We were toying with the idea of extending our stay and hitting up Laughlin, on the scenic Colorado River, on the way out of town (we had a two-nights-for-the-price-of-one coupon from a couple of Laughlin hotels), but then I saw an ad in one of the local magazines: Call 702-360-8687 and book a free bus tour to Laughlin. You actually pay $5 for fuel, but that's still one of the best deals imaginable: not only do you get a four-hour round trip to Laughlin (think of your fuel savings), and six hours in Laughlin, you get a free buffet at the Trop, and $5 in free slot play there. So heck, yes, we took the bus instead. Their shuttle picked us up downtown at 8:30 in the morning and after picking up guests at various other hotels around town we were at their main terminal ready to board the big bus at 10 a.m. Our driver kept us informed and entertained as we stopped at the Las Vegas sign for pictures, and passed through the quaint towns of Noname, Calnevada, and Searchlight (home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, woo). Billboards and ads made clear Laughlin is a happening place: upcoming headliners include Reba, Alan Jackson, Rascal Flatts, Willie & Family, Jo Dee Messina, Leann Rimes, Paul Anka, Paul Rodriguez, and Bill Engvall.
First stop: the Tropicana Express. First big tip: As soon as you get off the bus and get handed your voucher for the buffet and slot play, walk (if not run) as fast as your legs will carry you to the left past the hotel registration desk, then to your right and most of the way back until you come to the Players Club on your left. Get there before your fellow passengers have figured out where it is and you'll save a long wait in line. You'll need that time back later, because passengers start waiting in line of the buffet at 3 p.m., an hour before it opens; so you either wait an hour for the buffet to open, or you wait even longer to get into the buffet. Veterans, take note: Every fourth Wednesday, you and a guest are entitled to a free buffet here. The buffet was well worth the wait, and I made $3 off the free slot play, so as of this point the trip was only costing me $2.
Next stop: the Colorado Belle. Both here and at sister property the Edgewater, new members can get $5 in free slot play for signing up. I made $5 on my free play, so now I was $3 ahead for the trip. These properties show off the propensity of Laughlin casinos to host popular chain restaurants: at the Edgewater, for example, Coco's, Capriotti's and Krispy Kreme are all dining options.
Next up: the Wild-West-themed Pioneer. Here too you can get $5 free slot play; I earned another $5.25, so instead of costing me five bucks, I got the bus trip, the free buffet, and I came out ahead $8.25, which makes this surely one of the best deals if not the best deal in town.
Now, the Golden Nugget has a big sign advertising that they'll match any competitor's coupon for new members, but there are some big strings attached.
When we showed up, they told my poker buddy he couldn't use a coupon from the American Casino Guide because it had to have the player's name on it; when, on hearing this, I presented a coupon I'd torn out of a mailing from the Eastside Cannery, they said it still had to be attached to the mailer for it to be accepted there. A friend of mine has wondered if they'd also find a way to dodge any coupons from non-Laughlin casinos by claiming those aren't their competitors, even though I could have chosen to stay in Vegas and play there instead of coming to Laughlin and playing at the Golden Nugget. I'm actually curious to see what would have happened if I'd brought the mailer I had back in my room for a free room at the Ameristar in Black Hawk. In any case, they let us spin the wheel and we each won a perfectly nice travel mug instead of any free play. On the bright side, they have some beautiful walking areas, and dining options include Saltgrass Steakhouse, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumper and Starbucks.
Briefly noted: Aquarius is on the same APlay player's card program as the Silver Sevens (and the Golden Mardi Gras & Golden Gates back in Black Hawk, Colorado). The Regency is a litlte slot joint attached to a restaurant, with no players card program. The River Palms is on the same player's card program as the Trop. We had to head back for the buffet line before checking out Harrah's Laughlin, which we assume is on the same Total Rewards program as every other Caesar's Entertainment property, and it was simply a massive oversight that we bypassed the Riverside, which might very well have proffered up more free slot play, and which was sorely missed because once on the road I discovered an old Riverside ashtray, which subsequently slipped out of my backpack and broke. It might take years before I get my hands on another one. Especially since I don't smoke.