Blackjack tables, roulette wheels and slot machines just aren’t what they once were in Las Vegas.

No, gambling isn’t in danger of disappearing, but fewer and fewer travelers – from Gen Xers to Millennials – are letting their dollars ride on decks of cards, tumbling dice and randomly generated numbers. Instead, they’re going for activities that involve a bit of physical skill and a sense of play. It gives a whole new meaning to 'gaming in Vegas'.

Yellow and black barriers border the wide expanse of a twisting go-kart track, where riders in red cars speed around a corner.
Drivers go around a corner in go-karts at Pole Position Raceway © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Take the lead at Pole Position Raceway

Las Vegas is all about cars. And racing. If you don’t have the time (or cash) to suit up and put the pedal to the medal in actual stock cars or exotic roadsters at the Las Vegas Speedway or other tracks, take your competitive edge indoors. At Pole Position Raceway, electric go-karts are the swift means of conveyance. Don a racing helmet, strap in and jet around a winding, looping course. After you lap your friends, they can toast your victory in the adjacent Icon Lounge with a frosty beverage.

A row of arcade games in the Pinball Hall of Fame © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
You may have more fun at the Pinball hall of fame, a no-frills arcade, than playing slot machines back on the Strip © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Flip on the fun at the Pinball Hall of Fame

Just a quick drive east of the Strip lies one of the loudest museums in the world, the Pinball Hall of Fame. It’s filled with the sound of chiming bells and flipping paddles emanating from an astounding collection of vibrantly decorated arcade games. Some of the machines are vintage from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, with nostalgic titles like ‘Domino,’ ‘Big Hit’ and ‘Fireball.’

Others were built more recently, and are high-tech, computerized amusements with themes like NASCAR and a slew of movie characters from Batman to Indiana Jones. Many fervent pinball fans make pilgrimages to this charming nook of pop culture history.

A ping-pong table is set up in an outdoor setting. In the background can be seen a putting green. © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
Beerhaus features games like table tennis and cornhole © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Party with low-tech techniques at Beerhaus

In a city filled top-to-bottom with electronics, it’s nice sometimes to enjoy an old-school breather with human-powered entertainment. And a few beers. Both are available in the airy, brick-walled Beerhaus at the Park, the only open-air public space of its kind on the Strip. Wood rules the school here, from toppling tower sets to carved tic-tac-toe grids. Stand-up competitions include table tennis, foosball and indoor shuffleboard. Brainiacs can flex their mental muscles during word games and trivia nights. To fuel furious matches, there are dozens of brews on tap and a gastropub-style menu is available.

A row of pool tables is seen in a deep red room with movie posters all over the walls. © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
Guest play at one of Las Vegas' rare billiards halls in the Nerd © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Impress your friends at the Nerd

Gamers are triumphant at The Nerd, an imaginative, movie memorabilia-filled nightspot in Downtown’s Fremont Street Experience. In one large room, billiard tables put partiers behind the cue ball. Curiously, pool places are not common in Las Vegas, especially in the Tourist Corridor. In the main room, bowling lanes await ten-pin aficionados. Video game consoles abound, too. Everything is free to play, with drinks at the bar the price of admission.

Signage on the outside of Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas features white text on a black background, and a random assortment of colored discs that resemble records overhead. © George Rose / Getty Images
Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas is one part high-tech bowling alley, one part gourmet comfort-food restaurant and one part cool concert venue © George Rose / Getty Images

Make a perfect score at Brooklyn Bowl

While many Las Vegas hotels, especially ones that cater to locals, have large bowling alleys, until Brooklyn Bowl came to town, the Strip had few wooden lanes and pins. What the New York City outpost built in the LINQ Promenade is duly impressive. Thirty-two hardwood Brunswick lanes with eight massive HD screens entice kingpins galore, as do swank black leather Chesterfield couches for lounging between frames. The whole scene is very stylish, and the venue features frequent concerts and events. As an added bonus, you'll find some of the best fried chicken in town served here.

The entrance to an indoor mini golf venue is seen, with multi-colored lights all around and the logo of the heavy metal band KISS spelled out in bright light bulbs. © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
The entrance to KISS by Monster Mini Golf beckons to fans of the heavy metal group © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Tee up at KISS by Monster Mini Golf

They don’t mess around when it comes to putt-putt at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino. That’s where KISS by Monster Mini Golf makes its dayglo home in a 13,000-square-foot rock ‘n’ roll temple. The 18-hole miniature golf course wends its way through the venue with hazards inspired by the heavy metal quartet. There’s nothing miniature about the challenges, which include giant platform boots and a gargantuan guitar. Gene Simmons’ ‘Demon’ face, with his famed tongue for a ramp, is an unforgettable target. There’s also an attached museum dedicated to the rockers, as well as a wedding chapel filled with Marshall amp stacks for maximum matrimonial volume.

A recently-thrown axe is lodged directly in the middle of a huge log face, with a red target painted on it © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
A bullseye throw at Axe Monkeys © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Sharpen your skills at Axe Monkeys

Looking to embrace your inner Viking? Wish you were a lumberjack? Axe Monkeys is where both of these dreams can come true, at least for an hour or two. It’s a simple game plan in this novel attraction in the suburbs east of the Strip: throw hand axes at painted wooden bullseyes in one of 23 chain link-fenced lanes. An endorphin rush soon follows. Newbies are given expert instruction from trained staff on safety protocols and proper aiming form, including underhand. One you’re in the literal swing of things, there are a number of organized games like ‘Canadian Cricket,’ ‘Around the World,’ and ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’ to put your newfound axe hurling chops to competitive use.

A large arena, made up of padded walls and multiple trampolines as the floor, is shown, with people standing inside and playing dodgeball © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
Four visitors play dodgeball in Sky Zone Trampoline Park © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Get aerial at Sky Zone Trampoline Park

Why get in a vacation workout at a hotel gym when you can burn carbs flying through the air? The ultimate bounce house, Sky Zone Trampoline Park is a cavernous building just south of the Strip that’s filled wall to wall with taught, springy surfaces. Fling yourself upward free-style. Bank off a wall. Bump up your slam dunk bragging rights in the basketball-focused SkySlam section. Feeling a bit of tension with your travel mates? Work it out with a vengeance in the Ultimate Dodgeball court; everybody emerges smiling. Top off the experience with a running leap into the Foam Zone pit filled with energy-absorbing squares.

A large chess set, big enough for people to walk around and move the pieces, is seen in the foreground of an outdoor games area in Las Vegas © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
A giant chess set awaits players at the Gold Spike © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Grab the Vegas gaming motherlode at Gold Spike

Once a rundown, dingy casino in Downtown, the Gold Spike upped its game a few years back, and it’s been one of the hippest scenes in Las Vegas ever since. Where one-armed bandits once gobbled coins, now stands the Living Room, a buzzing hive for daytime co-working followed by nocturnal revelry. Recline in designer furniture for whatever task is on your to-do list, or just play skee-ball and sink some pool balls. Outside in the open-air Backyard, it’s a cavalcade of activities: giant chess, beer pong, corn hole, soccer pool and more. Gatherings like roller derbies are frequent happenings. And don’t forget the hilarious water gun clown race.

A row of shuffleboard tables enclose a gaming area, with pool tables in the background © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet
Level Up has skill-based gaming in a club setting © Greg Thilmont / Lonely Planet

Embrace the future of gaming at Level Up

Of course, the big casinos are getting in on the new interactive, skill-based trend, too, and none with more aplomb than the MGM Grand with its sprawling Level Up playground. Challenges run the gamut, starting with an immense, wall-sized Pac-Man game. Foursomes can throw down with a match of quadruple air hockey; duos can smack bubble hockey pucks. Tech savvy party-goers can put their golfing abilities to the test in the indoor laser golf course. Add in plenty of billiards tables and a casual, club-like vibe for good measure.

Las Vegas will always be known for its casinos. But you can game the system. Assemble your crew and try one of these fun and increasingly common ways to play, without the house odds stacked against you.

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