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For the first time in my Vegas travelling life, I stayed downtown as opposed to the Strip. It’s odd, I actually prefer just about everything about downtown to include gaming options, the close proximity of attractions, and the signature old school vibe, but for some reason have never pulled the trigger on a hotel room. Likely because the ease in which comped rooms can be earned in the Mlife and Caesars Rewards programs. It’s difficult to say no to free rooms (minus resort fees).
This trip was different. The driving force behind my decision to stay downtown was Binion’s Apache Hotel renovation and re-opening after a decades long hiatus. As a Vegas history dweeb, staying in a property with that type of historic value was on the bucket list. I also took the opportunity to stay a night at Downtown Grand and El Cortez in a Cabana Suite.
I’m not the only one with a renewed interest in downtown Las Vegas either. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority (LVCA), 46% of Las Vegas visitors made a stop downtown in 2018. That is up from just 32% in 2015. Downtown is on the rise.
So what are the differences you can expect when staying on Fremont vs. the Strip? Lets go.
Downtown Las Vegas is a Better Value than the Strip
As a frugal traveler, cost is a massive factor in my decision making process. Since this was my first stay downtown I had yet to establish a relationship with casino loyalty programs which could have earned me a reduced room rate. Paying full price was painless, however, and certainly less expensive than rates on the Strip. According to the LVCA, the average nightly room rate paid on the Strip in 2018 was $138.82, much more than the $69.95 average downtown. The trade off being that generally speaking there’s a slight decrease in room quality downtown when compared to the Strip. Do your research before booking. If you are comfortable with the room and reviews then save the cash!
Resort fees are also much less invasive downtown, running about 40% – 50% less than resorts on the Strip. In fact, Binion’s and sister property 4 Queens are resort fee free!
Better gambling with lower table minimums
On the topic of value, casinos downtown allow you to stretch your dollar a bit further. While you’ll commonly encounter minimum bets on Strip table games of $15 – $20 on the weekends, casinos on Fremont frequently feature $5 – $10 mins daily.
If you are looking to hit the slots, they are actually proven to be looser downtown. According to Nevada Gaming Control Board reporting, slots downtown held 7.64% of wagers made compared to a less player friendly 8.12% on the Strip. For example, if a player played $100 worth of spins at a downtown casino the house would expect to take $7.64 on average vs. $8.12 on the Strip.
Table game odds also tend to be more player friendly on and around Fremont Street. 3-2 blackjack isn’t yet extinct and the triple zero roulette epidemic hasn’t yet spread to downtown. In fact, Plaza recently installed a new single zero roulette wheel – a much more player friendly game than its double and triple zero peers.
Lastly, video poker players will also have more luck finding an advantageous pay table on Fremont vs. the Strip where you will typically find watered down, house friendly payouts. Here is a good recap of where to find good video poker pay tables at downtown casinos.
Getting Downtown from McCarran International can be CHEAP
Public transportation isn’t usually my preferred method of getting from the airport to my Vegas hotel, BUT, taking the WAX (Westcliff Airport Express) is too easy. Catch it at level 0 of either terminal 1 or the departures level of terminal 3. A one way ticket will cost only $2 amounting to a big savings over other airport transportation methods.
Yes, you can also take public transportation to a hotel on the Strip but it’s a bit more of a hassle and more costly. Click here for more on airport transportation options in addition to pubic transportation.
Diverse Dining Options
From fast food options to old school elegance, downtown Las Vegas offers something for everyone, every budget, every taste, and all a short walk from your hotel. The density of options, whether it be by price point or cuisine type, on Fremont is difficult to top.
If an inexpensive, sit down meal is what you crave, try mid-range price point options like Tony Roma’s, Nacho Daddy, Evel Pie, or Pizza Rock.
For me, the holy grail of dining downtown is the ease in which you can find great steak and/or seafood, usually in an authentic vintage Las Vegas environment at a reasonable price. Places like Top of Binion’s Steakhouse, Hugo’s Cellar at 4 Queens, Andiamo at the D and Oscar’s at Plaza are sure to satisfy at a $50 – $75 price point while delivering a unique downtown Vegas vibe.
Quicker, cheaper options include a McDonalds and a White Castle, but check out spots like the international eatery which is comprised of several quick serve restaurants serving Mediterranean, Mexican, and Chinese fare. For the best pizza by the slice in all of Vegas head over to Pizza Rock, or Evel Pie (a close second).
You’re More than a Number
Even before actually staying downtown, I have always loved the connection casino ownership and leadership shares with the their customers. Derek Stevens, owner of the D, Golden Gate, and Circa can usually be found posted up at the D’s Longbar ready to share some words or a beer with anyone that approaches. Same can be said about Plaza’s CEO Jonathan Jossel who often mingles with guests on the casino floor. They legitimately care about their customer and providing a great experience. When was the last time you saw Jim Murren, CEO of MGM resorts milling with the common folk? I’ll wait.
Vintage Vegas Vibe
History downtown is thick. Golden Gate opened in 1906 and had the first working phone in Nevada. Binion’s Hotel Apache originally opened in 1932 and is said to be haunted. El Cortez was owned at one point by mobster Bugsy Siegel. Even coin operated slot machines and video poker still find a home in downtown casinos like El Cortez, Main Street Station, Plaza, California and Fremont. While the Strip may be shiny, elegant and new, history lives on downtown. This is your grandparents Vegas while still offering modern amenities.
Cons of staying downtown
It can’t all be roses right? One complaint you often hear from hotel guests is about noise from live entertainment that permeates rooms and prevents sleep until the wee hours of the morning. Absolutely true. If you need to get to bed early, or don’t want to contend with the noise, stay a few blocks back at Main Street Station, California, or El Cortez. Kindly ask for a quieter room near the back of the property if staying right on the Fremont Street Experience.
The crowd tends to be a bit seedier downtown as well. Street performers are commonly showing an abundance or skin or holding obscene signs. Not the type of place I’d bring a kids. Additionally, there is a prevalent homeless population that can make some feel uncomfortable, but they rarely cause trouble.
Weird alcohol and open container laws. Yes, you can drink out in the open on Fremont Street, but your drink has to be in a plastic cup and be purchased from a casino bar. Unlike the Strip, you are unable to purchase canned/bottled drinks at the convenience store and crack them open.
Ultimately, the pros outweigh the cons for this guy. Staying on Fremont Street and visiting the Strip instead of vice versa is one of the better swaperoos I have made. Although downtown hotels have a “more dated” reputation, there is something for all tastes and budgets and that truth will only be amplified with the opening of higher end rooms at Circa in 2020.
I’ll be back in Vegas in March, and downtown is where I’ll call home. If you are on the fence, give it a shot.