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Vegas on the Cheap

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: It would never have occurred to me to email you but I am reading your column in today's Detroit free Press and see that a non-gambler wrote to say how much he admires your column. Ditto for me! However, I do want to tell you that my wife and I love to go to Las Vegas at least yearly. We lie by the pool during the day, walk up and down the Strip like first timers, people watch and hit two - four shows, then we're "outta there!” When I get back home I brag that I didn't gamble one nickel (it's true) and retell the story of how my wife and I stopped by the hotel bar for a drink; she slipped a 20 in whatever game was on top of the bar and got her drink for "free". I had to pay eight bucks for mine. Yep, that round came to $28 plus tip. The story is at least 10 years old, but I still tell it every opportunity I get. Dave W.

If someone is doing Vegas correctly, it’s you, Dave. On my last Las Vegas adventure, after doing some recon casing the new casinos and offerings, I went your route, el cheapo; enjoying as much as I could for FREE.

Las Vegas has skylines, architecture and themes of all sorts condensed onto one of the busiest streets in the country. So, I began at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, walked up the Strip from the south end, and got some moderate exercise and sightseeing in knowing that a feeding frenzy at a buffet was assured.

You can actually save some serious cha-ching by paying a visit to the attractions of Las Vegas; this is if you consider viewing the Eiffel Tower in Vegas over the real one in Paris. Ever fantasized about a romantic canal ride in Venice? There are gondolas and a St Mark’s Square at the Venetian. You might not be able to see a Yanke game in LV, but New York New York has the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park.

OK, so a few of these themed Las Vegas resorts pay tacky homage to other places around the globe. However, other attractions that have been included are worth checking out. Here are just a few, of my many favorites.

The Conservatory & Botanical Gardens at The Bellagio. Crafted by a team of over 100 horticulturalists, the Bellagio's conservatory features ornate arrangements of plants and flowers in its atrium. Additionally, every evening, there is a water and music performance in their spectacular fountains along the quarter-mile-long lake in front of the Bellagio.

The Mermaid Show at the Silverton Casino Hotel's aquarium. This 117,000-gallon reef aquarium has over 4,000 tropical fish and live mermaids.

Back in the day, Las Vegas hotel lounges were storied for offering chances to see big-name artists from the 60’s and 70’s for a two-drink minimum, and in many cases, free admmision. While this is no longer the standard, these hotels still have comfortable lounges with bar and/or cocktail service, and typically, live music and comedy acts from up-and-coming performers.

Billed as the "world's largest classic car showroom," my favorite freebie is the automobile collection at The Quad, previously known as the Imperial Palace. It has the world's largest collection of antique, muscle, and special-interest cars, and admission is free if you take the time to visit the website and print out a coupon.

Although Las Vegas exists for the sole purpose of separating visitors from their hard-earned income, no matter how you spend your non-gambling money, just remember that the best cheap things to do can be ones that will NOT cost you a couple of mortgage payments.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Las Vegas sits here in the middle of the desert and produces absolutely nothing, yet it supports a half a million people. I guess it's a kind of modern miracle something like loaves and fishes." – Alvin Alvarez, The Biggest Game in Town (1983)