REVIEW: MGM Grand’s Level Up is a casino experience for millennials, but is it any good?

An artist's rending of Level Up, unveiled before the bar's opening this year.
An artist’s rending of Level Up, unveiled before the bar’s opening this year.

The millennial question is one that has been nagging at the casino industry for some years now. How to appeal to tech-savvy 20 and 30-somethings who may be looking for something more than the traditional casino experience is seen as the gateway to a healthy, sustainable future.

MGM Grand Las Vegas has attempted to answer that question with Level Up, a completely new casino experience that aims to offer a younger demographic a laid back, relaxed and exciting place to hang out. Vegas casino journalist, and ‘millennial’ Simkha Blank went to see whether it could be the future of The Strip.

Simkha tries out Pac-Man, and dies. Again.
Simkha tries out Pac-Man, and dies. Again.

What’s Level Up like?

Video game bars have become all the rage in recent years. In the wake of the bankruptcy of the Dave & Buster’s chain, which arguably pioneered the concept, various reimagined iterations of the same core idea have popped up in most US cities, and Las Vegas is no exception.

But around here, these gamer bars are often hybrids that offer some form of casino gaming as well. I headed to Level Up at MGM Grand, the city’s latest attempt at this fusion, to see if it lived up to the hype peddled by its promoters.

The venue is set in a corner behind several retail outlets, barely visible from the main casino floor. Given that it was relatively early in the evening on a weekday, it was predictably and understandably sparsely populated. The wall décor consists largely of gimmicky and incongruous imitation pop art, which overwhelm the eyes and take a bit of getting used to.

The sprawling, curved oval-shaped layout houses the bulk of Level Up’s skill-based games on the right-hand side.

Slot machines, premium digital golf, and electronic blackjack and roulette tables can be found on the opposite end, with a large rectangular bar placed prominently in the center.

Several comfortable sofas are dotted around the gaming areas, all adjoining coffee tables with user-controlled LCD TV screen tops, so nobody has to miss a second of ‘the big game’ due to an obstructed view. A photo booth, which not a single patron used the entire time I was there, sits propped up against the back wall.

The Pac-Man machine has a cool neon theme going on.
The Pac-Man machine has a cool neon theme going on.

I’m a millennial. Entertain me

Level Up’s skill-based offerings include shuffleboard, pool tables, foosball, air hockey, a beta version of Frogger that allows for wagering, and the bar’s flagship game: the self-proclaimed world’s largest Pac-Man machine.

After I thumbed through the menu misleading labeled “food and drink”, (which contained no food items, but according to the waitress, there are food options during hours when smoking at the bar is prohibited) I decided to give this record-holding game a try.

And I can’t lie. It was awesome.

At $1 per go, it’s quite reasonably priced, and is very easily the best entertainment value for your money out of any video game there. It’s conveniently placed away from the smokiness of the bar, the sound comes through loud and clear (which I imagine would hold true even if in much larger crowds than I saw that evening), and it really is gigantic.

The screen size really makes the experience. It has a far more immersive feel than any conventionally-styled arcade game I’ve ever come across.

I’m a shamefully terrible Pacman player. I never once made it past the third level. And yet, I found myself standing in front of that game, feeding it one dollar after another until all the singles in my wallet were gone.

It was totally worth it. I’d do it again. Maybe I’ll do it again today.

Level Up can’t be all things to all people

Level Up tries to be a concept venue that has something for everyone, and to an extent, it has accomplished that objective.

If you love to shoot pool, they’ve got two tables for you. If you love golf, they have a top-rated digital golf experience. If you love acting like a tween whose overprotective parents let their guard down long enough to allow you to go to the mall by yourself, they have a photo booth.

If you love shuffleboard (and presumably, someone must) they’ve got you covered. And if you love classic arcade games, the novelty of the world’s largest Pac-Man machine will definitely draw your attention and hold it.

But it tries to do too much, and like any other venue that makes this error, it invariably falls short of creating an appealing overall experience. Like so many other Las Vegas bars and many other themed bars, they don’t seem to be doing enough to encourage repeat visitors. It seems to be more about getting the tourist market in through the door. And it shows.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not Casinopedia

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