How Las Vegas Nickels and Dimes You
Last update: March 2022
Vegas used to be famous for being generous with the freebies. Not any more. As revenues have been declining from fewer visitors, casinos have been looking for ways to squeeze more money out of each visitor—but that just means even fewer visitors, because no one likes to be nickeled and dimed. One study confirmed that lots of visitors feel that Vegas is not as good a value as it used to be, and visitor satisfaction dropped 20 percentage points in 2021 compared to past years. (source, p. 23)
Here are some recent ways that casinos and hotels are squeezing their guests, and probably shooting themselves in the foot by discouraging return trips.
Every strip hotel, and most of the ones downtown, charges a "Resort fee" of $19 to $45 per night, separate from the room charge. They say the fee gets you things like WiFi and pool access, but that's not really true because you can't opt out of the fee and decline those services. If everyone has to pay the fee (and they do), then there's no way to tie the fee to any amenity at the property.
Las Vegas Jaunt has a list of Vegas resort fees.
Properties will comp your resort fee if you gamble a lot. (And finally, since circa 2020, non-gamblers can now earn this comp through meal, entertainment, and shopping purchases at both the MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment group properties, which is 18 Vegas casinos combined.) MGM Resorts waives resort fees for Gold level and higher members, and Caesars Entertainment does the same for Diamond and higher. And if you have Hyatt status, you can use your Hyatt status in MGM's program.
Casino hotels now typically charge for parking. Even if you're a guest at the hotel. Keep that in mind before you decide to rent a car. (Also, that tourists have been shot and killed in parking garages during robberies.)
Paid parking on the strip was debuted by MGM Resorts. (source)
As of Oct. 2021, free parking is still available on the Strip at:
Casino Royale • Circus Circus • Resorts World • Strat • Treasure Island • Tropicana • Venetian/Palazzo • Wynn/Encore
In-room fridge shenanigans
If you're used to having a mini fridge and microwave in your hotel room, you won't get that in Vegas. They don't want you to feed yourself, they want you to spend your money at their pricey restaurants. The hotel might have a fridge stocked with stuff you can buy, but don't plan on emptying it out to put your own stuff in it, because somehow the fridge senses if you've removed something and automatically charges you for it. And if you avail yourself of their offerings, you could be paying up to $8 for a bottle of water.
Charging for early check-in
Standard check-in time at hotels across the U.S. is 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., though if your room is ready before then, most hotels are happy to let you check in early But Vegas hotels increasingly hit you with a $25 charge if you want to check in early. Not a good way to earn customer loyalty.
Policing the "free" drinks
Free drinks for gamblers has been a hallmark of Vegas for decades. Play any game, and before long a cocktail waitress will come around to take your order. (Standard tip is $1.) You could play a penny slot, a penny at a time, slowly, and still drink for free. (I know, I did that as a test.) Well, some casinos are now experimenting with requiring a minimum amount of play to get the free drinks. In those casinos a green light will come on when you've earned your drink, or the machine will spit out a drink voucher. It's not widespread yet, but it could be. It's a buzz-kill, for sure.
Surcharges at restaurants
Several restaurants have added B.S. fees, such as a "Concession and Franchise Fee", which they're not required to charge and which you get nothing of value for paying. (More here, here, here, and here.) Tip: Scrutinize your bill, and ask that any weird charges be removed. They'll generally do it.
One hotel (Artisan) has sneakily added a $3.95 "Utility surcharge" to its bills. What's next, CEO Bonus Surcharge? (more at Vital Vegas)
Ticket processing fees
Sometimes when you buy tickets online there's a "convenience fee" or "processing fee. Well, the High Roller ferris wheel has taken that to a whole new level (no pun intended) (okay, maybe a little), by charging a processing fee when you buy your tickets IN PERSON! (Vital Vegas)
Stingier table game odds
The casinos are tightening up the games, making it harder for players to win, and increasing the average loss per hour.
Most casinos have reduced the payout on a natural in blackjack from 3:2 to 6:5. That makes the odds three times worse. I'm actually sympathetic with the casinos on this one, because even with the "worse" odds, the games still return 98.3% to the player. Blackjack just isn't profitable to offer with a mere 0.5% house edge. However, screwing with blackjack was the first salvo the casinos fired in the nickel-and-diming war, leading to everything else on this page. It also started with 6:5 blackjack.
In 2016, the Venetian added a third zero to their roulette, game, increasing the house edge from 5.6% to 7.7%, 50% worse. The 5.6% was bad enough (in European roulette it's 1.4-2.7%), but the Venetian took an already bad game and figured out a way to make it worse. Lots of other casinos soon followed.
Craps gets crappy
Lots of Vegas casinos used to offer great odds on craps, but not so much any more. Casino Royale had 100x craps, then they removed all their table games. There is now exactly only one strip casino that has better than 3-4-5 odds (which is Strat, with 10x odds).
What to do about this?
If you're not a high roller, skip the strip and even downtown, and head to a locals casino like Orleans or Gold Coast, or anything on Boulder Highway. See Vegas Advantage for a list of which casinos have the best games.
If you're a high roller, the strip and downtown casinos still generally offer good games in the high limit rooms.
Shortchanged payouts on electronic versions of table games
The payouts on some newer electronic games like craps and roulette craps is so low scandalous. Players have an expectation that an electronic version will pay like its table game counterpart. The casinos are apparently counting on that, so they can swindle players.
One roulette game pays so poorly it's like playing 6- or 7-zero roulette. (source)
Some machines pay 92 to 100 on a pass line bet, jacking up the house edge from 1.4% to 5.4% — four times worse. That payout is buried eleven screens deep into the help menu, and even then many players won't understand the significance of the payout info displayed there. (source) Some craps games don't disclose the odds no matter how deep into the help screens you dig. (source)
Many video versions of blackjack are known to pay only 6:5 on blackjacks instead of 3:2, and even worse, that fact is often hidden, rather than being displayed up front. (source) Also, in 2019 I'm pretty sure a video blackjack machine I saw at Encore paid only even money.
An electronic game masquerades as Sic Bo, but it's not really Sic Bo. It seems like it is, but there are differences that aren't obvious to the player. The payouts on the traditional bets are less than at the table version of the game. The game does have some features like multipliers and random jackpots which somewhat mitigate the lower payouts on the main bets, but there's no way to tell what the actual payout of the machine is. Yes, that's true of all slot machines, but this one is pretending to be Sic Bo, and as such, players will have an expectation that it pays the same as traditional Sic Bo. It doesn't. (And incidentally, we've been saying for years that casinos ought to be required to disclose slot odds.)
Making it hard to get your change from slot vouchers
At lots of Vegas casinos (notably Caesars properties), the kiosks will give you bills for your slot tickets, but for any remaining change, they spit out a receipt that you have to walk over to the cage to redeem. This hassle means that customers wind up abandoning their vouchers, and—surprise!—the casino gets to keep the money from the uncashed vouchers. Well, 25% of it; the other 75% goes to the State of Nevada. Casinos still profited $3 million from this in fiscal 2021. (Vital Vegas, LV Advisor)