How I Successfully Gambled in Las Vegas Without Losing My Shirt


When I learned that I would be going to Las Vegas for my sister-in-law's birthday, I was concerned that the trip would turn out to be an expensive adventure. So, before I left, I did some research and ended up writing about ways to enjoy Las Vegas without spending a lot of money.

While in Las Vegas, I found that some strategies to limit expenses worked well, but I did run into some spending pitfalls. Here is a summary of what worked, what didn’t, and what I would do differently on my next trip to Las Vegas.

Money successes in Las Vegas

Here's where I cashed in on the Vegas experience.

No shopping

Las Vegas features some expensive shopping opportunities at high-end stores and shopping malls that seem to cater to high rollers and provide an outlet for people to impulsively spend their gambling winnings. Fortunately, we managed to do some window shopping without buying anything.

Steering clear of buffets

We got in line for a breakfast buffet that was $30 per person. We came to our senses, got out of line, and found a less expensive diner nearby.

Walking instead of taxis

We used the inexpensive Las Vegas city bus to get from the strip to Fremont Street near downtown and back. On the strip, we walked everywhere. Bring comfortable shoes on your next trip to Vegas, because things on the strip are spread out and you will need to do a lot of walking if you don’t want to pay for transportation.

Saving on snacks

We brought a supply of inexpensive drinks and snacks to our hotel room that helped us avoid more expensive options on the strip and at the hotel. There was a CVS near our hotel that had some cheap drinks and snacks as well for when we needed more.

Scoring free souvenirs

On our excursion from the strip to Fremont Street, we got an awesome free souvenir: a photo at Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel standing next to pile of $1 million cash! After the photo was taken, we came back after an hour to pick up our free printed copy. Taking pictures next to the other famous landmarks on the strip also made for great free souvenirs.

Leaving the kids at home

There were some sights in Las Vegas that were not exactly kid-friendly. I am glad we left our teenage kids at home. This saved us money on airfare and food, plus the kids were able to take care of the dogs so we could avoid pet boarding expenses.

Finding free attractions on the strip

We did end up going to an one expensive show featuring music and acrobatics, but it was a fun part of what Vegas is famous for. Other than that, we found a number of entertaining free attractions on the strip including the volcano light, fire, and sound show outside the Mirage hotel; the fountain light show at the Bellagio; lounging by pool at the hotel; and walking the strip to explore the sights during the day and at night.

Fremont Street

After staying at a hotel on the strip and spending some time there, we were ready to try something different. The Fremont Street experience is a 20-minute bus ride from the strip and features a huge overhead LED screen light show, plus live music and a variety of street performers. I got the cheapest dinner of the trip here.

Money lessons in Las Vegas

Now that I've been to Las Vegas, and can recognize the money traps, here's what I'll do next time.

Find cheaper airfare

We paid more for airfare by booking a flight to arrive earlier in the day on Thursday. We wanted to have more time to explore on our first day there. Taking a later flight would have been less expensive, and since Vegas never sleeps, there's plenty of time to explore even if we arrive later in the day. (See also: 8 Costly Flight Booking Mistakes You Make All the Time)

Engage in smarter gambling

I didn’t have time to study up and practice, so I stayed with video blackjack, video poker, and betting on a college-football game for my first time gambling. I lost $50 on all of these combined, which is OK. I chalked it up to entertainment.

But next time, I’d like to improve. I'll practice, take some blackjack lessons at a casino, and try playing against a dealer at a blackjack table before I go back. It would be great to win my $50 back!

Stay off the strip

Next time, I would consider staying at a hotel in the Fremont Street area instead of staying on the strip. For one thing, the odds at the casinos are better. For example, many casinos off the strip have low bet blackjack tables with 3:2 payout vs. the 6:5 payout that is typical on the strip. Another advantage of staying off the strip is that hotel rooms and dining can be less expensive.

Try unique dining opportunities

We ended up eating out for dinner every night. It's hard to avoid spending a lot on food when you're walking around the strip at night. You get hungry and everything is so far apart that you tend to give in and eat somewhere expensive nearby instead of hunting for a less expensive place. Some of the restaurants weren’t even that interesting. They seemed like upscale chain restaurants that you could find anywhere.

Next time, I would seek out unique local places. Someone recommended Battista’s Hole in the Wall, which has affordable dinner specials that include free house wine. The Ellis Island Cafe is another affordable local dining experience on my list to check out next time.

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