Travelers in the market for a bargain vacation may find that heading to a casino is a safe bet -- even if they don't plan to gamble.
More casinos have opened in recent years, even as consumers cut back on gambling. Commercial casino revenues totaled $35.6 billion in 2011, a 3% increase from 2010 but still well below the $37.5 billion peak of 2007, according to the American Gaming Association, an industry group. "People are on budgets, and we are an industry that depends on discretionary income," says Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., chief executive of the AGA. Data also suggests casino vacationers aren't just there to gamble. According to a recent survey, 76% of casino visitors ate in a fine restaurant, 62% saw a show or concert, and 46% went shopping. In fact, Fahrenkopf says, about a quarter of visitors didn't gamble at all. "People are coming, but they are spending their money on other things," he says.
As a result, casinos have been competing for gamblers' and travelers' dollars, slashing hotel rates and sweetening the deals with resort extras. July hotel rates in Las Vegas are down 9% compared with last year, to an average of $69, according to Hotwire.com. At Luxor, rates are up to 35% off, plus a $25 food and beverage credit for visitors. In Atlantic City -- where rates are down roughly 25% this year -- Revel is offering packages including a room and two tickets to artists such as Nickelback and Def Leppard for as little as $195. Even smaller gambling markets have their share of deals: in New Orleans, which ranks 15th in the AGA's top-20 list, hotel prices fell nearly 7% last year, according to Hotels.com. Harrah's New Orleans has starting rates of $79 a night, including access to the buffet.
But the deals are getting slimmer as economic pressures ease, Fahrenkopf says. "You could go, in 2009, to almost any major hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and get a room for $175 that came with a $75 certificate for any of the restaurants," he says. "That has changed a little bit." The more successful casinos are at pitching themselves as destinations for activities other than gambling, the fewer extras consumers might see. Here's what to look out for:
Monitor resort fees
Some casinos charge daily resort fees of as much as $25, which can cover WiFi, access to the pool and other amenities. "I would caution people to not only look at what discounts you can get, but the added fees that can appear," says Pierre-Etienne Chartier, vice president of Hotwire.com. It might be a better value to pick a casino with no fee, than one with a discount that tacks on the fee after the fact.
Book in advance
Casinos are big on early-booking discounts, so take advantage, says Courtney Scott, senior editor of Travelocity.com. Caesars Entertainment, for example, is currently offering 25% off at Harrah's Casino, Showboat and Bally's in Atlantic City for travel September through December. MGM Las Vegas has a 25% discount with a $75 dining credit for stays through January 31, 2013. But many of the deals offer fast booking windows of just two to five days, she says, so travelers may need to check back often and then book fast.
Compare amenity pricing
Casinos have focused on bringing in well-known chefs, big-name concert tours and high-quality spas, Fahrenkpf says. Values can be excellent, especially if credits or other discounts are on the table as part of the room package. Midweek package rates at Morongo in Cabazon, Calif., start at $169 for a room, $50 spa credit, $30 gaming credit and two buffet passes. Casinos also tend to have lower prices on concert tickets, compared with other venues, says Mike Janes, chief executive of ticket search engine FanSnap.com.
That's when you'll often see five-star properties with rates of less than $100 per night, Scott says. In Reno, center city casinos charge as little as $30 per night midweek, versus $55 on weekends. Some packages are also limited to midweek.