Las Vegas: Great odds for cheap frills

I paid zip to see Bobby Slayton, "the pit bull of comedy," by joining Hooters' players' club. The act included biting, un-PC jokes about fat bridesmaids, ethnic groups and whiny wives. The audience hooted, but I hit the door — only to lose $5 at video poker. Curtis, a former professional gambler, tried to clue me in on the mathematical laws of probability, but, hey, I'm a word person.

Other Vegas freebies include the Mirage volcano (dormant now in preparation for a gee-whiz upgrade due in December), Bellagio fountains that spurt in time to music (get a great view for the price of a $6 beer or $11 glass of wine at its lakeside Fontana Bar) and Treasure Island Hotel and Casino's Sirens of TI battling "pirates" in an outdoor lagoon.

While Siegfried and Roy's white tigers now cost $15 to view in an elaborate garden at the Mirage, you'll see lions cavort, free, in a habitat adjoining the MGM Grand's casino. Brother-and-sister "Dude" and "Marina" had the crowd oohing, aahing and photo-snapping as they wrestled playfully behind safety glass near gurgling slot machines.

Downtown Vegas — spiffed-up, budget-friendly Glitter Gulch, now rebranded as the Fremont Street Experience— boasts a laser/music extravaganza.

• Hooters Casino Hotel, 866-584-6687, hchvegas.com

• The Mirage, 800-456-4564, mirage.com

• Bellagio, 888-987-6667, bellagio.com

• Treasure Island, 800-288-7206, treasureisland.com

• MGM Grand, 877-880-0880, mgmgrand.com

• Fremont Street Experience, vegasexperience.com

Lessons learned:

Underestimating how frugally I could eat and turning $50 allotted for gambling into $82, I should have upgraded hotels. I could have stayed cheaper at locals' favorite Station casinos, or thrown some cash at the chic Trump International Hotel & Tower (as low at $159 this fall) or The Venetian ($155 during my visit, tourists I met said). A pricey hotel could have been in the cards, had I foresworn a $15 chair massage and $64 shopping spree at the vast Las Vegas Outlet Center.I didn't need another pair of shoes, anyway.

• Las Vegas Outlet Center, 702-896-5599, lasvegasoutletcenter.com

How do you stretch your dollars in Las Vegas? Share your budget strategies below.

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