Leaving Las Vegas and the MGM Grand

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Today, I am going to review the MGM Grand Resort and Casino in good old Las Vegas, Nevada! I have visited the MGM Grand over 50 times in my life. It is the main (ONLY) casino I stay at when in Vegas. While I am involved in the gambling business, I have never lived in Las Vegas. Of course as someone in the gambling business, Las Vegas is a must visit destination on a regular basis.

Back when I turned 21, I decided I wanted to go to Las Vegas to celebrate my birthday. I was big into gambling since the time I was in middle school and seeing Vegas with my eyes was always an ongoing daydream through high school and college…yes, I have been a degenerate for a LONG time! Thankfully, my best friend was just as much of a degenerate as I was. So, my best friend and I decided we would head to that wonderful city in the desert.

Back at the time, Las Vegas was the main gambling destination. Very few places outside Nevada had casino gambling…although it was starting to pop up here and there. When it came to sports gambling, it was either bet with a local bookie or offshore. If you wanted to sit in a sportsbook and bet with cash…there was only one place…Las Vegas. Side note, it is amazing and wonderful that FINALLY sports gambling is legalized throughout the country as it always should have been. Leave it to the Federal Government to take 20-30 years to do something most countries did centuries ago. Anyway…I digress!

Due to the fact Las Vegas was the main gambling outlet for degenerates all across the US, newspapers were constantly advertising junkets and chartered trip packages out to Las Vegas in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Every Sunday, the newspaper would have a bunch of ads for deals to go to Las Vegas in the travel section. The ads would list the casino name and the price for 3,4, and 5+ day packages. The packages included your hotel and airfare, plus a little bonus like a food comp or free play/promo chips…everything else though was on you. The packages would provide a direct flight and hotel for a relatively low price. For example, my friend and I paid about $350 per person for our package to the MGM Grand for two nights, three days…again…that was airfare and hotel. Of course Circus Circus and other lower-end or downtown casinos had outrageously low prices..sometimes less than $100 per person. We weren’t going on the cheap though! LOL! We wanted to stay at a mid-range or higher end hotel. I was a big boxing fan, so my thought was to get in with the MGM Grand and perhaps I could score some tickets to the next big fight that was there. At the time, the main game in Las Vegas for boxing or events was MGM’s Grand Garden Arena. With that thought in mind, the decision was made, go to the MGM Grand and hopefully build up a little play there for future trips…and comps!

The trip was booked, the tickets were set, and a few months later we were off to Vegas for our first gambling trip to the degenerate’s mecca. I was in awe of what I saw. Finally everything I daydreamed about, every bit of euphoria I would feel in my body while watching Vegas Vacation, Casino, or some other movie about Las Vegas came to a head. I told you I was a degenerate! Here I was…finally in Las Vegas. I knew the casinos would be big, but I never imagined the size within. On that first trip to MGM, I didn’t even realize there was a whole wing of the property with restaurants, a food court, shops and the spa! Three days in the MGM Grand and never noticed that elusive part of the hotel. Just shows how massive these properties are and all the little hidden corners they have in them. It wasn’t until the next trip to MGM that I found everything I was missing.

Anyway, during that first trip, my friend and I had a fun time playing craps and betting in the sportsbook. We visited other casinos and played craps there too. There was always a game to be had. Of course we lost overall, but my goodness…I was hooked on the place. There was nothing like it. On the flight home, while my associate slept, I thought of how I could make Vegas a regular destination in my travels…and of course figure a way to build a revenue stream to support my degeneracy! I was in my infancy in the offshore gambling business at this time.

Since that first trip I have now been to Vegas well over 50 times. In all those visits I have yet to have a bad time there…even when I get my ass kicked at the tables…or the one time I had a wicked sinus infection that left me almost dead…but not so dead I couldn’t play craps and baccarat! I have enjoyed floor seats to major fights, backstage at concerts and events, the best experiences and meals, exquisite accommodations and memories that bring me a smile as they randomly pass through my brain from time to time. What I marvel at as I look back on my time in Vegas is the evolution of it. During that first trip I stayed in the “Emerald Tower” rooms of the MGM Grand. Since then, I have enjoyed the best the MGM Grand has to offer…moving from Emerald Tower to Celebrity Spa Suite, to the top of the “standard” accommodations ladder with the Terrace suite and its outdoor hot tub on the balcony. I then graduated to the more exclusive rooms with the multi-bedroom SkyLofts, and eventually MGM’s Mansion Villas…where Tiger Woods brought his harem of women in and out. If you would have told me I would have spent time in the Mansion Villas back when I made that first trip and shared an Emerald Tower standard room with my friend, I would have either laughed in your face or shit myself. Yep…it’s been a wild ride!

I still make relatively regular visits to the MGM Grand. One of which was this past March. I do apologize to anyone who would have liked to sit down for a drink or dinner…these trips for me tend to be short and just a way to disconnect from everything. One of these times I will take you up on your offers…thank you kindly for your generosity!! Anyway, I still love the MGM, but some things have changed over the years since that first excursion with my best friend. As I was relaxing at the MGM this past trip, I could not help but think how quiet it was on the strip.

I remember during my third or fourth trip to the MGM, when I was there for March Madness, how much energy was in the casino and on the strip. The tables were packed, the sportsbook was loaded, the energy was nuts! Unfortunately, that is not the case any more for March Madness. Sure, there a bit more people there during March Madness than a random weekend, but nothing anywhere near what it was like in the early 2000’s. I think the proliferation of sports gambling around the country has removed the need to be in Vegas for March Madness…or perhaps any sports event. As my driver this past trip stated, “why spend $4,000 just to get out to Vegas for flights, rooms, table money, food, etc. to gamble $10,000 on basketball when in most states you can save the $4,000…put it toward your sports gambling, and bet from the comfort of your living room with friends.” He’s right! With sports gambling all over the country, now you have a $14,000 bankroll instead of a $10,000 bankroll by coming to Vegas to bet. For a degenerate, more bankroll is like more meth to a drug addict! The late Senator Harry Reid, for whom the Las Vegas airport is now named, was always vehemently against online gambling and the proliferation of sports betting…and I couldn’t stand him for it! He felt it would take crowds away from Las Vegas…turns out…Senator Reid was right!

Sure, Las Vegas still has various events that are interesting and enticing to bring people out…whether UFC or some concert, but Las Vegas has evolved. There were times when, even as a larger player myself, that there would be even larger players who would show up to the craps or especially the baccarat tables. Today…it’s green chip and smaller bettors. I can’t remember the last time a large player walked up to a table that I was at in Las Vegas. I am not saying their aren’t large players in Vegas anymore, because of course there are. It’s just the frequency and volume of them has gone down dramatically. As gambling grew across the country, and in places like Macau, the need to be in Vegas diminished. Players no longer built a large bankroll and then headed out to Vegas to attack the tables. Instead, they can now go down the street or a short drive and play their favorite games.

As the proliferation of gambling, both with casinos and now sports, has expanded across the country…more and more gamblers are “leaving Las Vegas” off their destination list…or at a minimum not going anywhere near as frequently as they did 10, 20, 30+ years ago. Frankly, I now see larger players in my trips to the Atlantis in the Bahamas than I ever see in Las Vegas. It’s not even close. One might think the loss of so many larger players has required the casinos in Las Vegas to work harder to get your business. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the exact opposite. As people stopped coming out to Las Vegas, the casinos decided to cut back on the amenities and bonuses they offered to gamblers. The first thing to go were the generous comps. I still get comped just fine, but back in the day they would throw obscene money at you. No longer do they provide promo chips, airfare refunds, or special gifts as loosely as they did in the past….or in some cases at all! Getting a percentage of your losses back at the end of a trip was commonplace for even five figure credit line bettors…no more! At the same time, the rooms don’t seem to get as updated as frequently and the hotel staff are overworked, undertrained and underpaid. The decline has been sad to see. I am glad I got to know Vegas from the early 2000’s…those were some great times!

Sure, you may go out to Las Vegas and think it is the greatest thing in the world because, even with what has been lost over the past decade or two…I still love the place! I am giddy in the days leading up to a trip to Las Vegas. Even as I type this article, discussing all the flaws of Vegas, I can’t wait to go back. The food is still great, the fun at the tables is still there, it is like a retreat from reality for a few days, and there is always an overwhelming amount of nostalgia when I am out there. Still…it’s not nearly as great as it used to be…even if it is still a lot of fun every time I’m there. Perhaps that’s why Vegas doesn’t have to work as hard as they once did…people like me still love to go out there even if it feels like they just want to quickly shake the money out of my pockets and throw me back on the plane without so much as a cookie!

So, that’s the evolution of what I have seen with Las Vegas over the past 20+ years. Now let’s talk specifically about the MGM Grand in the present.

I will start off by saying that the MGM Grand is hardly the flashiest or fanciest casino on the strip. Those awards would go to Bellagio, Aria, Wynn. It’s not decorated like Caesars Palace nor crisp like Mandalay Bay…but given my history with the casino, the MGM Grand is home to me! The smells, the scenery…all of them bring back memories…wonderful memories of past visits and experiences. Until the day I die, some of my most euphoric memories in life are of those early trips to Las Vegas. It’s the second time I have used “euphoric(ia)” (characterized by or feeling intense excitement and happiness) to describe Las Vegas, but I just can’t find a better word.

I told my wife during our last visit to Las Vegas that if you get to pick what your heaven is when you die then mine will be at the MGM Grand, with family on the trip with me, and I would wake up on the morning of a big boxing match in Las Vegas…like Mayweather/De La Hoya. Hardly the most exciting fight, but the energy in Las Vegas, back in the day on a fight night is second to none! I would stay in the SkyLofts, grab a morning massage and a great lunch, take a nap and then have a wonderful dinner with my family, I would go to the fight and cash a big ticket on the match…and then I would head to the craps tables for an epic winning evening on the green felt. I would enjoy that experience and energy and head to bed for a wonderful night’s sleep. Then, when I woke up…the memories would be gone and I would start the day over again…not realizing I had just lived it. I would live in this cycle for eternity…Heaven…Valhalla! Enjoying the joys of degenerate success betting boxing and at craps. Enjoying wonderful and delicious meals with family…then head to the fight and cheer on my big bet on the match…then take that boatload of money to the craps tables where things only got hotter. Yep…heaven! LOL!

Since I am not yet in heaven, let’s talk about MGM Grand as of this most recent trip.

One restaurant I went to on this last trip that I have to mention, which was outside MGM Grand, but still in the MGM family, is NoMad Library at Park MGM. It’s a short walk across the street from the MGM Grand. The food was very good. My favorite part of the meal, by a mile, was the Lobster Thermidor. The dish is designed for two guests. The light breading was excellently proportioned to the lobster meat and the caviar on top was the perfect flavor enhancement. You get the full lobster, head to tail, with all the meat. They don’t just give you a tiny tail split in half and a lot of claw meat and mushrooms to hide the lack of lobster (like I have had at some places). The lobster is a perfect size and filled to the brim with goodness! If you don’t like seafood, then this would be a pass for you. If you are a fan of lobster, give this one a try!

I have mentioned CraftSteak and the Mansion Restaurant briefly in past articles/topics. For me, CraftSteak is my favorite steak place in Las Vegas. I have tried others, some pretty good, but the best consistency and quality, for me, has come from CraftSteak. I will say that when they had the A5 Platinum Wagyu filet and strip steaks going back about 15 years that there was nobody better in Vegas. The menu has changed slightly for their Wagyu steaks, although they still have the Wagyu from Japan, it just isn’t quite as excellent as it used to be with those old Platinum A5’s…but it is still pretty damn great. I know I have told you about the Monkey Bread at CraftSteak…that shit is next level! I am not big on getting dessert when out to dinner, but I tried this one time and it is a must for every meal at CraftSteak. I will even eat a smaller lunch and skip the salad at dinner to leave room for the Monkey Bread.

CraftSteak’s Monkey Bread

The Mansion Restaurant is only available to those staying in the SkyLofts or MGM’s Mansion Villas, but my goodness…the food is excellent and the service is even better. If you get the opportunity to check it out, it is well worth it for any meal. I have had a variety of things from the menu throughout my visits to MGM…mostly for lunches. From the Lobster Sandwich (WOW!) to the Burger Noir, the lunch menu covers all the bases. The breakfast menu is equally loaded with delicious options (the way they prep the raisins for the oatmeal, as silly as that might sound, is incredible…LOL!) and the dinner menu offers excellent options which do change regularly. This past trip we went for brunch and I grabbed the Mansion Benedict (Eggs Benedict topped with lobster)…DAMN! The Mansion is solid all around and the atmosphere is second to none. The Mansion Restaurant will be something I need to add to my “heaven” day as I discussed above.

Another food highlight for me at the MGM Grand are the truffled potato chips at Wolfgang Pucks. Wolfgang’s is basically pub fare (slightly better than what you would expect for pub fare though), and it’s a nice stop for lunch. Food is good, service is good and fast…but not too fast…and they have a couple TVs so you can keep up to speed on your sports tickets. Give the truffled chips a try! You can also stop in there for dinner as well…although it tends to be better suited for lunch or a snack.

The Spa at the MGM Grand is a nice place to get away for a little peace and quiet. It is tucked into the far corner of the MGM Grand property. I like to get my massage first thing in the morning. The quiet walk through the casino and down the “Studio Walk” as it was once (and maybe still is) called is relaxing. A nice walk to think about what you are going to do for the day ahead as you get ready to relax with a nice 50, 75 or 100 minute massage. I always go for the 100 minute massage…go big or go home! The part I like about the spa at the MGM Grand is that they don’t try and sell you products at the end of your massage. A massage should be a relaxing experience. When you emerge from 100 minutes of lying down and having your entire body eased into relaxation, the last thing you want is the technician to turn into used car salesman mode to sell you bath salts, body rubs or some other product that is vastly overpriced and that you will never use. MGM’s spa doesn’t get into any of that sort of stuff. The technician slowly walks you back to the waiting room and sends you on your way. The waiting room has nice low lighting as you regain your senses and provides a quiet and private spot where you can sit and chill for a few minutes. Then you can head to the hot tub, wet sauna, dry sauna or showers to get ready to start your day in paradise! The locker room is nicely setup, with plenty of privacy and spacious lockers. The MGM Grand Spa is a very relaxing experience.

I do not shop much when I am out to Las Vegas…I am too busy in the book or at the tables. MGM doesn’t have the wide variety of stores like you will find at a place like Caesars Palace, Venetian, Aria or Bellagio. It does have a few stores that most people just quickly walk by as they are relatively generic in their offerings. There is a jewelry store right at the start of the studio walk, then comes what I would call a higher-end store with everything from clothing to luggage, and then there are a few small stores for soaps and sunglasses. Nothing overly exciting…but again…I am not really one to shop.

How about the pools at MGM? It can vary by time of year as to whether they are packed or they are comfortably attended by guests. For the most part, I find the pools comfortable in terms of quantity of bodies. The MGM has multiple pools and areas for people to sit. So, it isn’t a setup where everyone is packed around one primary pool. If you are getting comped, then the drink prices are not a big deal. If you are not getting comped, the drink prices will add up quickly. I am not much of a drinker, so I stick to water, but even some Fiji is laughably priced if you had to run a tab. Still, if you are looking to get outdoors for a bit, and aren’t looking to get drunk…but just have a drink or two…the MGM pool area is a nice place to chill out for a bit and get some fresh air and sun on your body. Be ready to walk though. It’s a decent hike to get to the pools from the elevators. The pool entrance is at the very end of the Studio Walk.

Now for the degenerates…how about the important stuff…gambling?!?!

There’s not too much to discuss when it comes to the tables. I mean, what can you say…the games are the same regardless of the casino. It comes down to the dealers and the limits. MGM offers everything you would expect from a casino. The casino floor is rather large, so finding an open table usually doesn’t take too much effort and the floor is loaded with a variety of table games. There is a poker area (not exactly a room, just a segregated area on the casino floor), and while 3-4 tables were full, I did not see too many high-end games. If you want high-end poker then your better option would be the Bellagio. If you are just visiting MGM for the basics…blackjack, craps, roulette, etc…then you should have no trouble finding a table. The one issue you might have is MGM only has the occasional $15 table, and I cannot remember the last time I saw a $10 table. Most tables in the evening will be $25 or higher…especially when it comes to craps. So, if you are looking to just mess around at the tables for low levels, the MGM might not be your best option…unless you want to gamble in the morning 6am-10am. If looking for lower limits, I have heard a lot of people will venture over to Excalibur or NY-NY…and some will take their chances at the older casinos on Fremont Street. Dealers at the MGM Grand have always been quite pleasant in all my years going there. A very solid crew!

I am not a slots player, but the MGM has massive floor space and it is loaded with slots of all shapes and sizes. From the old school reels like Cherries Jubilee and Majestic Lions…which really do get a lot of play, to the latest machines rolled out in 2024. I am told by the regulars that there are certain amounts where they “know” the progressive is due to hit (progressive range from $1000 to $1200) on the Cherries Jubilee or Majestic Lions. So, despite the age of those slots, they are always loaded with players hoping to be the one to grab the progressive. Then of course you have a variety of your standard slot games like “Huff n More Puff” or the various “Buffalo” slots which seemed to be quite popular. There is also a healthy offering of video poker varieties. Just given the sheer size of MGMs floor space, if you like a modern slot game, there is a good chance MGM will have at least one somewhere on the floor! How good are the slots? From those in my party who do play slots, they said the MGM is one of the tightest casinos for slots on the strip. Once again, similar to the lower limits found at Excalibur or NY-NY, the slot players in the group preferred the better payout rates on slots offered at the casinos across the street…those being Excalibur and NY-NY or some even said Luxor is a good one as well.

The MGM Grand Race & Sportsbook

The sportsbook at the MGM Grand in this picture above brings back a flood of memories every time I see it. Some good memories and some heartbreaks from wagers placed there. The MGM Race & Sportsbook isn’t laid out well to house lots of people, but it works just fine for getting in, betting and getting out. The problem I have in recent trips is the BetMGM app salespeople are swarming and they want you to signup for the app as though they will be killed if they don’t get you to join. I can bet on an app whenever I want. I am in Vegas…I like playing with chips/cash and collecting chips/cash when I win. There’s just something old school about the process of betting in a sportsbook versus electronically. Still, to get into the sportsbook, you have to navigate these salesman who are rather aggressive about getting you to signup before you can make your way to the tellers to place an actual wager. I am not sure how this setup is good for business. Sure, you signup for the app and the book makes more because you don’t have to walk back and forth to the book to deposit/bet, but still, let people chill out a bit if they don’t want the damn app! Once someone says, “no thanks”, move on. LOL!

If you are a table games bettor then the book, even if you are taking a sharp side, will often let you bet whatever you would like. It’s a nice benefit to playing craps and baccarat at MGM. Once established at the tables you can take full advantage of the sportsbook. I never have to worry about getting down in the book. The book offers plenty of wagering options and all the events you would come to expect from modern bookmaking. MGM sportsbook also has several kiosks to wager at as well. I just wish they had more kiosks in other parts of the casino to place wagers like many other casinos have. The only negative to the book at the MGM Grand is that sometimes their prices suck, but for the most part I can usually find some good numbers that make the trip worthwhile.

I have not bet horses at the MGM Grand in ages, but the book is setup perfectly for it. The MGM has a semi-dedicated area for horse players with all the different tracks up on TVs and plenty of tellers to take your action even if you are betting within minutes to post. Of course, all payouts are based on track prices because MGM, like all Las Vegas race books, is linked into the track’s parimutuel pools. So, if you bet big on a race, you will still move the pools. Unlike betting offshore (assuming it is legal of course in your jurisdiction) where your money is just booked by the book and never hits the pools. Some people were unaware of this dynamic.

No, MGM is not perfect, and probably gets some points with me due to my decades going there…and the nostalgia that bubbles up with a visit to the MGM Grand. However, it is a nice and comfortable place to gamble. The dealers have always been great! I have never had any issues with dealers being grumpy or acting as though you are doing them a favor. If you don’t know what I mean…gamble at the Atlantis casino in the Bahamas and some of those dealers there are MISERABLE to players. All in all…I am hooked on the MGM Grand due to my past experiences. However, there are plenty of things to like about the casino, sportsbook, and amenities like the restaurants and spa in the present day. If you want more of a laid back casino experience, away from the packed floors of the Bellagio or Aria…the MGM Grand is a nice place to gamble. The MGM Grand gives you the big money action without all the hoopla of the trendier casinos. If you are going for the clubs and want that Vegas party energy…maybe look to Cosmo or Aria for that sort of thing. Room rates at the MGM Grand are usually decent because the MGM has one of the largest room inventories on the strip. Something to check into when you are looking to book your next trip out to Las Vegas! Have fun!

Good luck!