In his 2023 State of the Union address, Joe Biden declared a sudden political war against an unexpected enemy: “junk” taxes. What exactly inspired the leader of the free world to set his sights on the barrage of hidden taxes taking away from everyday consumers? I have my theory: Sleepy Joe must have taken a recent break in Vegas.
For as long as it has existed, Sin City has been guilty of ripping off green tourists. Once upon a time the mob ran crooked games; these days it’s the conglomerate casino chains that use underhanded commissions and other sly tricks to part you from your money. And if you’re not careful, they can add hundreds of pounds to your trip.
Some of the most famous tactics have been around for decades. Anyone who’s been to Vegas before will be familiar with “resort taxes” — the mandatory levy (usually around $40 a night) added to your hotel bill.
In the era of dominant hotel comparison sites, resort fees have become even more useful for big casinos. By passing more of the cost onto the resort fee, they can artificially lower the room rate: thus increasing their visibility when customers sort hotels by lowest price.
Annoying as it is, the resort fee is pretty much part of the Vegas decor. But in recent years we have seen a flurry of new taxes ride the tail.
Go to dinner on the Strip and you may find yourself paying a “concession fee” – bumping up your bill by five percent. Challenge one of Vegas’ notoriously expensive nightclubs, and that $20 Bud Light will now come with a five percent “venue tax.”
It’s also happening on game plans. Once upon a time, blackjack paid 3-2 ($10 wins $15); now he’s increasingly likely to be 6-5 ($10 wins $12). You don’t have to be casino mathematician Michael Shackleton (aka “the whiz of odds”) to figure out that this is a big difference in your potential profits.
For Las Vegas tycoon Scott Roeben – author of the Vital Vegas blog – the deluge of extra taxes is another example of the post-pandemic crunch affecting travelers around the world.
“You have a huge surge in demand right now after the pandemic,” he tells me. This means that casinos use extra commissions to increase their earnings and keep up with inflation.
So how do you enjoy Las Vegas without getting a nasty surprise? Here are ten things to watch out for.
Double check hotel prices
The resort’s flat fee structure (say, $30 a night) means they’ll disproportionately hit budget travelers, potentially even doubling the cost of that “discount” price you’ve been looking for. Comparison sites like Booking.com may mention resort fees, but they won’t actually tell you how much they are. Check the hotel website instead.
Choose weekdays over weekends
It’s no secret that Las Vegas hotel prices skyrocket on Fridays and Saturdays, when domestic tourists flock for a weekend getaway. Likewise, Sunday and Monday fares are often at their lowest. I’ve seen rooms at the excellent Vdara for under £150, or at the Wynn Encore for £200. Both are premium options on the Strip.
Never touch the minibar
For years, Las Vegas hotels have had a dirty secret: Their minibars were equipped with sensors that automatically charged you for removing items (even if you later put them back). These days I’m at least upfront about this accusation. Even if that only makes it harder to dispute the charges at checkout.
Avoid casino ATMs
Unfortunately, ATM fees are a given in the United States. But some of those in Vegas are a different matter. It’s not uncommon to find hotel casinos that charge $9.99 for each withdrawal. Luckily, alternatives aren’t too hard to find, even on the Strip itself. Just venture to your nearest CVS and pay a lot less.
Look for cheap places to eat
Despite what you might think, it’s perfectly possible to eat well on the cheap in Vegas, as long as you do your homework. Some budget options, like the famous Tacos el Gordo, have become a bit of a cliché. But who cares when you’re enjoying delicious asada and salsa for under $10?
Don’t forget your toiletries
You might think you’ll never shop at those casino stores, but you could be wrong. A casino insider told me that hangover remedies like Alka-Seltzer are an especially reliable money spinner. Channel your inner Boy Scout and be prepared for any eventuality.
Head downtown instead
Old folks like to say that downtown Vegas, the bustling cluster of casinos around Fremont Street, is better than the Strip. Actually, it depends on what you’re looking for. You certainly won’t find any pyramids or roller coasters in Fremont. But if you want to drink, gamble and eat for less, this is definitely the right place.
Be on your guard
To state the obvious, Las Vegas is a city worth watching out for. It’s an open secret that casinos are struggling to crack down on opportunistic theft by careless slot machine players. Other hustles are more benign: Those “showgirls” on the Strip will expect you to pay at least $20 for your souvenir photo, but they won’t tell you upfront.
Check menus for hidden costs
One of the worst things about extra expenses is that they are often well hidden. Perhaps even deceptively. A popular Las Vegas drinking establishment (the Beer Park at Casino Paris) hides its 4.7% concession fee at the end of an allergy statement in small print. Unlike city taxes, these can be deducted from your bill, if you’re brave enough to ask.
“Cheap” games can be worse value
When it comes to gambling, we can’t all be high rollers. But sometimes cost isn’t everything. Walking around Fremont Street, I noticed that many cheaper blackjack tables (ie $5 per hand) now have a mandatory $1 side bet. Moonshot odds on the side bet mean you are essentially paying $5 to win $4. Better to play the $10 table.