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In celebration of the debut of Las Vegas'... [Continued]





LAS VEGAS FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently-asked queries we receive about Las Vegas, with their answers. If you have a burning question that's not addressed here or elsewhere on our site, please feel free to submit it to our Question of the Day column, where every day we tackle a different topic about Las Vegas and/or gambling submitted by our readers.


Q: Is it legal to consume alcohol on the street and/or in a cab?

A: When it comes to alcohol consumption, this city has some of the nation's least restrictive rules. We checked with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. and they confirmed that it's fine to wander down the Strip –- or any other street in town –- openly swigging your beer or sipping a cocktail; no brown paper bag required. It's also absolutely fine to bring your drink into a casino, but generally, it's not acceptable to take a drink from outside into other licensed properties, such as bars or clubs, which make their money from serving their own liquor. Of course, no property is too thrilled if you try to take out a drink in their glassware, but most are happy to supply a to-go cup if you want to leave before you've finished.

Drinking while in a moving vehicle is another story. According to Nevada's Open Container law (NRS 484.448), it's "unlawful for a person to drink an alcoholic beverage while he is driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle upon a highway" or "for a person to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage within the passenger area of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is upon a highway." However, this law exempts "a motor vehicle which is designed, maintained or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation, or to the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer." In plain English, legally it's okay to drink while you're the passenger in a cab, shuttle, bus, or limo -- provided that it's a fare-charging vehicle -- or in the back of an RV (if your cabbie says no, quote him the statute). Some companies have their own restrictions, however: For example, for the safety and comfort of their passengers, the city's Citizens Area Transport (CAT) buses have a no eating/drinking/smoking rule, and alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the Strip monorail. Note that it's also unlawful to drink alcohol: (a) Within one thousand feet of the store from which liquor, beer and wine was purchased in closed containers, except on residential property; (b) In any parking lot; (c) On the property or premises of the establishment from which the closed container of liquor, beer or wine was purchased.

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Q: Am I allowed to take pictures/video in a casino?

There's a long-standing reluctance to allow any kind of photography in gaming areas. This is partly a security issue, both to stop people recording information that might facilitate a robbery and to prevent possible cheating scams (spycams have been used in the past to transmit information about cards to accomplices located outside the casino, who then relayed the information back to the players, for example). It's also to prevent potential invasions of privacy and attendant lawsuits. When visiting Las Vegas, a lot of people tell their spouses or bosses that they're going somewhere else, so if they accidentally get caught on camera throwing money around at the gaming tables or cozying up to the babysitter and end up in trouble for it, they may well sue the casino that allowed this to happen. Vegas is all about escapism and letting your hair down, and the presence of cameras can make people nervous when the casino wants them to relax and forget about everyday responsibilities. So, not surprisingly, a lot of places don't permit photography at all, particularly of gaming areas or the casino cage. Others are more relaxed, especially if you want to take a typical touristy snapshot with a statue or other attraction. If you're discreet and quick about it, you can often get away with a picture here and there (especially with the advent of camera-phone technology), but be prepared to be shut down if you're caught. If you happen to see a security guard in the vicinity, it might even be worth asking permission first, if you're desperate to get a particular shot – if you get a friendly one, they might even take the picture for you.

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Q: How much do I tip a cocktail waitress/bellman/dealer etc.?

For this, perhaps the most frequently-asked of all Las Vegas FAQs, let us redirect you to our Tipping Guide, where a panel of experts explain their personal tipping credos and what they believe the going rate is. Armed with this information, you can decide what you think is fair.

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Q: I know they can't play, but are my 18-year-old and his girlfriend allowed to watch me gambling?

A: Legally, no. The same age restrictions apply to gambling as to drinking: 21 is the minimum age and the casino risks a big fine if minors are allowed to loiter on the gaming floor. The resorts are laid out in such a way that it's virtually impossible to get from A to B without passing through a gaming area. Hence, it's okay for someone underage to walk through as long as he or she is accompanied by an adult over 21, and clearly in transit. Of course, the closer you are (or look) to 21, the better your chances of getting away with hanging around in the casino, or even gambling. Casino personnel -- including dealers when you walk up to a table -- will ask for ID if they're suspicious, but they don't check everyone. But if you gamble and win and turn out to be under age, you won't get paid, so why bother trying?

Although there's plenty to do with the kids, Las Vegas is essentially an adult playground and many hotels won't even allow you to book a room if you're not at least 21. The minimum drinking age is as rigorously enforced as it is for gambling, if not more so. It's common practice for people in their 30s to get carded. Don't expect to get into bars or clubs without valid ID. An exception to this is if the venue has a clearly demarcated eating area, separate from the bar, and you're there to eat. Other exceptions include the Flirt Lounge at the Rio, which admits all Chippendales ticket holders (the show has an age restriction of 18 and older), and some concerts at the Joint at the Hard Rock and Mandalay Bay's House of Blues, which are open to all ages (check with the venue before you purchase tickets, to see if an age restriction applies). Last but not least, if you want a truly adult night out, all-nude strip clubs that don't serve alcohol will admit patrons 18+.

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Q: Why can't I use my cell phone in or near the race and sports book?

A: Some people think that the cell phone ban in sports books has to do with the federal prohibition against transmitting gambling info over phone lines. But that's not the reason. What it has to do with is messenger betting. Sports-betting syndicates used to station people in sports books around town and when they wanted to bet, for example, $50,000 on a game, they'd call up the "beards" at each book, who'd then bet the max the sports book allowed. By having 10 people, say, betting $5,000 each simultaneously, the syndicate could get the $50K down before the line moved in response to the big bet. Sports books complained to the Gaming Control Board, which put into place a number of rules, including the ban on cell phones in sports books.

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Q: Is prostitution legal in Las Vegas?

A: No. As part of the general clean-up of the city's image, initiated in large measure by Howard Hughes, and to safeguard the revenues from gambling, in 1971 state legislators passed Statute 244-335 (8), rendering prostitution illegal in counties with a population of more than 250,000. That same year, the first handful of sex ads appeared in the Yellow Pages phone book under Escort Services. By 1975, three pages of explicit ads left nothing to the imagination. The ads rotated among different categories: Dating Services, Massage Parlors, before finally settling on Entertainers. And that's where it stands today: A man calls a phone number listed in the Yellow Pages, or a sex rag from newsracks lining the Strip, or cards handed out by smut peddlers on the sidewalks, and a girl shows up at his door. It might be illegal, but Las Vegas tradition still tolerates it.

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Q: Are any of the casino pools open to non-hotel guests?

Yes, but only one of them admits children. Here's the list:

  • The Beach Club at the Hard Rock, which is a cool pool with swim-up blackjack and lots of beautiful people, offers a $20 day pass to non-hotel guests. Kids are welcome with an adult, but there are no age-related discounts -- it's $20 for all. During the summer it's home to the famous Sunday Rehab pool parties, with a cover of $30 for men, $20 for non-local women, and $15 for local women, with free passes for hotel guests and hot chicks. Be warned that it's less kid-friendly on Sundays during Rehab season.
  • Bare at the Mirage is one of the classic new breed of outdoor venues where the boundaries between pool area, ultralounge, and nightclub tend to blur. While others of this ilk, like the brand new Tao Beach at the Venetian, are guest-only during the day, then open to all for a cover charge at night, Bare is open to anyone over 21 every day. The age restriction applies not only because of the bar, but because it's "European style," i.e., topless sunbathing is permitted. Hours are Thurs.-Mon., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. with $40 admission for men and $30 for women, while Fri.-Sun. it's $30 men/$20 ladies. There are live DJs all day but no gaming or spa services.
  • The Venus Pool Club at Caesars, operated by the PURE management group, is open to the public and Weds.-Fri. there is no cover. Sat./Sun. the cover's $20 for guests and non-guests alike and there's alive DJ from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed-Sun. As it's a topless pool area, you have to be 21 or older.
One last tip: If you really want to go for a swim and your hotel doesn't have a pool, or not one that's open, a number of the spas in town have their own pool, including those at the JW Marriott in Summerlin, South Point, the Las Vegas Hilton, and the Ritz-Carlton out at Lake Las Vegas, and all of these are open to the general public. If you don't mind paying the admission fee, which ranges from about $15 up to $45 for non-hotel guests, depending on the spa, then this is another option worth bearing in mind. For more information, check out our Spa section under Visitor Info.

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Q: What's the check-cashing policy in Las Vegas casinos?

A: Each casino cage has its own way of doing business and many factors are involved in trying to cash a check at a casino. The one thing they all agree on, however, is the check-cashing requirement of a valid photo ID and at least one credit card. Since most properties only cash certain types of checks, you may not be able to cash all types everywhere, including payroll, personal, cashiers, or travelers checks. We didn't find any, for example, that accepted cashiers checks. Some properties will not allow you to cash a check there if you've cashed one somewhere else within an allotted period of time. Some cages insist that you have to be a guest and/or player at that specific property in order to cash a personal check there, although this doesn't by any means apply universally.

If you're not a guest and/or a player, most casinos have their own check-cashing card you can get (but this may take up to 20 days to process), while others may charge a fee. The amount for which you're able to cash a personal check varies and depends on the check-guarantee system the casino uses and your credit rating. Since some of the casino cages use the same check-guarantee companies, you wouldn't be able to cash a personal check at one casino, then go to another casino and cash a personal check there if they use the same company. In order to cash a payroll check, the company you work for and the bank they use have to be in that casino's system. To be on the safe side, we recommend that you contact the property for confirmation before you rely on being able to cash a personal check anywhere.

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Q: Can I cash my chips at a casino other than the one where I won them?

It depends. Many casino cages will cash a limited amount of low-denomination chips from other properties, especially if they're in the same "family," but they don't like to. There are practical reasons behind casinos' reluctance to accept "foreign" chips. For starters, ultimately all chips need to be cashed at the casino that issued them, so if you don't do it, the casino to which you hand them over will have to take care of getting them back to their home casino. This means physically sending someone out on a periodic "chip run," visiting every casino whose chips their property has acquired -- and that requires time and money. Casinos also like to keep their own chips on property as a way to keep track of what their players are up to. For example, after a successful night, a favorite ploy of gambling teams (whether honest professionals or cheating crews) is to divvy up the spoils and send the team members out to different properties to cash them in. That way the casino they've hit can't be sure how much was won and by whom -- exactly, of course, what management wishes to avoid.

Although casinos are fiercely competitive with each other with regard to taking your money, they also tend to stand together when it comes to protecting themselves from undesirable players. Having a players card from the casino that issued the chips will sometimes help to smooth the process; it shows you're known to that property. But if a player presents chips either of a high denomination (over $25), or which total a large cash value, any cage will almost certainly run a Central Credit check to see if there's a "hold" on them for any reason.

Why would there be a hold on chips? For one, a casino might suspect that its chips were acquired in a dubious manner. For another, the player might have an outstanding marker at the casino that issued them and is trying to cash out, at another property, what's left in his pocket, rather than putting it toward settling his debt. If for any reason the chips presented are shown to be on hold, they will not be accepted. What if you want to play your chips rather than cash them in? Usually, before you can sit down at a table, you have to exchange them for house chips at the cage.

Those are some general points to bear in mind, but specific policies vary from property to property. Since there are so many potential restrictions, our advice is to cash your chips in when and where you win them. All that said, the bigger the player you are -- or appear to be -- the more accommodating any casino will be. If it's a choice between accepting chips from another establishment and seeing you walk out the door, most places would prefer you to stay and might make an exception.

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Q: If I find a casino chip on the floor, is it mine to keep?

A: You might think that the answer to this question would be unambiguous, but in fact it's something of a gray area, since it isn't actually covered by law. According to NRS 120A.135, a 1989 addition to the law governing Abandoned Property, this statute specifically does not apply to unredeemed gaming chips or tokens. Likewise, although all chips and tokens are officially the property of the casino that issued them and thus in theory should be returned if found, in practice it seems that if someone has exchanged their cash for a token and then lost that token, the application of that rule becomes somewhat hazy. The only applicable provision of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board's Regulation 12 governing Chips & Tokens states, "A licensee shall not redeem its chips or tokens if presented by a person who the licensee knows or reasonably should know is not a patron of its gaming establishment" (12.060). This appears to put the onus on the casino to figure out whether you'd gambled there when you found the bounty and if so, it seemingly does not apply whether or not you won that specific chip.

Having verified which laws don't apply, we called the Gaming Control Board in an attempt to get some kind of official line on this, only to be told it's the law of "finders keepers" that pretty much applies in such instances. Of course, the casino would prefer you to hand in the token, so that it can be returned to their chip stack, but how often is security going to know for sure whether you're picking up a chip that you dropped yourself or one that you just happened to spot on the floor? And how is the person at the cage going to know whether you found it or won it? The only time that Regulation 12.060 might come into effect would be if the chip was of a relatively high denomination in terms of the establishment norm (i.e., $500 might catch the attention of a downtown cage, but it might take a $5000 chip to arouse any suspicion at the big Strip joints). If the casino suspected that a large chip was not yours, then they would be within their rights to question where and when you won it and would be able to verify this from the records at the table where you claim to have gotten it. But if it's a chip worth $100 or less, it's much harder for them to trace, since so many of them are in play at any time and it probably wouldn't be considered worth the time or effort to verify ownership.

When we checked with the security departments at various casinos to see what their in-house policy was in practice, we found that it varied from property to property. Some agreed with the "finders keepers" rule, while at others it was in theory mandatory that you hand over what you find to security. In these instances, if the money remains unclaimed after a certain period of time (anything from 15-60 days, we found) then it's yours to keep. To conclude, although the casinos we spoke with did not appear to have stringent negative policies in place with regard to the keeping of money or chips that you might find on the floor, other properties may take a dimmer view of this. The practice of "silver mining" or "slot walking" (deliberately scouting the machines for money or TITO tickets inadvertently left behind) is generally looked upon as lowlife behavior and in some casinos is specifically outlawed.

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Q: What is the absolutely least expensive time of the year to spend a few days in Vegas?

There are two prime discount months: July and December. The combination of the intense summer heat and kids being home from school depresses visitation in July, while preparations for the holidays cause December to be slow. The absolutely least expensive time, however, is the week or so before Christmas. There's a five- to ten-day stretch (varies from year to year, depending on the calendar) between the big National Finals Rodeo convocation and the Christmas rush, during which the casinos practically give away their rooms, discounts and deals abound, and crowds are thin. (Even the traffic is lighter.) Every year for 15 years or so, we've called around for the best room rates during this Golden Week and the rates have been number one in the LVA's Top Ten. Last year, 25 casinos had nightly stays for less than $40 in this period, and seven had rooms for under $30. Note that a number of Las Vegas shows are dark during this period and that few, if any, special events are taking place. But if you simply want the best values, shortest lines, easiest bookings, and potentially better weather than the rest of the country, plan your trip for this period.

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Q: What do I do if I forget to cash my winning slot/sports ticket before I leave town?

On the back of every race and sports ticket, there's information explaining:

1) How long the ticket is good for*
2) How to mail the ticket in for redemption

*Note that these time-limits can vary for race tickets as opposed to sports tickets, and this holds true even at the same casino.

If you need to mail in a ticket to redeem it, you should do it by registered mail, so it arrives at the casino before it expires. The casino is legally obliged to pay you within 10 days of receipt of your winning ticket.

Expiration dates vary widely. According to Gaming Control Board Regulation 22 governing race and sports pools in Nevada, tickets must be honored for a minimum of 30 days after the conclusion of the event (which is the policy at Leroys, for example), but this period may be extended at the discretion of the book. Currently, the longest permitted redemption period is found at select Reno properties, where tickets are good for one full year. The industry standard is 60-90 days.

In practice, 95% of race and sports books will honor a winning ticket even after it has expired. However, a small percentage will not, so it's never advisable to let a ticket expire. Additionally, even those books that pay out on late tickets would probably be reluctant to accept one dated from a significantly long time ago. Here's a cautionary tale from fellow contributing expert and racing authority, Barry Meadow: "One time I had a winning ticket that was good for six months. I forgot about it, then tried to cash it just a few days after the expiration date, and was refused. Unclaimed ticket money reverts to the state and runs in the millions of dollars each year." Ticket in/Ticket out (TITO) coinless slot/video poker tickets also carry a "sell-by" date. The expiration date is printed on them, as is the address to mail them in to, and generally ranges from 30 to 90 days from when the ticket was issued. As with most race and sports books, if you have a ticket that's expired and you explain your story to the person in the change booth, he or she will usually agree to cash it, but don't take this for granted.

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