Going for the B PlanIs that a mirage or The Mirage? Well, it’s neither. It’s time to forego the hair gel, cologne and attitude and explore off-Strip.
The Strip and Downtown essentially make up collective Las Vegas in terms of what people expect to accomplish—and, hopefully, triumph over once they hit the tables. But dotted around these high-profile destinations are hotels and casinos that bask in their own glow, independent of colossal progress just beyond. So here we spend some time—and some hefty limousine fares—paying homage to the workhorse casinos that have stood the test of time. And while a 10-year demolish-and-rebuild mentality generally typifies Vegas, the off-Strip B list certainly has a respectable A game.
Palace Station 2411 W. Sahara Ave
This old-school casino and hotel, opened in July 1976 as the Bingo Palace, has been slapped with a recent label of infamy for being the place where O.J. Simpson and his armed goon squad alleged robbed the hotel of sports memorabilia that once belonged to the most famous sports pariah in history. But apart from that, Palace Station’s reputation is that of being a ‘local’s casino’, despite a massive renovation in 1999, and is gloriously nestled in that Las Vegas limbo of not being on the Strip, and not being a part of that gentrified, Downtown revival of grit and offbeat chic. And that suits its regulars just fine, so don’t expect all the classic American polish with staff. Don’t call it rude, though; more like brutal honesty.
Being part of the main action doesn’t mean it’s cast out in the wilderness, although it would be a daunting walk in the midday heat from anywhere on the strip. Regardless, it is an integral beacon on the Vegas skyline with over 1,000 rooms for those looking for a taste of enduring Las Vegas mystique. And if you plan ahead, you can get a room with the best view in town: the entire Strip itself.
Gaming: Palace Station’s variety is renowned and boasts a tonne of slot machines and table games, with the most baccarat and Pai Gow tile games off the Strip. If that’s not your style, then there are more than 1,600 slot and video poker machines, blackjack, Let It Ride, craps and roulette. But if poker is your calling, there are nine, 24-hour tables—all non-smoking too. And if your game is the game, then you can ensconce yourself in the 230-seat race and sports book.
Don’t Miss: Cabo Mexican Restaurant’s happy hour, everyday from 4pm to 6pm, and 9pm to 10pm. Why? The fortified house margarita is only $2.99.
Happening now: 2008 National Finals Rodeo (NFR) hotel packages including ‘Breakfast, Beers & Bulls’ from December 1–14.
Limo ride from the airport: $85
The Orleans Hotel and Casino 4500 W. Tropicana Ave
This has consistently been voted as the best off-Strip casino. Who’s doing the voting, or by whom it is tallied, we’re not sure of. Regardless, it should make a lot of the mid-range Strip joints nervous. But it wasn’t always that way. Built in 1996, it didn’t get off to a flying start, but in 1999, additions were made and subsequent success has put The Orleans, or ‘The O’, on the Vegas map. With a Mardi Gras theme—you get beaded necklaces just for walking through the door—and nearly 2,000 rooms in the hotel, there is a fervent fan base here. Its interchangeable show arena can also have ice skating or football one day, and concerts the next. Naturally with that much variety at its disposal, The Orleans is a renowned family hotel, catering to all ages. Movies, the spa, bowling, the beauty salon, Time Out Arcade and the Kids Tyme entertainment world ensure everyone’s getting his or her money’s worth.
Gaming: An impressive list of slots—over 3,000— video poker and video keno machines get the action started. But if you just want to dive right into blackjack, craps, roulette, Pai Gow or the sportsbook. And with its 35 tables, the poker room has established itself as a major destination. After all, it used to be one of the biggest poker rooms in Las Vegas before the poker boom a few years back.
Don’t Miss: You might think warily about quality Chinese food in a casino—and with good reason. But Koji Sushi Bar & China Bistro will erase all doubt of quality due to its setting. The food is remarkable in clean, unpretentious surroundings and was acclaimed as one of the best Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas.
Happening now: Lee Greenwood’s ‘A Tennessee Christmas’, December 7
Cab ride from the airport: $65
Gold Coast Hotel & Casino 4000 W. Flamingo Rd
Gold Coast, sister property of The Orleans and the ‘other’ Coast casino—Barbary Coast, now Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, is on the Strip—is another ‘locals casino’ located just opposite the Rio to one side, and the ridiculously glamourous Palms on the other. A lot of mixed company on this end of Flamingo Road. But what the Palms has in swankiness and the Rio in high energy, Gold Coast has grassroots Americana, and a spectacular amount of blinding lights at the front entrance. It’s enough to actually warrant wearing sunglasses at night. You might remember—or maybe not—Gold Coast featured in the 1996 movie Mars Attacks where it gets damaged by the Martians. And if you’re into that wacky music kids are listening to nowadays, it’s reputed that Brandon Flowers, the current singer for The Killers used to work as a bellhop here.
Once inside, the relatively intimate hotel has about 700 rooms, restaurants, a showroom and lounge, bowling and a beauty and barber shop. Built in 1986, Gold Coast got a major upgrade in 2002 to accommodate an impressive amount of gaming traffic. Translation: more parking, restaurants and gaming.
Gaming: Gold Coast has over 86,000 square feet of gaming action, divided into 48 tables with craps, blackjack, Pai Gow, Super Fun 21, roulette and mini and midi baccarat. Its high-limit room has some great slots and video poker for those feeling especially lucky. There’s also a non-smoking poker room, a spacious race and sportsbook and a lavish 720-seat bingo hall. Of course, most of the din comes from the more than 2,100 slot machines.
Don’t Miss: No assessment of anything Las Vegas, on- or off-Strip, is complete without a big shout out—more like a groan, really—to the great buffet. And the one in Gold Coast is a worthy mention. The Ports O’ Call Buffet has seven live cooking stations and everything you could possibly imagine in food form, hot or cold, anytime of the day or night.
Happening now: Las Vegas Classic Jazz Band, through December 31.
Cab ride from the airport: $70