Vegas bets on bargains

LAS VEGAS
Vegas bets on bargains
By OSKAR GARCIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
June 3, 2009, 3:22PM

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/travel/features/6456312.html
LAS VEGAS — It’s back to the buffet, bargains and customer bonuses for Las Vegas casinos.

Fast food is up, fine dining tabs are down and hotel rooms are available for less than $50 in a city that has been calling on recession-weary tourists to come back and play the quarter slot machines.

Value is the hippest thing on Las Vegas Boulevard this year.

And as hotel-casinos from one end of the Las Vegas Strip to the other lowered rates, visitors returned to cash in. In January, occupancy citywide dropped to about 72 percent, far below the 90 percent-plus normally enjoyed by Las Vegas hotels. By March, occupancy rose to 85.9 percent — and 92.5 percent on weekends.

Executives say changing customer demands affect every hotel-casino, from the $159 per night Wynn Las Vegas to the Imperial Palace, where rooms can be found for $34 per night.

The Imperial Palace is selling a package that includes a one-night stay with all meals at its buffet and a cafe and all drinks at casino and pool bars for $95.

The Luxor has used Twitter to push a $35 one-day pass to its buffet. Other MGM Mirage hotel-casinos offer all-day buffet tickets, and the Luxor’s includes beer, wine and champagne.

Even Michelin-starred restaurants where dinner tabs run to $100 per person are offering fine dining at reduced, fixed rates.

The three-star Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand is known for its $385 16-course meal and a $225 six-course option. But it recently debuted another menu for $89.

For those on a tighter budget, enough inexpensive fun exists here to fill a trip without stinging stakes. Examples: $49 rooms this month at the Golden Nugget (plus a coupon book worth more than $250 in resort discounts), slow-paced poker games, and free attractions, from lion-watching to a man-made volcano.

GAMBLING

OK, so gambling and the concept of being “on a budget” don’t seem likely partners, but if you’re tired of blackjack’s big swings and don’t want to spend hours pumping slot machines for a penny a pull, try Pai Gow poker.

This table game, a variant of a Chinese gambling game played with dominoes, can be found at just about any casino with stakes starting at about $10 per hand, equal to or less than the cheapest blackjack tables.

Your goal is to assemble the seven cards dealt to you into two separate poker hands — one with five cards and another using two — in hopes of beating the dealer on both. A single joker in the deck can be used either as an ace or as a wild card to fill a straight or a flush.

Win both hands and win the bet, lose both hands and lose. Winning one hand but losing the other means the hand is a push — no money won or lost. Because of the nature of the game, pushes happen more often than wins or losses.

The house gets its edge in two ways. First, it benefits from identical hands, so it would win a two-card showdown if you each held ace-king. Second, it charges a 5 percent commission on all wins. That means a $10 bet will get you $9.50 if you win.

If you’re confused, ask the dealer to assemble your cards the way the house would play them. Other players at the table likely will offer their help, too, because you can’t affect anyone else’s hand.

That makes this game a whole lot less tense than others — plus you’ll still get free drinks.

Free entertainment

Lounge acts and good people-watching posts are plentiful on the Strip, but it’s tough to beat the beauty of the fountains at Bellagio.

Sidewalk space is free for people to gather and watch the water dance to whatever’s playing, whether it’s classical music, opera or popular tunes. Below the surface, the 8-acre lake holds some 1,000 custom-built nozzles and about 4,000 lights programmed to create complex choreography.

Show times are every half-hour starting at 3 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends, with shows every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. until midnight (except on windy days).

Beyond the fountains, free entertainment can be found just about anywhere.

The developers of the fountain show are behind the new volcano at The Mirage, with flames dancing for roughly five minutes to music from Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla musician Zakir Hussain (every hour on the hour from dusk until midnight).

Off the Strip, the Show in the Sky! at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino features a cast of singers and dancers taking over one side of the casino, riding floats on tracks from the ceiling and performing on the hour every hour from 7 p.m. to midnight Thursdays-Sundays.

There are animals to see for free, as well, including flamingos at the wildlife habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas and lions at the MGM Grand.

Those entertained by basic Vegas glitz and glam should simply walk through Caesars Palace and the Bellagio (including a stop at Bellagio’s seasonally changing botanical garden), the Venetian and Palazzo (through the Grand Canal Shoppes with its daily street performers) or the Wynn Las Vegas.

Getting around

Free trams run 24/7 along the Strip between Mandalay Bay and Excalibur, and between The Mirage and Treasure Island. Harrah’s runs another free shuttle for customers between its casinos, every 30 minutes from Caesars Palace, the Rio, Harrah’s Las Vegas and Paris Las Vegas.

For $3 a ride or a $7 all-day pass, the round-the-clock bus service known as the Deuce could be the cheapest way to travel along the entire Strip without walking, all the way to downtown.

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