Vegas good and bad

OK, this post has nothing to do with the blues.

I traveled to Las Vegas recently to compete in a big poker tournament. After failing to cash in the tournament, I was feeling — OK, blue — and started getting annoyed by a lot of things about Vegas. But as the sting of losing wore off I started realizing there are many wonderful things about that city, too. So here is my list of what’s good and bad about Vegas, and why.

  1. Bad — The car-centrism. Yes, I live in Portland, the least car-centric U.S. city. But come on, Vegas is absurdly at the extreme opposite pole. And it shouldn’t be! Its main activities — gambling, shopping, sightseeing, eating and drinking — are all pedestrian-oriented. There are throngs of people walking around. But the city sure doesn’t make it easy.
  2. Good — The buses. Yes, Vegas does have public transportation. And the buses are great! Double deckers, so you can sit up top and see the sights. Air conditioned. With video and audio to help you find your destination. With helpful drivers in case the video and audio isn’t enough. And bike racks. The prices are reasonable enough (consider the two-hour and 24-hour ticket options before paying for a single trip) and here’s a tip: all the other lines are cheaper than the Deuce, which runs on the Strip and therefore caters mostly to tourists. So buy your 24-hour ticket on another line –it still works on the Deuce.
  3. OK/Bad — The monorail. Well, it is fun and futuristic to ride, and it gets you places faster than the bus. Faster than walking or driving too. But the trouble is, they set it up to only go among  Strip hotels. To be truly useful to passengers, they should have extended it to go downtown and to the airport. But, probably to benefit the cabbies, they didn’t. Another problem is that it is expensive to ride, and you can’t transfer from monorail to bus without buying another ticket. And the monorail stations are few and far between, and located way at the back of the casinos. So there often is a long walk involved. But if you are staying at a hotel that has a monorail stop, and you plan to travel around to other hotels that also have (or are near) stops, then consider getting a multi-day pass.
  4. Bad/OK — The gambling. Well, bad if you spend hours sitting in front of a slot machine. Bad if you play most of the games expecting to win. OK if you budget a certain amount of money for gambling as entertainment, have a great time while gambling, and then quit, thoroughly savoring the win or shrugging off the loss. You can be a consistent winner at blackjack, but only if you learn and practice a card-counting system and avoid detection by the authorities — which takes more time and effort than you probably are willing to make. But there is another game that you might win at…
  5. Good — Poker. Unlike every other casino game, in poker you are NOT playing against the house. The house charges a fee to run the game, but you are playing against other regular players. And some of those players are going to win. Not every Vegas casino has a poker room (it is not a big profit-maker for the casino, which is another clue that this is what you should be playing). But there are many choices of games and stakes, tournaments and cash games, the ever-popular Texas Hold ‘Em and other variants. If you are a decent poker player back home, don’t be afraid to try it in Vegas. Yes, you might run into some local hustlers who can outplay you. But you also might run into clueless tourists who only play once a year and have plenty of money to throw around.
  6. Bad — The sleaze. Sure, every city has strip clubs, prostitution, drag shows, etc. But it is so much more upfront in Vegas, the self-described Sin City. Mobile billboards and handbill pushers offer girls for hire. Even the regular shows in casinos, for mainstream audiences, often feature nudity, transvestitism, simulated sex etc., and proclaim it in ads you have to look at while riding the elevator. I’m not a prude, but would prefer they keep all this stuff a little more under wraps.
  7. Good — Public art, architecture and spectacle. A Henry Moore sculpture. Lion and dolphin habitats. Old neon signs. New neon signs. Dancing fountains. Amazing buildings. You get to see all this kind of stuff, free of charge, as you walk around.
  8. Bad — Scarcity of water. You almost never see a drinking fountain! And the casino bathrooms have only warm-water taps! This is in a desert. I consider this inhumane, almost criminal. So make sure to carry a water bottle, and refill it in your room and any other time you do find a fountain or cold tap. Buy water whenever you need to, even if you never do that at home. Make sure to stay hydrated, especially if you are doing a lot of walking or drinking alcohol.
  9. Good — Free drinks. They are stingy with the water, but not with the booze. While playing any casino game, including slots or poker, just ask a cocktail waitress to bring you whatever you want. Yes, you can ask for water. But the trouble is, the standard $1 tip makes it a high price for water, albeit a great price for beer, wine or liquor.
  10. Bad — Deliberate inconvenience. The casinos are set up so that you have long, confusing walks to get to the bathrooms, restaurants, exits etc. They want you to spend maximum time on the casino floor, where you might be tempted to gamble some more. OK, that is understandable. But it seems like they have further developed that premise to where they try to screw their own customers any way they can. The Rio, for example, where I recently stayed, would not let me use a luggage cart to bring in my own luggage. I had to let a bellhop do that, and tip him. The Rio also has a fitness center, which you might assume would be free for guests to use. No. There is an additional $22/day charge to use it. There is a similar charge for guests to use wi-fi. And there are ATM charges! Casinos charge you to use ATMs, so that you can withdraw money to gamble at their tables and machines. And I don’t think the Rio, part of the Caesars group of hotels, is any different from other hotels in that group or out of that group, in this regard.
  11. Good — People-watching. The sunny weather, pervasive sleaze, fun atmosphere, sight of the skimpily dressed cocktail waitresses, all  must combine somehow to bring out the inner showgirl in many women who visit Vegas. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes, many of whom I’m sure don’t dress that way back home, sure strut their stuff while they’re here.
  12. Bad — The shows. At least the few I’ve seen. Corny and not worth the ticket price unless you get them free or discounted.
  13. Good — The live music. The musicians in those shows are generally great. So are the musicians playing free in the hotel lounges and bars — jazz, rock, R&B, whatever, all terrific. I also have heard some terrific acts busking on the sidewalks. I guess Vegas attracts good musicians.
  14. Good — The Asian restaurants. I’m talking about the ones outside the casinos. There are wonderful little inexpensive Asian restaurants of every stripe, many in strip malls that contain four or five different ones, all vying for your attention. Many of these strip malls are very close to the Strip or downtown. So even if you don’t have a rental car, just get in a cab or bus and go out to eat.
  15. Good — The service. Sure, you can get bad service in Vegas. Please don’t write me with your horror stories, I believe you. But I also believe that in general, the level of service is much higher than in most cities, because you are usually dealing with professional servers, shopclerks, bellhops, dealers etc. in Vegas, in contrast with other cities where such jobs are usually filled by college students or artists who don’t want you to get the idea they actually care enough to do a good job.
  16. Good — Buffets.  I know, a sophisticate like me or you wouldn’t normally go near a buffet. But the ones at the casinos include plenty of delicious and healthy stuff, like salads and seafood, that might be hard to find in the other casino restaurants. And you can get discounted or free meals by using….
  17. Good — Comps. The casinos actually pay you for gambling! Even for playing poker, which is the only game you should be playing (see above). Less for poker, but it still might add up to a free or half-price buffet after a session. Most casinos have players’ cards, make sure to enroll in their systems and hand the card to the dealer as soon as you sit down. Then when you go to the restaurant use the credit on the card (or get more credit on it for paying of a meal, or a gift-shop purchase). Others, like the Golden Nugget, will just hand you a food voucher after you’ve been playing for awhile.
  18. Good — Main Street Station. I don’t have any financial interest in promoting this little gem. But I can’t understand why it is never crowded. It is an old-fashioned downtown casino with a spectactular chandeliered ceiling, old-style architecture and ambiance, a piece of the Berlin Wall in the men’s bathroom, and above all, a great in-house brewery that impresses even Portland-resident me! Great beer prices, too. And if you’re hungry, ask for the saimin soup, which for some reason is not on the menu but is good and a good deal. If only this place had a poker room I’d never leave.

OK, I think that’s enough about Vegas. See, the goods outnumber the bads, in this casual account. So consider going, and let me know how it goes. Have fun and good luck!

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One Comment on "Vegas good and bad"

  1. chezztone
    03/10/2015 at 8:51 pm Permalink

    Thank you!

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