A Long Journey To Find The Best Las Vegas Experience

Written By Marc Meltzer on December 23, 2022
How to maximize a Las Vegas casino experience

I always had a vision of grandeur about what Las Vegas is like. I wanted to experience the life I saw on TV and in the movies.

Las Vegas can always be fun but I wanted more. The “real” Las Vegas experience to me was living a life above my means for a few days.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford what I thought Las Vegas was for everyone when I turned 21. The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas were financially out of reach for someone working their first job out of college.

I found ways to enjoy some of those pleasures while learning the ins and outs of Las Vegas casino life. Sticking to a travel budget was always important because there wasn’t too much money in the bank.

Before my first visit to Las Vegas, I never gave a thought to which games I would play. It wasn’t long before I learned that certain casinos rewarded gamblers differently based on the games they’d play.

I had no idea about casino rewards programs. When I first started visiting casinos loyalty and rewards programs were few and far between. I quickly learned that these programs could help make visits to Las Vegas a little better.

Hopefully, the things I’ve learned over the years will help others find the Las Vegas they’ve always wanted.

The great thing is that there are so many ways to enjoy Las Vegas, that it’s not difficult to find something to enjoy. Las Vegas has something for everyone and I wanted it all.

My journey to Las Vegas started on the east coast and now I live in Las Vegas. There’s been a lot of gambling and nights spent in casinos.

Today, I’m close enough to casinos to still enjoy my hobby. My home is also far enough away from the Vegas Strip to still enjoy it like a tourist.

The journey begins at Gold Coast Las Vegas casino

My Las Vegas journey started at MGM Grand but took a big detour to the Gold Coast where I was able to afford some of what I loved about Las Vegas. After learning about casino rewards I unlocked a way to afford the Las Vegas I wanted using a similar budget.

The skills of yesteryear aren’t the same as today but many of the principles remain the same.

I started visiting Las Vegas shortly after turning 21. The trip was as amazing as Las Vegas could be for anyone in their young 20s visiting Sin City for the first time.

My passion and curiosity about Las Vegas grew after that first visit. I had to know everything about Las Vegas from the hotels to gambling and more.

It wasn’t until a trip to Las Vegas for a bachelor party that I started to find my groove. While some of us wanted to stay somewhere fancy, the Gold Coast was a hotel and casino relatively close to the Vegas Strip that everyone could afford.

Staying off the Vegas Strip was a big compromise for some of the guests who could afford to stay at a nicer property and enjoy every meal at a fine dining restaurant. While I could afford some of that, I wasn’t able to enjoy that all the time.

Color me surprised when I realized that this trip and casino were the beginning of everything I needed to know about Las Vegas. I hope that my evolution can help others find their way to the Las Vegas they want.

Modest beginnings off of the Vegas Strip

It’s been useful learning Las Vegas from the bottom and working my way up over the years. The Gold Coast isn’t fancy but it’s clean, affordable, and has enough amenities for a home base for a large group like a bachelor party.

Staying at the Gold Coast showed me that not every visit to Las Vegas has to start on the Vegas Strip. There’s a whole other world of Las Vegas off the main tourist areas.

Like many tourists, I preferred spending my time on the Vegas Strip. Unfortunately, my budget couldn’t afford that in my young 20’s.

Gold Coast had everything I needed in a casino and hotel. However, everything I wanted was elsewhere in Las Vegas.

We stayed at the Gold Coast just so the group could afford one nice meal on the Vegas Strip that we wouldn’t be able to pay for if more of our vacation budgets were devoted to a place to sleep.

None of us spent time in the room other than sleeping and showering at this point in our lives, so why spend the money?

Eventually, I started making more money at work and I started to learn about the casino ecosystem. That all started with this amazing weekend at Gold Coast. While the trip was a great time, it made me realize how much more I wanted out of Las Vegas.

This property will always have a special place in my heart. I always make sure to stop by a few times a year just to keep tabs on the property that propelled me into a deeper passion for Las Vegas.

Finding my way to the Vegas Strip, keeping a budget and visiting off-season

My journey to unlocking the Las Vegas I always wanted goes back home to the east coast. Once I realized that I enjoyed the casino experience, I started visiting more often.

I lived in New York City for most of my life before moving to Las Vegas. My home was equidistant to casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut.

I almost always visited Atlantic City casinos even though I preferred those in Connecticut for one main reason. Atlantic City casinos were, and still are, a feeder market to Las Vegas for Caesars.

I was able to enjoy casino rewards program perks on the east coast while earning enough points and status to use in Las Vegas.

Thanks to Caesars’ rewards program, I rarely paid for a hotel room in either market. Sometimes I would visit when business was slow and get complimentary suite upgrades that I’d never spent enough to earn.

There was a time when I didn’t have to pay for food or drinks if I stayed at certain properties.

Timing is everything with travel expenses. It’s simple supply and demand. Visit a casino when it’s busy and rooms are more expensive and it’s more difficult to get complimentary rooms. On the other side, rooms are less expensive when it’s not busy and it’s also easier to get complimentary items.

I’ve never been a high roller. Over the years, I’ve only played above $25 hands at table games a few times. Sticking to a budget has always been important. If limits were high, I’d play fewer hands and find something else to do with my time.

Keeping a budget in mind was important because I always wanted the most bang for the buck. This dictated when and where I’d stay. I could get better value at a less fancy property than the nice casino – especially during slow periods.

This is still the case as some less-than-spectacular properties may offer more for the same amount of money spent as a luxury property.

Sure, I wanted to stay at the nicer casinos but I preferred staying at a casino that offered me the most. It’s still possible to find time to spend at different properties while remaining loyal to the casino that values your money.

The Caesars connection allowed me complimentary rooms at many of its casinos in Las Vegas. While Caesars Palace and Paris were the top-tier properties of the program I always stayed elsewhere.

Planet Hollywood was always my favorite because of its location, atmosphere, and service. I’ve probably stayed at Planet Hollywood 50 or 60 times since I started visiting Las Vegas. That’s by far more than any other casino.

Planet Hollywood is still a mid-tier property of Caesars Las Vegas casinos. Being able to stay at that property for free* allowed me to explore the part of Las Vegas where I wanted to be.

*Complimentary rooms technically aren’t free since they’re based on how much money you spend.

This opened up a whole new world of Las Vegas to me and my obsession continued to grow. However, I was still on a limited budget that constantly needed management. This is when I started to really pay attention to how I was gambling.

Learning how to maximize spending at Las Vegas casinos

Casino rewards programs can be fantastic. The benefits can make casino visits even better and more affordable.

In my case, casino reward benefits allowed me to repurpose my budget. In order to get the most out of the experience I had to learn how to maximize how and where I was spending money in the casino.

This was a game-changer for my trips to Las Vegas.

Since I was receiving complimentary hotel rooms I was able to spend more money on expensive dinners. Similarly, access to the Caesars lounges saved money on drinks and snacks. This allowed me to spend a few more dollars gambling.

Learning how casino rewards programs worked allowed me to move money around so I could enjoy some of the things I wanted to try.

One thing I learned is that some properties, like Caesars at the time, rewarded players better, and more accurately, for machine games. This made me move some of my gambling from tables to machines.

I learned how to play video poker because the relatively low house edge would allow me to grind my budget and earn reward points. I’d later add some slots to the mix because that offered even better rewards despite smaller returns.

This worked for me because I enjoyed both types of games and it still works. I prefer video poker over slot machines by a wide margin. Adding a little slot play to the mix helped boost my tier status and earn more reward points.

Craps was my favorite game but it wasn’t the most rewarding so I switched to playing blackjack more often. At the time I’d splash a little 3 Card Poker in the mix to add something different to my gambling mix.

The combination of games was perfect for me. There was so much variety that I could find gambling fun just about everywhere. That’s still the case.

My gambling preferences and casino loyalty have changed over the years but the practice of finding the right mix to maximize my gambling budget continues.

Today, it’s also important to look at how much spending in non-gaming areas will impact rewards. Sometimes it’s more beneficial to pay for a meal than to use a comp because paying and earning points could offer better value.

It’s important to find a casino that values and rewards your spending. I’ve bounced around through different programs and played most often with the properties that I like and reward me best.

Living it up, experiencing luxury Las Vegas properties

My next step to unlock the Las Vegas I wanted was moving up to luxury resorts. I always wanted to stay in those big deluxe hotel rooms as they show in the movies.

It may sound strange but this step was aided by the last great recession. Coincidentally, this was an opportunity that many were able to start a couple of years ago when the Covid-19 pandemic was nearing its peak.

This is also a strange time to explore where to find value in a vacation destination but that’s another story.

Similar to the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic hotel room rates in Las Vegas plummeted during the great recession. I was able to get complimentary hotel rooms throughout the Vegas Strip.

However, I was more curious about exploring the luxury properties I couldn’t afford previously. The lower prices at Wynn and The Venetian took me to hotel rooms I could never imagine affording when I first started visiting Las Vegas.

Prices for a room or suite at either property were the same as discounted rates for regular hotel rooms around Las Vegas before the recession. Sure, I could have stayed somewhere else without paying but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford these kinds of hotel rooms.

This Las Vegas adventure started at the Gold Coast and was now inside suites at two of the most luxurious properties in Las Vegas. I remember all of this every time I walk into the Gold Coast.

I still love both properties but I was long for The Venetian at the time. The casino offered a traditional rewards program.

At the time, a host was the only person to grant complimentary items or discounts for visits to Wynn. I couldn’t manipulate that system with a mid-roller strategy as easily and I didn’t try after experimenting with the property.

I started to appreciate larger hotel rooms as I got older and spent more time recuperating from a day and night in Las Vegas. Having room to sit and work or relax started becoming more important as I was getting older.

Little did I know the large rooms would become important to my future visits. My gambling style changed even though my budget remained similar. I started playing higher limits but less often.

Instead of spending a $200 budget low rolling for a longer time, I’d play the same budget at higher limits in less time.

I use a mixed strategy nowadays depending on my mood and company.

Consider working at Las Vegas casinos, tweak how and where you spend

My priorities of what I want from a casino have changed since moving to Las Vegas. I like to have equity in a rewards program close to home as well as on the Vegas Strip.

The local rewards can be as simple as discounted or complimentary meals. Vegas Strip rewards start at complimentary parking to room discounts or more.

The day this was written, I met a friend on the Vegas Strip for lunch and was able to use reward credits and received complimentary parking. Few people venture out to the burbs so it’s nice to have perks in both locations.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I would spend a few days a week working at local casinos. In addition to working at the casinos, I’d eat, drink and gamble.

The pandemic forced casinos to close for a while. That changed how and where I work since I’m a creature of habit. I no longer spend as much time working in local casinos.

Since casinos reopened I’ve taken opportunities to enjoy the suite life in casinos again since these rooms provided ample workspace close to gambling.

I’ve probably spent a few days working in a casino hotel room about 15 times in the last 18 months or so. This has been aided by complimentary suites and no resort fees from my rewards status.

It’s been difficult to turn down these opportunities because they’ll eventually dry up as more midweek visitors return for conventions.

Like before, nothing is free and I gamble enough for the casinos to justify the offers. I still have a similar mix of slot machines, video poker, and table games.

I continue to tweak how and where I spend money to have the nicer things in casinos. There isn’t one way to maximize rewards and spending. We all have different priorities and different demands from a rewards program.

For example, someone will say the video poker machines at a casino aren’t great because the house edge is high. Technically, that’s correct but it’s not the best value for me.

However, I’d rather grind away at a game with a larger house edge for a little while to receive complimentary drinks that cost two or three times a well drink from a machine with a 2% better house edge. What I give up in paytables, I more than makeup with complimentary bourbon that might cost $20 or more per glass.

Remembering where I started, it’s ok to work your way up

Spending time at the Gold Coast brings up fond memories that began when I first started visiting Las Vegas. Sometimes when I get sentimental, like today, I think about the long journey that started during that bachelor party so many years ago.

The Gold Coast hasn’t changed much over the years. While some venues inside the property have changed it still has a familiar layout and atmosphere.

This casino isn’t what everyone thinks Las Vegas should be. However, it still offers just about everything a guest could *need in a casino. This casino, and many others, can still be a great launching pad for everything someone could *want in Las Vegas.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Everyone has different priorities when it comes to visiting Las Vegas.

Narrowing down what I wanted and learning how to get it at an affordable price has been one of the most important ways for me to enjoy Las Vegas as a visitor and now as a resident.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Marc Meltzer

Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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