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Cheapskating Las Vegas

It’s 4.30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m broke, I’m hungry and I’m tired. For five hours I’ve been at this stupid machine, pretending that I know the difference between a full house and a straight. Sometimes I get lucky and twenty coins will come out for the one that I just put in. But more often that not, the machine swallows my coins with a big neon smile, buzzing and humming as if laughing at my face. It’s a good thing the drinks are free.

Visiting Las Vegas is an experience you’ll never forget. For some It’s nothing more than a tacky waste of America’s resources; but for me and everyone else I saw walking the streets with a complete look of awe on their face, Las Vegas really is an amazing place.

We arrived in Vegas around 6.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, welcomed by a forty-six degree heat (c) and an array of really strange accents. “The quickest way to your hotel is to take a cab from that street corner,” a man said pointing, to his left. His southern drawl was remarkably similar to the colonel from the KFC ads.

Nevertheless, we followed his instructions and jumped into the nearest taxi, bound for the western themed casino, the New Frontier.  Upon arrival however, it was clear that the only thing western about this casino was the fact that all the staff and patrons probably had a gun in their back pocket.

It was also obvious that this was not the most tourist-friendly casino. In fact, I don’t think anyone in that room had seen a couple walk in with their backpacks strung on to their backs before. So shocked was the bell man that he just stared as my girlfriend nearly went belly over with the weight of her luggage.

Our room was big and clean, and a bargain for thirty-five US Dollars a night. We found our hotel via the very helpful Internet site, which lists a large variety of discount hotels throughout America. Cheap accommodation is easy to find in Las Vegas, with so many hotels willing to drop their prices if this means staying longer at the betting tables.

However, if you do stumble across a bargain be sure not to take it for granted. Remember, Vegas is all about the money; so just because you have a cheap room to sleep in, doesn’t mean you won’t be hit with hidden charges. We were unexpectedly charged two dollars every time we picked up the room telephone, regardless of whether or not we made a connection. We were also forced to pay a five-dollar a day electricity fee upon checkout. Las Vegas is a black hole that can bleed your wallet dry if you’re not careful. So always keep your wits about you, and if you‘re on a tight budget be sure to check out any hidden costs before you commit to anything.

Food like accommodation was also relatively cheap especially if you didn’t mind fighting for the last morsel of chicken or honey glazed spare rib. The buffet dinner reigns supreme in Vegas, and they can be anything from a selection of salads and pastas to an all out feast comprising of fresh fish, lobster and tender fillet steak.  Most casinos will have their own buffets. The more fancy the casino, the more fancy the buffet. Gambling is hungry work however, and it’s advisable to get to dinner early in order to get seated and take advantage of the freshest food. The buffet dinner is also tip- friendly, meaning you don’t have to. This came as a welcome relief to me as I was fast losing my reputation as a “stingy Australian,” with having to tip a few bucks all the time.

If stuffing yourself until you explode doesn’t really appeal to you, then don’t worry there are loads of other restaurants around that will cater for all tastes and budgets. You’ll be amazed how good a sandwich from Subway can taste when you only have five dollars to play with.

Many people may avoid Vegas because they don’t like to gamble; a fair point considering It’s pretty hard not to. The temptation to have a quick flutter is everywhere including local petrol stations and supermarkets. Yet, there are things to do in the city that won’t burn a hole in your wallet.

One of the most exciting days we had in Vegas was touring the casinos. Starting at the northern end of the strip, recognized as a favourite hangout for Frank Sinatra and his Rat pack pals, we worked our way southward passing some of the most elaborate hotels in the world. The amount of wealth and power associated with these casinos would rival the royal family. Within a few hours we travelled from Venice to Paris, to New York and the Middle East.

One of our favourite casinos, the Venetian, was decorated with tons of wall murals and mosaics, and featured a long crystal clear water canal. Here you could rent gondolas and experience first hand the magic of Venice. It was hard to believe that one of Europe’s most beautiful cities was thriving on the second floor of a Las Vegas casino.

Las Vegas prides itself as a city of entertainment, and its ability to pull big name acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Celine Dion. However, it was the free entertainment that proved to be one of the biggest attractions. Anything from water shows to circus acts could be seen at any one time on the strip; the only trouble being the lack of hours in the night to fit them all in. We found the best way to avoid missing out on anything was to visit the Las Vegas tourist office, where you’ll find timetables and brochures to all nightly activities. The tourist office also has a free phone calls and Internet. But beware not to take too long if you are on the computer. Americans aren’t very patient.

The biggest thrills in Vegas are of course, within the casino walls. The noise of dropping quarters, the flashing neon lights, the faces of frustration, and not forgetting the skimpy bar girls.

We started gambling within the first hour of arriving in Vegas, trying our luck on the pokie machines. A favorite for old age pensioners and beginning punters, the pokies were a good way to work our way into the gambling frame of mind. Occasionally they even proved to be an easy way to make a quick buck. Sometimes you don’t even have to know what you’re doing to fluke a big win, most of the time we didn’t. Eventually I worked myself up to play the big games and pulled out my crisp five-dollar notes. But it wasn’t long before I returned to my beloved pokies, as It’s always much easier losing five cents compared to five big ones.

The casino was littered with all kinds of people. There were middle-aged men who, with their bright pink jackets, were obviously going through a mid-life crisis. There were the old age pensioners who had decided to spend their last pennies on the slot machines rather than buy another set of knitting needles and tea cosies. There were wealthy, fat American’s with their mail order brides. Everywhere you looked the entire human race could be represented within the walls of the casino.

But this was not what we were focusing on; the casino had free drinks. All it took was a bit of maneuvering skill. We found out quickly that even though the drinks were free, they were also very irregular. To overcome this problem we spent a few minutes studying the paths and movements of the waitresses. After in depth analysis we positioned ourselves within their main shipping routes.

Before long a half-naked lady greeted us and asked what we’d like to drink. Obviously we requested the most expensive and of course alcoholic; after all it could be a while before we saw her again.  Within minutes she returned, drinks in hand. I smiled, said thank you and took the drinks from her tray. Normally this would suggest the end of our meeting so I couldn’t understand why she was still standing there two minutes later, staring over my shoulder.  I soon realised she was waiting for a tip. Remember what I said about Vegas bleeding you dry?

Call me what you will but there was no way we were giving her any money. The drinks are free remember? Besides we were backpackers, we’re not supposed to tip. By the time I realised what she was waiting for, the steam was pouring from her ears. I wasted little time and deploying my classic distraction move, turning to my girlfriend and continuing what appeared to be a very serious, but pretend conversation. After five minutes of a western style stand off, the waitress left; and we got our free drinks. Needless to say it was a while before our next one.

Free drinks, cheap food, budget accommodation, Vegas was a backpackers heaven. We only lost about fifty dollars in four days, we ate like kings and we watched as people became hypnotized by those flashing neon lights and spinning wheels. We came to Vegas expecting a good time; we left with memories of a great time. Some people think of Vegas as a waste of America’s resources. Me? I love it.

More travelmag articles about Las Vegas here and here.

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