At work, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has invented a long life food preservative, earning him a large bonus check. Clark announces to his family that he is taking them on vacation. Part of the reason for the trip is for Clark and Ellen to renew their wedding vows. Excitement wanes, however, when Clark says they are headed to Las Vegas, Nevada. His wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and teenage daughter, Audrey (Marisol Nichols) have their doubts, as Las Vegas is not known for its family-friendly atmosphere, while teenage son Rusty (Ethan Embry) appears to be more enthusiastic. Upon travelling to Vegas, they run into the "woman in the Ferrari" (Christie Brinkley) who appeared in the first film. Clark is the only one who sees her, but then notices that she now has a child.
Upon arriving in Vegas, the family embarks upon a series of misadventures. The Griswolds visit Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), the husband of Ellen's cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn). Eddie and his family now live in the desert just north of Las Vegas, on what used to be an atom bomb test site. While on a group tour of the Hoover Dam led by guide Arty (John P. Finnegan), Clark leaves the group after accidentally creating a leak in the dam's inside walkways, and is forced to climb the scaffolding to the very top of the dam to get out, because his cries for help cannot be heard over the roaring water of the spillway. Later that night they attend a Siegfried & Roy show.
The next night, they are surprised to find tickets to a Wayne Newton concert and a dress for Ellen have were delivered to their hotel room. They go to the concert, only to realize that Newton had sent the dress. While singing, he brings Ellen up on stage to sing with him, and visits at their table.
The next day, the family agrees to an "alone day" and are left to their own devices. Clark goes to a casino and becomes addicted to gambling, usually losing to a snidey dealer (Wallace Shawn) who enjoys Clark's humiliation. He spurns Ellen's bedroom advances in favor of watching a gambling lesson on television. Rusty gets a fake ID from a Frank Sinatra look-alike (Toby Huss) and becomes a winning high roller, taking on the pseudonym 'Nick Pappagiorgio'. Audrey starts hanging out with Eddie's free-spirited and gorgeous exotic dancer daughter Vicki (Shae D'Lyn) and her friends. And Ellen begins spending time with Wayne Newton, who has feelings for Ellen. When Clark learns she has gone to visit Newton at his mansion, he drives there and angrily crashes through the picture window of Newton's home.
Eventually, Clark gambles away the family's $22,600 bank account, leading a furious Ellen and both of the kids to desert him. Russ goes off gambling for cars, and wins four, while Audrey goes to a strip club with Vicki and gets a job as a stripper. Eddie — who has money buried in his front yard — tries to come to Clark's rescue in return for everything the Griswolds have done for him and his family over the years. Clark and Eddie go to a local casino to get their money back, but Clark ends up gambling away Eddie's money too, causing him to reevaluate his behavior. Clark then realizes he no longer cares about getting his money back, but he needs to get his family back.
Clark then gathers up his family from around Vegas and they gamble their last two dollars on a game of Keno. They sit next to an elderly man (Sid Caesar) who compliments Clark on his family, and hints that he has been lonely all of his life. Out of sympathy, Clark tells the man to consider himself part of the Griswold family for the night. The man happily accepts Clark's offer, and both parties begin the game. At first, the Griswolds are optimistic, but as they realize they have already lost the game, they sit together in silence. Suddenly, the man next to them ecstatically declares that he has won the game. In his burst of joy, he suddenly begins to slip in and out of consciousness while Ellen sends Rusty for help. He awakens one last time and whispers a message to Clark, before dropping his winning ticket and lapsing one final time.
Clark, confused, tells Ellen that the man said "take the ticket." When the casino security guards and paramedics arrive, they declare the man officially dead. They tell the Griswolds his name was Mr. Ellis, and commented on how sad his loneliness was to them. As Mr. Ellis is carried away, a janitor approaches with a carpet cleaner, heading straight for the winning ticket on the floor. Though it appears Clark is going to allow it to be lost, at the last second, he slides the ticket out of the carpet cleaner's path. With their newfound winnings, Clark and Ellen get remarried. Afterwards, Clark gives Eddie $5,000 to repay his kindness. They all drive home in the four cars Rusty won on the slot machines: a red Dodge Viper, a maroon Ford Mustang, a black Hummer H1, and a white Ford Aspire.Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold
Beverly D'Angelo as Ellen Griswold
Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie
Ethan Embry as Russell "Rusty" Griswold
Marisol Nichols as Audrey Griswold
Miriam Flynn as Cousin Catherine
Shae D'Lyn as Cousin Vicki
Juliette Brewer as Cousin Ruby Sue
Wallace Shawn as Marty the Blackjack dealer
Christie Brinkley as "Girl in the Red Ferrari" (non-speaking cameo)
Julia Sweeney as Mirage desk clerk
Wayne Newton as himself
Siegfried & Roy as themselves
Toby Huss as young Frank Sinatra impersonator/fake ID salesman
Sid Caesar as Mr. Ellis
Jerry Weintraub as "Gilly from Philly"
Vegas Vacation was filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the busy tourist season, from mid-June through late September 1996. Extensive footage was shot at The Mirage Resort, and included the resort's diving dolphins and its Siegfried & Roy show. Other filming locations included Casa de Shenandoah, the home of entertainer Wayne Newton, who also appears in the film. Scenes were also filmed at the Klondike Hotel and Casino, and on soundstages at the Las Vegas Video Sound Film Production Center.
Nichols and Embry became the fourth different set of actors to play the Griswold children, Audrey and Rusty. This fact is referenced early in the film when Clark Griswold comments that he hardly recognizes his children anymore.
The role played by Toby Huss was similar to a number of MTV commercials from the early 1990s that featured Huss as a Las Vegas crooner.
The Sid Caesar death scene is reminiscent of the Jimmy Durante death scene in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in which Caesar also starred. His character was one of the witnesses to Durante's character's death.
Vegas Vacation was released to cinemas in the USA on February 14, 1997. To date, this is the only theatrical Vacation film to receive a PG rating, as all others are rated R (the original film and 2015's Vacation) and PG-13 (European Vacation and Christmas Vacation). The film was later released on home video and to television.
The film received negative reviews. It has garnered a rating of just 13% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews.
The film was followed by another theatrical sequel, simply titled Vacation, that acts as both a continuation and a modernized reboot of the series. Unlike Vegas Vacation and the prior two sequels (European and Christmas) which were aimed largely towards family audiences, the 2015 film has a much more explicit tone and is the first entry since the original to receive an R-rating. It was released on July 29, 2015.