Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

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Top 10 Ways to Get Ripped Off in Vegas (And How to Avoid Them)

News came out last week of an investigation by the legislature into the practice of long-hauling in the Las Vegas taxi industry, where drivers take unsuspecting passengers on a less-than-direct route in order to boost fares. The investigation found rampant abuse with an estimated $15 million in over-charges and problems with nearly 1 in every 4 rides originating at the airport.

But taking the long way in a taxi is not the only way that Las Vegas visitors get ripped off and it's not always in the form of illegal activity. There are lots of ways that travelers get taken advantage of but the good news is that there are ways to avoid them, too.

1. Taking a Cab in Vegas

Most cab drivers in Las Vegas are honest, hard-working people doing a job that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Seriously... can you imagine having to drive around the types of (often drunk) people that you see wandering around Vegas on an average Saturday night? No thank you.

But there are also some less-than-reputable drivers out there who are looking for an easy mark that they can cheat by taking them on routes that can increase the fares dramatically. There's an article in the Vegas4Visitors Resources section all about ways to avoid getting ripped off when in a taxi but the short version is this: know where you're going. There are lots of online tools that can provide routes and estimated taxi fares in cities around the world including Vegas, so don't get into a cab before using them.

Beyond the cheating concept, though, is the problem with taxis in Vegas in general, which is that they are simply too expensive. Las Vegas taxi rates are among the highest in the nation and relying on them as your primary mode of transportation around the city will cost you more money than you need to spend. Unless you are not planning on ever going anywhere that requires some form of transportation other than your feet, renting a car is almost always more economical than taking taxis everywhere.

2. Hotel Resort and Other Fees

The proliferation of resort fees at hotels in Vegas has caused more than a little bit of anger among visitors, with mandatory nightly charges being added on to hotel bills for services that many people don't even use. The spread on The Strip is complete - every major hotel-casino now charges one - and it is filtering out around the city as well. Add on top of that the other fees that are popping up for everything from late check-out to making a reservation by phone and they are turning a bargain hotel room into an expensive nightmare.

So how do you avoid the fees? By broadening your horizons and doing your homework. Most people are creatures of habit and will stay at the hotels that they always stay at regardless of if they could get a better deal elsewhere. Look around - there are more hotel rooms in Vegas than in any other single city in the world so you certainly have lots of options. There's a handy chart on Vegas4Visitors.com that lists out all of the major hotels in Vegas, what resort fees they charge (if any), and what it covers. Then go beyond that to research what other fees might be associated with your stay and which ones you might get hit with. For instance if you are planning on using the Internet at a hotel without a resort fee, be prepared to pay a daily charge that will approach what you would've paid for the resort fee elsewhere.

3. Hotel Mini-Bars and Room Service

We've all been there... you've had a long day in Vegas and now you're back in your room at midnight in your jammies all comfy and cozy and suddenly you realize you're hungry or thirsty. Your eye wanders to the stocked mini-bar or the room service menu. Don't do it!! The markup on items in hotel mini-bars is obscene, with that little container of M&Ms costing you three or four times what it would cost in your local grocery store. And while it is convenient for people to bring you food, those room service rates, extra charges, and the sometimes mandatory gratuities can turn what should be a $5 burger into a $25 meal.

Put your clothes back on and go get something to eat if you absolutely must or think ahead and bring provisions with you back to the room. But be careful where you get those provisions...

4. Hotel Sundry Stores

They are usually found near the guest room elevators and they look innocent enough; shiny little stores with everything from chewing gum to sewing kits all for your convenience. And hey! You don't even have to pull out your cash or plastic! You can just charge it to the room!

It's not until later that you realize you just paid $8 for a bottle of water and $4.50 for a small tube of Chapstick.

It's not always easy to anticipate your needs in advance but stock up on the basics before you leave for Vegas and you won't get stuck having to pay the ridiculous prices these sundry stores charge. If you do find yourself in need of something from one of these places, stop at one of the roughly nine bazillion Walgreen's or CVS stores on The Strip these days. Yes, you'll still pay more than you will at your local Walgreen's or CVS but you'll save in the long run.

5. Chain Restaurants on The Strip

Speaking of paying more than you will at your local version of something, you should know that buying a Quarter Pounder or a Grand Slam on The Strip falls into that category. People eat at chain restaurants because they are familiar, convenient, and usually cheaper than other restaurants but in Vegas you have so many dining options at so many different price points that you really have no reason to get over-charged for the same old thing.

6. 6:5 Blackjack

For most of the existence of the game, getting dealt a blackjack (10 or face card and an ace) meant getting a 3:2 payoff. So if you bet $5 (remember when you could bet $5 on blackjack?!) you would win $7.50.

Then a few years ago the casinos started getting stingy and started changing the payout to 6:5 meaning that same $5 bet only got you $6. Purists howled, the casinos didn't care, and now 6:5 blackjack is everywhere.

The good news is that there are still plenty of 3:2 tables around town you just need to know where to look for them. Do a quick online search for Vegas 3:2 blackjack and you will find many sites with listings of 3:2 tables. If you plan on playing, you should actively seek them out.

7. ATM and Cash Access Fees

Getting money in Vegas is not a problem. Keeping it is a whole other problem but so too is the fact that you have to pay for the privilege of accessing your own money. There are ATMs roughly every five feet in most casinos but using them means paying a fee of $4-6 per use at the point of transaction and potentially $2-5 more from your own bank. So that $20 you want to take out of your checking account? It could cost you $10 to get it.

And if you want to take a cash advance from your credit card or do point of service transaction from your savings or checking, be prepared to pay as much as 7% of the total in fees.

The obvious way to avoid this is to bring cash with you from home but that's not always realistic and can create a safety and security issue. The other option is to use traveler's checks and plastic for everything but that's not going to do you a lot of good when you find one of those 3:2 blackjack tables. You could go off and find a branch of your own bank in Vegas if there is one but that'll probably cost you more in taxi or gas than it would if you just went ahead and paid the ATM fees.

So really the best way to avoid excessive ATM fees is to make sure that you aren't using them over and over and over. The $5 transaction fee is the same regardless of whether you are taking out $20 or $500 so take a look at your anticipated needs for the next few days and not the next few hours. Do it right and you'll only have to pay the $5 once.

8. Gambling without a Players Club Card

This is a way that you cheat yourself. Every casino has some form of a players' club - a loyalty program in which you earn points that can be used toward comps on everything from hotel rooms to buffet passes to show tickets and more. Even if you aren't big time gambler, being a member of the club can earn you discounts just for signing up and showing up. You will get some junk mail (either of the physical or e-variety) with offers for things in which you have no interest but that's what the recycling bin and the delete key are for. It costs you nothing to join and if you are planning on spending a penny in a casino you absolutely should.

9. Nightclubs

The club scene in Vegas is big business with a disproportionate number of the highest revenue hot spots in the country found here. The way they make all that dough is obvious. Want to go inside? That'll be anywhere from $30-50 please. Want a drink? How about $8 for a domestic beer and $15 for a mixed drink? Feel like sitting down? You can usually only do that in the VIP areas where bottle service often starts at around $500.

If you're a party until dawn type and just won't be satisfied unless you are at the hippest, hottest club in town then there really isn't much you can do to avoid the charges except this: if you are a girl, be hot and if you are a guy, be with a bunch of hot girls. That'll often get you into the club for free. After that you're on your own.

For everyone else, I am not suggesting that you need to sit quietly in your room with your hands folded in your lap. There are lots of places to go out and have a good time, get your dance on, and generally throw your hands in the air like you just don't care that won't cost you a fortune. Hotel lounges are often free and frequently have really fun live entertainment. There are also lots of bars and clubs outside of the expensive hotels on The Strip that are much more affordable and much less attitudinal. Check out the Nightlife section of Vegas4Visitors.com for some suggestions.

10. Organized Tours

I want to be clear here... I am not suggesting that organized tours are, in and of themselves, rip offs. Some of them can be entertaining, informative, and, above all else, easy. But by and large you will pay more and see less on these sightseeing excursions than you would have if you just did it yourself. Plus setting your own course means being on your own schedule and not beholden to that of the bus driver.

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Top 10 Best Pools in Las Vegas

Last week, Travel + Leisure Magazine published another one of their popular, sure-to-inspire-discussion, lists - this one about the best pools in Las Vegas. It was a strange mix of party-spot day clubs and more Average Joe swimming holes but it had what I thought were some fairly glaring exclusions. So, I decided to make my own list. In alphabetical order...

Bellagio

Lounging beside the classically designed pool at Bellagio is like getting a little sun at an Italian villa, albeit with hundreds of other people nearby. Still, the landscaping, the comfy lounging areas, and the sparkling waters are impossible to resist.

Caesars Palace

Not satisfied with just one pool, the Garden of the Gods at Caesars Palace features eight pools, each with its own attitude. One is just for VIPs and overlooks all the others, another gets a lot of sun, a third doesn't get much, one features swim-up blackjack, and one has a covered colonnade in the center for cooling off. Choices are good things.

Cosmopolitan

Overlooking The Strip from the fifth floor of the hotel, the Boulevard Pool is one of the coolest in town. The crowd can be a bit intimidating at times - seriously, do you spend all day at the gym? - but the modern vibe and fun attitude more than make up for it.

Encore Las Vegas

There are two pool experiences at Encore Las Vegas and choosing between them depends on what kind of mood you're in. The Surrender pool at the front of the property is more of a party spot even when there isn't an actual party going on but its gorgeous design and relaxed atmosphere make up for it. The main pool behind the casino is more of a grown-up, luxurious experience.

The Flamingo Las Vegas

Probably the most lushly landscaped pool in town, it's one of the few where you can find actual shade (if you get there early enough to claim a prime spot). A classic.

The Golden Nugget

The Rush Tower pool has a swank infinity design overlooking the main pool on the ground floor, which while small still gets the job done and has plenty of lounging space nearby. In between the two is the thing that makes this pool really cool: a water slide that goes through a big shark tank! Come on... how can you resist that!

Green Valley Ranch

This is probably the most beautiful pool in town, partly because of the design, which emphasis sleek links and resort level amenities, but also because of the view of the Las Vegas Strip in the distance.

The Mirage

Battling The Flamingo Las Vegas for the lush landscaping title, the pool at The Mirage is like a South Seas oasis complete with lots of lounging areas and multiple areas to splash around in.

Mandarin Oriental

While the Cosmopolitan pool has a cool view, the pool here at Mandarin Oriental has a commanding one. Located on the 8th floor overlooking The Strip, you will want to bring your (waterproof) camera.

Red Rock Resort

This beautiful pool deck in the round seems to have been designed with an almost Zen-like quality, encouraging relaxation and mellow good times.

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Hotel News & Notes

Planet Hollywood has a new owner... sort of. Caesars Entertainment, the company that owns the property, is partnering with two investment firms to spin off a new company that will include all of Caesars interactive assets including the World Series of Poker online, a proposed casino in Baltimore, and the Planet Hollywood Resort.

Caesars Entertainment is retaining the majority interest in the new company and will continue to operate Planet Hollywood so from a guest point of view there will be no change.

The deal is worth a reported $500 million.

Meanwhile, the recently shuttered Gold Spike in Downtown Las Vegas will be reopening within the next couple of weeks but not as a hotel or a casino. Instead it will only be a restaurant and bar operating under the Gold Spike name for now.

It is expected that the hotel rooms will be renovated to become micro-living units that will be used primarily for guests and employees of Zappos.com, the online retailer whose new headquarters are under construction in the former city hall across the street.

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Gay Marriage Bill Passes in Nevada Legislature

Gay marriage has been getting a lot of headlines recently, from its wins at the ballot boxes last November to the case under consideration at The Supreme Court. But it was still a surprise last week when the state legislature took the first steps toward legalizing gay marriage in traditionally conservative Nevada.

The state Senate approved the measure by a 12-9 margin and it is expected to easily pass in the Assembly as well. It will require another vote by both houses next year and a public vote in 2016 before it can become law.

Although issues of equality are certainly at the forefront of the discussion - one state senator came out publicly for the first time during the debate - there is another factor contributing to the push: economics.

Las Vegas is considered to be the marriage capital of the world with more weddings per capita than any other city. Lured by the easy-to-get licenses, omnipresent chapels, relative affordability, and occasional Elvis impersonator officiating, more than 2.5 million couples have been wed in Vegas since 1970. That's more than 60 marriages per 1,000 residents or roughly eight times the national average.

With states like New York and, if the Supreme Court rule goes as expected, California getting into the gay marriage business it is on track to become a billion dollar industry in the next decade. Nevada wants its share.

The infrastructure is already in place. Most major hotel chapels already offer non-legally binding gay commitment ceremonies. Some, like Wynn Las Vegas, have entire websites devoted to the gay and lesbian market. The independent chapels around town are more hit and miss with some actively marketing to the gay and lesbian audience and others avoiding it all together. The Viva Las Vegas chapel, home of the wacky themed weddings, bills itself separately as the Gay Wedding Chapel of Las Vegas so not only can same-sex couples have their commitment ceremony there they can have it done with a disco theme.

Public opinion on gay marriage is shifting in its favor but 2016 is a presidential election year. Nevada is a swing state so both parties will be out in force for whomever their candidate is and that could have an impact on the planned public vote scheduled for that year.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Hunger Pangs Award of the Week goes to the Burger Palace at The Quad (formerly Imperial Palace), which has closed as a part of the hotel's remodeling project. No word on what will replace it yet.

The Whole Lotta Shakin Award of the Week goes to the Fremont Street Experience, which will host the 4th Annual Las Vegas Ultimate Elvis Contest May 10-11. Elvis impersonators will perform against one another for a chance to compete in the national Ultimate Elvis contest in Memphis in August.

The Anybody Got a Light Award of the Week goes to the Cirque du Soleil themed nightclub Light, which was supposed to open at Mandalay Bay this past weekend but didn't. Delays in getting the place ready have forced a delay in the debut until Memorial Day weekend.

The Splash Down Award of the Week goes to Cowabunga Bay, the under-construction water park in Henderson that was supposed to open this summer. Construction challenges have forced the project to postpone that opening until the spring of 2014. The competing Wet 'n' Wild park on the west side of town is still on track to open Memorial Day weekend.

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Nightclub Review: Body English

Body English is back! For awhile in the mid-2000's, this was THE club of the moment; a dark and cozy space that replaced the Hard Rock's first stab at a nightclub Baby's. The club closed a couple of years ago to let its sister Vanity rule the roost at the hotel. But the powers that rock decided that one club wasn't enough and B.E. is back, positioned as a smaller, more intimate alternative to the mega-club madness elsewhere (including right upstairs).

The space, located down a flight of stairs (or elevator) is a riot of energetic design and layout with crystal chandeliers, rich fabrics and woods, mirrors on the walls, and luxe furnishings adding up to a distinctly gothic feel. It's the club Cher and Ann Rice dream about. The layout is great, with a balcony overlooking the main dance floor and bar areas and intimate seating and VIP booths/rooms everywhere you turn.

Moody atmospherics have been added in the form of performers (usually beautiful women) who pose and cavort in various places around the club. The night I visited there was a woman dressed in "Little House on the Prairie" style pajamas on a stand-up swing out front and a woman in a cat suit hovering on a platform above the cash register. Odd but interesting.

Back in the day there weren't as many clubs to compete with so that meant getting in here was often a frustrating, time-consuming nightmare. Now the crowds are a bit thinner, which I think is a good thing. There are still plenty of people to make the club feel busy but not so many that you can't find your own personal space after standing in line for hours just to get in. One thing that hasn't changed are the high cover charges and drink prices.

I liked Body English before and I like it even more now. It used to be the painfully popular nightclub in town and now it feels like the alternative to them. That's a good thing in my book.

Body English
Hard Rock Hotel
4455 Paradise Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89169
702-693-5555
website
Hours: Fri-Sat 10pm-close
Vegas4Visitors Rating: A-

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