Gaming Resorts

Nothing characterizes Las Vegas like its gaming resorts. Ever since Bugsy Siegel built his Fabulous Flamingo in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas has been identified, if not defined, by its hotel-casinos.

When people think of Las Vegas, they think of its resorts: the Desert Inn’s golf course and luxury bungalows, Caesars’ fountains and toga-clad goddesses, Circus Circus’ big top, the Sahara’s camels, the Tropicana’s swim-up blackjack table and the Mirage’s volcano.

As the city has grown, so have the size and scope of its hotels. Starting with Siegel’s modest pleasure dome and continuing with trendsetters like the Aladdin, Sahara and Caesars Palace, resort hotels have evolved into today’s fantasy-inspired mini-cities that offer all the amenities and services a visitor could want. Those amenities–gambling, restaurants, nightlife and recreation–have become standard features. Look close and you’ll see most hotels have a sprawling casino, a variety of restaurants and at least one production show or celebrity showroom. Recently, hoteliers have discovered tourists spend money outside the casino, so the trend is to add retail shops to the mix of hotel amenities. In addition, spas and health clubs typically charge for their various services–lockers, showers, massage, tanning booths, etc.

Because of hotels’ focus on their attractions–the thrill rides, casino games, lounge singers and prime rib buffets–there is less emphasis on guest rooms. With a few exceptions whose rooms are a cut above the rest–Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Bally’s, Desert Inn, Golden Nugget and Las Vegas Hilton–most gaming hotels maintain clean and modern guest rooms, but none that would rival the luxurious rooms in resorts in other parts of the country.

There are, of course, non-gambling hotels in Las Vegas that emphasize accommodations, including the Marriott, Courtyard, Alexis Park and St. Tropez, to name a few.

Overall there are more than 120,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, the most of any American city. Plus the city is home to nine of the 10 largest (by room count) resort hotels in the world:

1. MGM Grand (5,005 rooms)
2. Ambassador City Hotel, Thailand (4,631 rooms)
3. Luxor (4,440 rooms)
4. Excalibur (4,032 rooms)
5. Circus Circus (3,744 rooms)
6. Flamingo Hilton (3,642 rooms)
7. Las Vegas Hilton (3,174 rooms)
8. Mirage (3,049 rooms)
9. Bellagio (3,025 rooms)
10. Monte Carlo (3,004 rooms)

Why does Las Vegas continue to grow like a progressive jackpot? Simply, as the popularity of gambling spreads, the uniqueness of Las Vegas becomes more apparent. There is only one Las Vegas, and it is indeed the world’s foremost gambling destination. Nowhere else in the world can gamblers find a greater selection of games and fairer odds. Nowhere else in the world can visitors find more diversions and greater spectacles. Nowhere else in the world is there a city so wonderfully warped and slick as this incongruously lush outpost in the desert.

Two significant features mark the recent wave of construction: Resorts are becoming more luxurious, and they are relying less on frivolous, Disney-like attractions. The result heading into the 21st century is a much greater range of hotel choices for the upscale traveler.

For instance, there’s Bellagio, a European-style confection of polished marble and fresh flowers amid an unparalleled group of prestigious restaurants and high-end retailers. Across the Strip, the new Venetian is a marvelous showcase for its alter ego’s canals, architectural icons and carnival sensibility, and it features the largest standard guest rooms of any hotel in town. And next door, Paris Las Vegas is the only place in town where you can gamble in the shadow of a 50-story Eiffel Tower.

At the opposite end of the Strip, Mandalay Bay features a tropical island motif with a sand-and-surf beach and water park, plus an impressive list of “name” restaurants and entertainment venues. And for those who prefer to be far from the madding crowd, the Hyatt Regency at Lake Las Vegas pampers guests with luxurious rooms, upscale spas and dramatic panoramas of the surrounding mountains and wilderness areas.

For most of the ’90s, casino-hotels tried to lure guests with gimmicky themes and attractions. The Mirage’s volcano, Excalibur’s castle, Luxor’s pyramid, Treasure Island’s pirate battle, and MGM’s Hollywood-hip motif helped pique tourist interest, while funneling them into the casinos. But today’s moguls have learned that there are other ways to tap a tourist’s pocket book. The newest hotels generally devote more floor space to retailing than to gambling; they tempt guests with full-scale health spas, internationally-known restaurants, and star-quality entertainment. It’s now possible to spend a vacation here, with a full slate of activities, and (heaven forbid!) never gamble.

But let’s not get carried away. Vegas is a gambling town. And there are plenty of established favorites in which to hang out. Many of the “older” Strip hotels, such as the Flamingo, Stardust, Riviera, Sahara, Caesars Palace and Desert Inn, have undergone expansions or upgrades that make them nearly as attractive as the newest hotels, while retaining a pre-corporate charm that hints of old Las Vegas. The cluster of downtown casino-hotels do a good job with accommodations, although their dining and entertainment options are more limited than those on the Strip. In the area surrounding the convention center, rooms are plentiful and generally unencumbered by noisy casinos. Representative choices include Residence Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and La Quinta Inn.

Because the majority of casinos insist on amusement as means of inducing people into their fleecing pens, their attractions–the thrill rides, virtual reality dens, magic shows and belt-popping prime rib buffets–take precedence over guest rooms. As a result, with a few lively exceptions, most Las Vegas hotel rooms tend to be of the Holiday Inn variety–clean and modern, but nothing that would rival a Ritz-Carlton. Generally, they all do a good job and typically include room service, valet parking, cable TV with pay movies, non-smoking rooms, and dry cleaning/laundry service.

No matter where you stay, you’ll find hotel prices here among the country’s lowest, running a good 20 to 30 percent below those of other resort and convention cities. Weekday rates are usually 20 to 40 percent lower than on weekends, so ask the hotel about its prices for Monday through Thursday arrival. Also, rates at downtown hotels are typically 30 to 50 percent lower than their Strip counterparts.

Rates are often higher on holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, Easter and Super Bowl weekend, and during the busiest citywide conventions, such as Comdex and CES (Consumer Electronics Show), which are held in November and January, respectively.

Rates vary seasonally as well. During the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas and during January, rooms are cheaper and easier to find. Conversely, the city is busiest during March so rates may be driven up considerably. It is always a good idea to make and confirm a reservation as far in advance as possible. And remember that room rates listed are based on information received from the hotels and are subject to change.