However much we may deplore the trend (and I do—see “The Tragic Rise of Casino Gambling” in “Testy Opinions: A Travel Philosophy” in this Web site ) gaming vacations are the fastest-growing use of leisure time in America; Las Vegas is now operating more than 125,000 hotel rooms, the largest number of any city on earth.
IT IS ALSO among the easiest vacations to plan and bring off. Why? Because the travel industry (both tour operators and airlines,) aware of where the money is, have produced a remarkable number of low-cost air-and-hotel “packages” going weekly, even daily, to every casino destination from every city of size, and the ads for such programs fill the travel sections of the Sunday newspapers. Simply buy the Sunday paper of the nearest large city to where you live, and you will immediately learn how to make the trip at the lowest possible price for the hotel category you desire. Some of the package programs are so low in price that you’re virtually “bribed” to go.
So what’s left for this Web site to discuss about “gaming vacations”? Very little.
The chief center for gaming vacations is raucous, shameless, neon-lit, Las Vegas, a unique phenomenon; Atlantic City comes next, and after a shaky start, seems to be closing the gap. Reno, Nevada, is in third place, and little Laughlin, Nevada, 60 miles south of Las Vegas, is fourth. Laughlin appeals to a senior citizen audience traveling for the most part in recreational vehicles, for whom it provides nickel slot machines and 50-cent chips for roulette and craps.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is sprouting with casinos (about 30 of them currently, possibly rivaling Reno in total numbers,) and enjoying almost daily growth, as are the Mississippi River casinos in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Casinos are sprouting on the reservations of Native Americans in locations ranging from Colorado to Minnesota to Connecticut (a couple of huge ones - Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun), and other non-Indian casinos—giant ones—are under construction in such libertine towns as New Orleans. If there’s a casino near your own hometown, you’ll quickly learn of its existence from the many ads for bus-and-hotel packages appearing in the travel sections of the Sunday newspapers.
Among the largest of all tour operators to Las Vegas is America West Vacations (www.americawestvacations.com, 1920 W. University Drive, Tempe, Arizona 85281, phone 800/3942-8564) a wholly-owned subsidiary of America West Airlines. Because America West already flies to both Las Vegas and Reno from numerous other cities, it is only natural that its tour operating company should enjoy high volume business—and therefore excellent prices—to the two gaming locations. Discount carriers Southwest Airlines (www.swavacations.com, 800/243-8372) and JetBlueAirways (www.jetblue.com, 800/538-2583) also regularly post sensationally priced packages to Vegas.
Most other major airlines going to Las Vegas (American, United, US Airways, Northwest, etc.), and most major domestic tour operators (Gogo-800/926-6836, FunJet—800/558-3050, MLT Vacations of Minneapolis—800/328-0025, others,) offer similar packages to all the gaming capitals, often for rates so low they will make you rub your eyes.
Because it is a remarkable (if unsettling) sight and experience, Las Vegas is eventually visited by almost all Americans, even if they are not particularly interested in gambling. Here, about the only practical advice we can offer is to send for a sample copy (costing $5) of America’s finest newsletter about Las Vegas, a model for all newsletters, called ”.” It deals with every sort of extremely practical esoterica—the below-cost meals (99 cent shrimp cocktails, $2.99 steaks, and the like) that some casinos serve, the slot machines paying off more often than others, the lowest-cost hotel packages, books of coupons for use all over the region, and the few surefire methods of always winning in Las Vegas (see immediately below.) Send your check for $5 (a full year’s subscription costs $45) to: Las Vegas Advisor, c/o Huntington Press, 3687 S. Procyon Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89103 (phone 800/244-2224).
My own favorite Las Vegas strategy is as follows: Make a point of picking up (from counters and racks in Las Vegas’ Airport, in drugstores, from the discount kiosks and counters of casino hotels) the booklets of free coupons that almost all casinos issue, and that invariably contain a coupon for a few free chips. Play only the chips they’ve given you, and if you lose, walk on to the next casino. Never bet your own money. Sooner or later, you’ll win a few dollars, cease all further gambling, and spend the smartly-obtained gains on dinner.
Boring, you say? No more boring than standing for hours at a gaming table, always losing in the end.
So much for gaming vacations.
Copyright © 2003 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.