Travelin' with the Cougs, 2013 Pac-12 Tournament Edition: Las Vegas, Nevada

Robert Laberge

You've already been once this year for football, why not make the trek back to see the best basketball of the Pac-12 season.

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You may recall our critically acclaimed series during football season where we highlighted each of the cities the Washington State football team would be traveling to. This included a September trip to Sin City, better known as Las Vegas, Nevada. As you can see if you clicked the link (but I'll assume you didn't because if you're like me, it's an awful long way to move the mouse and expending that much energy could lay you up for days) we've already gone over what there is to do in a city that bills itself as the entertainment capital of the world.

Would it have been sufficient to just repost the aforementioned article? Probably. But if you give me an excuse to write about my favorite spot to vacation, I'll take it.

We'll start you off with the basics. In March of last year, Larry Scott announced the tournament would be leaving its then current home at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for the next three years. The conference had considered other cities, including Seattle but ultimately settled on Nevada's largest metropolis. Las Vegas is certainly grabbing as many postseason tournaments as possible with the West Coast Conference, Western Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference and Pac-12 all hosting their tournaments there. The final three tournaments listed all occur simultaneously so expect The Strip to be full of basketball fans. Whether the move to Las Vegas increases attendance and interest obviously remains to me seen but it seems like its created some sizzle and we all know how much Bill Moos likes sizzle. Now just find him some steak, not that he has to go far for it.

Las Vegas, Nevada Vital Statistics:

Population: 1,951,269

MGM Grand Garden Arena Capacity: 17,157

Random Fact: Howard Hughes stayed at the Desert Inn so long, when he was asked to leave the hotel, he bought it.

Random Fact #2: As recently as 2009, nearly 19,000 conventions were hosted in Las Vegas.

Don't worry about a shuttle or public transit to get to your hotel when flying into McCarran Airport as a cab is about $10 to $20 to most hotels on the Strip. When you went down for the football game in September, temperatures were in the 90's and you could sweat out the beer you were drinking. The climate is decidedly cooler in March with the average high hovering just short of 70, much more tolerable.

Places To Stay:

(Note: Average Nightly Rate assumes Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night stay.)

The Mirage Resort and Casino

Hey, if it's good enough for Clark Griswold, it's good enough for me although I don't think the Snapple lady is still a blackjack dealer there. The Mirage is a great, well-appointed hotel with above average rooms, some of which have been renovated in recent years. The pool and accompanying bar are some of the best in town so any time you spend outside will be good. The sports book is above average as well with plenty of betting windows on plenty of screens to display all the conference tournament games that will be underway. Minimums for table games go no lower than $10 and are frequently higher so if you're hoping that $20 will last you a while, it won't.

Kayak Average Nightly Rate: $134

Excalibur Hotel Casino

This particular accommodation will always have a special place in my heart since it's the first place I ever stayed in Las Vegas. It's location for the tournament is hard to beat, sitting kitty corner from the MGM but at a much lower price. Some of the rooms are a little on the older side but are still comfortable. A few rooms have gotten the Bob Villa treatment and are in better shape and you can typically upgrade at check in as well. The pool is serviceable with a decent bar but it's nothing breath taking. The casino will go a little easier on your wallet with the occasional roulette or craps game to be found for just $5. Beware though: tons of families stay here so if you don't like being around kids in Las Vegas, you're not going to like it here.

Kayak Average Nightly Rate: $118

Flamingo Las Vegas

It's at the best corner on The Strip and its been there since just after World War II making it the oldest resort on Las Vegas Boulevard. The hotel's lay out is odd to say the least with many different expansions over the years that were built without much foresight as to where more may occur. The Flamingo's features some renovated rooms that make it a more comfortable hangover recovery area. The Flamingo's pool is huge with plenty of palm trees to give it a paradise feel. Plus, they have actual flamingos out there. Betting minimums are usually pegged at $10 but if you look carefully you might be able to find a $5 table on a weeknight.

Kayak Average Nightly Rate: $111

Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino

Located just a short drive off the Strip on the other side of I-15, the Rio is one of the tallest hotels in the city and every room is huge. Most are over 600 square feet which make them larger than my first apartment and perfect for a game of "the floor is lava". Not that I'd encourage this because it's against every hotel's policy but if you wanted to house eight people in here on air mattresses, it's big enough. The crowd can be a little on the older side and the quality of the pool reflects that. Your minimums will tend to stay in double digits with nary a $5 table to be found. The hotel does have a very cool bar, Voodoo Lounge, on the 51st floor with a deck overlocking all over Las Vegas which makes for very cool views at night.

Kayak Average Nightly Rate: $104

Cheapest Places To Gamble:

The Quad Resort and Casino

It used to be called Imperial Palace and I have no idea why their changing the name to a synonym for four. It's currently under going a rather large renovation and because of that, the minimums will usually stay a little lower. With my favorite cheap places to gamble, O'Shea's and Bill's gone for the next year or two, this one of the final bastions of cheap gambling hope on the Strip. Plus, you really don't want to go to Casino Royale. It's a place so depressing even Ernie from Sesame Street would need a Zoloft prescription.

Hooters Las Vegas Casino and Hotel

It right across the street from the MGM so once you're done watching basketball, you can drown your sorrows in a place that is named after an incredibly overrated and subpar restaurant. They advertise $3 blackjack on the marquee, er, chalkboard, but there's usually only one or two tables that have vultures hovering around waiting for someone to get up. Otherwise, limits are usually at a Lincoln but don't expect much from this place. It's a postage stamp of a casino and I would say that it has seen better days but I'm relatively certain the place looked old the minute it opened.

Slots-A-Fun Casino

If you don't like table games, this is place for you. There are none. The only games that exist inside are of the slot variety and if you want a drink, you're going to have to get up and get it. Want to redeem your payout ticket? Go inside Circus Circus which is right next door. In the encyclopedia entry for 'no frills', a picture of Slots-A-Fun is right there. But, it's unbelievably cheap to drink and gamble. So there's that at least.

Best Sports Books:

Bally's Las Vegas

This is easily one of the largest books in town with at least two dozen screens and tons of seating with individual screens so you can keep a closer eye on whichever game you prefer. A nearby restaurant can help fill your stomach as your wallet empties. The only problem is the location, requiring a sherpa, two pack mules with 100 pounds of supplies and other goods to trade with the natives for the other worldly items your monarch has commanded you bring back from your expedition. Alright, it's not that far but it is at the back of the casino and a long walk from the lobby.

Las Vegas Hilton

You could probably fit the Bally's sports book in a corner of this one. The Hilton has worked hard to brand this as the best and biggest sports book in the city and they've done an excellent job with tons of TVs, both big and individual and plenty of betting windows. About the only draw back to this particular place is its location off the Strip, just to the north of the convention center.

The Palazzo

The Palazzo attaches a celebrity chef's name to their sports book, Lagasse's Stadium, in an apparent attempt to bring in people who are enamored with short, balding men who yell loudly when they drop white onions in a hot pan. This book is very cool though, with stadium seating couches in front of a giant TV. The celebrity chef name means, in theory, the food is good but it's also expensive.

Las Vegas Do's and Don't's

DO walk the Strip for no other reason than to walk it

Grab a beer or your adult beverage of choice and just take a stroll down a street that can quite literally show you a cross section of each and every culture in these United States. The super wealthy with more botulism in their face than a Middle Age fiefdom all the way to guy who goes to a family reunion to pick up chicks, they're all here.

DON'T go to the ATM after you lose a ton of money

The entire city was built because of people doing exactly this. Remember: no matter how good you think you are at your chosen game, the casino wouldn't put a game on the floor in which they don't have an advantage. Once you lose all your money, get up and walk away. You're not going to make the money back by withdrawing more cash.

DO destroy a buffet of your choice

Vegas is famous for its buffets. Americans are famous for eating enough food in one sitting to feed an entire Ethiopian village for a month. Or the Olson twins for that matter. I'm not a big fan of going to buffets on a regular basis but when you're in a city built on excess, it's almost a requirement. Avoid the carbs which you can get anywhere and make sure you load up on about 39 pounds of steak and shrimp.

DON'T trust a soul who is trying to sell you something

Everyone who is holding a brochure or a brightly colored thing to put around your wrist is to be avoided. The club reps who are yelling at you about the "great deal on a table with no cover" are being only slightly more truthful than Oliver North at a Congressional hearing. As for those thickly accented and smelly men promising you a free ride to the "gentlemen's club", just don't. You'll end up in the middle of the desert as the driver looks for a good place away from the cops to swap narcotics and counterfeit Social Security cards with a man named "Lucky" but you'll know it's ironic because the guy is missing an eye and wearing a torn up track suit.

DO hunt down the best drink bargains

Unless you're going to a club in the evening, there's no reason to overpay for a drink in Las Vegas when there are so many cheap ones to be found. A couple of casinos, typically the ones where you can gamble cheaply, have bargain basement prices on hooch. For instance, the aforementioned Casino Royale might be the most depressing, soul sucking, Charles-Manson-would-love-it-here type of place but they have Michelob for a dollar. Throw down a fiver and you're day will get a lot better. Hooters also has some decently cheap drink specials along with Harrah's and The Quad. There's no reason to pay $7 for a beer in Vegas, especially when you can go to a CVS, pick up a 12-pack and fill your sink with ice for a homemade beer fridge.

DON'T try to recreate The Hangover

I've heard a few friends indicate over the years how desperately they'd at least like to recreate some part of The Hangover whilst in Las Vegas. Trying to make it happen won't make it happen though. If you spend your time obsessing over finding a stripper to marry or a small Chinese man to steal $80,000 in chips from then stuff in the trunk of an old Mercedes, you'll miss out. The nice thing about Vegas is you can let it come to you and plenty of insane crap will happen. Like trying to break up a fight between a Wyoming and New Mexico fan at Denny's at 3:30 AM and getting slammed against booth divider for your trouble. That happened to my friend, uh, Michelle. Yeah, Michelle.


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