Games of chance are the primary attraction at any casino, and gamblers will always be the main target demographic. However, more and more tourists view major casino clusters as destinations in their own right, and with good reason. As non-gaming revenue grows to account for a bigger slice of their revenue pie, casinos invest more of their resources in hospitality -- hotel amenities, shows, dining, attractions, pools, amusement parks, animal exhibits, artwork and more. Details that used to be just the icing on the cake of a casino vacation can now easily serve as the main course.
If you think it’s bizarre that someone might go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City without gambling, think again. Both cities attract thousands of business travelers each year who may not want to spend their free time -- and money -- at the tables. While a lone non-gambling casino tourist might be unusual, the fact remains that in any group of people, there will be a variety of gambling interest levels. Some might try it and not like it, some might see their enthusiasm wane when they lose their first stake, and some might simply dislike gambling as a concept. And of course, some might simply be too young.
Whatever their reasons, casinos know that repeat business mandates keeping everyone happy, not just the gamblers -- and if they can find a way to lighten your wallet a bit in the process, all the better. That’s why they it easy to build an entire vacation around a casino destination without ever once touching a card or a chip.
Showtime – Of course, casinos are almost as famous for entertainment as they are for gambling. But we’ve come a long way from cookie-cutter chorus girls on every stage, although you can still enjoy them at nostalgia productions like Jubilee! at Bally’s and Folies Bergere at the Tropicana. Now, every taste can be accommodated. You like amazing acrobats? Try any Cirque du Soleil show. Magic? Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo is the king with Siegfried & Roy on permanent hiatus. Golden-throated vocals? Clint Holmes at Harrah’s is one contender for Wayne Newton’s crown. Musical impressions? Few people alive can match the range and variety of Danny Gans at the Mirage. And that just scratches the surface. If your pocketbook can take the strain, you can reserve seats noon to midnight for an entire long weekend in a place like Vegas, and you’ll still leave several shows unseen.
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Kid Stuff – The decades-old dilemma: What to do with the small fry while the adults are at play in the casino? One old standby -- the hotel pool -- is still a must for families, as it helps blow off steam and excitement while it occupies the youngsters. And poolside food and drink service makes it an attractive option even for grownups (and nonswimmers). But the possibilities don’t stop there. Several casinos have kid-friendly attractions like the roller coasters at New York-New York, the Sahara and the Stratosphere. Circus Circus even has the Adventuredome, a 5.5-acre indoor amusement park. Many of these same casinos also have extensive arcades and midway games, and your hotel concierge can often recommend licensed and bonded baby-sitters to free up the parental schedule.
Shop till You Drop – And then shop some more. Every casino of any size has a shopping gallery, and some dwarf conventional malls in both scale and scope. Consider the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, the Forum Shops and Appian Way Shops at Caesars Palace, and Via Bellagio at Bellagio, just to name a few. These retail realms may offer comfortably familiar brands and stores, but they also stock high-end boutiques and designer outlets that are hard to find outside major metropoli. Even without a gold card, browsing is an excellent way to “spend” an afternoon.
Chow Down – Especially for those tourists who don’t live in a big city, casino destinations offer a rare concentration of excellent dining at reasonable prices. You can certainly feast on buffets of every description, but adventurous palates can also find rewards in upscale temples of cuisine. Famous names like Commander’s Palace, the Palm and Mon Ami Gabi are just a few of the famous names to have colonized the Strip in Las Vegas, and casinos in other destinations attract similarly top-notch culinary talent.
Outdoor Action – Casinos are famous for the conspicuous absence of both clocks and windows, but fresh air and a view can be a wonderful antidote for casino overload. On the simplest level, casino vacation people-watching is first rate, and many casinos have free outdoor spectacles to draw crowds (like the Mirage’s famous volcano or Treasure Island’s pirate battle). But don’t forget there’s actually a city beyond the casinos, and a countryside beyond the city. Red Rock National Conservation Area and Grand Canyon National Park await not far from the borders of Las Vegas, and you need go no further than the Boardwalk to catch the vibe that made Atlantic City famous.
Special Events – Check local newspapers and entertainment listings for performers, events, and exhibitions. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has world-class art collections and rotating exhibits, and casino mogul Steve Wynn’s equally impressive collection will be incorporated into his Wynn Las Vegas in spring 2005. Other examples abound, and a little legwork will let you re find something in town that suits your taste.
Chris Mohney is a contributor to "The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas."
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