This is the best year for gambling on the Strip in history—today, Strip casinos still haven’t made as much from gambling as they did in 2007. Tables look much the same, although many casinos now offer party pits like Caesars Palace’s Pussycat Dolls Casino, whose slightly lower odds are offset by attractive, sometimes dancing dealers. Slots have a slight edge on tables thanks to several innovations that gelled earlier in the decade: Bill validators and credit meters made it possible to insert bills and play without cycling coins through machines, and ticket-in/ticket-out removed coins from the equation entirely. Led by Australia’s Aristocrat, slot manufacturers have rolled out low-denomination (penny and nickel) games that let players bet multiple credits across multiple lines. Despite a bill providing a framework for online gaming, it is not possible to (legally) gamble outside of a casino or other locations in Nevada. The first iPhone has just come out, and it doesn’t take a genius to imagine that mobile gambling might be in the future.
It’s taken over a decade, but Cirque du Soleil has gone from outlier to juggernaut. O at the Bellagio, Zumanity at New York-New York, Mystère at Treasure Island, The Beatles LOVE at The Mirage and KÀ at MGM Grand give the Montreal-based troupe five Strip outposts, with Cirque alternatives ranging from Wynn’s Le Rêve to Blue Man Group (currently at The Venetian) to the Sahara’s Matsuri. Broadway is back: Spamalot starring John O’Hurley is at Wynn, The Producers starring Tony Danza is at Paris. Mamma Mia! is at Mandalay Bay, and The Phantom of the Opera is at The Venetian. Long-term residencies have returned with a vengeance as well. Celine Dion at Caesars Palace, Toni Braxton at the Flamingo, Louie Anderson at Excalibur and Barry Manilow at Las Vegas Hilton are a few of the extended-stay entertainers that, with production shows, now dominate the Strip, though a thriving undercard of tribute shows, comedians and variety acts provide something at every price point.
The classic casino lounge, with live entertainment running all week, is on its way out, and nightclubs are rising. Light (Bellagio), Drai’s After Hours (Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon), Pure and OPM (Caesars Palace), Moon and Rain (Palms), Jet (The Mirage), Risque (Paris), Tangerine (Treasure Island), Tao (The Venetian) and Blush and Tryst (Wynn) are the hottest spots, but there are plenty of others: Polly Esther’s at Stratosphere, Tempo at the Las Vegas Hilton and Asia (Planet Hollywood) are lesser known today. Square footage not occupied by nightclubs have been turned over to lounges and ultralounges like Revolution (The Mirage), V Bar (The Venetian) and Tabu (MGM Grand). Led by the Hard Rock’s Rehab, dayclubs are making pools a daytime party zone.