Friday, January 03, 2014

And then there were two

Sahara's poker room, pre-2011 closure
Another sign that the poker boom is over: with today's announcement of the closure of the El Cortez poker room, there's only two places left on Fremont Street to play live poker: Golden Nugget and Binion's (the Plaza has electronic poker).

On the strip, the poker "room" at Riviera closed earlier this year.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vegas trip report: April 2013

Trip report:

Let me get this out there early: I'm a cheapskate. Especially on solo trips like this one, the cheaper I can make my Vegas trip, the better, as long as I'm not sacrificing time. Also, I get antsy staying in one place too long -- I always want to go! go! go! to the next adventure. That said...

I had a conference scheduled for work on Tuesday through Thursday of last week, and chose to pad both ends of the conference with a little Vegas vacation time. I arrived on Friday morning, grabbed a rental car, and drove to Cosmopolitan, because it's my favorite place on The Strip. I wandered through there, played slots for a few minutes, and won $10 freeplay in their "unlock & win" promo.

Next, I headed over to Bellagio and redeemed a myVegas reward comp for a "lunch buffet for 2" at the Bellagio. Redemption was easy. Although I asked, they couldn't change this into two separate buffet passes, so one of the two passes was burned. Not a big deal; I expected it. The buffet was OK but non-notable. Wicked Spoon has spoiled me.

I left Bellagio and went to Caesars Palace to buy tickets for the Matt Goss show that night, using a $10 off coupon from the "American Casino Guide". With the coupon, the cheap seat was a very reasonable $30.

Next, I crossed The Strip and wandered through The Quad. It's looking really nice, except for their (temporary?) plain tan carpeting. Every leaf or piece of lint seemed to show up, making it look pretty bad. I like the stainless steel and red lighting vibe they've got going, and the construction walls are designed and wallpapered well enough that it's hard to tell that there's construction going on once you're inside. I played some slots and some Three Card Poker, which put me ahead for what will turn out to be the only time this week.

I wandered down to Casino Royale, where their "fun book" slot bonus coupons have an additional restriction now: you have to play max coins. If I'm playing max coins anywhere, it's not going to be at Casino Royale.

Back to the car, and onward to my hotel: Circus Circus. Don't laugh -- the room for Friday and Saturday night, plus $50 food & beverage credit, was comped through a myVegas reward. The check-in line was long, but I saw a sign in the VIP area indicating "Players Club member check-in" and only one person in that line. I have a Circus Circus players card from nine years ago, so I hopped into that line. Check-in was uneventful, except for two things: the clerk didn't know how to handle the F&B credit ("go check at the players club", he suggested), and he never took a credit card for a room deposit, which I though was a little strange.

The West Tower room I received was clean and functional, although the blanket was a little worn. The view was of Fontainebleu and what looked like an old monorail track (any idea what it is? This book says it opened in 1981 and was still used as recently as 2009, but I don't believe it).

I headed downstairs to talk to the Players Club desk about my F&B credit, but the guy there had to call a manager, telling me to come back in 15 minutes. It was a profitable delay, as I pulled $30 out of a "Plants vs. Zombies" slot machine. The manager typed away on his computer, and then called *his* manager for additional help. She told him that the Players Club didn't need to do anything -- charge it to my room, and VIP services would credit the bill on checkout. Easy enough.

I crossed the street to Riviera to play single-zero roulette, and was bummed to learn that they'd gone back to double-zero last fall. I played and lost a match play coupon there. Back to the car, and valeted the car at Mirage. From there I walked to Caesars, where I lost $25 video poker, and caught the Matt Goss show, which was exactly as advertised: a Sinatra/Blublé-esque crooner with a great voice. I wasn't disappointed, but it's not a show that I feel I must see again. After the show, I wandered to Harrah's, Wynn (amazing people-watching on Friday nights!), TI, and back to the Mirage, and then drove back to Circus Circus in the early morning hours.

I hadn't had dinner yet, so I stopped at the deli to buy a sandwich. Because the front desk hadn't taken my credit card number, I didn't have room-charge privileges. Sigh. Back to the front desk to fix that, and then back to the deli for a decent French dip, which I ate upstairs.

Saturday morning, I grabbed breakfast at "Barista," a small place at Circus Circus. I then drove over to Palace Station and signed up for a players card, because they were giving away free digital coin-counting jars. The place was underwhelming, and the coin jar was, not unexpectedly, cheaply made. It did, however, give me a place to put all of the pocket change I collected during the week, which was nice. From there, I drove to Luxor, where I was unsuccessful in the 12:30 poker tournament. (Hat tip to AllVegasPoker, which is a great source to find out what poker tournaments are going on in Vegas at any time.)

I wandered to Mandalay Bay, caught the tram back to Excalibur, used a match play (losing again) at Hooters, lost money at Tropicana, and then redeemed a myVegas reward for dinner at Nine Fine Irishmen at NYNY. The food was good, but I ended up with a seat next to the kitchen *behind* the stage, with SportsCenter on a large TV to my right, which kinda ruins the atmosphere of the place.

I then drove up to Wynn, lost money there on slots, and called it a night.

Sunday, I woke up, grabbed breakfast at the deli, and grabbed three bottled beers to get to my $50 F&B limit. Upon check-out, surprising me not in the slightest, they had no record of the $50 F&B credit. The VIP desk clerk called the Players Club desk, they talked for about five minutes, and finally I think he gave up and just applied the credit on his own, not knowing if it was correct to do or not. (Hint: if you know the credit's got to come from somewhere, don't make the customer wait. Give him the credit and deal with the internal paperwork later.)

I drove to Cosmopolitan again (I love this place), played slots for a bit, and then headed upstairs to Estiatorio Milos, a Mediterranian seafood place with a $22.13 prix fixe lunch menu. Service was top notch, the tomato salad was the best I've ever had, and the lavraki (a European seabass) was spectacular. Heading to the other end of the spectrum, I next headed off-strip to Terrible's, whose roulette wheel gave me my single-worst session of the entire trip.

Now, I'm faced with a choice. I've got a "vintage" room booked downtown at El Cortez for $24, and I've got two nights booked at The Cannery (five miles past downtown) for free. Both came with $15 food credit, so I chose both. I first drove out to The Cannery, and the room was decent, much like a Comfort Inn or Best Western. Soap and shampoo were from liquid dispensers, which I'm not fond of, but otherwise, the room was fine. In the casino, I played video poker, slots, and, as part of the room package, got $25 in free slot play and a bottle of wine. Nice.

I headed from there down to Fremont Street, where I had low expectations for the El Cortez Vintage room, but it still fell short. The wire/glass window, the 1940's plaster walls, the rusty fixtures, the dim lights... I ditched my stuff there, knowing I'd be back a few hours later to grab it (and the soap, shampoo, and scratch paper) and head back to The Cannery for the night.

Dinner was the chicken parm sliders at Mob Bar that I've heard good things about on the Five Hundy By Midnight podcast. The sliders were good, but maybe my expectatons were too high, because they weren't *great*. I wandered Fremont Street to the Plaza and back, losing match plays at Plaza, Vegas Club, and Golden Gate. Construction of Slotzilla is really messing up pedestrian flow in the area.

After losing even more to slots at The D, I decided to call it a night and head back to The Cannery (grabbing my stuff at El Cortez first). Using my $15 food comp there, I had an early morning cheeseburger, which was decent enough.

Monday morning rolls around, and I've got to return the rental car. I pack up and leave The Cannery without checking out (in case something happens and I need a second night there). First, though, I need a haircut, so I fire up the GPS and head to a chain east of town on Desert Inn Road. Chop, chop, and then I drive to Planet Hollywood, check my bag at the bell desk, and then continue to the airport to return the car. I catch a cab to MGM, where I use my final myVegas comp for the champagne buffet. I'm still pretty full from the two dinners the night before, so I don't eat much. It's kind of a waste, but I'm on the company dime from here on out, so I feel I need to use it.

I wander the south Strip for a bit, and then settle in at the Monte Carlo 2:00 PM poker tournament. Two hours later, I'm knocked out, four away from the money. I walk back to Planet Hollywood ("the P-Ho"), where check-in is fast and I get a "Happy Days" themed room, with a view of the south strip.

As I'm settling in, I get a text from the vendor running the conference inviting me to join him for dinner at Todd English PUB at Aria. The place is loud and the waitstaff is jumping to keep up, but do a great job. The deep-fried pickle slices, as recommended by Five Hundy listeners, are as good as promised.

After dinner, I head to Cosmopolitan to lose money on their roulette wheel. I'm down a good chunk of change on the day, and with the conference starting the next day, I decide to be a responsible adult and get to bed before midnight.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, the conference runs until 6:00 each night, and my after-conference activities are fairly uneventful. Tuesday night, the vendor rented out Haze nightclub at Aria, so I hang out there for a couple hours, talking shop, eating their food, and drinking their booze. The place is probably quite amazing when its full of twenty-somethings of the Vegas party crowd, but with the middle-aged folks of the conference, it's pretty tame and a little dull.

After that's over, I catch a cab to and from the Hard Rock to get a ticket to Thursday night's Orianthi concert at Vinyl. Unfortunately, the box office is closed, and the cab fare was more than the Ticketmaster fees ended up being.

Wednesday night, I ramble and gamble my way up the east side of the strip (with stops at Paris, Bally's, Flamingo, The Quad, Casino Royale, Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, and Encore) and back down the west side (just TI and Mirage). It gets to be too late, and I'm craving Secret Pizza from Cosmopolitan, so I head straight there. It's as tasty as I remember.

Thursday night, I catch a cab from the P-Ho to the rental car center to get a $20 car for my last night in town. From there, I drive to Cashman Field in North Las Vegas to watch minor-league baseball: my home team Tacoma Rainiers take on the Las Vegas 51s. I hang around until the end of the fifth inning, when we're losing by something like 2-6 (apparently they had a 9th inning comeback to win 13-12), and head to the Hard Rock for the Orianthi concert at Vinyl. The concert isn't as packed as I expected, and the crowd trended older than I expected. Her guitar playing is reminiscent of Santana or Jimi Hendrix, although she's got several years left before she attains their level of skill.

After the concert, I head to the Gold Coast (yawn) for another losing match play, and then to Palms (match play loss *again*). I drive back to P-Ho for the night, hoping I'll have enough energy to wander the strip until sunrise, but I end up getting another slice of Secret Pizza from Cosmopolitan, hanging out there until almost 3 AM, and drag myself back to my room at P-Ho.

Friday's my last day in town. I sleep in, check out, and head to Ellis Island for my last match play of the trip. All others have lost, but this one wins. Finally. I also get $15 in freeplay for signing up for their players club. The casino is small and non-notable. I don't see any reason to return. From there, I head to The Quad for their 11:30 poker tournament, where I finally end up in the money, but go out in third place by challenging the big stack when he held AK. I should've suggested a deal.

A little more strip-wandering to finish out the trip (Venetian, Palazzo, Caesars, Flamingo, Casino Royale), and then it's off to the airport. I return home with only 1/3 of the bankroll I arrived with, but it was a fun, fun week -- totally worth it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Poker rooms closed in the South Sound

Because I'm not that observant and because I haven't played poker in a Washington casino in a couple of years, I hadn't noticed until today that Federal Way's PJ Pockets Casino closed more than a year ago, on January 31. My lack of observation extends to the fact that Fife's Freddie's Club closed on June 17.

Also closed since I last updated the blog: Bowlero Lanes (September 19, 2011)

According to the state gambling commission, there are currently 59 house banked cardrooms in the state. A little over three years ago, there were 73.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Edgewater House in Olalla is "not a good fit" for LGBT couples

KOMO News reports that the Edgewater House (Olalla, WA) told a relative of mine and her fiancée that the facility wouldn't be a good fit for their wedding. The Edgewater's reviews on Yelp are, appropriately taking a hit for it.

Surprisingly, there's nothing about it on their Facebook page yet.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Omaha at Bowlero Lakewood

I played poker at Bowlero in Lakewood yesterday afternoon, and I get the feeling that this could be a very profitable game, if I could survive the variance.

First things first: I'd previously tried to play there last Saturday night, but the room was closed up. The poker room manager, Lou, tells me the games usually only run from about 9:00 AM to 6 or 7 PM. I called in on Wednesday to ask about their 2:00 PM tournament. It was a no-go, and it sounds like they won't be going any time soon.

The reason: the only games they spread are Omaha variants. This is a great thing, because there's very few places in the state that spread anything other than hold 'em, and as far as I'm concerned, hold 'em players have gotten too smart. They've only got two tables, and When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the table of 10 players was full and I was third on the waitlist. As would be expected, everyone seemed to know everyone else. Unexpectedly, there were regularly eight players to the flop and three or more to the river. In the two hours I was there, I never failed to see a showdown at the river.

In a rarity for the west coast, the house doesn't take a rake from the pot. Instead, every half hour, they charge the players $2.50 to continue playeing. Also, unlike any other poker room I've ever encountered, they don't have an employee dealer. Deal rotates around the players, and the dealer chooses the game. Etiquette seems to be that the games called will be one of four Omaha hi/lo variants: 2-card, 3-card (Tahoe), 4-card (Omaha), or 5-card (Omaha Bonus). All games are $3/$6, with a full kill. "Full Kill" has always meant to me that if a player wins two pots in a row, they post $6 the next hand, and the game plays as a $6/$12 game with $1 and $3 blinds. In Bowlero's version, "Full Kill" means this happens if a player drags a pot of more than $50.

Do the math: for a $6/$12 game, with $15 in the pot to start out and a table full of loose players, the next hand is almost always another kill pot.

The winner of the pot is expected to tip the dealer $4-$6.

Their ad in the Western Gambling Journal insinuated that the staff was running it like the games at Parkland's Paradise Lanes used to be. I wouldn't know; I never played there. However, the chips Bowlero uses appear to be the chips from Paradise Lanes (see photo).

I would think that a super-tight player could make this high-action game quite profitable. Game play is about 40 hands an hour, so you'll see four rotations, and a blind cost of $16. The house charges you a $5 seat charge per hour, so you're down $21. You've dealt four hands, so you're getting $20 in tips. Thus, you're paying $1 an hour to sit and wait for a monster hand, as I did with AKQQ, dragging down a $60 pot.

Unfortunately, after waiting more than an hour on the wait list, I only had 40 minutes to play, only dealt once, and loose river play on my part netted me -$22 for the day. I'm pretty sure I'll be back, though, if I can find another available afternoon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nevada slot machine house advantage

(A short post, mainly so I'll know where to find this info later)

> The Palms asked the Las Vegas Advisor to conduct a study of slot machine payouts. The results show the following.

LocationHoldHouse edge
Strip92.8%7.2%
Downtown93.6%6.4%
Clark County93.7%6.3%
State of Nevada93.9%6.1%
North Las Vegas94.0%6.0%
Balance of County94.7%5.3%
Boulder Strip94.8%5.3%
Palms95.5%4.5%

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Twenty tips for Vegas noobs (and infrequent visitors)

A group of my friends and I are going to Vegas in January. Some of them have never been. For them, and for anyone who finds it useful, I've put together 20 tips that will help make it a better trip.

This will be my 7th trip to Vegas, and I seem to learn something new every time. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, so take everything I say below with a grain of salt and a jaded eye. Also, http://www.cheapovegas.com has some additional good suggestions.

1) Your vacation time has value.
Wasting your time in Vegas has a cost. I'm not talking about wandering around, taking in the scenery; that's a valuable being-a-tourist time. I'm talking about time spent doing non-fun stuff, like waiting in line. Don't park your car when you can valet. Don't wait in line if you can do it later. Don't show up to the airport 2½ hours early. This tip is inherent in many of the tips below. For example...

2) Couples shouldn't take a shuttle bus from the airport
Shuttles cost $12.50 per person. Cabs to the center strip cost about $25. With two people, it's a wash if not for the fact that the shuttle buses can make two or three lengthy stops before they reach your hotel. Take a cab instead, but...

3) Don't let the cab driver long-haul you from the airport.
When the cab leaves the airport, they should be turning left to get to the strip. If they turn right, they're headed for the tunnel, which will add about $5 to your fare. If they ask to take the tunnel or the freeway, just say no.

4) Try the $20 trick.
When checking into the hotel, slip a folded $20 bill between your credit card and drivers license, and say the magic words, "Do you have any complementary upgrades available?" The worst that can happen is you get snubbed (right, Becca?). The best? It happened to me at Caesars: an upgrade to a four room suite. See http://www.frontdesktip.com for success and failure reports.

5) Collect and use coupons
You'll find coupon books at the airport, in the cab, and in your hotel room. There's some great coupons in the 2011 American Casino Guide and in the 2011 Las Vegas Advisor Pocketbook of Values. (The 2011 Vegas Entertainment Book... not so much). Many of these are good for first-time players club signups only. Also, Restaurant.com, with promo codes, has some great deals (e.g., House of Blues or the Stratosphere rotating restaurant for $22 off a $35 purchase). The most ubiquitous "coupon," however, is...

6) Collect and use players' club cards
Every casino offers players cards for tracking your play, similar to Safeway cards. Play enough, you'll get free money on the card (although at my play level, it's minimal). However, many players cards come with free sign-up bonuses. The two big casino chains on the strip are Harrah's (their "Total Rewards" card is usable at Harrahs, Imperial Palace, Flamingo, Bally's, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Caesars, and Rio) and MGM (their "Players Club" card [soon to be "MLife"] is usable to at MGM, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York, Monte carlo, Aria, Bellagio, and Mirage). Some casinos also track your non-gambling spend, so hand it over when you check in, at meals, or if you buy something stupidly expensive at the casino's mall. The best offer going right now is at Tropicana, so be sure to...

7) Take advantage of Tropicana
For a limited time, they're offering an "Even the Odds" promotion for people who've never had one of their players cards. Sign up for the players card, lose money at slots, and you'll get 50% of your net loss back the same day (as free slot play, up to $100), and another 50% of your loss back after the third day of the next month (as free play, up to $100). Strategy: Make stupid big bets on high roller machines, and if you end up above $200, cash out and don't look back. If you lose all $200, take the 50%, and grind it through slowly on a penny machine, then come back within a year and do the same with the second 50%. If you enjoy slot play, then...

8) Odds on slots are based on three things: Location, location, location.
The airport airport has the worst slot payout in town, because it's got a captive audience. Slot machines on the strip are better, but still bad, paying about 89%. Downtown pays about 92%. Off-strip pays about 94%. That house edge adds up. Speaking of which...

9) Friends don't let friends play 6:5 blackjack.
Getting 6:5 on your money when you hit an Ace and a face card shouldn't even be called blackjack. The proper payoff is 3:2; your $10 bet should be paid $15, not $12. But 6:5 "blackjack" has invaded the strip like a virus over the last 18 months. Just. Say. No.

10) It's further away than it looks.
Sure, you can see the Eiffel Tower from Mandalay Bay, and the Venetian and the Sahara look "only" a few blocks apart. It's a long walk. The strip is four miles long. That said, it's worth it to take the better part of a day walking between Mandalay and Encore. North of that, though, it's acres of desert and crappy casinos. But when you're walking...

11) Obey pedestrian controls as if you were in Seattle
On average, a pedestrian gets killed in Vegas every four days. Not good odds for the price. Take a hint from the chicken -- there's better ways to cross the road. And while you're hoofing it to the next casino...

12) Ignore the porn slappers and time share weasels
Be rude without feeling bad. There's sleazy people on the street handing out cards with porn on them hoping you'll call their client for a good time. If you take one, the rest will surround you like a pack of hyenas trying to get you to take theirs, too. There's weasels on the street offering free show tickets in exchange for watching a time share presentation. If you waste your time doing this, well, see tip number 1. Don't say no, don't acknowledge their presence. Just keep walking.

13) You can't catch the bus at the casino; you can't catch a cab on the strip; you can't catch the monorail anywhere convenient.
Cabs aren't allowed to pick up passengers on the strip. Catch one at the nearest hotel. On the strip, you can catch the double-decker bus ("The Deuce") at $5 for a two hour pass, or $7 for a 24-hour pass. During busy times, the Deuce isn't much faster than walking, but it will get you there. There's also free trams between Treasure Island and Mirage; between Monte Carlo, Aria, and Bellago; and between Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excalibur. The monorail is expensive and sucks. The Deuce is the most cost effective way to get downtown, but...

14) Save Fremont Street downtown for later.
If this is your first time in Vegas, you'll be doing too much to waste time downtown. Save it for next time. Instead...

15) Watch the Bellagio fountain show.
It's the best free show in town, hands down. Pirate wenches, sleeping lions, and fake volcanos are distant wannabes. Bellagio also has a beautiful conservatory and great Chuhuly glasswork in the lobby. It also has good food, like most of Vegas. So don't forget...

16) Splurge on a good meal
Some of the best chefs in the world have their restaurants on the strip. Your tastes certainly vary from mine, but you're sure to find what you're looking for. After you drop $100 on a meal...

17) Max out the Buffet of Buffets
Harrah's is offering the "Buffet of Buffets" for $39.99: 24 hours of all-you-can-eat access to seven of their buffets:

  • Harrah's Las Vegas: Flavors
  • Flamingo: Paradise Garden Buffet (nasty! don't do it!)
  • Imperial Palace: Emperor's Buffet (even worse!)
  • Paris: Le Village Buffet
  • Rio: Carnival World Buffet
  • Caesars Palace: Lago Buffet
  • Planet Hollywood: Spice Market Buffet (yummo!)
For the most value, start with a late dinner one night and finish with an earlier dinner the next. Follow it up with a show. And by the way...

18) Don't pay full price for a show
http://www.tix4tonight.com has booths up and down the strip. Your hotel magazine or the coupon book you grabbed in the cab probably has a discount on their service fee. They sell show tickets at between 20% and 50% off.

19) Buy a case of water for your room.
Get it from the ABC store, or Walgreens, or somewhere cheap. You'll want it when you wake up with a hangover, or even with no hangover. Even though it's winter, you're still in the desert. Drink up.

20) A final tip: Tip.
Tips are the grease that lets the Vegas machine work smoothly. That $20 tip in number 4 above is a good example of this. Among some others you'll encounter:

  • Waitresses: $1 a drink. $2 will be remembered. Starting $5 will get you instant drink service for your next several.
  • Table game dealers: $5 an hour. Or make a bet on their behalf.
  • Poker dealers: $1-$3 per pot, when you win. 5-10% of tournament winnings.
  • Housekeeping: $1-$2 a day. Maybe I'm a jerk, but I find it a good way to get rid of my change so I don't have to carry it back through the airport.
  • Cab drivers: 15% of the fare.
  • Valet: $1-$2 when you retrieve your car.
  • Slot machine attendants: For handpays (i.e., winnings over $1200), $20 or 1% of your winnings, whatever's more. I should be so lucky to have this problem.

(Edit: formatting clean up)