Saturday, March 24, 2012
The Empire Strikes "Sahara:" A(n Almost) Worthy Casino. . . For Now
The Good: The bank of Star Wars slot machines, Parking
The Bad: Smoky, Construction situation, Lame sign-up bonus
The Basics: The more I wrote about this casino the more I realized it hadn't in any way wowed me (despite the slot diversity) and I couldn't recommend it.
It is easy to see why the Sahara trades on its history in Las Vegas, with its giant portraits of celebrities of yore (Elvis, etc.) in their lobby area; this casino has the feeling of being exactly what one thinks they would find in Las Vegas. The Sahara feels like a big, fairly generic casino that is full of flash, but for people who are not into gambling is pretty dull. The Sahara Casino is one of Las Vegas's oldest casinos and I arrived at it on a Tuesday morning for some pre-convention gambling and after navigating around the construction - it is currently undergoing a face-lift - I entered for one of the most bland casino experiences I had while in Las Vegas.
That said, the Sahara was one of only three casinos I went to more than once while in Las Vegas and there is a ridiculously simple reason as to why. The Sahara, in my experience, was the only casino in Las Vegas to have a video slot machine based upon The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!). Yes, my third favorite film of all time makes for a pretty cool video slot machine and the Sahara was the only place I could go to play it, so I went back several nights after my convention!
Sahara Casino: came in with $5.00, left with $0.00 (after three trips, the last of which I came in with the $40.00 of prior Sahara winnings).
The Sahara is a large hotel and casino located at 2535 Las Vegas Boulevard South in Las Vegas, Nevada. For those unfamiliar with Las Vegas, Las Vegas Boulevard is more commonly referred to as The Strip, the highest concentration of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas. The Sahara is near the Stratosphere which pretty much defines one end of the Strip.
Normally, the Sahara might be easy enough to get into, but there were some pretty massive renovations going on outside the casino and in the street outside, making turning into the parking garage a bit of a challenge, especially at peak hours. The main level of the hotel and casino - the only part I spent any real time in - is essentially a mammoth room with high ceilings and the glittery lights one might associate with Las Vegas casinos from things like the movies. The casino level is packed with gaming tables and video slot machines, as well as a central bar and a stage. Despite the emphasis on gaming, there is a very open feel to the casino. Despite that sense of openness, there is a pretty concentrated scent of lingering tobacco, as if the generations of nicotine that have no doubt come through the casino have lingered on the wallpaper and carpets.
The Sahara Casino is a fairly large casinos in Las Vegas and it feels like it is capitalizing on the space it has. All of the ceilings are high, all of the carpets are clean and the place feels like one massive hotel lobby. The casino is lit, spaced and dressed up like a hotel lobby, making for a very neutral overall feel to the casino. There are over a thousand video slot machines spread out over the casino floor.
The high ceilings should help dissipate the cigarette and cigar smoke that is prevalent in the casino, but for some reason the place still has a rather pungent tobacco scent. For those sensitive to such things, this remains a severe drawback to the Sahara. This is especially true in the offshoot rooms. Off the main casino floor are a couple of rooms where there are either more slot machines (the bank of Star Wars video slots, for example, is actually in a side room) or sports betting or poker.
As for the "atmosphere" of the Sahara, I swear, I don't recall seeing a serving woman in the casino on any of my trips to the Sahara. My first time in, I was greeted by a woman in a pantsuit who gave me my free spin after directing me to the player's club to sign up. And on one of the times I was leaving, another woman in a pantsuit asked if I wanted to go to a show (but I was in a hurry elsewhere). Either the women of the Sahara are a professional looking lot or there are very few who are kept very busy.
As far as other aspects of "atmosphere," this is a relatively nondescript casino, especially on the casino floor.
Gaming Options/Player's Club
I have a very simple gambling philosophy: I sit down at a slot machine with $5.00. I work it up to $10 or down to zero. I know my limits: I can afford to lose $5.00. So, when I am above that, I'll usually work it up or whittle it down to the next even $5.00. Have a strategy, know your limits: the Sahara Casino worked quite well for me . . . in general. I became pretty obsessed with the Star Wars video slot machines and while I seemed to hit it pretty regularly on the Star Wars: A New Hope machine (interestingly enough, I would hit the bonuses always within two spins of the man playing the same game three machines away) and I generally broke even on the The Empire Strikes Back machine, I soon became obse. . . er, determined to see the bonus round on the Star Wars: Dark Side machine, which eventually eliminated all of my Sahara profits. Anyway, outside that, I generally stayed within my limits and in the end, I only lost $5.00 of my own money (not bad for over six hours of gaming on and off!).
I'm primarily a slot machine player and I have no shame in admitting, I tend to like the ones that are more video game-like and that is all I played at the Sahara; three of the four Star Wars themes video slot machines (I never did go on the far right A New Hope machine . . .). In addition to being the only casino in Las Vegas that I found an The Empire Strikes Back machine at, the Sahara was also the only one I saw that had banks of The Sopranos slot machines. In addition, they had the typical slot machines, plus Wheel of Fortune, Deal Or No Deal, and hundreds of others. The Sahara had a pretty decent selection and I recall when looking around upon first entering that there were many that were not duplicated in the casino.
For those who might be into games of chance and card games instead of the fun video slot machines, there are several tables with table games, including blackjack, roulette wheels, mini baccarat (I've no idea what makes it "mini," but that is how it was labeled), craps, Let It Ride, Pai Gow, Big 6, 3 and 4 card poker as well as Texas Hold-em, War and Spanish 21 (but you don't have to be Spanish to play that!). This is definitely a place not only trading on slot/video poker play as they devote a fair amount of space to the card/table games. There is also a sports betting segment, which seems to be a bunch of small betting kiosks, but that's not truly my thing. As well, the Sahara capitalizes on Keno, one of the more lottery-style games and they seemed to have a pretty decent crowd for that. As well, there is a separate poker room.
There is a player's club at the Sahara, which is the Club Sahara. Signing up is easy and there was no line when I went to sign up (or ever when I went). Signing up entails the member to a free spin on an older style slot machine, which requires an attendant. I never saw anyone win anything from the free spin, which makes for a pretty lousy sign-up bonus.
Points here are accrued based upon how much money one bets in combination with time spent at a machine. The points accrue according to a countdown, which is constantly displayed on the video slot machines. As you place bets, the countdown goes down from 1000 and each time it hits zero, you are given a point. It's irritating when one runs out of money when the counter is below 100 because every time you leave a machine, the countdown starts again for you! Given how the last time I left the Sahara I had only something like 25 points, I didn't even look into what they could be redeemed for.
The Sahara Casino boasts entertainment, but for the life of me, I cannot recall seeing signs up in the casino for the acts that were there. The guide I picked up, though, tells me there were nightly concerts by the R&B groups The Platters, The Coasters and the Marvelettes; I am sure I did not see that advertised while actually in Las Vegas.
The Sahara also has a spa and a roller coaster of sorts that speeds the rider along a curve, an underground tunnel and then a drop off a tower. Not my thing. I suppose the Sahara, in addition to having a long history, is looking to adapt to the times.
The Sahara was part of a three casino day for me, on the first day I went there (the other nights I came to it after dinner), so I did not dine at this casino. However, the Sahara has at least seven dining options, though most of them seemed to be small bars. There is even a bar on the casino floor.
For those who aren't just planning to drink their way through the Sahara, there is a buffet, a cafe and a very fancy restaurant in the casino. There is also a Mexican restaurant and a steakhouse. All of these are off the main casino floor and there may be others, but given how I was captivated by Star Wars slots, I didn't exactly go hunting very far or very long for other places I wasn't going to eat.
The Sahara has a Nascar shop, which reinforces the idea that it is trying to keep up with the times. Beyond that, the shops tend to upscale or Vegas related. As a result, there is a souvenir shop, a liquor store, a jewelry shop, a fashion clothes store and a poolwear store (the Sahara hotel has a big pool).
Like most shopping at a casino in Las Vegas, it's ridiculously expensive to shop at the Sahara. Of course, if you hit it big . . .
The Sahara is a casino and as I worked on my review I was surprised that all of the supporting materials I picked up in Las Vegas supported my memory of the place: this is a bland, very ordinary casino. It may have its history, but today, it's just not capitalizing on entertainment, dining, shopping or even keeping players outside the obsessive Star Wars slot machine players coming back. When I go back next year for my convention, if I don't find the Star Wars machines still there, I won't have any problem leaving this casino forever.
And ultimately, as I consider how overall this was a bland casino, even the The Empire Strikes Back slot machine is not enough to recommend this casino for. There are other places and other slot machines in Las Vegas . . .
For other casino reviews, please check out my takes on:
Turning Stone Casino And Resort - Vernon, NY
MGM New York New York Casino
Hard Rock Cafe & Casino Las Vegas
For other travel reviews, be sure to visit my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the destinations and hotels I have reviewed!
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.