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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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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