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Gambling and Casinos in Las Vegas

Gambling remains the bedrock of the Las Vegas experience. At most recent count, 28 other US states had joined Nevada in offering commercial casinos, and all except two had legalized some form of gambling, but thanks to its colossal volume of business, Las Vegas still does it better than the rest.

Las Vegas Casinos
A city built for Tourism.

Ninety percent of visitors to the city gamble, with an average budget of $500, and in the end everything else is just frippery; it's the gambling that makes every flourish possible. The shows and restaurants, tigers and volcanoes - no matter how profitable any might be - are all just designed to make you stick around longer and spend more money on the slots and tables.

A hyperactive craving for thrills and glamour.

While the casinos these days prefer to talk about "gaming" rather than gambling, no one plays for fun alone. It's the gut-wrenching excitement of staking your own hard cash in pursuit of a fortune that keeps the tension at fever pitch.

Most visitors have their own preferred form of gambling, with the three main choices being table games such as blackjack or craps, played in the public gaze and surrounded by glamorous trimmings; slot machines, a more private pleasure in which the potential winnings are enormous, and you're spared the fear of not seeming au fait with the rules; and sports betting, with its hyped-up atmosphere and scope for proving that you know more than the bookies.

What the visitor wants, the city provides.

The fact that the gambling industry is still booming is a credit to the casinos' ability to change with the times. During the first few decades of Las Vegas's supremacy, the typical gambler was male and likely to be familiar with a wide range of card games thanks to years spent in military service. Slots and other machines, however, overtook the tables from 1983 onwards, and they now generate around 65 percent of Nevada's gaming revenue.

In the face of the large proportion of modern visitors who see casino games as complicated and intimidating, the casinos are desperate to make gambling as easy, user-friendly and innocuous as possible. All offer free lessons, instructional videos on their in-room TVs, and the like. On the surface, those well-dressed and welcoming dealers make things seem democratic and casual, but all that deference serves in fact to make anyone who sits down at the tables feel like part of an exclusive and sophisticated elite.

The Strip.

Despite Las Vegas's reputation as a stronghold of crime , there's no suggestion that gamblers themselves are being cheated. The casinos don't need to cheat; they know they're certain to make money. Yes, the occasional high-roller can seriously damage the corporate balance sheet - thus Australian TV magnate Kerry Packer once won twenty consecutive hands of baccarat in twenty minutes at the Mirage, at $250,000 per hand.

Overall, however, the odds are stacked in the casinos' favor. In the case of table games, each has some combination of a quantifiable "house edge" incorporated into its rules, or a set way of skimming the top off players' winnings. With slots, it's even more straightforward - they're simply programmed to pay out less than they take in, though only the casinos themselves know just how much less.

Out of the City.

As for where to gamble , that really depends on how you see gambling. If you think it's all about fun and glamour, then the Strip is the place to be, though the high minimum stakes at the largest casinos can mean you'll lose your money uncomfortably fast. If you feel that an authentic gambling hall should be gritty, grimy, and peopled by hard-bitten "characters," you may be happier downtown . If you see betting as a business, and want as much bang for your buck as possible, head instead for a locals casino , and especially the members of the Stations chain, which tend to offer more generous odds at video poker and the like.

For the moment, all gambling has to take place in public. Even though the top casinos try to give the impression of setting exclusive areas aside for high rollers, anyone is entitled to stroll in and watch. Insiders predict an imminent change in the law, however, to allow private gambling rooms or separate "clubs" within public casinos; the London Club in the Aladdin appears poised to lead the way.

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