You don’t have to spend a packet to do Las Vegas in style. Dave Woods shows you how to do Vegas on the cheap
Think of the one place on earth where you need money to have a good time and the chances are Las Vegas will spring to mind. You can hear the chiming of slot machines before you arrive at McCarran airport, and the entire sum of bright lights, sights and sounds of the city are there with one end in mind – to ensure you leave with an empty wallet.
For the tourists and the suckers, that’s exactly what will happen. But, if you know what you’re about, you can experience the very best of Vegas without dropping your bankroll. In fact, if you follow the tips outlined over the next few pages you might even leave Vegas with more money than you started with. Yes, Vegas is more corporate than ever before, and almost everything has been monetised, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find freebies, bargains and some of the softest poker games in the world. Add all of these together and you could land the holiday of a lifetime and beat the Vegas suits at their own game.
Where To Go Out On A Budget
When you’re tired of playing poker it’s time to sample the very best entertainment in Vegas…
See a show
If you’re on a budget you can still get into some of the premium shows, with half-price tickets available at eight locations across Vegas. They open daily at 10am for a first-come first-served scrum.
Go and gamble
If you want to gamble on a budget, forget the big strip casinos and head downtown, where a small bankroll will get you treated like royalty, or to places like Casino Royale, which offers $5 blackjack and low-limit craps with incredible 100x odds.
Head to the top for a few tequilas and a go on the white-knuckle rides, which offer some of the finest views of the strip. Go at night for the full neon effect.
The Grand Canyon
If you’ve got the time a trip to the Grand Canyon is an excellent way to give the yin to the Vegas yang. Day trips start from around $79 by bus, or pay more for a flight or helicopter tour.
Where To Play The Softest Cash Games
It’s impossible to predict where the softest game in town is at any one time but you can give yourself an edge by playing in the following cardrooms…
Aria Casino, CityCenter
This is a brand new complex that’s attracting a lot of tourists, and this is evident in the $1/$3 no-limit cash game at Aria Casino, which was incredibly soft when we visited a few months ago. It’s also one of the nicest cardrooms in Vegas.
The MGM Grand has long been lauded as one of the best places to play cash games in Vegas because of the cardroom’s proximity to the casino entrance and the nightclub. This makes it a magnet for tourists and late-night drinkers – exactly the sort of opponents you want on your table.
This might well be the best place in Vegas to make serious money. The players there are generally bad, moneyed and intoxicated, which makes for a killer combination.
The players might not be of the high-roller variety, but if you visit Imperial Palace after dark they will most definitely be intoxicated. Not one for the poker purists but it’s a great place to clean up and take advantage of those in worse shape than yourself.
Where To Find The Best Value Tournaments
Most affordable tournaments in Vegas are crapshoots with horrendous fees but there are a few notable exceptions…
The brand new complex has a swanky cardroom at Aria and its daily 1pm tournament offers possibly the best value in the whole of Vegas. For $120 you get 8,000 chips and 30-minute levels.
You might not even have heard of this casino but with 35 tables it has one of the biggest and best cardrooms in Vegas. There are two tourneys daily (noon and 7pm) featuring $75 buy-ins for NLHE, H.O.R.S.E. and Omaha Hi/Lo, with 7,500-chip starting stacks and 30-minute levels (20 mins for first three levels).
The 20-table cardroom runs two daily tournaments (11am and 7pm), but Friday evenings offer the best value with a $150 buy-in for 7,500 chips, 20-minute levels and a $50 bounty on each player. Avoid the 11am weekday tourneys that are $45 + $15 with 5,000 chips.
The cardroom at Caesars has a dedicated tournament section, meaning bigger fields and generous structures. Buy-ins vary, but the $150 at 7pm gives you 7,500 chips (plus optional add-on for an extra $10) and 30-minute levels.
The Five Best…Free Shows
Fountains at Bellagio
There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist when the sights are as good as this. And with shows every 15 minutes in the evening it’s almost impossible to miss.
Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
140 horticulturalists work tirelessly in these elaborate gardens to ensure Americans never have to leave the city to experience natural beauty from around the world.
Nothing says Vegas more than a bit of neon, and you can see all the relics of the past in the Neon Museum Boneyard, or take a self-guided walk past reconditioned signs.
Bobby’s Room at Bellagio
You’re not going to get inside unless you’ve got a cloak of invisibility, but press your nose up against the glass and take in the atmosphere.
You don’t actually want to play poker there, but if you’ve got any interest in the game you have to visit Binion’s and its awfully unimpressive Poker Hall of Fame.
Where To Eat On The Cheap
Las Vegas boasts some of the finest restaurants in the world, but you can eat like a king even if you don’t have the ransom…
The Burger Bar, Mandalay Bay
They say you’re never more than a few metres away from a rat if you live in London, and the same is true about burgers in Las Vegas. The best are at Mandalay Bay, where a fantastic burger will set you back $12, or a whole lot more if you go for the ultimate Kobe burger.
Shrimp Bar & Deli, Golden Gate Hotel and Casino
This downtown joint first served what’s been voted ‘the best shrimp cocktail in Vegas’ in 1959 and we don’t think the price has gone up much since. For a ridiculous $1.99 you can enjoy what we’d call prawns in a sundae glass with a killer cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon.
Lotus of Siam
It’s easy to get blasé in Vegas, but this place is the real deal. Voted best Thai restaurant in the US, Lotus of Siam may be off-strip, but, with specialities like the incredible Tom Yum Prawn, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Cravings Buffet, Mirage
For the price of entry we reckon this is the best buffet in Vegas. You could eat as much as you want every day of the week and still not eat the same thing twice. Dinner is $22 but for an extra $10 you get a live one-pound lobster and a 12oz Porterhouse steak thrown in.
The Five Best…Cheap Hotels
Circus Circus Hotel and Casino
It’s still a magnet for kids, but if you can put up with the kooky theme you’ll find decent rooms at rock-bottom prices.
A decent hotel on the strip is elevated to a bargain buy thanks to the pool area where you can chill without spending a cent.
The Excalibur hotel doesn’t boast the best rooms in the world, but the location – right next door to the MGM Grand – is fantastic for poker players, and you can get rooms extremely cheaply.
Another hotel-casino that boasts a decent pool area, Sahara is located near the Stratosphere at the end of the monorail, which puts the delights of the strip a few minutes away.
Once one of the highlights of the strip, the light from the Luxor is still one of the first things you’ll see if you fly in by night.
Don’t be tempted to go bottom-end and book into a motel, even if your head has been turned by the $15 a night signs. They’re dirty, nasty, occasionally dangerous and only worth considering if you want to see the sort of squalor that Stu Ungar endured during his last days on earth.
The Five Best…Insider Tips
If you’re playing a table game, slots or video poker in Vegas you get free drinks, so head downtown and set yourself up in low-limit heaven. Tip the waitress $5 for your first drink and $1 thereafter for free drinks all night, even if you’re sitting two to a machine.
Get into any taxi in Las Vegas and you’ll find a free entertainment guide packed with money-off coupons for shops, restaurants, bars and shows. If you’re more organised, print off the latest issue of 24/7 magazine before you go.
If you can pull it off, the barefaced lie is still a great way to get a room upgrade. Look for a sympathetic hotel employee and explain that your girlfriend is joining you, you’re planning to propose and you want the occasion to be special…
It is possible to get comped at casinos without being a high-roller. An average $50 wager for three hours a day will get you a free room at Hard Rock. Head down to the Golden Nugget or Orleans and you’ll get the same for half the amount.
If you’re going to play the slots (and we wouldn’t advise it), make sure you’ve got a loyalty card clocking how much money you’re losing. At least this way you might end up with a free meal once you’ve dumped your loose change.