to a bank, have it wait, and take a cab back. And, every casino cage (cashier) will gladly cash a personal check with proper ID for no fee.

I have deliberately excluded a "where to stay" section because a lot of it has to do with your personal preferences of what you want in a property. You do want to stay on the main part of the strip or between Tropicana Avenue (MGM) and Sands Avenue (Wynn). Complete reviews of the hotels are at CheapoVegas: it's a great site. Yes, there are other choices, and yes some of them are less money, but make your experience the right one.

Of course, one way to reduce expenditures is to get 'comped' -- if it's your first visit, that's not likely. But if you're coming back, or are a regular then that's what you're after. You should always get a player's card and use it at all slots. Also use it at table games when you plan on playing for awhile. What you get varies from property to property, but they all calculate it basically the same way. TP & WS & TL (Time Played, Wager Size, and Theoretical Loss). For example on a slot machine, you will wager 200 coins per hour as a typical player. If it's a $1 machine with two tokens, that's worth $400 to the casino per hour multiplied by the casino's theoretical winning percentage. Casinos pay you back about 1 or 2 percent in comps. It's far more complex than this, but now you have an idea at least. There's a chart later on this page.

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  1. Casinos Inside : All the Casinos are attractions themselves. By this, I mean the insides of the casinos. Observe the opulence both inside and out. Note that the city is in the middle of the desert and many of the casinos appear to have more water than the ocean.
  2. Amusement Attractions: Circus-Circus has an indoor amusement park called the AdventureDome which is suitable for children. It has a decent roller coaster, the Canyon Blaster ($8) and also a mini-golf course. New York - New York has an arcade suitable for kids as well as a most excellent roller coaster, The Manhattan Express ($14) . The Sahara has another roller coaster called Speed ($12) which is very cool. The Stratosphere has the Big Shot and some others on the top of its spire, but they are overrated. As you will note, the per-ride cost is very steep. The half-price ticket both at the Fashion Show Mall also sells discounted coaster tickets.
  3. Downtown: The original Las Vegas. Binion's, Golden Nugget, etc. Absorb the character of old Las Vegas here. Be careful as it's not the best neighbourhood. At night there is a light show overhead. But it's safer during the day.
  4. The Walk: I've now given this its very own page.
  5. MGM Grand Lions: In the lobby of the MGM Grand is the lion habitat. It may sound just like the zoo, but trust me: it isn't. This is a huge glass enclosure with an (artificial) habitat. You can walk under it or just watch it. It's amazingly fascinating and even educational. Limited hours daily.

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All shops are open every day, except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Mall hours vary.

  1. Fashion Show Mall: Across from TI and Wynn and Palazzo. A great mall, but although it's big it has a definite skew towards high-ticket items. It is a nice place to relax and break in the heat of the day.
  2. Forum Shops at Caesars: This is an attraction as well as a shopping destination. Something for everyone. You can enter and exit without going through the Casino, so kids can go here.
  3. Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood: Similar to Forum Shops but not as swanky. Formerly known as Desert Passage Shops.
  4. Most other casinos (Paris, Venetian, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Wynn) also have shopping promenades but they aren't really worth a special trip.
  5. There are several other large, conventional malls around Las Vegas. Ask your hotel concierge. There's a factory outlet mall that is supposedly very popular, though I've not been.
  6. Gambler's General Store: If you want gambling supplies, go here. They sell cards, dice, tables, every single gambling accessory from markers to chips to rakes to shoes. They sell slot machines, in fact, anything remotely related to gambling in our era or those bygone. Reachable by taxi only. Arrange for return fare, as it's in the middle of nowhere and a return taxi trip is a serious challenge as I found out, the hard way.

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Vegas has many superb restaurants to meet any palette. Most are obscenely overpriced. Many required proper attire. Reservations are absolutely required for dinner at most.

  1. Steakhouses: Prime at Bellagio, Delmonicos at Venetian, and Kokomos at Mirage are the best. Kokomos also does seafood. The Palm in the Forum Shops is great though nearing ubiquityand off-strip there is Morton's. Although, I'd say Kokomos is my consistently favourite dining experience in Vegas, the single finest meal I've ever eaten in my entire life was at Delmonicos where it was cooked by Emril himself.
  2. Italian: Antonios at Rio is by far the best in town and widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas and one of the best Italian restaurants in the country. Olives at Bellagio wins raves but I've not eaten there myself.
  3. Buffets: Las Vegas is known for its many buffets. It used to be known for cheap buffets. The word 'cheap' has been lost. However, a bad buffet in Las Vegas is still pretty damned good. By far the best, having no equal on planet earth is the Bellagio Buffet for weekend brunch. Also winning raves is the Seafood Buffet at the Rio, which I skip for obvious reasons. The new Buffet at the Mirage is overrated and not worth the wait; the old one was much better. Bally's Buffet is much simpler to taste, and for families this may be a better bet. The Venetian has no buffet because it is beneath their dignity, apparently. The Buffet at Mandalay Bay disappointed me.
  4. Casino Cafés: Most casinos have a 24 hour café where you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. They are all, with one exception, average at best. The Grand Luxe café at the Venetian is excellent and is managed by the Cheesecake Factory. The ones at Paris, Mirage, and Ballys are serviceable. The one at the Bellagio is horrendous and the one at Mandalay Bay isn't much better.
  5. Chinois: This little gem is in the Forum Shops at Caesars. It's great for lunch and dinner and is relatively inexpensive. I hate Chinese and I love this place. It's Wolfgang Puck's Chinese Fusion Experience. Worth it. It's the only Puck restaurant that isn't overrated.
  6. Daniel Boulud Brasserie: The second finest meal I've had in Las Vegas. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about it. You want to eat here. Trust me. You will not be let down.
  7. Ferraro's: This is actually quite a cab ride from the strip at 5900 West Flamingo, but well worth it. It's real Italian with real ingredients, real cooking, and it's a locals place. They do everything damn near perfectly. Go.

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Theatre & Shows:
Reservations required, months in advance usually.

  1. Cirque Du Soliel: Now playing at Bellagio (O), Treasure Island (Mystere), MGM (Ka), Mirage (Love) and New York - New York (Zumanity). I am partial to Mystere myself. And Ka is amazing beyond all words, and is the second best Cirque ever. Love is awesome, too with an especially wonderful soundtrack -- all Beatles. Zumanity is commonly called "Cirque Du Porn" and is an over 18 only show not suitable for kids -- nor most adults for that matter. Coming soon is the new Elvis Cirque Viva Las Vegas at the all-new Aria casino (opening soon).
  2. Blue Man Group: You just have to see this. It's currently at the Venetian where it moved after a long, successful run at the Luxor. It's a percussion show. Avoid seats in the first eight rows unless you are into involuntary audience participation.
  3. Lance Burton: You want a Vegas magician, well here he is the quintessential Vegas magician. At the Monte Carlo.
  4. Jersey Boys: Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons. Their complete story set to their music. It sounds terrible but it works very well. Worth a see for sure.
  5. Every day there are amazing concerts, comedy acts, and sporting events all over town. Check before you go. There are lots of good sites.

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What To Wear (Clothes):
You probably need to bring a sports-coat if you're going to Vegas for fine dining. There's no getting around it, really. When I first started going to Vegas, casinos had bouncers at the doors to prevent you from entering if you weren't properly dressed in the evenings. The Bellagio, in fact, did this until recently. Now, unless you're wearing an offensive shirt, you can get in unless you're under 21.

In the summer, it's very, very hot. There are weeks where the temperature doesn't drop below triple digits even at night. Although you may bring shorts, most places will bar your entry if you wear them, especially at night.

In the winter, it can be downright cold. Temperature swings are the norm. A 60 degree day can turn into a 30 degree night. And it can be windy at times. Wind chill is an issue -- doubly so on a roller-coaster.

Being in the desert, you might think it doesn't rain. You'd be right. But it does rain sometimes, and when it does, it floods. Just over one inch of rain causes flash floods and brings the city to a grinding halt. They can't deal with water very well.

The moral of the story is check the weather before you go.

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It's Vegas, Baby and Elvis has never left this building. Vegas was built on one thing, and despite all the distractions it remains King for one reason and one reason only: Gambling. People come here from all over the planet just for the privilege of losing their money even though they could do it closer to home. Lost Wages, Nevada is the premier gambling destination on our planet and billions of dollars are lost here annually. You can routinely watch people lose more than your annual salary on a single hand of cards. It's depressing and wildly exciting at the same time.

Make no mistake, you will lose. Take a look at the impressive Bellagio. It cost over US$1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars) and it's free and clear or take the Wynn at twice that price. How is that possible? Because people like you thought you could go to Vegas and win. Casinos are profitable. The MGM-Mirage group's annual report for 2005 indicates they took in US$943,343,000 in table game revenue, US$1,218,589,000 in slot revenue, for a combined revenue of almost US$2.2 billion dollars in one year. That's just one group of casinos. You are not going to win. Remember, over the long haul, the casino will take your money and you will lose. You must understand that.

Mathematically it is impossible for you to win if you're playing the house. If you do not understand this or cannot accept this, don't go to Vegas because you are their very favourite customer: you have the word "sucker" on your forehead. Repeat after me, "you cannot beat the house."

  1. Slot Machines. They are fun. They are addictive. They offer some of the worst odds in the house. Always sign up for and use a slot card in any casino you play in. I can give you a far more detailed education on this if you ask.
    1. You can mitigate this substantially by learning which types of machines to avoid. If you're playing two coins, the second tier should pay at least double the first tier. Many machines don't work this way and you shouldn't play them period, because you must play maximum coins on any machine you play.
    2. Remember, the higher the denomination machine, the higher the payout percentage. You will spin 400 coins per hour on a two-coin three-reel machine. You will win some and lose some. But remember, on a one dollar machine, that's a lot of money.
    3. Progressive machines have much worse payouts than regular machines. Payouts are based over the life of the machine, and short-terms streaks do happen. You have a much better chance of winning your state's lotto twice than you do of winning MegaBucks: that's a statistical fact.
    4. 98% does not mean you will win 98% of your money back. It means that particular bank of machines over their collective lifetimes will pay back 98% of what they take in and that includes the very large jackpots.
  2. Wheel of Fortune (Big Wheel/Wheel of Chance): It's a big wheel and you put money on a table. Flush your money down the toilet. You have better odds.
  3. Roulette. It's fun. The odds are horrible. Stick to the 2-1 and 3-2 and 3-1 bets, avoiding the rest and you have a chance of losing more slowly. Wheels with only one "0" are better but hard to find outside of Europe.
  4. Baccarat: A fine game. Fairly decent odds. You have to have the mindset for it because it's different than a typical casino game. Not to be confused with Chemin-De-Fer the French version where you get to make a decision with a "5" showing. Otherwise the same game.
  5. Craps: A popular, fun game. The odds vary based on your bet. Some aren't bad and others are horrible. This isn't an easy game to learn.
  6. Blackjack: Best odds in the house if you learn some basic strategy -- available in any book. Except the casinos have now figured it out and are trying to beat you. Some tables pay 6-5 on blackjack, so don't play at them. Some tables use re-shufflers, don't play there either. To be clear re-shufflers are machines that recycle cards and all cards are in play on any given hand. Automatic shufflers which shuffle the cards after they have been dealt are okay. If a table limit changes after you have sat down at a table and you have already played at least one play, the casino is required by law to let you continue to play at the old table limit until you skip at least one play. When dealers switch make sure they let the replacement know you're "grandfathered".
Expected Hourly Loss
Blackjack $5 100 $500 0.5% (3) $2.50
Craps $5 30 $150 1.41% (5) $2.12
Baccarat $5 150 $750 1.06% $7.95
Video Poker $1 $5 500 $2500 1% $25.00
Roulette $5 40 $200 5.26% $10.52
Slots 5¢ 25¢ 700 $175 9% (4) $15.75
Slots 25¢ 75¢ 700 $525 7% $36.75
Slots $1 $2 700 $1400 6% $84.00
Slots $5 $10 700 $7000 5% $350.00

(1) Based on a typical session. Will vary. If you multiple this by the average bet, you get the coin-in per hour.
(2) Assuming you play perfect strategy where appropriate.
(3) Blackjack Pays 2-1 and no auto-reshuffler at table.
(4) Slots assume a typical machine. Many machines pay better. Some pay worse. Playing speed varies and if you don't mindlessly hit the buttons your loss rate should be considerably less. These are averages for Las Vegas based on reported information. This is not valid for progressive slots which the house edge is near 20%!
(5) Assumes a standard pass-line bet.

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This page last updated 22 November 2009 and was created 8 January 2004.