Even though many Counting Edge readers prefer the convenience of online blackjack, there are still plenty of players who enjoy live casino action. Every serious blackjack player has dreamed of making a visit to Las Vegas. Well, Counting Edge recently made a trip to Sin City to play blackjack and see the town in all its glory. Before you plan your own trip to Las Vegas, here are all the details you need to make your visit a fun one.
Visiting Las Vegas on a Budget
We had a goal in mind when planning our Las Vegas trip. This goal was to spend as little as possible. In fact, our initial budget was a mere $500 for two people but we soon realized this just wasn’t going to happen. Nevertheless, we purposely tried to keep the costs of the trip to a bare minimum.
The specifics of the trip were simple. We sent a couple who could enjoy the town together. This is likely how many of our readers would plan their own trip. Las Vegas is a wonderful vacation spot for couples. Our guy likes to play blackjack and his lady also works in the gaming industry as a surveillance agent for a U.S. casino. They know their way around the casino environment and were able to give us the feedback we wanted.
The departure point was to be a major United States city. In this case, it was Dallas, Texas. We chose that city because it is relatively far from Las Vegas and would require a commercial flight. Our guests would arrive on Sunday night and return home on Wednesday. The only other rule for the trip was to track expenses and all of the details of the stay.
Getting To Las Vegas
Our couple was tasked with finding their own deals on airfare to Las Vegas. In the end they were able to secure transportation to and from Las Vegas on a major airline (it was American) for a total of $288.80. That is a pretty good deal! But, like all deals there were a few catches to secure a good price.
First of all, our visitors purchased one-way tickets instead of round trip ones. This actually saved hundreds of dollars. We also wanted to see how those websites which promise to find you the best deal performed, so the tickets to Las Vegas were booked with Priceline. The return tickets were searched on value sites but booked directly with the airline. Guess what? It was cheaper to book with the airline directly. Find the flight you want and call them up. If they give you any guff about the fare, which ours did not, tell them you will simply use the booking site. They will give you the quoted fare because they must pay the booking site if you go that route.
Be sure to read the fine print about baggage fees before you book. Our chosen airline charged $25 per piece of luggage up to 50 pounds. If you take a small rolling suitcase you will easily fall under the requirement. Our travelers also were allowed to carry on one small item per person at no charge. They took a small backpack filled with various items and a laptop computer in a laptop bag. The couple shared one piece of luggage for a total of $50 in baggage fees for both flights.
A big part of the reduced airfare was the departure times. Both of our flights departed late in the evening. The flight home was a true Red Eye, leaving Las Vegas at 1:20 a.m. from McCarran International Airport.
Unless you have someone to take you to the airport, you’ll need to factor in long-term parking. It may be cheaper to seek parking off airport property. You can search Google for “long term parking at [your airport] and you will find a large number of third party providers who contract with hotels close by. The parking is typically uncovered but in a secure lot. Parking for our couple cost $26.98 and included round trip shuttle service to and from the airport terminal.
You should also factor in the cost of gas in your car unless you are having someone drop you off at the airport. For us this cost was $40.
Total Cost of Airfare, Baggage, Airport Parking, and Transportation to Las Vegas from Dallas: $405.78
Arriving in Las Vegas!
If you can possibly arrange it, flying into Las Vegas at night is the way to go. As your plane clears the mountain ranges between you and the city, the lights of the Las Vegas Strip will come into view. It will take your breath away! If you happen to be on the correct side of the plane as it approaches McCarran International Airport, you’ll get a great view of the Strip from above.
Once you land and disembark, be prepared to catch a tram to the baggage claim area and then walk a considerable distance. This was one of our major complaints about the trip. The baggage area was just too far away from the terminals.
As you walk, one of the first things you will see are slot machines everywhere. That’s right. Even the airport in Las Vegas is also a casino. We didn’t choose to play these machines but many people were. If you have some time to kill while waiting for your departing flight, have some fun but be careful. We were told these slot machines are among the tightest in all of Vegas.
After your baggage has been picked up you will need to find a shuttle to your hotel. There are several of these services right outside the baggage claim doors. We chose Bell Shuttle and paid $17 for two people going to the hotel and $16 coming back. Why there was a difference of $1 is something we still can’t figure out.
You’ll be riding the shuttle with others going to different hotels, so be prepared to make some stops. The nice thing about this is you’ll have plenty of chances to take pictures of all the other hotels on the strip. The ride to the strip is just a few miles but it can take you 30 minutes to get to your hotel depending on where it is.
Total Cost of Shuttle Service from the Vegas Airport to the Strip: $33.00
Staying at a Las Vegas Hotel
It was late by the time our travelers arrived at Circus Circus on the northern end of the Strip, but they were excited by the prospect of being in Vegas. The hotel room they obtained with a value booking website cost a total of $73.48. That’s not too bad for three nights. But, once again, there was a catch. Vegas hotels are notorious for something known as a resort fee. They tell you this fee covers things like local phone calls and Wi-Fi for the duration of your stay. In our case, it also provided access to the hotel pool. Almost all of the hotels in Las Vegas now use this resort fee which is essentially a gimmick that allows them to advertise cheaper room rates.
The resort fee can vary depending on the hotel you choose. For Circus Circus it came to a total of $91.84. This brought the actual total of the room to around $55 per night which is actually cheap for Las Vegas. The affordable room was soon explained when we arrived. Our guests were given rooms in the hotel lodge which is across the street and not a part of the main casino tower. This required a pretty good walk each day to reach the casino. They were offered a cheap upgrade at check in but declined. In retrospect, it would have been wise to take the upgrade.
There are still a few hotels in Las Vegas which do not have a resort fee. Be sure to ask the booking website or hotel directly. In our case, the booking website did not charge the resort fee. It was collected when we arrived by the hotel. If we had not read the fine print and expected this, the added expense would have been a nasty surprise.
Total Cost of 3 Night Hotel Stay in Vegas Plus Resort Fees: $165.32
Playing Blackjack in Las Vegas
Once our couple was settled in to their room, it was time to start exploring the blackjack options. Since they stayed at Circus Circus, that’s where they played. The bankroll was $100. Now, those of you that read Counting Edge often know that this is a small amount and that we recommend 50X the table minimum. What we wanted to do was simply get a feel for how the game is played in Las Vegas and limit our potential losses.
Our first job was to explore the table limits. We had heard there were casinos which still offered $1 blackjack games. In fact, the Slots O’ Fun Casino which is located right next to Circus Circus and is now owned by the same company was famous for its $1 table limits. Unfortunately, things have changed. Not only are the low table limits gone, this casino doesn’t even have a blackjack table anymore.
At Circus Circus we found the same conditions that one can find all along the Strip. The lowest table minimum we could find was $10 per hand. As you might expect, we didn’t fare so well with our $100 bankroll and wound up taking a complete loss. But, we learned some important things about the game in the process so the education and fun we had was well worth the money spent at the table.
First of all the tempo of the game can be very fast in Las Vegas. There is a good reason for this. The more hands a casino can deal per hour equals more profit. Trying to slow down the tempo of the game will not be very effective. Other players and even dealers frown upon slow play. The locals here who play often know this and execute their actions at lightning speed.
Compare this with online blackjack where you are in complete control of the game tempo. Since you are the only one playing at the table, you can choose how fast or how slow you want the game to be played. There is no one pressuring you to make a quick action on your hand that might cause you to make a mistake.
Another advantage of online blackjack compared to the live tables is that you can play for as little as $1 per hand just like you used to be able to do in Las Vegas. At $1 per hand, a $100 bankroll will be plenty big enough for you to play blackjack online at one of the casinos recommended by Counting Edge.
With that being said, there is still a glamorous appeal to playing live blackjack in Las Vegas. While we played we couldn’t help but think about the city and its colorful history. How many gamblers had sat in the same seat we were in? How many millions had been won and lost at our table. Did famous mobsters ever play here? Tony Spilotro, the real life inspiration for the character Nicky Santoro played by Joe Pesci in the movie Casino, began his reign of mayhem in Las Vegas by running a gift shop right there in Circus Circus. There is little doubt Spilotro tried his hand at the Circus Circus blackjack tables.
So, yes, there is something to be said for playing blackjack in Las Vegas. What we would recommend if you are a recreational player who just wants the experience is to do exactly what we did. Invest $100 and sit in at the lowest table minimum you can find. You’ll probably play for a little while and you might even get lucky and win some money. The thing to remember is not to spoil your trip to Las Vegas by losing more than you can afford to lose. That would be a tragedy. There is no reason you can’t have fun and still leave with some of your hard earned cash.
If you really want to play blackjack for a profit, your first visit to Las Vegas is not the place to test those skills. You need to practice first for many hours. A great way to do this is by playing online blackjack for $1 per hand. Take the time and build up your bankroll before you put down a lot of money on the Vegas tables.
Finding the Best Blackjack Casinos in Las Vegas
Our Las Vegas travelers were staying on the Strip, so they limited their blackjack action to that part of the city. The standard variation of blackjack is played in these casinos with all the standard rules. The dealer must hit 16 and stand on 17. Players can hit, stand, double down, split, or take insurance. Some casinos even offer surrender as an option but you’ll have to ask. It usually won’t be advertised if they do.
An area that might be worth checking out is downtown. Fremont Street houses lots of old school Vegas casinos that have been around for many years. We didn’t visit these this time around, but you can take a bus from the Strip to and from Fremont Street for $8 per person. Your ticket will give you a 24-hour pass to go anywhere the bus line goes. The bus is called the Deuce because it has two decks.
Electronic Blackjack in Las Vegas
Something we did not discover until our bankroll was exhausted and it was too late were the presence of electronic blackjack, craps, and roulette machines. Some of these machines did indeed have a $1 minimum bet and they usually were not very crowded. It’s funny how the live casinos have started to realize they need to compete with online blackjack.
These machines are beneficial to the casino in several ways. They do not require a paid dealer to operate them. There is also no need for a pit boss to supervise the action. Everything is monitored by the eye in the sky. And, best of all, they still preserve the house edge and may even increase it. We can’t say for sure and the casinos won’t tell, but some of these machines sure seem to function more like a slot machine. At any rate, if you have a small bankroll these machines might be a better way for you to satisfy your craving for blackjack action.
Total Money Wagered On Blackjack in Las Vegas: $100
Profit/Loss: Lost $100
Other Expenses in Las Vegas
If you are visiting Las Vegas for the first time, you will soon discover that it is a town that overloads the senses. The food, the entertainment, and the shopping opportunities can be overwhelming. We discovered, however, that you can find ways to stretch your vacation dollar in Las Vegas.
Food in Las Vegas
Every casino has multiple restaurants which serve up any type of fare you can imagine. There are American, Mexican, Italian, and Mediterranean eateries. One thing you will not find much of these days are the bargain buffets like Clark and Cousin Eddie visit in Vegas Vacation. There was a time not that long ago when you could get a full breakfast on Fremont Street for $1.99! Today, you can expect to spend a minimum of $20 per person at the least expensive buffets in Las Vegas.
Dining at other restaurants can be even more expensive. An estimate of $100 for two people would be modest. Depending on where you choose to eat, the bill could be twice or three times that amount. Be sure that you understand how much a restaurant will cost before you make a reservation.
A very interesting thing happened to us on our first day. Around 4 p.m. in the afternoon, a flier was slid beneath the door of our hotel room. The advertisement was for a local pizza shop who was willing to deliver any extra large pizza for just $20. Our travelers had just spent almost $40 to dine at one of the smaller restaurants in Circus Circus. They later wished they had waited.
The point here is simple: look for dining options off the Strip. When you take away the glitzy lights, Las Vegas is a city just like any other. There are people who live in the city and work there. They have to eat, too, and there are plenty of reasonable places to dine when you venture off the Strip. You can check the phone book in your hotel room or Google locations on your phone.
You will also find that many of the hotels include fast food franchises. Circus Circus has a McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, and Krispy Kreme right in the casino. But be aware that some of these establishments have raised their prices to accommodate their surroundings. You won’t pay the same price in Las Vegas for a McDonald’s value meal that you will in your home town. Our experience was that two people could eat for about $20 at these restaurants depending on the time of day. Breakfast was a little bit cheaper.
At the end of the day we were on a budget and stuck to the cheapest restaurants we could find.
Total Cost of Food For Three Days in Las Vegas for Two People: $180 ($60 per day)
Entertainment in Las Vegas
There are more celebrities per square mile in Las Vegas than in any other city. At least it sure seems that way. Celine Dion, Elton John, Justin Bieber, Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, Mike Tyson, Terry Fator, and more were performing in the various casinos on the Strip. While our guys certainly wanted to take in one of these shows, the cost of most were simply beyond our budget.
What we did discover is that you can score deals on shows if you purchase through a ticket agent. Right in the lobby of our hotel there was a ticket agent who was selling package deals for $59 per person. Included were tickets to three shows. The catch was that you didn’t know which shows you were going to get until you made the purchase. You can reasonably expect a ticket to one major show and two tickets to smaller ones like the Bee Gees tribute act we saw. Still, when you consider that $59 is what you will pay for a small show and that some acts like Celine Dion command $200, it seems like a worthwhile gamble when you think about it.
An alternative is to take in any of the free shows provided by the Strip. Circus Circus provides free circus acts every hour throughout the day. There are acrobats from Argentina and hand balancers from the Middle East, clowns, and trapeze artists. There is no charge to attend these events. Treasure Island which is just up the Strip from Circus Circus provides a free outdoor pirate show every 90 minutes. The show is complete with swashbuckling pirates and real cannons!
Of course, the Fountains at Bellagio are one of the most popular sights in all of Las Vegas and something you need to see when you visit. These are also free to experience. If you make it down to Fremont Street you will see Elvis impersonators galore and other oddities, most of whom will take a picture with you for free.
There are some reasonably priced things you can do that are very exciting. You can ride the zipline on Fremont Street for just $25. This exciting ride will let you fly like a superhero along the entire length of the Fremont Street Experience.
Total Cost of Entertainment in Las Vegas: $0 (We chose the free options)
Shopping in Las Vegas
If you are like us, there will be people back home who want you to bring them back a souvenir. We expected this to be one of the most costly things about the trip but we were wrong. It was one of the least expensive.
There are multiple shops in the hotels on the Strip which specialize in souvenirs for just $0.99. There are keychains, shot glasses, coffee cups, and more. We also found many shops that sell Las Vegas themed t-shirts at a great price. You can often find three of them for $10. When it comes to souvenirs, it isn’t really the size of the gift that matters. It’s the thought and the fact that you’re bringing back some small piece of Vegas for your friends.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to spend more money. One of the shops our travelers loved was Houdini’s Magic Shop. There are tricks of all kinds and also fascinating items on the history of magic like posters and books. There was also a store in our hotel just for gamblers with books, poker sets, and decks of playing cards.
Upscale retail shops are also a part of the hotels on the Strip. You can find fashionable items like clothes, purses, shoes, and even luggage. When you venture into one of these specialty shops you may be surprised to find that there are no prices on the merchandise. You will quickly find that some shopkeepers like to haggle. We even suspect that some of the employees at these shops work on a commission.
A final word about something else you will encounter on your Vegas trip. We were approached numerous times right on the hotel floor by individuals trying to sell us something. It was usually another vacation deal or a timeshare opportunity. Our advice in these situations? Keep right on walking. If you stop for even a second the experience will turn into a thirty minute pitch for something you probably don’t want.
Total Cost of Souvenirs, Gifts, Etc. in Las Vegas: $60.00 (And we got a LOT of stuff!)
A Money Saving Las Vegas Trick
We discovered a very profitable trick that has been a staple of Las Vegas for years. It’s a simple coupon book that you will be given when you check in to your hotel. You can also find some of these books when you explore the Strip. Do not throw these away! We used ours to get big discounts and make our money go farther.
There will be coupons inside for discounts on theme rides at various Strip amusement parks, two for one coupons for dining, and even free casino chips! At Circus Circus you could get $15 of chips for $10, something we didn’t discover until after we played blackjack. Be sure to check your coupon book as soon as you arrive. You can even use it to sort of plan activities that you would like to do.
Vegas Blackjack Vacation Summary
The total of our Counting Edge Las Vegas blackjack trip came to $944.10 for two people. But we want to stress that this was really the minimum you can expect to spend. Use it as a benchmark for the basics and then add in other things you would like to do to get an estimate of what your own trip will cost.
Make a plan if you want to go to Vegas to play blackjack. Do not just arrive without expectations of what you will spend. Las Vegas is a place that can consume lots of money very quickly if you aren’t careful. Once you have decided what you are going to do, stick to the plan. There will be things you cannot do or see. Accept this and focus on enjoying the things you can do.
If you don’t have a plan before you go it is more likely that you will get lost in the bright lights and sounds that are going on around you. The worst thing you can do is to run out of money with a day or two left and be confined to your hotel room.
Focus on playing blackjack and enjoying the experience. Talk to the dealers and pit bosses. Chat up the shopkeepers. Many of them have amazing stories about Las Vegas. We met one shopkeeper who was willing to share his personal collection of photographs with celebrities like Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali. The best thing you can leave Las Vegas with are a lot of good memories. When you go back for your second visit, and you will, you’ll know far more about the city and the game you love.
In the meantime, you don’t have to go to Las Vegas to experience the thrill of blackjack. Just sign up for an account at one of our recommended online casinos and start playing blackjack on your computer, phone, or tablet right now.
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