OK, so gambling and the concept of being "on a budget" don't seem likely partners, but if you're tired of blackjack's big swings and don't want to spend hours pumping slot machines for a penny a pull, try Pai Gow poker. This table game, a variant of a Chinese gambling game played with dominoes, can be found at just about any casino with stakes starting at about $10 per hand, equal to or less than the cheapest blackjack tables.
If you're confused, ask the dealer to assemble your cards the way the house would play them. Other players at the table likely will offer their help, too. Unlike blackjack, you can't affect anyone else's hand, so there's no pressure of taking a bad hit and costing other players. That makes this game a whole lot less tense than others - plus you'll still get free drinks.
Buffets are a decent option. The Luxor dinner buffet costs $19.99; breakfast and lunch are less.
But a couple off-menu specials at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino might be worth a trip slightly off the Strip (a free shuttle runs there from the Fashion Show Mall). Ask for the steak and shrimp special, which includes an 8-ounce New York sirloin, three jumbo shrimp, a salad and garlic mashed potatoes for $7.77. Or, if you're really hungry, the $9.99 prime rib special includes a salad, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, along with all the meat you can handle.
At most clubs you'll pay cover fees and premium prices for drinks - though if you're among a group of young women, you may be able to talk your way in for free.
But casinos are filled with bars, and many offer lounge or club-like atmospheres without long lines or covers. Some notables include the eyecandy sound lounge & bar in Mandalay Bay, which has DJs spinning every night, and Napoleon's in Paris Las Vegas, with its dueling pianos. FREE SHOWS
Visit the lions at MGM or the Flamingo Habitat at Flamingo (of course). At Bellagio, visit the Conservatory where the theme is changed seasonally. At night, enjoy the fountain show every 15 minutes. In the Forum Shops at Caesar's there are two shows - the moving statues of gods and goddesses and the Sinking of Atlantis. There are street performers in St. Mark's Square in the Venetian, as well as an amazing living statue.
SUBMITTED BY Hope and Harvey Wile, West Hempstead
My husband and I love sushi and seafood, but just about all of those restaurants in the big Vegas hotels are very expensive. By accident, we came upon Todai Sushi and Seafood Buffet while walking around Planet Hollywood. What a find! Now, we go there once or twice during each visit. The buffet has a huge selection of fresh sushi, made right in front of you.
SUBMITTED BY Judi Weissman, Kings Park
BELLAGIO INDOOR GARDEN
The Bellagio Hotel has a really spectacular, larger-than-life indoor garden that offers a different side of Vegas. It's free to anyone who wants to take a look!
SUBMITTED BY Karen Rzonca, East Northport
My wife and I make Las Vegas a vacation spot every year. On Saturdays, we love to go to Bellagio's for their buffet brunch. For less than $25 each, we both leave the table as a winner. The array of food is fabulous - wood-fired salmon, crab legs, shrimp. I make out much better at the buffet than the blackjack table.
SUBMITTED BY Martin Bluberg
Getting up and down the Las Vegas Strip on the cheap is easy - especially if you're willing to walk a little bit.
TRAMS AND BUSES
Free trams run along the Strip 24/7 between Mandalay Bay and Excalibur, and between The Mirage and Treasure Island. Harrah's runs another free shuttle for customers between its casinos, running every 30 minutes from Caesars Palace, the Rio, Harrah's Las Vegas and Paris Las Vegas.
For $2 a ride or a $5 all-day pass, the round-the-clock bus service known as the Deuce could be the cheapest way to travel along the entire Strip without walking, all the way to downtown.
The monorail that runs from the Sahara Hotel & Casino to the MGM Grand is $5 one way, so especially if you're with a group, it's cheaper and faster to split a cab.
A little-known bonus for big-time savings (though it'll take a long time): When you leave the airport terminal, catch the free shuttle to the airport's rental car center.
From there, you can catch the Deuce across the street and ride to your Strip hotel. The reverse works when you want to go back to the airport, too.