The 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign at night
Stuart Bak

Tourist Traps in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is jam-packed with iconic attractions, selfie spots, glittering mega-resorts and celebrity restaurants, each bigger and glitzier than the last. It’s a vast hedonistic adult playground that has taken the phrase ‘24-hour city’ and really (we mean really) run with it. So what’s not to like? Well, there’s always a fly in the ointment, and in this case the primary issue is attractions that are oversubscribed, overrated and overpriced. Of which, let us tell you, there are many. We’ve ferreted out the worst of the Last Vegas tourist traps so you don’t have to. Read on for our guide to the scams and hustles to watch out for, the tourist hotspots you should sidestep, and the best ways to spend your time (and money) instead.

Las Vegas Tourist Traps #1: Strip Attractions

The Paris resort hotel in Las Vegas

Spoiler alert: the Las Vegas Strip ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, there are some eye-popping attractions to ogle, but we’re talking four miles of sweltering tarmac here, along which you can expect to be honked at by angry drivers, besieged by street hustlers, and harassed by ticket touts.

No surprise then that the Strip is also where you’ll find Sin City’s most notorious tourist traps. Take The Venetian, for example. This Venice-themed mega-resort is home to must-see Vegas venue the Sphere. But it’s also where unsuspecting tourists pay top dollar for a short ride down the ‘Grand Canal’ with a singing gondolier and line up for the not-altogether-edifying experience of taking a selfie with wax effigies of Elvis and Celine at the totally overrated Madame Tussauds. The same applies to The Venetian’s pseudo-European cousin just down the road: Paris Las Vegas’s Eiffel Tower replica is good for a free photo or six, but you’ll pay through the nose to ride the elevator to the top and, trust us, there are better views to be had in and around the Nevada capital.

Red Rock Canyon in Nevada

Instead of these oversubscribed and overpriced Vegas tourist traps, get a real slice of the city’s rich history downtown at the excellent Fremont Street Experience, home of the legendary Golden Nugget casino, and near-neighbor to the glittering Neon Museum and interactive Mob Museum – so interactive, in fact, that it comes with its very own subterranean speakeasy, serving real Prohibition-style cocktails! Or strike out for some of the best vistas in the region: at the Hoover Dam; on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon; or on a road trip to Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, or Mount Charleston.

Las Vegas Tourist Traps #2: Hidden Fees

Restaurant worker accepting a cash tip

US tipping culture is out of control, perhaps nowhere more so than in Las Vegas, where the addition of exorbitant sales taxes, resort fees and other hidden costs can prove costly for the unwary tourist. Here’s the lowdown:

  1. Sales tax. There’s a mandatory tax of a little over 8% on food and drink in Las Vegas. The same applies to hotel bookings, where sales tax is upwards of 13%. Taxes are not shown in menu/booking prices, but are mandatory, so it pays to be aware in advance.
  2. Resort fees. Hotels in Las Vegas typically also apply resort fees, especially along the Strip. Seen a room rate that looks too good to be true? It probably is. Resort fees are also not shown in the price, but will often double the final cost of your stay, or worse. Check terms and conditions carefully when booking, and consider taking a room off-Strip at Fremont Street, where hotels tend to have lower resort fees and, in many cases, none at all.
  3. Tipping. You’re expected to pay 15-20% for good service at bars and restaurants. Add that to the mandatory sales tax, and you’re rapidly approaching 25-30% in extras.
  4. Hotel minibars. Thirsty? Resist the temptation of the mini fridge in your hotel room. Prices here are astronomical and items are charged to your room if removed for more than 60 seconds, even if you don’t end up consuming them. 

Las Vegas Tourist Traps #3: Street Scams

Couple kissing at the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign

Wanna see Elvis’s famous lip curl turn into an aggressive snarl? Celeb lookalikes are a scourge on the Strip, tempting unsuspecting tourists into 'fun' selfies before aggressively demanding exorbitant amounts of cash for the privilege. All shook up? All shook down, more like. Avoid.

Similarly, anyone posing as an ‘official City of Las Vegas photographer’ is most decidedly not. Because there’s no such thing. Regardless, you’ll find these bloodsucking leeches creeping around all the big tourist hotspots, ready to part unsuspecting vacationers from their hard-earned cash – the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign is a notorious tourist trap in this regard. Simply ignore these pests and they’ll eventually go away.

Street gambling looks like easy money, right? Wrong. These illegal card sharps know exactly what they're doing and believe us when we say their sleight of hand is better than your eyesight. This is one of the fastest ways to gamble away your cash in town. Don’t be tempted. The same goes for street touts selling discounted tickets for big Vegas shows. Such tickets are good for nothing, and will be refused at the door. Always get yours from official third-party vendors like Tix4Tonight, or buy direct from the venues themselves. 

Las Vegas Tourist Traps #4: Airport Slots

Las Vegas slot machines

Having a flutter is part of the appeal of Vegas, but only if you’re playing just for fun. The odds of a return on your investment at the slots and tables are always stacked in the house’s favor.

That said, your likelihood of winning is greatly increased by confining playing to the actual casinos, where proper regulation means that decent returns are – if not common – at least not unheard of. Outside the casinos, however, it’s a bit more of a lottery (pun intended), meaning slots in convenience stores and malls are just money down the drain. Nowhere is this more true than at Harry Reid Airport, where a captive audience is lured to the blinking lights of the slot machines by, well, boredom. Be aware that returns from slots here ar around 8% lower than in Vegas proper, so that boredom is likely to turn to disappointment fairly rapidly. Read a book instead! Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, anyone?

Las Vegas Tourist Traps #5: Cabs

Yellow cab

This one’s a common hustle. Indeed, anyone who travels anywhere has likely fallen victim to cab overcharging at some time in their life. This is the practice of taking the long way round in order to run up the meter, while oblivious passengers take in the view. In Vegas it’s known as tunneling, and simply asking your driver not to ‘take the tunnel’ will let them know you’re wise to the scam. And if that feels too confrontational for you, just look up the route on your phone to make sure they’re not taking you – both literally and metaphorically – for a ride. You can read our full guide to getting around in Las Vegas here.

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