Las Vegas was built on the premise of separating you from your money. It all started with booze, slot machines, table games and illicit activities. The city has now become a legitimate world class tourism destination that services visitors of all income levels; from the poorest of the poor to the top 1%. New and creative scams are thought of every day in Las Vegas, so it will do you well to read our list before visiting to learn how to avoid them.
Below we have outlined some of the most common ways that you can get ripped off in Las Vegas. These are based on our thorough research, first hand experience, and input from many of us here at World Casino Index who frequent Vegas. We think that we have everything covered, but if you know of any scams that are missing from our list please reach out to us and we’ll add them.
McCarran Airport Slot Machines
The first and most common scam becomes visible as soon as you touch down in Las Vegas. McCarran International Airport has slots and video poker machines throughout the concourses and even at the baggage claim. These are the worst paying machines in the entire state of Nevada. The slot machines at the airport return about 85%. Most slot machines in casinos will commonly return 90-92% to players, and that is on the lower end.
The video poker pay tables at McCarran International are also the worst possible on any Nevada machine.
Solution: Though you will be tempted, you are far better off waiting until you get to your hotel before gambling, no matter how long your bags are taking to arrive.
Taxi’s Long Hauling
The next encounter with a potential ripoff comes at the taxi pickup line just outside of the baggage claim at McCarran Airport. In Las Vegas, unlike many other cities, taxi drivers get paid half of the fare. There is pressure to book a high amount of fares each shift, according to many cabbies. This encourages them to partake in “long hauling.”
Some of the shadier cab drivers will try to take tourists through the tunnel. This means they will take you south under the airport instead of north towards the Strip. This can add about $10 to the fare. This may not seem like a lot to some readers, but hey – every penny counts. I’ve seen people run $20 up to $1,600, and I’m sure crazier things have happened, so any money you can save for the casino is a plus.
Cabbies will often ask if you have ever been to Las Vegas. Your answer should always be yes; even if you are a first-time visitor (and try not to act too excited). Telling the driver that you want to go Swenson away from the airport will also tell him that you have an idea of the proper route.
Solution: If you are with a group then you might just want to take a limo to your hotel. Another option is to rent a car. Car rentals are actually one of the few things that are relatively the same price in Vegas as they are in other parts of the country. There is also a free shuttle that connects the airport to the offsite car rental facility if you are willing to wait a little longer.
Resort Fee Scams
The next ripoff you may encounter on your trip to Vegas occurs when you arrive at the hotel front desk. Virtually every casino-hotel in Las Vegas charges a resort fee. There are a few exceptions downtown and in the locals market, but for all intents and purposes we won’t get into that. The amount that casino-hotels charge to tourists in Las Vegas typically ranges from between $10 and $28 per night. This usually includes wi-fi, bottles of water, local calls and maybe access to the fitness center in some instances.
Solution: Caesars Entertainment waives resort fees for players that have achieved Platinum or higher tier in its Total Rewards club. It is also worth noting that most comped rooms do not carry any type of resort fee. If you’re trying to get free rooms, concentrate your play with one casino company. This will increase the chances of receiving a free or “comped” room. Keep in mind this does not mean you have to gamble at one casino, rather a group of casinos that are owned by the same parent company. For example both Caesars Palace and the Flamingo are both owned by the same company.
Also make sure you check out http://www.killresortfees.com/ to join the movement in ending resort fees.
6-5 Blackjack Tables
The most popular table game in Las Vegas is far and away blackjack. That is because of the low house edge in the game and ease of learning the rules. Some Las Vegas casinos quietly add a rule change that increases the house edge, and in some instances this can be rather significant… especially if you are an avid player. The most common “scam” rule are tables which pay 6-5 on a natural blackjack as opposed to the traditional 3-2 odds. This means that a $10 bet wins just $12 instead of $15 on blackjack.
The 6-5 payout may not seem like a big deal, but it actually adds 1.39% to the house advantage. This rule will be disclosed on the table felt or a placard, and it never hurts to ask if you’re unsure. If you do not immediately see a table with 3-2 odds, always ask the pit boss or a dealer if there are any available, and if so, where they are located. This may require traveling to another close-by casino, but will be worth the time and effort.
Most single deck blackjack games do, however, pay 6-5 on a natural blackjack and this is somewhat common. Some Las Vegas Strip casinos also short pay on certain six-deck games. The Cosmopolitan even has double deck games that only pay 6-5. All of these games should be avoided if you are trying to play with the lowest house edge possible.
Solution: Most casinos that pay 6-5 on shoe games also have 3-2 games if you go out of your way to look for them. If the casino only spreads 6-5 games, simply walk to the next casino or ask a pit-boss if he knows of any games nearby that pay 3-2. The Venetian, Palazzo, and Casino Royale are all casinos that only spread 6-5 blackjack games on the casino floor so if you’re trying to play blackjack you should try to avoid playing there.
Slot Machine Ripoffs
Most slot machines in Las Vegas return 90-92% of your bet over time, which is pretty standard regarding slots but is still not good by any means. That makes slots one of the worst bets in the house. Some machines may show $.01 denominations but there are often 25 or more lines and a max of 20 or 25 coins per line. This gets expensive quickly if you’re not paying attention or are inebriated.
Solution: Play video poker instead. Even poor pay tables will cut the house edge in half compared to slot machines.
Anyone that has walked one block on the Las Vegas Strip has seen “card slappers.” These are the guys wearing shirts that say “Girls to your room” and hand out business cards. These businesses imply that an escort will come to your room and “entertain” you. Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas. The girls that work for these services have been known to rip off clients and even rob them in some instances. The girls are also not given regular health checkups like regulated working girls are in other parts of Nevada.
Solution: If you are really determined, then go to a strip club or drive about an hour to Pahrump where there are legal brothels that are regulated by local health departments. If you take a cab to a strip club then the ride should be free as these clubs often give the driver a kick back so it will do you well to put in a little bit of research first to find the best deal.
Card slappers are not the only street hustlers in Las Vegas. Some people run gambling games openly out in the street. Common sense should tell you to avoid these scams. Some people also sell items such as their band’s CD, nightclub passes or even bottles of water. There have been some stories that people selling bottles of water take empties out of the trash and fill them up with tap water. None of these sidewalk vendors are operating legally and should be avoided at all costs. My advice is to just not make eye contact and avoid conversation.
Solution: While it may be expensive in some cases, only buy items from licensed stores or vendors. There are actually several national chain drug stores on the Strip. The prices there are comparable to what you will find back home, so it will definitely be worth it. Going to these types of stores will probably even cost you less than if you were to buy the same items at your hotel/lobby stores.
Most Las Vegas Strip casinos have party pits where scantily clad women are dealing blackjack and other table games. These tables can be tempting to sit at to pass the time. The games in party pits tend to have terrible rules however. For example, the worst blackjack game in Las Vegas can be found in the party pit at Caesars Palace.
Solution: Play the table games outside of the party pit. If you insist on playing party pit games then we suggest going downtown to play at Golden Gate or The D and bet in smaller amounts than you would normally. These casinos do not change the rules for their party pits. For example, all blackjacks still generally pay 3-2 and double down after splitting is allowed.
Avoid Cabbie Suggestions
A cab driver may try to sell you on some hot club or massage parlor, especially if you are a single man. Cabbies get kickbacks from these establishments that are for the most part unregulated and are often scams. Many are clip joints where they promise prostitution and just take your money and then kick you out. Metro Police do a decent job of shutting these down but you still have to be careful. Just assume that the cab driver’s advice is always terrible and he does not have your best interest in mind. Many are just trying to make a quick buck.
Solution: Never allow the cabbie to talk you out of your original destination, or influence you into going somewhere new.
Video Poker at Bars
It may be tempting to play video poker at a casino bar on the Las Vegas Strip. These are however mostly ripoff games with terrible pay tables that are almost as bad as the machines at the airport. The comped drinks are also typically watered down.
Solution: You are better off paying cash for drinks or playing video poker on the main casino floor where the waitress should come around three times an hour. Even with comped drinks it is proper etiquette to tip $1 per drink. If you go downtown or to a locals casino, the bar-top video poker returns are usually much better. For example, Main Street Station offers full pay Jacks or Better. Many others even spread 8/5 Bonus Poker.