A South Floridian finally makes it to Vegas

I have been so focused on gambling in South Florida that I must admit, sheepishly, that I’d gone more than a decade without visiting Las Vegas.

That changed earlier this month, with a two-day jaunt. I stayed at Paris Las Vegas and visited the Rio, Bally’s, Bellagio, and Planet Hollywood (pictured), where (among other things) I played poker. Here are my observations:

They’re not kidding about entertainment. Las Vegas numbers show that gambling is less than half of hotel revenues; you could almost argue Las Vegas would do just fine without gambling. Images of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay are displayed on Times Square-like billboards that used to make claims about the best slot payouts. During my visit, big-name acts such as Britney Spears were in town, but there’s also smaller entertainment, which is everywhere: a dueling piano show in a small bar, a tribute band in the lobby, even a topless country music revue. The decision by casino managers to focus less on gambling promotions, in order to get the younger set onto their properties, has made for a more complete experience for all of us.

I’m grateful for the Bravo app. Most poker rooms in town are linked to a system called Bravo, which tells the user how many games are going on, and what type they are. When I looked there were 14 card rooms with action within one mile of my hotel, with six of them having five tables or fewer. That meant if I wanted to get into a game right away, I should pick one of the other eight. (I had swings of minus-$100 to plus-$100 at $1-$2 no-limit Hold ‘em, and left with a lukewarm plus-$5, but overall had a good experience.) I think the better poker rooms, and the casinos that house them, could do well by encouraging more poker players to use Bravo: if you’re one of the top card rooms, comparison shopping is a good thing. And the less time that poker players spend searching for action, the more time they have for playing.

After years in South Florida, I forgot how massive Vegas hotels are. Twelve of the world’s 20 largest hotels are in Vegas, each with 3,000 rooms or more. The lone hotel-casino in South Florida, the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, has “only” 500 rooms. The place closest to South Florida which has a hotel with over 3,000 rooms is Atlantis, Paradise Island, in The Bahamas.

Those of you who wear FitBits can get in your 10,000 steps by, say, checking out just two hotels. But the massive hotels and their variety of offerings also means that you could spend your entire visit eating at different restaurants in your hotel, without duplication, and not even leaving the property at all, considering the breadth of shows and entertainment mentioned above. So that makes the hotels ultra-competitive, which naturally is good for us consumers. Hotels know that from the moment their staff opens the taxi door for you, through the moment a cashier hands you cash for those chips you’ve accrued, there must be no flubs, no unpleasant surprises, and no sour faces. After all, with so many commercial and Native American casinos now sprinkled across the country, why board a plane to a different time zone if the experience isn’t going to be special?

I now have a different perspective. My final observation is kind of obvious: I’m not going to wait another decade until my next visit.


Twitter: @NickSortal