Mar 212010

Years ago a national newspaper trade group that I belonged to held its annual convention in Las Vegas, and I used to enjoy an occasional trip to Sin City. The casino buffets were affordable, and even if you weren’t a gambler, people watching could provide hours of free fun.  But both myself and the city have changed over time, I’m not sure if either one for the better.

We took a ride down the Strip the other night, admiring the bright lights and unique architecture of the casinos, and marveling at the crowds. The folks who design the casinos truly are artists, and on a drive down the Strip you can see everything from castles to pyramids, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and pirate ships.

Vegas Street scene 2

This is a fantasyland for grownups, and whether you like angels, demons, winged goddesses, Elvis impersonators, drag queens, magicians, country superstars, or anything in between, an hour on  the Strip will provide just what you’re looking for. Yesterday, we drove part of the busy road again, to see it in the daylight, and I was glad Greg White was driving, so that I could eyeball everything around us.

Vegas Street scene

The country may be in a recession, but you wouldn’t know that from Las Vegas! The streets, sidewalks, restaurants, and casinos are all packed solid. The lines in front of popular places like Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville were so long that we didn’t even think of stopping for a Cheeseburger in Paradise. 

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to see a line of people waiting to get into a Las Vegas pawn shop, but the folks waiting to get into this one probably aren’t there to hock their wedding rings for enough gas money to get back home. This isn’t your everyday pawn shop, this is the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, made famous by the History Channel’s reality program Pawn Stars. A couple of weeks ago our friends Stu and Donna McNicol were in Las Vegas and stood in line about ten minutes to get into the shop, where they were lucky enough to meet Rick Harrison, one of the shop’s owners, and Stu even got his picture taken with Rick! We wanted to check the shop out too, but decided to come back mid-week, when hopefully, the line would be shorter. 

Pawn shop line

Playing tourist can work up an appetite, and Las Vegas has more places to stuff your face than fleas on a hound dog! Every casino has a buffet, but unlike the old days when I came here every year, the $1.49 breakfast buffet and $5.99 dinner buffet are ancient history. These days you can expect to pay a minimum of $15 for a buffet dinner, and over $30 per person at many of them! The Village Seafood Buffet at the Rio Casino is very highly rated, but at $38 a person, we’ll never know.

We did find a good deal at the Boulder Station Casino, a few miles from downtown, and not far from the Thousand Trails campground. After registering for our free players club cards, we paid $15 each, including tax, for an excellent selection that ranged from Chinese food to prime rib, barbecued ribs, and a half dozen other entries, along with plenty of sides and a great dessert bar. Everything was delicious, and we promised ourselves we’d go back again while we’re in town.

With our players club cards, we each also got $3 in free slot machine play, and while Greg and I promptly lost ours and went bust on penny slot machines, Jan ran hers up to about $40 and Miss Terry topped out at $54. But alas, they didn’t pay for those elaborate casinos by giving money away, and by the time the ladies’ streaks had run out, Jan walked away with a penny and Terry cashed out with ten cents! But what the heck, we got a great meal at a good price, and we got to play for an hour or so on the casino’s money. The smart thing is to walk away once you spend their money, and not dip deeply into your own pocketbook to keep playing. But judging by the number of fancy casinos here, I don’t think too many people can resist the urge to tempt Lady Luck just a little bit longer. 

Thought For The Day – Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travelers don’t know where they’re going. – Paul Theroux  

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  11 Responses to “Casinos, Crowds And Chow”

  1. Hey Nick,

    Glad you all are enjoying Las Vegas. We were there from late October to late December last year at the Nellis AFB Campground.

    We agree with you on it being harder to find good deals in Vegas, particularly for the food. We got lucky and found some good deals, though. We enjoyed the buffet at Silverton Casino right off of I-15 on the road to Pahrump. At the time, Seniors could get the buffet for something like $4.99 on Wednesdays, if I remember correctly. They also serve free Starbucks coffee on the floor for slot or table players. And we each got two free nights stay at their hotel just for getting a Player’s Club card. I don’t know what they offer now though. Silverton is pretty cool too. They’ve got huge indoor aquariums everywhere – one with real live mermaids ;-), and Bass Pro Shop is right off the casino floor.

    We’ve also found that you can get some really good food (and deals) off of the Strip, even just a block away. Some of the older casinos have pretty decent bargains, and we saw some good deals advertised at a few out towards Nellis.

    As for the shows, once we got free tickets to one of the magic shows just by spinning a wheel outside one of the casinos on the Strip, and while walking through Treasure Island we were handed half-price tickets to Cirque de Soleil’s La Mystere (awesome show, by the way).

    You’ve probably been to the Thunderbirds museum at Nellis AFB, but if you haven’t, it’s open to the public and pretty interesting. Then again, you may have had enough of up-close-can-read-the-pilot’s-nametag-military-aircraft for a while. ;-P

    Thanks again for the Rally and for your Blog. We really enjoy reading!
    Cheryl & Chuck

  2. Nick,

    For sure those casinos are not monuments to winners!

  3. Hey Nick:
    Make sure you go to Fremont Street for the light show,best deal in town FREE!
    c u on the road

  4. Nick, check out Fremont St if have not been there before. Sharon and I were there just before your rally and it’s a really cool place. Best go at night to watch the ceiling!

  5. I will just add Nick that the light show is a MUST to see if you haven’t already done so. Great photos and sounds like you had a great day… Thanks for the info about the players club cards! That is our style too! Have a Fun Filled day & travel safe.

  6. There’s a little off/off Strip casino that has a microbrewery and serves BBQ ribs at a giveaway price. We always had to wait for a table so, of course, we played the old, old slots. The problem is we are getting old and senile and can’t remember the name of the place. (We could drive to it, though)

  7. I realize that prices go up but $38 for a buffet at the Rio is robbery. It has been a few years since we visited sin city. I know we will look for another buffet to eat at if we ever go back there. I also like to people watch, some are real funny with the reaction they get when they win any amount of money, little old ladies are the best. There are still a few free shows to enjoy at least. We always set a limit when going to the casinos and once that amount is gone so are we. A good dinner show is at the Excalibur. It is there tournament of Champions. It was $65 pp we thought it was well worth the money. The dinner is alright and the show they put on is awesome. I am sure the price may have gone up also.

  8. Hey Sams Town & the Cannery right up the street from the camp ground aren’t to shabby either. Thats where us locals hang out.

  9. Our daughter lives here in Vegas ( free hook ups in back yard) and her husband is an electrician. Many of the hotels are just keeping half the rooms open as the business is not what it used to be. Many places off the main are closed. Just think how long the lines were before.

  10. Vegas is actually in a huge depression. The unemployment rate is like 13%. There are a lot of people around, true, but not enough to fill all those hotel-casinos.

  11. Nick

    I wanted you to know about a place in Las Vegas that is right up your alley. It is the offbeat Pinball Hall of Fame. I used to go there before it moved to it’s present location and enjoyed a few hours playing on pinball machines from when I was a teenager. The new location is 1610 E. Tropicana across from the Liberace Museum. The Pinball Hall of Fame is a nonprofit organization and all proceeds after expenses goes to charity. Their website is

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