For millions of Americans who make an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for gambling and good times, 2020 presented several problems. For a stretch, every casino in America closed its doors for the sake of public health, and Vegas was hardly immune to the shutdown. Thankfully, the sights and sounds of Sin City are alive and kicking once again, so many longtime visitors are planning their first trip since last year’s disruption.
If you’re heading to Sin City for the first time in a while, be prepared for five major changes since the last time you saw the place in person.
1 – Most Buffets Have Been Either Closed Down or Scaled Back
Forced to eat hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue due to weeks of closures, every casino – resorts on The Strip and far-flung local’s joints alike – confronted a new reality upon reopening.
Between paying furloughed employees, and competing for a much smaller pool of guests than usual, casinos in Las Vegas were put to quite the financial test. Among the first cost-cutting moves embraced by newly installed Caesars Entertainment chief executive officer Tom Reeg was the closure of all buffets across the company’s nine Strip properties.
“You can’t have nothing. But you don’t need to lose money – certainly nearly as much money as this industry has lost – feeding people.
God forbid they stop at McDonald’s on the way home.”
Thus far, Reeg has proved true to his word, however smarmy and arrogant that word might be. Caesars’ signature properties along Las Vegas Boulevard – including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Harrah’s, and Paris have kept their buffets shuttered to save a buck.
Well, $3 million annually per property, to be precise… if you believe Reeg, that is. In an earnings call with major investors, Reeg used that loss rate to justify Caesars’ very un-Vegas like decision to make buffet dining go the way of the dodo.
The smaller Off-Strip casinos which cater to locals already struggled to compete with the big boys, so almost all of them have followed Caesars’ lead regarding buffets.
As of September 1st, 2021, only 11 of the 50+ smorgasbords of culinary delights which once defined Vegas cuisine remain open:
Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace
Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station
The Buffet at Bellagio
The Buffet at Luxor
Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan
The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas
Market Place Buffet at Rampart Casino
MGM Grand Buffet
The Buffet at Excalibur
Garden Buffet at South Point
Circus Circus Buffet
But before you plan on simply strolling into one of these buffets at your leisure, be sure to check your resort’s website. Even though these venues are open for business, they’re only operating under limited hours as Vegas continues its cost-cutting evolution.
2 – Sin City’s Skyline Has Changed Thanks to Two New Casino Resorts
Back in the ‘90s, it seemed like the The Strip’s neon hued skyline changed with the seasons.
Historic casinos like the Dunes, the Sands, the Hacienda, and the Stardust were summarily imploded, with their imprints soon home to mega-resorts like the Venetian, the Bellagio, Wynn, and Aria.
But until the last year, that rapid pace of replacement and development slowed to a crawl. After the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, more than a decade went by before a new casino hotel tower rose above The Strip.
It finally happened in June of 2021 though, when Resorts World Las Vegas finally opened its doors after six long years under construction. The curved pink exterior of Resorts World, adorned in a seamless array of glass, seems to swirl against the sky day or night.
Built at a cost of $4.3 billion, Resorts World stands alone as the most expensive casino resort in Las Vegas’ storied history. Occupying the footprint where the iconic Stardust once stood, Resorts World spans 117,000 square feet of gaming floor alone. Accommodations are covered by no less than three Hilton hotels which combine to offer over 3,500 rooms inside the 59-story, 673-foot tower.
Resorts World is located on the northern end of The Strip between Encore and Circus Circus.
The Strip isn’t the only Vegas location to experience a major upgrade since you’ve been gone…
Over in the Downtown district, the first new casino tower to rise above historic Fremont Street in more than 40 years is leaving guests’ jaws on the floor.
Circa Resort & Casino held its grand opening ceremony in October of 2020, followed by an opening for the general public in December. Decked out in bright baby blue, Circa is the brainchild of Downtown casino mogul Derek Stevens. Along with his brother Greg, Stevens also owns The D and the Golden Gate on Fremont Street.
Interestingly, Circa has carved out a niche as the only “adults-only” casino in Vegas, so you won’t see any kids around while you have a good time. Circa’s hotel tower climbs 35 stories and 480 feet above Fremont, with 512 guest rooms available for the 21 and over crowd.
3 – Table Game Dealers Have Been Widely Replaced by Machines
If you thought buffet closures were bad, wait until you see what the table game pit looks like these days…
In his latest survey – conducted by physically walking the entire Strip and examining every table in every casino – Vegas-based reporter John Mehaffey made a startling discovery. According to his recordkeeping, Mehaffey notes a precipitous drop in live table games, or tables staffed by a human dealer.
In their place, Mehaffey reports a significant expansion of automated replacements. By cutting dealers out of the equation, the casinos have realized a massive savings vis a vis salary, benefits, health insurance, and other overhead costs.
With this disturbing trend in mind, expect to see your favorite craps table – which once came complete with a four-man crew comprised of a boxman, two dealers, and a stickman – replaced by a “Roll to Win Craps” machine. And if you’re a baccarat enthusiast, don’t be surprised if the trio of dealers you’re used to are gone like the wind, with only a sad “EZ Baccarat” machine in their place.
Based on Mehaffey’s invaluable research, we know that the following casinos on The Strip – all owned by Caesars and operated by the penny-pinching Reeg, by the way – have slashed their live table game inventory:
Bally’s (Pre-2020) 47 tables -> (2021) 42
Cromwell 46 -> 27
Caesars 92 -> 90
Flamingo 67 -> 61
Harrah’s 80 -> 54
Linq 47 -> 33
Paris 95 -> 74
Fans of vintage Vegas definitely won’t appreciate beloved longtime dealers getting the boot, only to have their jobs taken by robots.
4 – Minimum Betting Limits on Most Table Games Are Higher Than Before
Speaking of the table games, if you play blackjack, craps, roulette, or Three Card Poker, don’t be shocked when the dealer admonishes you to up the ante.
For folks like me who came up on $5 minimum tables, realizing that most casinos on The Strip today have adopted a much steeper $15 limit is a tough pill to swallow. Suddenly, a nice crisp $100 bill which used to be good for 20 bets is now worth a paltry six wagers and some change.
Take the Venetian as a perfect example…
On my last trip there, standard double-zero roulette could only be played for a $20 per spin minimum. And the staple Vegas table game, 6 to 5 blackjack, saw its minimum climb from $10 to $15.
This is happening all over town, as casino operators continue to adapt to current conditions. Realizing that most visitors heading to Vegas right about now are serious gamblers, the house is happy to bump its limits up here and there.
5 – You’ll Find Fewer Poker Rooms Replaced With Slot Parlors
Poker players have been witnessing Vegas’ slow, yet steady, purge of poker rooms since 2010.
Following the end of the ‘00s “boom” era, more than two dozen local poker rooms closed up shop last decade alone. And when the troubles of 2020 arrived, low profitability poker rooms were first up on the casino accountants’ chopping block.
In January of 2020, the 35 casinos within Clark County collectively reported income derived from 418 poker tables. But one year later, the January report plummeted to just 21 casinos and 282 tables – “good” for a 33 percent plunge.
The Mirage – which was once famously dubbed the “center of the poker universe” in the cult classic “Rounders” 1998 – shut down for good in 2020. As did poker rooms at the Excalibur, Mandalay Bay, Planet Hollywood, along with Off-Strip rooms at Green Valley Ranch, Palace Station, and Sam’s Town.
As it currently stands, poker room consolidation in Vegas has mostly left only the major hotspots like Venetian, Aria, Bellagio, and Wynn in contention.
Las Vegas has never been a city to rest on its proverbial laurels. The original founders bucked national convention by legalizing casino gambling in the ‘40s. By the ‘60s, mob infiltration led to Vegas becoming a haven for criminal kingpins. The ‘90s witnessed the birth of corporate casino behemoths, and their monuments to excess along The Strip. And in 2021 and beyond, Sin City will continue that legacy by evolving to meet these uncertain times.
Change can be disconcerting to say the least, but don’t worry too much about the five changes found above. Even though she might look and feel a little different the next time you see her, Las Vegas is still one of the prettiest sights on the planet for risk-taking and revelry.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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