Las Vegas may be known as "Sin City," but forget the drinking and the women: This is first and foremost a gambling town. The emergence of televised poker six years ago has led to an upsurge in the popularity of the game, but while Vegas is certainly a destination for serious poker players, it's home to everything else as well. So whether you're a seasoned gambler or a first-timer trying to get in on the action, Oyster is here to help you find the best place to play your favorite game.
Play: The Bellagio poker room has been home to the game's elite for a good while now, and it is hands-down regarded as the place to be for cash poker ring games. It features the standard lower limit poker as well as two special higher limit areas where the big boys go to play. Bobby's Room has a $20,000 minimum buy-in and is home to "The Big Game," which has blinds (forced bets) of $4000 and $8000 per hand, and is played by the likes of Ted Forrest, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, and arguably the world's best all-around player, Phil Ivey. The other special area, Club Prive, has more of a lounge-like atmosphere, with a speakeasy-style bar and a handful of very exclusive liquors.
Stay: The Bellagio as a hotel is one of the best on the strip. It features an extravagant five-pool courtyard, formal room service, a superb fitness center and spa, the best buffet on the Strip, and attractions like the indoor botanical gardens and the famous dancing fountains.
Play: Since 2004, when Chris Moneymaker's improbable run at The World Series of Poker Main Event was televised on ESPN, tournament poker has blown up all over the world. Now, poker tournaments are televised multiple times a day on a handful of different channels, so it is only natural that people are itching to try this big risk, big reward style of play. Every casino in Vegas that has a poker room will also have a daily tournament or two, but Caesar's Palace takes the cake with five daily tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $65-$150, and an extra $225 buy-in tournament on Saturdays and Sundays.
Stay: Caesar's features a massive spa with Roman baths, elaborate mosaics and classical architecture around their three beautiful pools, one of the biggest casinos in Vegas, and designer shopping (Bvlgari, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, Valentino, and many more) at The Forum Shops. And no, the real Caesar did not live here.
Play: Craps is a game with a lot of rules, but with so many different ways to bet, it can also be one of the most fun games to play. There is nothing quite as exciting as when a shooter gets on a roll and a big crowd gathers around the table (a scene immortalized in a number of movies). With Tabu and Studio 54 nightclubs right on the main casino floor, MGM Grand has an awesome late-night gaming atmosphere that is perfect for craps.
Stay: As a hotel, MGM Grand also lives up to its "grand" name by offering everything under the sun. It is the biggest hotel, has the biggest casino (171,000 square feet), an enormous pool complex, a very nice workout facility, 14 restaurants, and during the day, a lion habitat with anywhere from two to three live lions on display right on the casino floor (behind glass of course).
Play: Blackjack is probably the best-known gambling game there is, so naturally every casino in Vegas has plenty of tables. But Hard Rock offers one of the most fun settings. There are games not only on the casino floor, but in the water: You can swim right up to the tables at the Hard Rock Beach Club's Poolside Palapa. There are also more tables under the Palapa Hut for players who dig the poolside vibe but prefer to stay dry.
Stay: The Hard Rock features nightly live music acts, a rock 'n' roll memorabilia collection, grotto pool with beaches and water slide, and free access to Vegas' best pool party, Rehab (on Sundays).
Play: If you're a sports bettor, then where you go all depends on what each sports book offers, but it's hard to beat the spectacle that is Lagasse's Stadium at The Palazzo. This bar & grill/sports book combines Emeril Lagasse's famous cuisine with more than 100 HD TVs, including the main 9 foot by 16 foot main TV. There are luxury boxes, plush stadium-style seats, billiard tables, and an outdoor patio. It's an exciting and comfortable way to experience the adrenaline of a sports book.
Stay: The Palazzo also boasts huge 720-square-foot standard rooms, 15 restaurants, the world-renowned Canyon Ranch Spa, and seven beautiful pools, all steps from The Strip.
Play: With a good players club, continual promotions, and a reputation for having the loosest slots in Vegas, The Palms is a definite favorite for those who love to play the slots. For the most part, all casinos have a lot of the same machines, so your only decision should be about where you are most likely to get paid off -- and it looks like The Palms is it.
Stay: The off-the-Strip Palms has one of the best party scenes in Vegas, with a popular party pool scene and the famous rooftop Ghost Bar.