Thursday, January 11, 2007
My co-worker, Heather, is going to Las Vegas on Friday. It will be her first time there. Since I have a well-earned reputation around the office as a degenerate gambler, she asked me to provide her with a few tips about what to see, where to eat, which shows are the best, and so forth.
(If I were just a degenerate gambler, I wouldn’t be the best person to ask. The true degenerate doesn’t see anything except the inside of the casino.
For instance, I remember one of my earliest trips to Las Vegas with my father. We were on a junket trip with some SERIOUSLY degenerate gamblers. Part of the package deal for all of us was a show featuring Bob Newhart. When it came time to go to the show, my father and I tried to round up a few of the other guys who were busy shooting craps.
My father said, “Come on, guys, wrap it up. It’s time to go see Bob Newhart.”
One of the degenerates replied, “Fuck Bob Newhart. Is he gonna come see me shoot craps? Why the fuck should I go see him?”
I like to think I’m slightly more well-rounded than that.)
Anyway, what follows are some basic tips for your first Las Vegas vacation. I could go on for many more pages than you’ll see here, but Heather’s only going for three days and I want to limit my comments to the true necessities.
(It’s possible that some of you have been to Las Vegas and have some interesting tips of your own to pass on to Heather. If so, please leave them in the comments section. I’m sure she’ll be appreciative of your help.)
First, some general stuff.
You’ll do more walking on a Las Vegas vacation than just about any other you could take. Therefore, it is imperative that you pack either sneakers or extremely comfortable walking shoes. If you wear dress shoes or heels or anything similar for the entire trip, you WILL end up with blisters and sore feet.
There are two reasons for all the walking. First, the hotels are enormous. If you’re staying in one of the larger ones, you might end up doing a half-mile or more between your room and the street. Also, since the hotels are enormous, the distances between them are totally deceiving. When you decide to walk from one casino to another that’s “just down the block”, you’ll be walking for twenty minutes. You can easily do ten miles in a day.
(I eat like a pig in Las Vegas, yet I still lose weight every trip. This is because of all the walking.)
PACK SOME WARM CLOTHES
Yes, Las Vegas is in the southwest and, yes, it’s in the desert. That doesn’t mean it’s warm all the time. If you don’t pack something for cooler weather, you’ll do some shivering. This is especially true at night.
(This applies to Heather, since she’s going in January. It’s still winter in Las Vegas and temps could drop below freezing at night. I’d expect mid-50’s to mid-60’s during the day. If you were to go in the summer, however, use some common sense and leave the sweaters at home. It hits 115 to 120 in the summer.)
Cabs are the best way to get around Las Vegas. They’re more expensive than busses, but the busses are truly horrible.
The monorail is a decent alternative, and cheaper, but it only goes to certain destinations and runs on a schedule. My thinking is that it may cost a couple more bucks to take a cab, but this is Las Vegas. You’re just as liable to drop that five bucks or ten bucks into a slot machine or at a blackjack table, so why be cheap when it comes to your time? Take the cab and enjoy yourself.
Having said that, here are a couple of tips concerning cabs.
At the airport, going to your hotel, tell the cabbie your destination and tell him to NOT take the tunnel. This applies if your hotel is on the main drag, The Strip. In Heather’s case, here is what she should (nicely) say to the cabbie:
“Aladdin, please, and please do not take the tunnel.”
The only time the tunnel is a bargain is if you’re going downtown or to the far north end of The Strip. Aladdin, in this instance, is Mid-Strip. Taking the tunnel will cost a couple of bucks more.
If going downtown from The Strip, you’ll generally want to take The Strip all the way. It’s a better ride for sights and is a bit lower in cost to the alternative. Your cabbie may ask if you want to take the highway, I-15. It can be a good option if The Strip is jammed with traffic, but otherwise, no. If you don’t feel confident enough with your lay of the land, you can leave it up to the cabbie and hope you got an honest one who’ll take you the quickest way. Most of them are honest.
Once you get to know the area, after a few trips, you’ll learn a few other tricks – being dropped on the street instead of at the door of the hotel, etc. – but on your first trip, take the ride to the door and pay the extra buck or so. It’ll be less hassle.
Tipping is the lifeblood of Las Vegas’s working class. This goes for dealers, drivers, doormen, wait staff, bellhops, just about everybody. You will be expected to tip for good service and most everybody will try to give you good service.
In most instances, the peripheral service people – doormen, the guy who calls you a cab, the waitress who brings you a drink while you’re sitting at the slot machines – will be satisfied with a buck or even some loose change. Bellhops should get a buck or two a bag, with five bucks being a decent minimum. Cabbies, wait staff, all of the usual folks you tip at home, should get what you’d tip at home – 15% or 20% or (if bad service) dick.
Dealers are another story altogether. I tip if I’m winning and only if I’m winning and only if the dealer is showing me a good time. There is no logical reason whatsoever to tip a blackjack dealer unless he/she is making your time at the table more pleasant. He can’t give you different cards because you gave him a tip. He has no effect on the outcome of your game, unless he’s giving you lessons while you play and that doesn’t apply to me. If you’re having a good time and you’re winning a decent amount, sure, throw the dealer a bit of your good fortune, too. But don’t feel obligated. If you lose, they aren’t going to tip YOU!
There is no need to pay for a drink in Las Vegas. If you’re gambling, the drinks are free. Waitresses circulate through the gaming area asking if you want a cocktail. Want a drink? Just wait for one of them to come by.
The casinos are more than happy to provide you with liquor. A drunken gambler is likely to leave more money behind than a sober one. I don’t drink when I’m gambling. If your main purpose is not gambling, drink up! It won’t cost you anything more than the tips to the waitresses.
(If you’re gambling at a high enough level, they’ll buy your cigarettes or cigars for you, too. When I first started going to Vegas, they had big piles of cigarettes on every table, free for anyone gambling to smoke. Now you have to ask for them. They’ll usually give you a pack, if you’re a nice person and spending a buck at the tables.
Also, you should be aware that Las Vegas is the most smoker-friendly city in the United States. Smoking is allowed almost everywhere. Non-smoking areas are the exception, not the rule. Don’t give smokers in Las Vegas the same dirty looks you’d give them back home if they were smoking in a restaurant, an elevator, on the street, in a club, etc. If you do, you’re the asshole, not them.
In most instances, civility still applies. If you truly have a breathing problem, ask nicely and most people will accommodate you by putting out their smoke. If you demand that they put it out, though, you’ll probably end up getting it blown in your face, and rightly so.)
First trip, limited budget? Look around at the casino in your home hotel and at all of the opulence on The Strip, but gamble Downtown or at one of the hotels off-Strip – Terrible’s and Orleans are fair choices. You’ll almost always find consistently better odds away from the main drag.
(This doesn’t apply if you know a bit about what you’re doing. If you know your stuff, you can find good gambling anywhere. If you’re a novice, though, and just looking to have a thrill by putting a few bucks into slot machines and hoping for a big jackpot, downtown will make your money go further.)
Downtown will stretch your gambling dollar by allowing you to gamble for lower denominations. You can still find nickel slot machines downtown, even pennies if you’re willing to go slumming. You’ll be lucky to find a good quarter machine on The Strip. Same applies for table games like blackjack, craps, roulette, etc., as Downtown minimums may be two dollars, with plenty of five dollar action, while on The Strip a $5 table is the lowest you’ll find and not too many of them.
(Be aware that Downtown is a bit grittier than The Strip. It’s still fairly over-the-top, but you’ll want to stay strictly within the main area and not go exploring. Going outside of the bright lights is a somewhat dangerous adventure.)
As far as advice about gambling itself? That’s a subject for a book – or twenty. I’ll limit my advice to this: Set a budget of what you’re willing to lose for the trip, divide it by the days you’ll be there, and then STICK TO THAT BUDGET. If you lose your daily allowance, then go have something to eat, see a show, take a walk, but don’t gamble again until tomorrow. And if you win? Be happy, celebrate, put half of it in your pocket and don’t touch that half again. You’ll never lose so much that you’ll ruin your vacation and you might even walk away with more than you started with.
There are bargains galore in Las Vegas, but some of them you’ll need a coupon for. When you first arrive in town, find the ubiquitous tourist magazines – you’ll see them in cabs or maybe even in your room - and skim through them for good coupons. You’re bound to find a freebie or a half-off that’s something you’d like to do anyway.
BEST FREE SIGHTS
The best free sights in town are the hotels themselves. You’ll be stunned and amazed by your first sight of The Strip, especially at night. You’ve got Egyptian pyramids, medieval castles, dancing fountains, The Eiffel Tower, The New York Skyline, a volcano, and all sorts of other amazing things that you can feel free to stare at all night for free. Do it. Enjoy yourself.
My personal favorites are:
New York New York – A hotel built to resemble the New York skyline, complete with scale replicas of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. There is also a roller coaster that goes around and THROUGH the hotel. As a matter of fact, this whole complex may be my favorite piece of architecture in the entire world.
Bellagio Fountains – Water show on the “lake” in front of the Bellagio hotel. Every 15 minutes or so, music plays and the fountains dance in synch, shooting sprays 40, 50, 60 feet into the air, with colored lights. Great stuff. Depending upon if your room at Aladdin faces the street, you might see this show from your window. If not, no big deal. Just go down to the street and dig it.
The Volcano and The Tigers and The Fish Tank – All of these are at the Mirage. The Volcano is outside and blows every fifteen or twenty minutes. The Tigers are white and belong to Siegfried & Roy. They’re inside, behind glass. The Fish Tank is behind the registration desk. It’s not like one at home with guppies and goldfish. This one is big enough to hold sharks.
Downtown – Take a taxi downtown and see the canopy. It’s an awesome, if somewhat hokey, light show. Careful – when you’re looking up at the canopy, keep your valuables safe. Pickpockets have been known to work the crowd while the show is on. There are plenty of police downtown, but it doesn’t ever hurt to be cautious
I’m running out of time to write. I’m going to dash off a few more “bests” and “worsts”, without big explanations. Trust me.
BEST BUFFETS – Bellagio, Rio, Alladin. To avoid waiting in lines, eat early or late.
WORST BUFFET – The Surf. Do NOT even think about eating there. It’s the cheapest buffet in town for a good reason. The food isn’t fit for a sickly dog.
GREAT GOURMET MEAL – Michael’s, at The Barbary Coast. Will run you a few hundred. Worth it, if you've hit a big jackpot and feel like treating yourself to a dining experience you'll never forget.
EXCELLENT FUNNY INEXPENSIVE SHOW – Mac King. Comedian and Magician. Coupons can be found for half-off or possibly free (two drinks minimum, as I recall.)
BEST OLD-TIME VEGAS SHOW – Jubilee at Bally’s. Huge spectacular of a stage show, with singing, dancing, some nudity and they sink the Titanic on stage.
RIDES TO TAKE (IF NOT AFRAID OF HEIGHTS) – Stratosphere Space Shot, New York New York Roller Coaster.
BEST SLOT “TOURNAMENT” – Right at the Alladin they have a “tournament” every day. Pay $25 (at least it was that two years ago) and compete for daily prizes that can be quite large. Best part isn’t the competition, though. For your entry fee, you also get some coupons for free desserts, some free slot play in the regular casino, and – the best part – your pick of merchandise that is easily worth the price you paid to enter. I still have two very nice black jackets (one suede) I got as a result of this tournament and I didn’t win a damned thing.
I have so much more to say, but no time to write it. Not enough time for Heather to do it all in three days, anyway, so why bother?
When in doubt, consult the Las Vegas Advisor website. There is a paid members section and a free section. I once belonged to the paid section and it is well worth it if you go to Vegas with any regularity. The free section is still loaded with all sorts of great tips. For instance, any one of the “Top Ten Values” they list is truly a great bargain.
If YOU have any tips for Heather, please leave them in the comments. See you soon!