Better Vegas Gambling: Where to Get the Best Value

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Gambling sign outside Binion's in downtown Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a gambling mecca. There are loads of options competing for your gambling dollar in and around the Las Vegas area. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, however, there’s some themes you can follow.

In this post we’ll focus on larger trends you can spot that can help you get a better gamble for your budget. Of course, many players are just fine playing in the middle of a tourist destination for fun, but if you gamble regularly, these differences can add up over time to a bigger delta of how much money you lose or win, or how long your money lasts.

Baseline: Las Vegas Strip

The Las Vegas Strip (technically not in Las Vegas proper, but of course is included for the purposes of this write-up) is a tourist destination of its own in a town built on visitation, so it’s going to tend to have less advantageous options than other casinos in the area.

Indeed, when reviewing the payback data reported to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the strip tends to have the highest win percentage – that is, the percentage the casino kept for itself in a given time period. 

Whereas the state win percentage on slot machines is 7.15 percent for the 12 months ending September 30, 2023, the strip’s win percentage was 8.02 percent for the same time period, almost a full percentage point higher. On 1 cent slots the spread was wider, with 9.70 percent win statewide vs. 11.22 percent on the strip.

Even within the strip though, it’s probably safe to presume there will be differences between how casinos pay back. The big chain casinos are likely to offer a lower payback offering, for instance, than independent casinos that have to fight harder for business. 

Nevada doesn’t break payback down by casino, but other indicators, such as Video Poker pay tables and Blackjack rules, tend to be better at non-chain casinos on the strip than at the bigger corporate properties. That is usually a helpful sign of what sort of payback philosophy a given casino has.

A Step Up: Downtown Las Vegas

Next up is a proper Las Vegas location – Downtown Las Vegas, sometimes known as old Vegas. It’s home to the Fremont Street Experience, and it is a tourist destination unto itself, but value continues to have a place downtown at a level that isn’t sustainable on the strip today.

This value extends to gambling, where better table games rules, video poker tables, and slot options also tend to be available. But here, not all is equal either: Slot holds were actually higher downtown overall, at 8.41 percent, vs. the 8.02 percent on the strip. These numbers took a dip right around the time of the opening of the shiny new Circa, perhaps unsurprisingly so, but that may give hints as to where some of the better gambles for slots might be.

Also, some downtown casinos purposefully advertise a payback level that’s advantageous to the strip, and if downtown as a whole is below average, that may also help indicate some things.

Your Best Option: Casinos Targeting Locals

If you’re going to play in Las Vegas, location not being the most important criteria, you might want to consider where the locals go. With so much competition for their dollar, locals tend to avoid the chaos of the strip and downtown in favor of locals casinos.

Aside from less traffic, the locals casinos tend to offer better casino options, including better slot machine payback, video poker tables and table games rules, than either of the two options above.

While off the beaten path, it will certainly work out for players over time to pursue these options, even if it’s a part of the trip. Our experiences gambling outside the tourist areas have generally driven exciting runs at a higher frequency than in the most touristy areas.

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