A piece of the action

From the stupendous to the sensible, Las Vegas has casino hotels and resorts for all budgets, writes Sara Benson.

From its roots as a ranch and railroad town, Las Vegas (Spanish for "the meadows") was transformed into a mid-20th-century mobster hideaway where Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and bigwigs such as John F. Kennedy cavorted. Every building boom was bigger and better than the one before.

Even as the US economy tanks, the action at casino tables along the Strip continues. Its risque nightlife and glamorous resorts draw crowds from around the world - but not just to gamble and gawp. In modern Las Vegas, leading chefs dish up global flavours, while boutique hotels, fashion-forward shops, art galleries and chic clubs attract even gambling neophytes who can't tell a full house from a flush.

Where casinos have no clocks, nightlife has no limits: Las Vegas is made for sybaritic escapes from the humdrum. Sip cocktails under the stars at a rooftop bar, take in a megastar's stage show or saunter past velvet ropes at an exclusive lounge. Roll out of bed just in time for a champagne brunch buffet, then sun yourself at one of the poolside clubs.

The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) is jam-packed with neon-lit casino hotels and resorts. Some hide sumptuous VIP suites, others offer basic crash pads for the party crowd. Downtown's older casino hotels are budget friendly but taking buses or taxis to the Strip can be time-consuming and costly. Unlike most cities, Las Vegas doesn't have well-defined low and high seasons, so room rates vary based on weekend and weekday prices.

Encore

A sequel to Steve Wynn's eponymous casino resort next door, this classy hotel has some of the Strip's most spacious contemporary suites, with mod cons, pillow-top beds and floor-to-ceiling windows. Hot nightlife and a chic pool club are even more seductive.

3111 Las Vegas Boulevard South. King suites at Encore with breakfast for two costs from $US209 ($195) a night, see wynnlasvegas.com.

Mandarin Oriental

A hushed retreat from the sky-scraping CityCentre complex, the Mandarin Oriental knows how to deal in decadence, from designer furnishings to a "valet closet" for private room-service deliveries. Check in at the impressive 23rd-floor sky lobby, then cocoon yourself inside the spa.

3752 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Cityscape rooms from $US225 a night; see mandarinoriental.com.

The Cosmopolitan

As the Strip's youngest luxury casino resort, the Cosmopolitan proves that what's newest is what's hottest in Las Vegas. It's a vivacious destination, day or night. Step through your sleek suite's sliding glass doors to a private wraparound terrace with neon-lit city views. For starlets and paparazzi, the Boulevard Pool overlooks the Strip.

3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Rooms from $US160; see cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.

The Palazzo

The city's highest high-rise hotel holds a top-tier collection of suites, none smaller than 65 square metres. All have high-thread-count linens and marble baths. If there's no vacancy, try the equally polished all-suites Venetian, next door.

3325 Las Vegas Boulevard South. King suites from $US349; see palazzo.com.

THEhotel at Mandalay Bay

This boutique hotel inside the Mandalay Bay casino resort earns its stellar reputation with 43 storeys of cool minimalist suites, an Asian-inspired bathhouse spa and a lobby decked out with modern art.

3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Rooms from $US90; see mandalaybay.com.

Planet Hollywood

This is the Strip's hippest hotel for youthful entourages, perfect for 21st-birthday blowouts and bachelor/bachelorette parties.

3667 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Rooms from $US69; see planethollywoodresort.com.

MGM Grand

The city's biggest casino hotel is like a mini-city. There are top-shelf restaurants, a high-tech poker room and a supersize pool complex. The variety of rooms is bewildering: pick the West Wing for modern style or the Signature Suites for self-contained apartment living.

3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South. West Wing king rooms from $US60; see mgmgrand.com.

Golden Nugget

The Nugget is the glitziest jewel in Fremont Street's casino row. High-rise Rush Tower rooms are oversize, jewel-toned retreats, while jazzy Gold Club rooms come with VIP perks.

129 East Fremont Street. Rush Tower deluxe rooms from $US109; see goldennugget.com.

Tropicana

Many vintage Vegas casino hotels have literally been blown up but the good ol' Trop is a survivor, dating to the 1950s. The freshly renovated rooms have a breezy, tropical feel.

3801 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Club deluxe rooms from $US89; see troplv.com.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Virgin Australia has a fare to Las Vegas from Sydney and Melbourne for about $1920 low-season return including tax. Fly to Los Angeles (about 14hr), then fly SkyWest to Vegas (70min); see virginaustralia.com. Australians must apply for travel authorisation before departure at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

When to go

Las Vegas is an any-time destination; casino doors never shut, not even for Christmas. Spring and autumn are the most temperate times to visit. In late summer, the heat and humidity can be oppressive, although July and August are when the pool season peaks. Winter is cold and rainy but snow is rare except in the mountains outside the city.

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