Las Vegas is no longer the gambling capital of the world. That title belongs to Macau, China, where casinos with familiar names like MGM Grand, the Venetian, and Wynn pull in more money in 2 months than the casinos on the Strip generate all year. Even in the United States, the proliferation of legal gambling in other areas is eclipsing Las Vegas in terms of revenue and scope. As of this writing, there are more than two dozen states that have Native American or riverboat casinos, and nearly that many that have commercial casinos, with more on the way. And in Las Vegas, gambling is no longer the biggest revenue generator, earning less than half of most resorts’ revenue (the rest comes from hotel rates, dining, nightclubs, and the like).
But strip away all the facts and figures, and what you are left with is the undeniable lure of Las Vegas as a gambling mecca. It is, in no small part, what built this city and what continues to drive it, as evidenced by the fact that you can find gaming almost everywhere. There are slot machines at the airport, waiting for you to get off the plane or giving you something to do while you wait for your baggage. Convenience stores and gas stations have video poker so you can play a few hands while filling up. And the average Strip casino has literally dozens of blackjack, craps, roulette, and other gaming tables.
People come here to play, and although they may lose more often than they win, it doesn’t stop anyone from trying to win the Big One. You know, like that woman in 2010 who won $2.9 million on a “Wizard of Oz” penny slot (whose name was Dorothy, by the way). That only a few ever do win big doesn’t stop people from trying again and again and again. That’s how the casinos make their money.
As you walk through the labyrinthine twists and turns of a casino floor, your attention will likely be dragged to the various games and, your interest piqued, your fingers may begin to twitch in anticipation of hitting it big. Before you put your money on the line, it’s imperative to know the rules of the game you want to play. Most casinos offer free gambling lessons at scheduled times on weekdays and occasionally on weekends. This provides a risk-free environment for you to learn the games that tickle your fancy. Some casinos follow their lessons with low-stakes game play, enabling you to put your newfound knowledge to the test at small risk. During those instructional sessions, and even when playing on your own, dealers in most casinos will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Remember, the casino doesn’t need to trick you into losing your money . . . the odds are already in their favor across the board; that’s why it’s called gambling. Another rule of thumb: Take a few minutes to watch a game being played in order to familiarize yourself with the motions and lingo.
And of course, the Internet has revolutionized gambling in more ways than one, not the least of which is that you can find a free, online version of just about every casino game imaginable. Spend a few hours online betting virtual bucks before you haul out your wallet to try the real deal.
If you are planning on gambling at all, it pays to join a players’ club. These so-called clubs are designed to attract and keep customers in a given casino by providing incentives: meals, shows, discounts on rooms, gifts, tournament invitations, discounts at hotel shops, VIP treatment, and (more and more) cash rebates. Join a players’ club (it doesn’t cost a cent to sign up), and soon you too will be getting those great hotel-rate offers—$20-a-night rooms, affordable rooms at the luxury resorts, and even free rooms.
These days, players’ clubs go beyond the casino as well. Many of them track your overall spending at participating casinos, including what you pay for meals, shopping, rooms, spa treatments, and more. This means you can earn points toward rewards pretty much anytime you pull out your wallet.
Players' Clubs -- If you play slots or video poker, or, indeed, just gamble quite a bit, or even just gamble, it definitely pays to join a players' club. These so-called clubs are designed to attract and keep customers in a given casino by providing incentives: meals, shows, discounts on rooms, gifts, tournament invitations, discounts at hotel shops, VIP treatment, and (more and more) cash rebates. Join a players' club (it doesn't cost a cent to sign up), and soon you, too, will be getting those great hotel-rate offers -- $20-a-night rooms, affordable rooms at the luxury resorts, even free rooms. This is one way to beat the high hotel rates. Of course, your rewards are often greater if you play just in one casino, but your mobility is limited.
When you join a players' club (inquire at the casino desk), you're given a card that looks like a credit card, which you must insert into an ATM-like device whenever you play. Yes, many casinos even have them for the tables as well as the machines. The device tracks your play and computes bonus points. Don't forget, as we sometimes do, to retrieve your card when you leave the machine -- though that may work in your favor if someone comes along and plays the machine without removing it. Hand over your card when you join a gaming table (blackjack, for example) and they will monitor your play as well.
These days, players' clubs go beyond the casino as well. Many of them track your overall spending at participating casinos, including what you pay for meals, shopping, rooms, spa treatments, and more. This means you can earn points toward rewards pretty much anytime you pull out your wallet.
Which players' club should you join? Actually, you should join one at any casino where you play because even the act of joining usually entitles you to some benefits. It's convenient to concentrate play where you're staying; if you play a great deal, a casino-hotel's players' club benefits may be a factor in your accommodations choice. Consider, though, particularly if you aren't a high roller, the players' clubs Downtown. You get more bang for your buck, because you don't have to spend as much to start raking in the goodies.
Another advantage is to join a players' club that covers many hotels under the same corporate umbrella. Caesars Entertainment operates the Total Rewards club, which is good at any of their casinos in Vegas (Harrah's, Rio, Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Paris Las Vegas, Bally's, and Planet Hollywood; www.harrahs.com/total_rewards) or elsewhere around the world. The same goes for casinos in the MGM Resorts International stable (Aria Las Vegas, The Mirage, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, New York-New York, and Excalibur; www.mlife.com), the locals' favorite Station Casinos (Palace, Sunset, Texas, and more; www.stationcasinos.com/gaming/boarding-pass), and their main competition at Boyd/Coast (Orleans, Suncoast, Fremont, and more; www.bconnectedonline.com).
Choosing the best club(s) for you can be a complex business. To get into it in-depth, see www.lasvegasadvisor.com. Also visit the sites for the individual casinos, many of which allow you to join their clubs online. Try it, and you might find yourself receiving discounts and freebies before you even set foot in Vegas.
Mobile Gaming -- So you're lying there by the pool and you're thinking, "Golly, I really wish I didn't have to get up to make a wager at the sports book or play a hand of blackjack." Well, lazy-bones, you are in luck. Mobile gaming has arrived in Las Vegas and it is already changing the way some people play.
The mobile devices vary in size and scope at the relatively few places that offer this type of gambling (again at Venetian and Palazzo for instance). Some are about the size of an iPad, while others are more like an iPhone on steroids. Sports betting is the most popular application, but most of them have other games as well, including slots, video poker, blackjack, and more.
You sign out a device with a driver's license, credit card, and your room information if you are guest of the hotel where it is offered, buy in for however much money you want to load on it, and then you can go roam and gamble at the same time. There are restrictions as to where you can use mobile gaming devices -- it must be a public area like the pool, some restaurants, or lobby. You may not take them to your room and gamble while you soak in the tub, for instance.
Although popular with sports bettors, the devices are not catching on as rapidly as the makers had envisioned. This may seem odd especially considering our iEverything lives these days, but there's something undeniably "missing" about the experience. No matter how much technology runs our lives or how addicted you may be to Angry Birds, there's just something about sitting at an actual blackjack table or in front of a real, live slot machine that can't be replicated with a handheld gadget.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.