Loud, sleazy, brash and a bit over the top. All of these terms are used to describe Las Vegas, and often in a negative light, but these are some of the main reasons why I fell in love with the city.
1. The industrious locals
A lot of Vegas locals are on the hustle (in good ways and bad.) A strange standout memory from Vegas was the $1 water sellers lining the walkways between hotels and casinos. When we visited in June, the heat was hot. I mean really hot, like 40 degrees Celsius (around 105F), which for someone of a Scottish heritage is a little over bearing. These water cooler people would stand by stairways selling water for $1 and draw attention to themselves in a number of ways. Some would sing, dance or juggle water to bring you in for a sale. One favourite was a girl with a reel of sayings that made me laugh, “Don’t let dehydration ruin your vacation”. I’d pay a dollar just for the ingenuity.
A lot of people in Vegas are out to make a quick buck, whether it’s the taxi driving long hauling you to the strip (NB: Always tell the driver NOT to take the freeway from McCarran airport as this will add over 5$ to your fare every time), to people overcharging for shit you don’t want; however the majority of people are hardworking people trying to make a living.
2. The characters
I think a lot of Vegas locals live in a tiny bubble of crazy and that’s why I love them so… Almost every Vegas resident we spoke to had an interesting story, from the waitresses that travelled far and wide to work to the impersonators that hang around Fremont street looking to make a buck or two. Take Rod Stewart for example:
Us: “Has anyone told you, you look like Rod Stewart?” Him: “Yes, im a Rod Stewart Impersonator” Us: “Uhmm, so yes then?”
3. A disregard for sensibility
You can be shooting an AK-47 one day or hanging over the edge of the Stratosphere casino another in this weird and wonderful place. I’m pretty sure if you want to do almost anything in this town, then I’m sure there will be a place to do it. You can stay in a hotel that looks like a Disney castle…
While I didn’t stray too far off the beaten track – I do have a hazy memory of playing 1$ a game bowling at 5am just off Fremont St after a casino crawl of all the old gambling establishments. Fremont St is the old school Vegas, where it all began before the high rise shiny casino of the current main Las Vegas strip began. You will find lower limit games here, including 3$ blackjack and 3$ craps games.
Next time I am in town I plan to take a helicopter ride over the Las Vegas strip, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the breath-taking Grand Canyon. You can also take a round of golf on one of the many courses, although you will probably be best visiting very early in the morning before the scorching sun starts to beat down.
4. Lots of freebies
Casinos and venues on the strip will give their left arm for you to gamble in their establishment, which is why you will find most places offer gamblers free drinks whilst in their establishment. They want you to keep on sippin’ away until your hard-earned money is fed into their machines.
If you are smart about it, this is a pretty great way to have a cheap night out at the expense of the casinos. It doesn’t really matter if you a playing the penny slots or high limit blackjack, the cocktail waitresses will treat you the same. Just make sure you tip the waitress each time they bring you a drink, to ensure they keep the flow of free booze coming.
Nothing is out of bounds, including shots, cocktails and spirits, so fill up while you have a chance.
Also don’t forget that ‘player comps’ go a long way in casinos if you are a regular player. Pick up a player’s card at the members desk and use it everytime you play slots or other table games. You save up points for every time you play, which can be redeemed against food and so forth at the casino. Most of the bigger casino chains like Harrahs use a single card, which can be used across all their gaming establishments.
5. The gaming
Of course, no trip to Vegas is complete without sampling a few of the (many) gaming establishments. With literally hundred to choose from, it’s worth deciding what money you are willing to spend (and potentially lose) and hunt for casinos which best suit your budget.
As a casual poker player who rarely plays table games, I usually hovered around the best casinos for low limit ‘cash’ games. Cash games work with a fixed betting structure, for example 1$-2$ No limit holdem, with a buy in around 150-250$ per person. We found some of the best casinos for these games included The Mirage, The Venetian, Planet Hollywood, MGM Grand and O’Sheas although many of the casinos usually offer low stakes games.
Bigger poker games can be found in The Bellagio, the Wynn and The Aria. Many of the high roller casinos, like the Wynn (made famous as of late by Prince Harry’s naked antics) and the Bellagio also have lowish limit tables for Blackjack and Roulette; although these would probably be around the 10$ per hand limit compared with 5$ minimums for many of the other casinos.
If you are looking for super low stakes gambling then Fremont St is probably best, as they have lower table minimums – ideal for inexperienced gamblers or those with lower budgets.
The editor of Kansas Flint Hills, and pursuer of relatively interesting information. Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.