Modern Las Vegas began as a destination for gamblers.
Gamblers and their habits paid for everything, and everything was priced and structured to keep the gamblers happy and gambling.
Today, however, lots of people who don’t gamble come to Vegas, and the pricing has changed to reflect that reality.
A week in Las Vegas today will probably cost you between $1,200 and $3,500 per person.
Why has this formerly inexpensive gambling town become so expensive?
Why Is Vegas So expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Not Everyone’s A Gambler Anymore
People don’t necessarily come to Vegas just to gamble anymore.
In fact, a recent study by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors’ Authority found a growing number of visitors who weren’t there to gamble.
While Vegas once let gamblers and their spending pay for the high-end rooms and fabulous entertainment, today, all of that has to pay for itself now.
Once gambling ceased to be the primary source of income for Las Vegas, those costs previously supported by gambling profits had to be covered more directly.
Thus, as gambling becomes less of a factor in the economics of Vegas tourism, everything else becomes more expensive.
It’s the simplest of economics: if it costs $100 to achieve my goal and the source that used to give me $75 now only gives me $40, I have to make up the $35 from other income in my business.
The de-emphasis of gambling among Las Vegas guests has created exactly that situation.
2. Resorts Affect Prices
In 1989, the first genuinely luxurious resort hotel in Vegas opened as The Mirage.
No longer just a place to sleep between bouts of gambling, the resort not only has a great casino but also offers shows, restaurants, spas, shops, and other attractions.
The idea was that you could stay at The Mirage for a weekend or longer and never leave the property.
Everything you could possibly want was available at your hotel.
The Mirage was so successful that other owners began to copy Wynn in bringing in non-gamblers to enjoy high-end attractions.
As more and more entrepreneurs and businesses wanted to open their own casino hotels, land prices in the strip skyrocketed, increasing the costs for everything on that land.
3. Celebrity Chefs
Early in the Rat Pack era, Vegas was famous for good quality cheap food served in ways that kept you at the tables.
As the celebrity chefs came to work at the new resort hotel restaurants, the food became the destination.
Aimed at the new elite Vegas visitor, these celebrity chefs sold star-quality food and priced it accordingly.
Yes, there are lots of fast food places where you can eat cheaply, but if you’re looking for an actual sit-down restaurant, expect to pay more than $50 per person without the current rampant inflation.
In the celebrity chef restaurants, you can figure on close to three figures per person, plus drinks.
If you don’t want to spend Wolfgang Puck-type money, many of the hotels have buffets that will run you around $40 per person.
That’s not cheap, but far cheaper than veal medallions in whatever sauce with baby corn at a celebrity place.
You can also save by ordering appetizers instead of full meals and, during the day, picking up inexpensive snacks and skipping that sit-down lunch.
Also, just like with your room and your airfare, you can save money by spending some time online.
All sorts of discounts for all levels of restaurants can be found and reduce your costs.
Also, if you make lunch your main meal of the day instead of dinner, you’ll find that the menu is cheaper, often for much the same food, and you may score some specials on drinks as well.
On the other extreme, many places in Las Vegas offer graveyard specials for eating after midnight.
That will provide cheap food and drinks.
4. Hidden Fees
Even if you think you’ve gotten a bargain price on your room, it will cost more than you think.
Every hotel will add a Las Vegas resort fee to the daily cost of your room.
Thus, you can have a very inexpensive $50 a night room, but they put a $39 resort fee on it and then add 13% in taxes.
Your $50 room is now just over $100 a night.
Depending on where you stay, those fees range from about $15 a night to over $50.
For what it’s worth, the Super 8 only charges $11 and change, but if that’s the highlight of your Vegas vacation, that fee is the least of your problems.
In other words, in a town with more than 150,000 rooms, your choice ultimately controls your Las Vegas costs.
You can choose that Super 8, use your hotel room for sleeping, and spend your time and money on the Strip.
On the other hand, you can decide you want the resort experience and go for spending your money there, and you will pay.
According to reservation aggregator Booking.com, the average cost for a room in one of the high-end resort hotels is more than $800 per night.
Don’t forget the cost of tips as well.
Your wait staff, room cleaners, bellhops, and others are all working near minimum wage and will expect you to tip in the range of 15 to 20 percent.
Thus, that $500 meal at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant will cost you $600 when you top it off with a 20% tip.
With luck, you will find a branch of your bank with an ATM in Las Vegas.
If not, you’re going to spend a little extra every time you get cash.
That hotel ATM will add a service fee of around $5 on top of the one you pay your bank for using someone else’s ATM.
Not only are you paying those resort fees, but if you decide to take advantage of the fridge and snacks in your room, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Many hotels will charge you for putting your stuff in the mini-fridge, some as much as $50 a day.
Some minibars even have sensors that will charge you if you move items in the fridge.
If you do take something, not only will you have an outrageously expensive piece of stale candy, but you may well be charged a restocking fee on your room bill.
At high-end hotels, you’ll likely pay $4 to $5 for a soft drink, $7.50 for nuts, and $3.50 for regular salty snacks.
Even the bottled water sitting next to your television is not free.
Bring in what you want and, if it’s available, consider renting a mini-fridge for your room.
It will cost less than a couple of bottles of water.
On the other hand, it’s generally most cost-effective to book directly with your chosen Las Vegas hotel.
Not only will they probably match that super cheap price you found on a hotel rental site, but they may even give you a hefty discount on top of that match.
If it’s your first time in Las Vegas or an anniversary or birthday, you might get a free upgrade just by asking at check-in.
One of the very few things that don’t cost anything in Las Vegas is asking for a free upgrade—and you just may get it.
There are also lots of discount programs available.
AAA has discounts, and many of the hotels offer discounts to students, teachers, first responders, and active and retired military.
Finally, make sure to do all your booking with a credit card, not a debit card.
The hotel will put a hold on a significant sum for your room deposit and other fees, reducing your access to ready cash should you need it.
5. Rising Drink Prices
Drinks at the casinos and hotels on the strips average around $10 per drink.
If you leave the strip and find some local hangouts, you can save a lot on drinks, but your hotel probably isn’t going to be that place.
Once again, your mini-fridge is to be avoided, with alcohol mini bottles around $7 and mixers around $3.00, leading right back to that $10 drink.
Most beer will cost around $7 to $10, while mixed drinks go for about $12.
A trendy Red Bull drink will set you back a whopping $18 to $20, and even bottled water will cost $8 to $10.
Don’t forget that your hottest club in town may also have the highest cover charge in the city, so keep track of that expense.
If you’re planning on really making a drinking night of it, consider booking a club tour.
You’ll save some money overall on drinks and covers.
Also, people in your hotel lobby will be handing out discount passes.
These may cut your costs, get you past the waiting line, or just give you a free drink.
Take the cards when offered. If you don’t use them, there’s no cost to you.
In the old Rat Pack era, the shows were just to occupy the gamblers between hands.
The entertainment was excellent, with people like Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin showing up regularly at reasonable prices.
Today, the show will be fabulous, and it will be expensive.
High-end entertainers, tired of being on the road, establish extended residencies in Vegas and do regular, expensive shows in return.
Plus, there are attraction shows like Cirque du Soleil, running seven different shows simultaneously.
By the way, the standard price for that is $59 to $79 per person.
A star like Jennifer Lopez offers her show at a range of $146 to $202 per person.
Either way, your entertainment budget needs to be pretty substantial.
Sinatra and the Rat Pack began the era of elegance and fancy dress in Las Vegas.
Vanquishing the small western town forever, they created an atmosphere where entertainment could grow to be as important as gambling.
It should also be remembered that, to Sinatra’s credit, at a time when most black stars could not stay in hotels on the Strip, Sinatra began addressing discrimination in a World War II short film about racial and religious discrimination.
He carried these ideas into Vegas, rushing to work at clubs that would not admit audience members of any race.
Sinatra refused to play at any club that did not admit audience members of any race.
In the mid-1950s, many hotels across the United States blocked Sammy Davis, Jr. and other black performers from staying in the hotels or eating in their restaurants when they were performing there.
Again, Sinatra was adamant that members of his entourage must be able to use the hotels and restaurants where he was playing.
His insistence on equality was reflected in his onstage work with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop as regulars in his entourage.
Essentially, Sinatra used Las Vegas to make integration cool.
You can purchase most of the attractions and shows by performers in Las Vegas today at reduced prices by spending some time online.
You can search for discounted tickets for the show or performer you want to see, or you can book a package that includes most of what you want to do.
In addition to seeing shows, you might want to see some of the other attractions around Vegas.
Of course, most of these aren’t free, either (though the Bellagio fountain is).
The Mob Museum, where you can learn about the former owners of Vegas, goes for about $30 per person, while a helicopter flight over the Strip will go for about $80 per person.
In fact, if you don’t want to spend money on entertainment, there are all kinds of free shows and free attractions available.
If you’re not particularly interested in gambling or resort hotels, Las Vegas offers other attractions, but these, too, can be expensive.
The Neon Museum, although free for children under six, is mostly in the $25 to $40 range for adults.
For something a little more exciting, you can see the Shark Reef Aquarium which, with taxes and fees, will cost you at least $30.
By the way, the fees and taxes include entertainment ticket fees, service charge fees, transaction fees, delivery fees, and facility fees.
In other words, take the price you see advertising with several grains of salt.
8. Growing Family Atmosphere
Vegas used to be pretty much a grown-up town.
You and your significant other shared a room and gambled.
Now, not only are you going to shows and eating sky-high meals, but you also very likely have children with you.
Twenty-one percent of visitors do bring kids.
You either have to find activities at your hotel to keep them busy, be with them all day, or take them to all the expensive attractions you go to.
In any event, if you have a spouse and two kids, you’re easily spending hundreds a day just on food and a larger room.
Entertainment that will make your kids happy is often not cheap.
The Lion King can cost more than $100 per ticket.
Lance Burton’s magic show ranges from $50 to $75.
The Blue Man Group can be well over $100 per ticket.
Many Vegas visitors with kids, however, stress that it is considerably less expensive than taking the family to a Disney resort, so while the visit may not be cheap with your kids, it may be a whole lot cheaper than standing in line waiting to meet Tinkerbell.
9. Operation Costs
As the Las Vegas casinos have become resort hotels offering immersive and stunning experiences, the costs to build and maintain them have risen commensurately.
For example, the fountains at the Bellagio, a free attraction, cost an estimated $40 to $75 million to build and somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 a month to operate.
While it is obvious that the fountains bring guests and tourists into the hotel for shopping and dining, they also represent roughly $5 million a year that has to be recouped somewhere else.
On the other hand, you can buy control of the fountains for a night for the bargain price of $250,000.
It only takes 20 people a year to do that to cover the annual cost of the fountain.
An equally splendid Las Vegas site is the Paris Las Vegas experience.
It cost $760 million to build this Parisian-themed hotel which features its very own Eiffel Tower made with fake rivets to look like the Paris original.
Undiscounted prices start at about $100 per night and head up from there to several hundred a night, plus all the usual fees and taxes.
10. The House Usually Wins
Gambling is pretty much an inflexible cost.
You bet what you want to bet on the enormous range of games and prices the casinos offer, and the house still wins most of the time.
The average person then proceeds to lose $500 per trip in Las Vegas.
That may not be all that much higher than it ever was, but it does still add a chunk of change to the cost of the trip.
At least there, you’re not also paying for the kids to gamble, just the spouse, taking that number up to around $1,000.
Gamblers also tend to play the same game for too long.
Although the odds are the same on each hand or quarter in a slot, there are separate odds of continuing to do whatever you’re doing—like winning.
After playing for a long while at any game, those latest odds turn rather heavily against you.
One of the reasons people lose so much is that they tend to play the easy games, like slots, that have the worst odds of winning.
Studies show the house has about a 35% built-in edge over the guest.
A neat little profit margin, even if the customer base is shrinking.
Still, casinos are businesses, and to stay in business, they have to make more money than you do at gambling.
In that sense, gambling in Vegas is expensive too.
Focus Your Spending And Have Fun
In the end, Las Vegas is going to cost money and more of it than it once would have done.
If you take time to spend on the things that really matter to you—that show you just have to see or that restaurant you’ve always wanted to try—you can find other ways to cut the costs and still have a less expensive time in Las Vegas.