JR Swift’s Blog

What I’m Thinking About Today

Las Vegas Hotels Part 2

Posted by jrswift on March 27, 2007

So when last we left our hero (that would be me) we were still hunting down a place to stay in Las Vegas. As we had decided against a fine luxury accomodation on the Strip, that left only some fringe properties on the north end of the Strip, Downtown or that nebulous category usually defined as “off strip” to choose from. We finally chose an off-strip property so I thought I’d spend a bit of time discussing some of them before revealing the final choice.

Off strip casinos began to spring up about 20-25 years ago as Las Vegas started its remarkable growth. They were originally thought of as “locals” casinos and many of them still owe most of their success to the locals market. While it turns out that Las Vegas residents really do like to gamble, most of them would just as soon avoid the touristy areas of the city as much as possible. Traffic, high prices, poor gaming and the presence of rowdy out-of-towners make places like the Strip and Downtown somewhat less than desirable to the resident Las Vegan (is that even a word?) than to visitors.

Early entrants into this market included Sam’s Town, Palace Station, the Gold Coast and the Rio. They were tremendous successes and even began to draw interest from more seasoned Vegas visitors as they seemed more focused on good customer service, good gambling and reasonable prices than their Strip counterparts.

The Station casinos grew and grew and grew and now dominate the locals market with both luxury options (Green Valley Ranch and the new Red Rock Station) as well as budget offerings (Palace and Boulder Station and the Wild Wild West) and became well-known for their quality buffets (if the word Station is in the title of a buffet, it is probably quite good) and good value gaming. They even bought out other locals casinos like the Santa Fe, Cannery and Fiesta and it is pretty hard to swing a dead cat in any part of Las Vegas outside the Strip without hitting a Station property. Most of the hotels are fairly small but they do allow non-residents to stay there and many do.

Palace Station is still the largest with their enormous tower of nearly a thousand rooms lighting up the sky at the corner of Sahara and I-15, visible from most any part of town. They also cater more to the tourist trade with their proximity to the Strip and large room inventory. I can say that I have stayed at Palace Station and it is a pretty good base of operations. Like many other “off-strip” casinos, they offer free shuttle service to various locations on the Strip for their out-of-town customers. If you have a car, it is in an ideal location, well connected to the rest of the city by its proximity to the freeway. Rooms are pretty good though be sure to book a tower room. The Courtyard rooms are old-style motel rooms not directly connected to the casino and are pretty basic accomodations, though they are very cheap. Don’t expect any fancy shows or free spectacles for these prices, just a good solid place to stay.

The other Station properties are quite a bit further from the Strip and really require a car to be a viable option. Outside of the newer luxury properties I mentioned earlier, none of them really stand out compared to your nearest local casino. These places would all fit nicely in St. Louis or Kansas City or Tunica and you’d never know the difference.

Two of the other major players in the locals market are Boyd and Coast casinos. Interestingly enough, Boyd bought out the Coast casinos a couple of years back though they seem to function as a relatively independent operation to this day. Boyd is quite a versatile operation, running Sam’s Town as well as several downtown properties and, until recently, the dearly-departed Stardust. Coast recently sold its only Strip property, the Barbary Coast but still runs the Suncoast, Gold Coast and Orleans, each a viable option for the out-of-town visitor.

Sam’s Town was one of the earliest and most successful locals casinos and, while it has faded a bit with all the new properties, it remains a major player in that market. Located quite a ways off the strip on Boulder Highway, it sports a western theme and also runs its own RV Park. Rooms here can be truly dirt cheap (about $40) and, from my understanding, are not bad at all. Though Sam’s does run a number of shuttles to the Strip and Downtown, it is still pretty isolated and likely not a good choice unless you have your own vehicle.

The Coast properties are a mixed bag. The Suncoast is located off in the Northwest part of town and is not a good choice for the tourist unless they just want a relaxing weekend in a nice hotel and proximity to some good golf. The Gold Coast and Orleans are fairly large properties (the Orleans has over 1700 rooms) and make a greater effort to appeal to the tourist trade. Both run free shuttles to the Strip and offer good accomodations and food at good prices. The Gold Coast has a nice location, just a mile or so off the Strip and is wedged between two quite glamorous off-strip properties, the Rio and the Palms. The Orleans is a bit more isolated but has large, comfortable rooms (I know…I’ve stayed there three times) and a casino filled with most anything you might need to enjoy a few days of gambling.

That brings us to a final category of off-strip properties that have begun to emerge in the past 10 or 15 years and the one which has attracted the most attention from the travel media, the one I’ll call the “Strip off-strip” hotel-casino. From its earliest days, the Rio stood out from its off-strip competitors. It offered huge luxurious rooms with a view, nice restaurants (including a buffet so large and impressive, it helped change the nature of that business) and their famous, scantilly clad cocktail waitresses. It didn’t take long for visitors to begin to dominate the scene here and the Rio can now, in no way, shape or form, be described as a locals casino. It even offers one of those free Vegas spectacles, a Mardi Gras parade in sky that flies over the casino, amusing you while you play.

Oddly enough, the other two big players in this particular market are both aimed squarely at the young, MTV-generation. The Hard Rock Hotel draws a young, beautiful (and some might say obnoxious) crowd to its fairly small casino. A huge collection of Rock n Roll memorabilia, regular concerts and a decadent pool and party scene help keep this place hopping. If you look like you should be on the latest episode of the Real World, this might be the place for you. Otherwise, it is probably best just to stop by, ogle the place and the patrons for a bit and move on.

The Hard Rock may once have been the trendiest hotel in Las Vegas but no more. That title belongs to the Palms. It not only caters to the MTV-crowd but actually hosted the cast of Real World Las Vegas, a marketing move which clearly worked. Ever since, celebrities and celebrity wannabe’s have been darkening its doors. Oddly enough, the casino itself is well-regarded by serious gamblers for its excellent video poker inventory and so the place often appears to be just a fancy locals hang out, at least until the party starts. It sports several top-notch restaurants and clubs so if you are in the mood to party, it might be the place for you.

This article only begins to scratch the surface of what’s out there. From luxury to budget accomodations with parking for RV’s or Truckers, off-strip casinos pretty much have it all. You may have to look around a bit to find these diamonds-in-the-rough but it can be worth it. Many are destinations of their own and can more than hold their own with their Strip neighbors. Others are just a good place for a meal, a game of blackjack or a night’s sleep. They are worth looking at for any veteran Vegas visitor.

Oh…so where am I staying? This year I chose the Gold Coast. I found an excellent deal online through their website which (for exactly $50 a night) gave me a room and several free buffets. It is close enough to the Strip that the occasional cab ride won’t break anyone’s bank and it offers a free shuttle if you don’t mind waiting around a few minutes to catch it. It also has some pretty exclusive neighbors with both the Palms and Rio next door. I have never stayed in that little area before so that was part of the appeal. On the other hand, I’ve stayed at several Coast properties through the years (Barbary Coast and Orleans) and like them very much. So there…that’s my choice. When we next chat about Las Vegas Hotels, we’ll talk a bit more about how to get the very best deals. Until then, take care.

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