Las Vegas's Most Popular Casinos
Sure, regular visitors have their favorites, but Vegas isn’t for loyalists. It’s for seekers of the hottest, the newest, the now. And lately, they want to be seen at the Cosmopolitan, where a massive chandelier conceals a three-story bar and casino cabanas overlook the Strip.
So it’s no surprise that the attention-grabbing Cosmopolitan gets more check-ins on Foursquare than any other casino in Vegas. The social site, which counts five million check-ins worldwide daily, reviewed its Vegas data from August 2011 to August 2012 to provide us with this exclusive list of the most popular casinos in Sin City. (After all, even if what happens stays secret, half the fun is letting all your friends know you’re in Vegas, baby.)
Established hotels, too, are coming up with new reasons to check in, spending millions on upgrades like the sunlit high-limits slot rooms at the Wynn Las Vegas (No. 14) or a refresh of the 171,500-square-foot casino at MGM Grand (No. 2). The biggest efforts go into the kinds of celeb-chef restaurants, retail stores, and entertainment venues that increasingly divert visitors’ attention from gambling.
Look for the Hakkasan restaurant and club coming to MGM Grand in 2013; four zip lines running between the Luxor pyramid and the Excalibur; a giant observation wheel at the Flamingo; and Gordon Ramsay’s first Vegas restaurant. At the No. 7-ranked Venetian, a mobile sports betting app makes it easier than ever to venture away from the casino floor.
While you can gauge the hipness of a casino by its volume of check-ins, that won’t predict your likelihood of winning big. But at least one thing’s certain: the lure of a deal. Foursquare found that the casinos with the most loyal patrons (those that got the most check-ins from repeat visitors) are affordable options like Circus Circus and Aquarius Casino Resort.
Read on for the latest buzz about Vegas’s popular hotel casinos, plus tips like where rookie gamblers can get free poker lessons, which 500-dish buffet is worthwhile, and how to score reservations at the soon-to-open Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace.
And wherever you are right now, check in to Foursquare and follow Travel + Leisure for tips and curated recommendations in hot spots around the world.
No. 1 The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Amid a sea of themed hotels, Vegas’s most checked-in casino makes an urbane, design-forward statement. That goes for the casino floor, too, where you can gamble and socialize in casino cabanas whose floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlook the Strip (no reservation necessary). Foursquare users also likely flock here to party at Marquee Nightclub (and summer poolside Marquee Dayclub), shop, and eat out, whether rustic Italian at Scarpetta or burgers and boozy shakes at Holsteins. The Cosmopolitan can’t be topped for surprises, from a pop-up wedding chapel to monthly live-in artists who work in a public storefront.
The Buzz: Live music, free parties, and movies below the 65-foot digital marquee at the Boulevard Pool. Concerts by the likes of Stevie Wonder and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, especially for New Year’s Eve, are becoming legendary.
No. 2 MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
At 171,500 square feet, MGM’s casino is the largest in the city, and it is getting a refresh (including clearer directions through the cavernous space) while preserving some classic elements like Sigma Derby, the last remaining mechanical horse-racing game on the Strip. After all, MGM Grand has been an icon for nearly 40 years, with its giant lion dominating the intersection of Las Vegas and Tropicana. The nearly completed $160 million renovation extends to the 3,570 guest rooms and 642 suites and ushers in LED lighting, solar shades and biodegradable amenities.
The Buzz: Early in 2013, the Cantonese-themed restaurant and nightclub Hakkasan opens. Before the end of 2012, Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp will set up permanent shop, letting super fans and would-be rockers play with legends like Roger Daltrey, Alice Cooper, and Sammy Hagar.
No. 3 Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
In keeping with its opulent reputation, Caesars claims to have been the site of more million-dollar plus slot machine jackpots than any casino in the world. In general, gaming is geared toward high rollers: two poker rooms get a lot of action (one for cash play, the other exclusively for tournaments); and sports gamers love the sports book, where most of the seats have tables with TVs. Qua Spa remains mostly unsurpassed, and the Forum Shops at Caesars are always adding something new under that ceiling that mimics the changes in real daylight. Then, there’s the Colosseum, which hosts entertainers like Celine Dion, and, coming in December 2012, Shania Twain.
The Buzz: Rarely does a buffet make major news on the Strip, but the new Bacchanal buffet lives up to its name, with more than 500 dishes spanning the world. Insider tip: check into the 180-room boutique Nobu Hotel when it opens in early 2013 (taking reservations as of Oct. 1, 2012) for your only chance to order Nobu in-room.
No. 4 New York-New York Hotel & Casino
Smash together favorite New York attractions, and you get this condensed version, welcoming you with a 150-foot model of the Statue of Liberty (so convincing that the US Postal Service accidentally printed its image on the Forever stamp). The draws are affordable room rates, entertainment like Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity, the roller coaster that whizzes through the “skyline,” and dining at New York import Gallagher’s Steakhouse. Central Park is the inspiration for the 84,000-square-foot gaming area’s paths and trees. Its ESPN Zone has arcade-style games, and most games in the casino (smaller and more manageable than many on the Strip) hover around a $10 minimum.
The Buzz: You must be a guest of one of the MGM Resorts to play the famous Shadow Creek golf course (greens fees, $500); staying at New York-New York is one way to get in without breaking the bank.
No. 5 Bellagio Hotel & Casino
Most know Bellagio for its public spaces—those fountains performing nightly to a choreographed music and light show, or the Conservatory with its revolving, over-the-top floral displays. Bellagio has become the luxury standard that transcends most age brackets, and for that it has its perpetually upgraded rooms to thank; the 2,568 rooms of its main tower got a $70 million redesign in 2011. But gamblers know Bellagio for poker, particularly at “the Big Game,” a mixed game that attracts some of the best poker players in the world. There are also daily tournaments in much lower price ranges.
The Buzz: Hyde Bellagio and Lily Bar & Lounge are both new and hopping. And by the end of 2012, its (still rather new) Spa Tower will get a $40 million nip-and-tuck, including its Chairman and Presidential suites.
No. 6 Luxor Hotel & Casino
The world’s strongest light beam shines nightly from the giant pyramid that is Luxor. That and its other “ancient” elements—replicas of Cleopatra’s Needle, the Sphinx, the Great Temple of Ramses II—haven’t changed in the 20 years it has been open. But the rooms, shopping, and entertainment have had some much-needed work done, most notably along the sky bridge that connects Luxor to Mandalay Bay. Look for all the traditional games on the casino floor, but if you’re a rookie, make a beeline for the poker room where you an get free lessons.
The Buzz: Luxor is known for its quirky entertainment, such as prop comedian Carrot Top, and the Criss Angel and Cirque du Soleil joint performance, "Criss Angel Believe." Urban dance crew Jabbawockeez arrives in the spring of 2013.
No. 7 Venetian Resort & Casino
Venetian’s big poker room (which can fit 50 tables) has plenty of action and often with more manageable wait times than at the Bellagio. The sports book has gone mobile here and at sister property Palazzo: download the wagering app from the book or the website, and you can bet during dinner. That is if you can take your eyes off the surroundings. With its canals traveled by singing gondoliers, the Venetian is a fine place to people-watch, whether at restaurants like Otto Enoteca or on a bench with a gelato under the convincing sky that turns from day to dusk.
The Buzz: New restaurants Public House—a speakeasy-style tavern with Nevada’s first beer cicerone—and Bourbon Room, which pays homage to the musical Rock of Ages and serves 28 different bourbons, including two made just for the bar.
No. 8 Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
While the casino tables are geared toward high rollers, you don’t have too look hard to find cheap slots; nickel and quarter slots are spread all over the floor. Foodies and nightlife aficionados, meanwhile, come for Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, Fleur by Hubert Keller, the long-lived Aureole by Charlie Palmer, or the 43rd-floor Foundation Room. Families appreciate the 1.6 million-gallon Shark Reef and Mandalay Bay Beach, the 11-acre water park with real sand beaches, four swimming pools, a lazy river and a wave pool for body surfing.
The Buzz: Restaurants like China Grill and Red Square are being retired as the Delano Hotel moves in. A casual American bistro by chef Brian Massie, a Japanese restaurant by Akira Back, and a new nightclub by The Light Group are expected replacements. mandalaybay.com
No. 9 Aria Resort & Casino
Modern, high-tech, and LEED gold certified, the Aria is one of the Strip’s most progressive properties. And while the CityCenter complex was the largest privately funded construction project in U.S. history, the casino at Aria is surprisingly intimate. You’ll find two daily tournaments in the 24-table poker room; a separate area of the smallish sports book dedicated to horse racing (separated into little areas with their own TVs); and slots that range from pennies to high-stakes.
The Buzz: Chef Masa Takayama’s BarMasa has been a major draw, and he is already making changes. His new teppanyaki restaurant, Tetsu, replaces Shaboo as its restaurant-within-a-restaurant, with cooked-to-order Wagyu, live shrimp, and foie gras at huge blackjack-style grill tables. Coming soon, an outpost of the Los Cabos hot spot, Javier’s.
No. 10 The Mirage Hotel & Casino
Although its Polynesian tiki theme basically stays the same, Mirage has rotated in great dining like Japonais, STACK Restaurant and Bar, and Onda Ristorante & Wine Lounge. In 2012, it rang in the New Year with a nightlife surprise: 1OAK, the celeb-studded New York City club, reinterpreted in Vegas in 16,000 square feet, hung with the work of artist Roy Nachum, and attracting serious crowds. When the older-but-still-luxurious casino gets busy on weekends, minimums shoot up, but on weekdays, you can look for table games with reasonable $10 minimums. Mirage also has full-pay video poker machines.
The Buzz: The Villas at the Mirage have recently been redesigned. For $3,500 a night, you’ll get the kind of treatment the “whales” do: 24-hour butler service, two master bedrooms, and a private backyard with hot tub, putting green, and outdoor music system.
No. 11 Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
The massive, high-tech, lights-camera-action Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino gave the spot that was once the snoozy Arabian-themed Aladdin a serious dose of pizzazz. Now movie-themed, PH is all shiny black granite floors, glass walls, and continuously changing colored LED lights. Spice Market Buffet is one of the better options in town, and both Strip House (sexy, vintage steakhouse) and Koi (the Vegas version of the well-known LA restaurant) are on the mezzanine. On the casino floor, you can usually find a good, cheap table game with a $5 minimum. Low-limit Texas hold’em is the way to go in the dozen-table poker room.
The Buzz: Holy Madison’s “PeepShow” closes at the end of 2012, and “CeeLo Green Presents Loberace” starts in February 2013. planethollywoodresort.com
No. 12 Excalibur Hotel & Casino
Excalibur’s casino aims to be most things to most people, with lots of slots, plus blackjack, Caribbean stud poker, casino war, craps, keno, let it ride and more, as well as mini-tournaments for most games. Even on busy weekends, you’ll find small-stakes Texas hold’em games. The medieval-themed castle remains a rollicking family destination, with its drawbridge and moat, kids’ Fun Dungeon, and that three-course dinner you eat with your fingers at the Tournament of Kings jousting spectacular. But in a move to draw other demographics, Excalibur brought in the hot male Thunder From Down Under dancers and The Australian Bee Gees Show.
The Buzz: Excalibur’s Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer “shack,” with great brews, brisket and pulled pork, and a concert stage for rock music is pulling in a steady local crowd. On the way: a giant food court remodel that will make Excalibur’s the biggest in the MGM Resorts family, plus four ziplines between the top of Luxor’s pyramid and the Excalibur.
No. 13 Monte Carlo Resort & Casino
Don’t look for penny slots or video poker here: Monte Carlo is a traditional, smaller casino devoted to table play. You will find some slots (up to $100 high-stakes machines), but most gamers like the intimate poker room with almost no wait times, and $5 minimum table games. Wood furnishings, Italian marble, and fine linens keep things tasteful. Chef Andre Rochat’s place, Andre’s Restaurant & Lounge, continues to be the Old World staple, and d.Vino is a great choice for oenophiles who want to pair their wood-fired pizza with something special.
The Buzz: Monte Carlo’s best secret is Hotel32, with five types of suites, personal assistance, limo service, a fridge stocked the way you like it, and good technology like Blu ray players and bathroom mirror-mounted flat-screen TVs. montecarlo.com
No. 14 Wynn Las Vegas
Still a relative babe, Steve Wynn’s hotel at the north end of the Strip has already spent $99 million renovating its 2,700 rooms and suites, redoing the walls in neutral tones and introducing Warhol and Picasso prints and centralized control panels. It also made news with the opening of sunlit (!) high-limits slot rooms. Ever wanted to play a $5,000 slot machine? You’ll find it here, along with penny slots, a very popular poker room, table games, and a luxurious race and sports book with nearly 200 seats. Bartolotta is one of the country’s best Italian restaurants, and remarkably, most of Wynn’s celeb chefs preside over their kitchens regularly.
The Buzz: Golfers will love the 18-hole Tom Fazio golf course behind the club, with waterfalls, streams and forests. Insider tip: one of the most scenic power lunches is at the Country Club overlooking the course.
No. 15 Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Replicas of the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, and La Fontaine des Mers, naturally, plus a glass elevator that whisks you to the top of a half-size Eiffel Tower for views of the Bellagio fountains. Mon Ami Gabi’s ground-floor patio mimics a little Parisian brasserie, Le Cabaret offers traditional cabaret acts, and Napoleon’s serves perhaps the best selection of champagne—more than 100 labels. Go elsewhere for poker, but you’ll find reasonable table games ($5–10 minimums) at any time of the week, as well as a huge range of slots and a 200-seat sports book with plenty of televisions.
The Buzz: You’ll get to Gordon Ramsay’s first Vegas restaurant through a “chunnel” entrance (just as you’d cross to England from France). Dine under a restaurant-wide Union Jack mural on appropriate fare like British ale soup with Boddingtons Pub ale. parislasvegas.com
No. 16 Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Known for a hard-rocking atmosphere, musical guests, and the debauched summer Sunday pool party, Rehab, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has been fine-tuning its glamorous side ever since a $750 million overhaul in 2010. On-site venues attract the likes of Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, Mötley Crüe (currently in residence at The Joint), and The Rolling Stones. The casino’s 18-table poker room qualifies as one of the best off the Strip, and there's a good range of table games, but the coolest reason to check in: swim-up poker in the hotel’s pool.
The Buzz: Hard Rock will soon open a High-Limit Gaming room; an Asian gaming scene, including a restaurant and Asian-style casino with pai gow and baccarat; a new entertainment venue, Vinyl; a gastro-pub, Culinary Dropout; and a new beach, with Tahitian-style cabanas (the swim-up blackjack stays).
No. 17 The Palazzo Resort Hotel & Casino
Weekends are for high rollers at Venetian’s extravagant sister property, with table minimums often $25 or more. But the Palazzo can be a surprising value on slower weekdays, when you can find $10 tables. Like the Venetian, Palazzo has a mobile sports betting app you can use all over the property. Opened in 2008, it feels like a slightly rarefied version of the theme-park, canal-filled fun of its sibling; suites start at 720 square feet, with all the amenities. Look for Barneys New York, among a stellar lineup of fashion and jewelry stores, as well as Mario Batali’s Carnevino, Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro, SUSHSAMBA, and Wolfgang Puck’s CUT.
The Buzz: The five-acre pool deck, a Roman garden the Palazzo shares with The Venetian; they also share the massive Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
No. 18 Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
If you’re a novice, the Flamingo is a good place to learn in front of a small number of people: the casino remains small, with no penny slots, a small variety of table games, and a small poker scene devoted mostly to low-limit Texas hold’em. The rest of the storied property—opened by mobster Bugsy Siegel in 1946—has been getting a face-lift. First came the “Go” rooms in 2008, with their funky patent-vinyl headboards, striped décor, and in-room technology. Now the remaining rooms have been given a “Fab” upgrade. There’s a youthful, spring-break vibe, yet also some surprising perks for families, from Donny and Marie Osmond’s nightly performance to a Wildlife Habitat stocked with flamingos, ducks, koi and turtles.
The Buzz: Intersecting pools have some of the best, little-known deals on private cabanas on the Strip. Construction has started on the Linq project, a $550-million retail, dining, and entertainment district with the highly anticipated Las Vegas High Roller, a giant observation wheel, set to open in 2013.
No. 19 Treasure Island - TI Hotel Resort & Casino
The Caribbean castaway-themed Treasure Island went through a rebranding, becoming a more modern “TI,” but the party scene remains largely the same. A beachy pool deck has a 25-person hot tub and frozen drinks; a new Señor Frog's; that ever-sexier open-air pirate battle that takes place in Siren’s Cove; and Mystère, the longest-running permanent Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. The casino is huge, and craps players can find weekday games for $5; slots start at a nickel and go to $100 a spin. There’s variety among table games—making the MGM policy of free drinks around the casino floor an even better value for gamers who don’t want to spend much.
The Buzz: TI is for those who don’t disapprove of dancing on tables, toting massive frozen drinks, and other only-in-Vegas antics. It’s also a budget-friendly option for shoppers: a pedestrian bridge takes you right to Fashion Show mall (stop at the concierge desk in the mall to get a book of visitor discounts ).
No. 20 Circus Circus Hotel & Casino
A longtime favorite of families and travelers on a budget, Circus Circus got a recent boost from a series of renovations, including 2012’s new rooms. Kids love the five-acre Adventuredome theme park for rides like a double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster. The animated Chuck Jones Experience shows more than 250 drawings and paintings by the Looney Tunes animator; reality film rides are broadcast in the FX Theatre; and you can try your luck at four casinos. Most gamers here are parents who want to get a half-hour of play in while their kids are on a ride. In other words, if you’re looking for cheap games, this casino is for you.
The Buzz: Circus Circus contains some of the most overlooked but delightful features of the Strip, including the carnival-like Midway, where you can win prizes at one of more than 200 games, and a snack bar that rotates above the casino floor.