Sin City was built on gambling. Although shows, restaurants and shopping now give it a serious run for its poker chips, gaming still draws its share of luck chasers and James Bond wannabes. From ponying up at least $20,000 to play high-stakes poker in Bellagio’s Bobby’s Room to the penny slots most anywhere, there’s a game for every player.
Casinos on the Strip typically require higher minimum bets ($10 blackjack tables can be hard to find) than off-Strip gaming halls. According to former pro gambler and Las Vegas Advisor founder Anthony Curtis, chances of winning are better when you have some control, such as with poker and blackjack. While Vegas’ more than 100,000 slot machines may be fun, most just devour money. Some casinos have no-smoking sections or machines for nonsmokers, but none are smoke-free. But they often have a low table or two, so wheelchair users can play.
Ways to save: Gamble downtown or at locals’ favorites, such as South Point and various Station Casinos. Use your players card every time you play to rack up freebies. Get free alcoholic beverages, water or soft drinks by hailing a cocktail server. Play on weekdays so you’ll pay less to ante up for table games and poker tournaments.
In this over-the-top party town, the fun is endless. Rev a Ferrari on a racetrack at Exotics Racing. Sit in the driver’s seat or ride with a pro via the NASCAR Racing Experience at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Swim with the sharks or just watch them glide by at the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay resort (those 65-plus save $2). Or play Bob the Builder at the controls of a bulldozer or excavator at Dig This Las Vegas.
If artificial attractions aren’t your thing, hike amid stunning rock formations in nearby Red Rock Canyon or tour the Hoover Dam, about 30 miles southeast of the city.
Ways to save: Strip spectacles, such as Treasure Island resort’s battling pirates and voluptuous wenches, the flower-filled Bellagio Conservatory, Mirage’s erupting volcano and the Fountains of Bellagio are free. So are downtown’s nightly light-and-music extravaganzas at the Fremont Street Experience.
First-timers are gobsmacked by the variety and quality of productions. Just try to spot a mistake in Cirque du Soleil’s half-dozen acrobatic/dramatic spectacles, including its top-grossing “O” water extravaganza, its revamped “The Beatles LOVE” or its risqué celebration of sensuality, Zumanity. Headliners lured to Vegas for “residencies” (long-running shows) include Cher, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Reba McEntire and Rod Stewart. Even the nosebleed seats at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, which hosts top entertainers, offer decent views. The T-Mobile Arena features stellar entertainers, too. Shows offer seating areas for the disabled; some have sign-language interpreters. A word about Vegas shows: They usually clock in at 90 minutes max (check your watch) — supposedly to get gamblers back in action.
Interested in something more highbrow? The acoustically impressive $150 million Smith Center for the Performing Artsnear downtown hosts the local symphony, touring Broadway shows and other entertainment.
OK, so Vegas doesn’t have the Met, but it has a Smithsonian. Those fascinated by the nearby Area 51 site will appreciate the Smithsonian-affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum (62 and older save $4). Fans of The Godfather can take a trip through the history of organized crime in the USA in the Mob Museum (discounts for those 65 and older). Book a tour of the Neon Museum, a quirky graveyard for more than 200 vintage Vegas signs (with printed handouts for the hard of hearing).
Shopaholics: Bring an empty suitcase (or two). If you can afford Gucci and Louis Vuitton, head to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and the Shops at Crystals in CityCenter. Or scour the moderately priced Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. Bargain hunters beeline to Las Vegas North Premium Outlets to stock up on Armani, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana and other designer steals. Fans of TV’s Pawn Stars hit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop for antiques, silver and collectibles.