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September 1, 2014

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Humble hot dog still has some magic left on the Strip

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It doesn’t look like much, but it’s pretty tasty. And come on, it’s $1.99.

Who doesn’t love a cheap dog? We’re talking the hot dog, an American classic.

When gambling drove the Las Vegas economy in the old days, casino bosses wanted to offer a quick fix to satisfy hungry patrons. The hot dog was the magic bullet: inexpensive, tasty and plentiful

In the 1970s, you could walk down the Strip with a coupon book — or “fun book” — and get a free dog at almost any casino you walked into. That’s not so much the case anymore

But you certainly can find cheap hot dogs in Las Vegas if that’s what you’re looking for. Nostalgia has kept the cheap dog alive.

WHERE TO GET THEM

• Harrah’s: Next to the Subway in the food court, you’ll find a foot-long hot dog for $1.99.

• South Point: A cart just outside the sports book serves dogs for 75 cents apiece.

• Westside Deli at Circus Circus: A giant hot dog will run you $2.99.

• Binion’s Café at Binions: Hot dog and french fries cost $3.50.

• Orleans sports book: A cart sells $1.50 hot dogs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Suncoast sports book: The Bagel Corner Deli sells dogs for 75 cents from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Foot-longs cost $1.50 at the cart.

• Fiesta Station: Big-game options from a cart include $1 hot dogs and chips, $2 nachos and brats, $3 wings and $4 pulled pork sandwiches.

• Costco: This is more of a locals haunt, but it’s quite a deal. Since 1985, Costco has served the same hot dog-drink combo for $1.50. The 20-ounce fountain drink includes unlimited refills.

THE BUSINESS OF HOT DOGS

John Carlson calls himself an expert when it comes to hot dogs. A Chicago native, Carlson now works as food and beverage director of Boyd Gaming’s Suncoast resort. His guests can buy hot dogs at two locations: the Bagel Corner Deli at the edge of the sports book and a roving hot dog cart. Since football season kicked off last fall, the casino has sold 20,000 hot dogs at 75 cents apiece.

I WANT ’EM CHEAP ...

Who can beat that price? Not the average local. There was a time when almost all food was a loss leader in Las Vegas hotels. That shifted in the mid-1990s when visitors began paying luxury prices for food, and casinos took heed. Carlson says the shift in price point affected the hot dog business. It shrunk, and many casinos did away with them altogether. The culinary boom on the Strip now includes hot dogs as a luxury item. Pink’s Hot Dogs, for example, sells a gourmet hot dog dinner for $20.

... AND I WANT ’EM FAST

Many gamblers want to spend as much time at the tables and machines as they can. Taking an hour to eat dinner just isn’t in the cards. The quick-and-easy nature of a hot dog meal is reminiscent of the early buffet: in, out and back to the games.

COMFORT FOOD

For many gamblers and sports nuts, going to the sports books is akin to going to a live game with a hot dog and a cold beer. Before sporting events, there’s a mad rush to secure a dog. At halftime, there’s another rush.

CHOICES AND VALUE

For some visitors, hot dogs are a good alternative to the expensive luxury items served along the Strip. Though the number of cheap hot dogs has been waning for years, locals casinos saw the shrunken market as an opportunity to give guests more options. “That gives us reason to say, ‘Wow, let’s stick with the product,’” Carlson said. Smart visitors at the South Point will buy a 75-cent hot dog from the cart outside the sports book, then catch a movie at the cinema, where they serve hot dogs for $5.99.

INTERESTING FACTS

• What’s in a name? Some say the name “hot dog” came from a cartoonist who described street vendors selling “red hot dachshund dogs” on the New York Polo Grounds. Unable to spell dachshund, he printed “hot dogs.” The cartoon has never been seen. Franks and Wieners: These are named after their hometowns: Frankfurt, Germany, and Vienna, Austria. A frank is all beef, whereas a wiener is pork.

• Mega Market: People spent more than $1.7 billion on hot dogs in U.S. supermarkets in 2012. At baseball stadiums, fans consumed more than 20 million hot dogs during the 2013 season.

HOT DOG STYLES

• New York: Covered with spicy brown mustard and either sauerkraut or onions sautéed with tomato paste. The sauerkraut is infused with chili powder and beer for a spicy kick.

• Chicago: Topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled peppers and a dash of celery salt.

• Kansas City: Mixes the traditional ballpark wiener with the Reuben sandwich. First covered with corned beef, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing, it’s then grilled.

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