Living in Las Vegas teaches you things. Many of those lessons can’t be printed in a family newspaper, but the wisdom that can be shared on these pages is well worth knowing.
And for secrets to a city built on sin, it’s important to know there really are different versions of the gambling capital of the world. The version you get to see depends on who you are. None of those fun TV commercials will tell you this.
So, I will.
There’s the version for wealthy visitors … or at least those who act like they’re wealthy. There’s another version for tourists who just want to see what it’s all about, but don’t have a trust fund to finance a decadent-desert holiday. And then there’s the version that 2 million people call home.
When I lived in Las Vegas, I always told my visiting friends to only gamble whatever amount of money they were fully prepared to lose. Treat it like going to movie – a very expensive movie with lots of sparkles. Crazy expensive sparkles.
They say that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But in the Facebook era, the only thing that stays in Vegas is your money.
All of those huge hotels and resorts and casinos along Las Vegas Boulevard are amazingly magnificent because the house always wins. Please repeat that to yourself: The house always wins.
Oh sure, when you see movies like “Oceans 11” or even “The Hangover,” it looks like you have a chance. You don’t. I can mathematically prove it. Of the more than 40 million people who visit Las Vegas each year, nearly every single one of them goes home with way less money than they brought.
Most also go home with a smile.
That place has a way of making you feel OK about going home broke. It’s a lot like Disneyland. Except with pasties, feathery boas and huge margaritas that you can wear around your neck, like the tasty liquor necklace we all dreamed about in college.
But one of the best secrets of visiting Las Vegas is that you don’t actually have to spend much money, and you certainly don’t need to gamble to have an amazing time in the monied-up Mojave.
This is where your Uncle Rob can help.
If you’ve flown to Las Vegas from Spokane International, booked hotel rooms on The Strip, socked away money for a bunch of overpriced meals and bought tickets to all of this week’s WCC tournament games, I’m guessing that you’re now broke.
Loving the Zags is super expensive enough, even before a visit to a place that’s better than the McCarthey Center at separating you from your cash.
Having a blast in Las Vegas with a bank account perfectly balanced at zero is one of the few things I’m actually pretty darn good at. So, here’s your friendly Spokesman-Review editor’s guide to all that glitters that you can actually afford.
Pinball Hall of Fame
1610 E. Tropicana, Las Vegas
It’s not really a hall of fame, as far as anyone can tell. You aren’t going to find it on any of the tour-guide brochures. It’s kinda dark inside. It’s not that clean. And you’re going to have to leave The Strip to find it.
But once you do find it, prepare not to leave for an hour or two. Or five. Bring a $20 bill and prepare to play one of hundreds of vintage pinball machines. All of the machines cost a quarter and they’re all playable.
Just writing this makes me want to go back there. Instant happiness, one quarter at a time.
Mermaids at Silverton
3333 Blue Diamond Road
The Silverton Casino is what people in Las Vegas call a “locals’ casino.” Sure, tourists might visit, but it’s really for people who live there. Locals’ casinos typically have a little more affordable restaurants, a movie theater and possibly a bowling alley.
Silverton has a massive Bass Pro Shops attached to it. And the parking lot is filled with Nevada license plates.
Because of that, it’s not surprising that it has a big aquarium. What makes this aquarium so awesome is that it also has “mermaids” swimming in there with the fish and sharks.
Trust me, it’s worth the short drive. And if you don’t like the mermaids, you can look for that new reel that we both know you need.
Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden
3600 Las Vegas Blvd South
Of course, you’re going to see the fountains in front of the Bellagio. That’s a given. Then do what the locals do and hike up to the main hotel entrance, snap a quick photo of gorgeous Chihuly blossoms in the lobby, and walk straight back to the “conservatory.”
Prepare to be awed. Free up room on your cellphone, because you’re not going to believe how many pictures you’re about to take.
Flowers are nature’s art, but the horticulturalists at the Bellagio do some next-level stuff there with 14,000-square-feet of awesome. The display is changed several times a year, which you won’t believe when you see the scale of it all.
The current display focuses on the Chinese New Year. Don’t miss it.
3708 Las Vegas Blvd South
When I lived in Las Vegas, I was always asked what my favorite casino was. No one could believe it when I said The Cosmopolitan.
It’s quirky and loaded with personality. There’s even something that will totally remind you of Spokane floating throughout the place.
The coolest hotel lobby in Las Vegas is at this hotel. It’s loaded with these immersible video boards that are nothing short of astonishing art. Stay there for 20 minutes and just watch it.
Then go to The Chandelier bar and have a drink. You’re literally sitting in the middle of a Vegas-sized chandelier.
You know that big red high heel you see at River Park Square? Well, they totally got that idea from the heels at The Cosmopolitan. So, if you’re homesick, head over there.
But my favorite examples of delightful serendipity anywhere in Las Vegas are the old cigarette vending machines that are constantly being moved throughout the place. They’ve been retrofitted to sell handmade art. It will be the best $5 you spend.
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
3500 S. Las Vegas Blvd
Everyone just calls it the Forum. You might want to call it a mall, and technically, it is. It has an Apple Store and everything.
It’s totally massive at nearly 650,000-square feet. And it’s also the highest grossing mall in the United States. It has these huge, crazy moving statues and more fire than a KISS concert.
You should look at it all. Then look at the people. The best people-watching in the world is right there. There’s something oddly rewarding about making fun of people who buy $25,000 shoes.
Coca Cola Store and M&M’s World
3785 S. Las Vegas Blvd
It’s basically just an overload of sugar.
At Coca Cola, get your picture with the polar bear. It sounds dumb. It’s not. Then order the flight of different Coke-brand beverages from around the world and have your phone ready when your buddy takes a sip of Beverly.
At M&M, you have one goal: Make custom Gonzaga versions of the best chocolate candy in the world that melts in your mouth, not in your hands. Then make a smaller bag and bring that bag of chocolate goodness to 999 W. Riverside in Downtown Spokane. Tell the security guard at the front desk that these are for your Uncle Rob.
The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign
5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South
It’s totally Rat Pack classic. It’s even on the National Register of Historic Places.
There’s a parking lot next to it. Go there. Doesn’t matter if it’s night or day. Then take a photo. Post it on Facebook. Watch it become the most “liked” thing you’ve ever posted.
Orleans Bowling Alley
4500 W. Tropicana Ave.
The WCC tournament is at The Orleans. You already have tickets to watch massive amounts of college basketball in this exact location.
But we need to be honest with each other right now. We all know there are some games you just don’t want to watch. We’re not naming names because that’s not how we do things here in Spokane. As our copy editors at this newspaper tell me all of the time, some things are better left unsaid.
Yet despite all of the cool things on this list, you don’t really want to leave your hotel. You don’t have to. This place has a 70-lane bowling alley. People from Texas love to say that everything is bigger there. Well, Las Vegas just giggles at them.
You can bowl at The Orleans 24 hours a day. And it’s cheap. So, it’s on the list.
Besides you know how every time you go bowling, you tell everyone how much fun you just had and that you really should bowl more? Well, it’s even more fun to tell your friends you bowled at 4 in the morning in Las Vegas.
The Hoover Dam
Notice how I didn’t put an address on this one. That’s because it doesn’t have one. That’s how cool the Hoover Dam is – it doesn’t even need an address.
People forget how close this is to Las Vegas. It’s about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, on the Nevada-Arizona border. But it’s going to take a whole lot longer than 30 minutes to get there. Go in the morning.
Then go on the dam tour. And buy some dam souvenirs. I lived in Las Vegas for five years and never got a dam shirt. Don’t make that dam mistake.
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