Save Money On a Trek to Tahoe

Las Vegas is the commerce capital, but the unquestioned jewel of Nevada is Lake Tahoe. You may have heard that the lake is spectacular, but until you’ve seen it in person, you can’t possibly understand just how much so. Add that it’s about 30-40 degrees cooler up there and you can understand why those who are able to sneak up for a weekend now and again do so. OK, so it’s a beautiful getaway—what about the deal?

Saving money on a trip to Tahoe starts with getting there. If you can deal with the seven- to eight-hour drive, that’s the most economical route, but there’s also a potential play if you fly. You have to fly into Reno to get to Tahoe, so Southwest is the dominant carrier. But you’ll get lower fares if you fly Allegiant. It means traveling Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays, and probably facing some of Allegiant’s fees (“that’ll be $15 for air”), but it’s worth it: I snagged a $77 one-way ticket on Labor Day weekend when it was $250 and higher everywhere else.

Both the North and South Shores of Lake Tahoe have casinos, but South Shore is the main area and the one discussed here. Like Vegas, it’s a mix of casinos and video poker bars, only in a mini version, with just five casinos total: Harrah’s, Harveys, MontBleu, Hard Rock and Lakeside Inn.

Most gambling towns have at least one casino that embraces and markets value, and at South Shore, that place is the Lakeside. The first thing you’ll want to do is join the players club to get a $5 match play and a free drink. It’s not the greatest new-member incentive in the biz, but you get it once-per-day every day of the year! That adds up. Food specials include a $5.95 ham and eggs with one of those monster slabs that you can’t finish, and a $19.99 prime rib and lobster. If you bet sports, you’ll love the line variation at Lakeside’s independent sports book, and, ta-da, there’s no resort fee at the hotel.

Other noteworthy deals I fell over for include $1 dogs and $2 beers or Patron shots at Hard Rock during football games, Win Cards with a $15-for-$10 bonus at Harrah’s and Harveys, and a flat-out killer burger at the Lucky Beaver bar next door to Harrah’s. That one’s 12 smackers, but I’d pay it again.

Tahoe is no Reno for gamblers, but it has its points. Low rollers will find plenty of $5-minimum tables scattered around, and between Harrah’s and MontBleu, you can play 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.54 percent return), from 25 cents to $25. Video poker players can also do a cool little run to collect sign-up bonuses at the bars heading up the mountain behind MontBleu. Then it’s back to Lakeside to play its nightly poker tournaments with entry fees starting at $35.

Did I mention that it’s 30-40 degrees cooler up there? Bring a jacket!

Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and