The often over-looked casino and entertainment scene downtown has a lot to offer. Especially if it has been awhile since you last checked it out.
It’s sometimes hard to believe that Las Vegas got its start down on Fremont Street. But before the Hoover Dam was built, it was one of the few places in the valley that had a reliable water supply. Thanks to the nearby natural springs that gave Las Vegas (“The Meadows”) it’s name, what we now call downtown was literally the only game in town.
Now it’s dwarfed in terms of size and variety by the mega-casinos on the Strip. But the downtown casinos still have a lot to offer anyone looking for value or something a little different.
The light shows that are projected along the Viva Vision canopy that spans the pedestrian-only zone of Fremont Street are loud, visual feasts that change regularly. With a 555,000 watt sound system and 12.5 million synchronized LED lights, the main attraction of the Fremont Street Experience is much improved from its debut in 1995. After a $17M upgrade in 2004, the world’s largest screen is ten times sharper than it was originally and is now capable of broadcasting live video.
But the dazzling light shows, face painters, balloon wranglers, spray paint artists, oxygen bars, bikini-clad bartenders and other in-your-face vendors that make walking from the Golden Nugget to the Plaza so much fun aren’t the only attractions. For anyone tired of $25 minimum tables, 6-5 paying blackjacks and wildcat players that seem to be trying to lose all their money in two or three hands, the downtown casinos offer a safe haven for those looking to do a little old-school gambling. Single deck and two-deck Blackjack tables with low minimums ($2 -$5) abound in places like The Plaza, the Golden Gate, El Cortez, the California and others. On week-ends and during the week, the tables are crowded with experienced players that know what they’re doing and aren’t just killing time for a couple of hands. Rhythm and consistency are major factors for success on most table games (excluding roulette) and you don’t have to wait until after midnight to find either at most casinos downtown.
There are also several good dining options downtown. Check out Hugo’s Cellar or the Chicago Brewing Company (try their Downtown Brown!) at the Four Queens or the new Firefly at The Plaza.
Entertainment options downtown are somewhat limited to lounge acts, but for me one of the best entertainment shows in all of Las Vegas is tucked away inside a cozy dinner theater at The Plaza. “The Rat Pack is Back!” is a fun, affordable throw-back to old Las Vegas when Frank, Dino and the rest of the gang played back in the 60’s at the old Sands. Click here to read about the last time I saw them. The dueling pianos at the El Cortez are also a fun place to relax, talk and enjoy a good glass of wine.
Of course, like with most things in life not all is perfect and wonderful downtown. Parking is tricky and not always free. Most casinos force you to either pay up front or get your parking ticket validated at their cashier desk. Look for street parking on well-lit adjacent streets or use the free El Cortez lot and walk a little. Metro keeps a strong presence downtown with a mixture of bicycle and cruiser patrols. The heroin addicts, beggars and pickpockets that used to linger on every corner are rare these days. The ones that are still around are looking over their shoulder every ten seconds so they’re real easy to spot. For sports fans I’m sorry to say that no venue has big modern sports books with ample seating and leather chair comfort. Instead, embrace the throwback style of the Hilton or Golden Nugget.
Due to rampant mismanagement this past summer, the once cool Neonopolis now stands virtually empty. Even the movie theaters moved out and rumors about a new incarnation of the Star Trek Experience coming soon are dead in the water according to local bartenders and blackjack dealers. Instead, settle for a nice cold draft at the Griffen, or check out a local indie band at Beauty Bar.
One last note about downtown casinos. Spring for a room! They’re basic but cheap, generally starting around $49. Some have great views too and you’ll be eligible for all kinds of freebies, comps and coupons during your stay just like in the old days when tourists were treated like guests instead of numbers.
WEEK #9 NFL picks:
Well, the Broncos and Giants really surprised me last week. I think I finally have to get on the Eagles bandwagon despite their one-sided loss to the Raiders a few weeks ago. The 49’rs, Vikings, Dolphins, Falcons and Saints continue to impress.
Falcons -10 vs. Redskins
Green Bay -10 in Tampa
Cardinals/Bears over 45
Giants/Cowboys over 48
49’rs -4 vs. Titans
Last week: 2-3
Remember to cover your parlays with a straight-up bet or two!