When you step foot on the famous Las Vegas Strip for the first time, the entire experience can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Everywhere you look is another amazing destination waiting to be explored. Within a short walk, you’ll pass through the Parisian cityscape complete with a faux Eiffel Tower, the palatial estate of Roman emperors, and the hulking skyscrapers of New York City. Fountains are dancing in time to the song serenading street-side onlookers, couples are floating happily through romantic canals straight out of Venice, and the iconic neon lights surround you in sensory overload.
The sheer variety of amenities and attractions lining Las Vegas Boulevard make The Strip practically impossible to appreciate fully on your first try – or even your second or third. With 28 unique casino properties clustered so tightly together, and crowds numbering in the tens of thousands all trying their best to reach the next dot on the map, navigating The Strip is a tough ask for Sin City rookies and regulars alike.
Fortunately for readers, I’ve just returned from a unique opportunity to stay on The Las Vegas Strip for two weeks’ worth of gambling, dining, shopping, and shows. Blessed with such an extended stay, and a burgeoning bankroll thanks to a fortuitously timed Wheel of Fortune jackpot on my first day, I decided to check out all 28 casinos on The Strip for myself.
That reconnaissance mission brought me to places I swore I’d never step inside. There were places with pleasant surprises that belied their “Plain Jane” exterior, and awe-inspiring monuments to what mankind can achieve with unlimited money.
I came, I played, and I conquered. So to speak.
So, now I’d like to share my thoughts having returned home to real life.
Earlier on, I put together a list of the seven best Vegas Strip casino resorts. These properties were deemed the best of the bunch, in my book at least, and I strongly encourage every Las Vegas visitor to experience their delights for themselves.
That list was followed by seven more venues I classified as the Vegas Strip mid-tier contenders. These casinos were perfectly respectable, and in certain cases even preferable, in terms of their accommodations, casino environments, amenities, and non-gambling entertainment options, despite not making the top seven cut.
With exactly half of The Strip lineup now covered, it’s time to dive deep into the seven casinos I’ve deemed the disappointing duds.
So, strap in and get ready for a full tour of the seven casinos on The Strip that simply failed to impress. With that said, however, these rankings are based solely on my subjective experience as a veteran visitor to Las Vegas. When you hit The Strip for your next adventure, by all means, make a point to spend a session at these venues and come to your own conclusions.
15 – MGM Grand
Here’s the thing about the MGM Grand: this place wants to be a mega-resort casino like Bellagio and Caesars Palace so badly, but it’s just not up to snuff.
Ambition isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but when guests are forced to pay top-tier prices for an inferior experience, that’s where I draw the line. Part of the problem is MGM Grand’s operators and staff seem to be stuck in the 1990s, an era when the iconic “Lion’s Roar” entrance and other cutting-edge features made the property one of The Strip’s most preferred destinations.
But that was 25 years ago, and while MGM Resorts has sunk billions into luxurious alternatives like the Aria and the Bellagio, the company’s flagship casino has struggled to keep up. From the rundown poker room running $65 daily tournaments, to rooms that lack even basic amenities like a mini-fridge to keep your baby’s bottle cold, the MGM Grand is just lackluster across the board.
You wouldn’t know it from the prices though, what with every bar, restaurant, and gift shop relentlessly charging exorbitant rates.
And on a final note, be sure to check the boxing and mixed marital arts (MMA) schedules before you book a night at the MGM Grand. When these sporting events come to town, this place becomes a madhouse, even by The Strip’s standards for debauchery and drunken revelry. I already lived in a frat house for two years way back when, so struggling through crowds of dazed and confused fight fans all evening wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.
16 – Treasure Island
Another relic of the 1990s “boom era” of The Strip, Treasure Island doesn’t seem to have changed much in more than two decades.
Well, it has changed in a few ways, but always for the worse…
Remember that full-fledged pirate ship show put on out front in “Buccaneer Bay” back in the day? Well, if you don’t, this was something straight out of Disney or Universal Studios, a swashbuckling adventure show complete with trained actors raiding a ship, fending off cannon fire, and making folks walk the plank.
Cool attractions like that used to be what made The Strip so special, because visitors who didn’t come for the gambling could still feel thrills that can’t be found anywhere else.
So, I was sorely surprised to find Buccaneer Bay a shred of its former self, with nothing going on except the slow spread of algae along the concrete floor. The huge wooden ships are still there, tucked away in a corner and growing barnacles by the day.
The whole scene is just really depressing, especially for folks who knew Treasure Island in its glory days.
Throw in an extremely generic rebranding effort—they call it “TI” nowadays and the old pirate theme has been practically erased from existence—and I just can’t think of a good reason to bring your bankroll to Treasure Island these days.
17 – SLS (Soon to be Sahara)
Between 1952 and 2013, the SLS of today was a true Las Vegas landmark – the Sahara.
I used to call the Sahara my home away from home whenever I was in Sin City. I have a special affinity for the old digs. That may color my low opinion of SLS, one of the most uninspiring casino resort names I’ve yet encountered. Supposedly, SLS stands for “Style, Luxury and Service.” And while that trio of goals is certainly admirable, every casino on The Strip is supposed to offer all three in abundance.
SLS decidedly does not, so much so that many Las Vegas tourists don’t even know it’s a full-scale casino. Instead, most passersby mistake SLS for one of the few non-casino hotels in The Strip area, so they walk right by without even taking a second look.
Earlier this year, Las Vegas locals and regular visitors alike were thrilled to learn that the SLS would be renovated and rebranded as Sahara Las Vegas, so here’s hoping the second edition can blend the old gal’s unique charms with a modernized setting down the road.
18 – Luxor
Wash, rinse, and repeat…
And if I’m being honest, I really wish the housekeeping staff at the Luxor lived by that motto more than what I saw.
Yet another retread from the 90s that hasn’t tried to keep up with the times, the Luxor is still coasting on its reputation from 25 years ago when it was the hot new property on The Strip. Nowadays, though, the Egyptian theme just feels played out and overdone, while the casino and amenities are barebones affairs throughout.
19 – Cosmopolitan
The Cosmopolitan falling this far on my list was surprising even to me. Full disclosure, a particularly nasty front desk agent might’ve clouded my judgment just a bit.
Relatively new with a 2010 opening date, the Cosmo is all about high-class ambience and elite entertainment. Well, it’s supposed to be anyhow…
When I learned that the Cosmo earned the “Best Hotel in the World” designation by Gogobot in 2013, followed by the Condé Nast Traveller “Top Hotels in the World” rating in 2015, I was excited to experience this one for the first time.
Unfortunately, the staff here seems to have bought into that status a little too much because they treated little old me like an outcast from the get-go.
Of course, I realize that this could’ve very well been a one-off deal wherein I encountered the wrong employees on the wrong day. Nonetheless, it’s my list and I’m sticking the Cosmo here at #19. Nobody visiting The Strip should feel like they’re asking for too much with the exorbitant price points and polished reputation advertised here.
20 – New York New York
One more on the “it’s the ‘90s calling” list, New York New York is a casino so bland and boring they named it twice.
To be fair, nothing at the New York New York is really so awful that I would warn readers to stay away. But on the other hand, nothing here is so worthwhile that I’d recommend a visit either.
Everything from the casino to the accommodations is standard fare – nothing more and nothing less.
But because the NY-NY tends towards the overpriced side of the spectrum, paying a pretty penny for “nothing special” feels like more of a rip-off than other low-end venues on The Strip.
The only true selling point is how the New York New York provides a fun place for kids to enjoy their time in Las Vegas. A roller coaster and a full-scale arcade complete with carnival games will give the kiddos plenty of opportunities to pass the time.
21 – Excalibur
What can I say about the Excalibur without sounding too harsh?
This medieval castle-themed casino sticks out like a sore thumb, almost like a satirist was asked to render the most ridiculous concoction for gamblers to reside. The whole scene inside is tired and outdated.
Unless you have children who are currently in their “Knights of the Round Table” phase, coming to the Excalibur is a losing proposition for all involved.
Hey, you can’t win them all, right? Every gambler who makes their way to Las Vegas and tests their luck learns this hard truth early on. It’s especially applicable to the seven casinos listed above. These venues suffer from different drawbacks across the board, but the one common thread is a lack of effort.
When you know budget-minded travelers will continue to come, and your operation is strapped for cash in its own right, creating a world-class experience for guests just doesn’t come easily. For that reason, I can’t really blame these duds for disappointing, but I can also choose to bring my bankroll for The Strip somewhere else.
With more than a dozen competitors out there trying just a little bit harder (or going all out in some cases) to make it worth my while, I just can’t find a reason to make repeat trips to these properties a priority.