Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Soliciting Comments About This Blog

Consider this a formal, semi-self-serving request for your honest appraisal of this blog. If you think it sucks tell me why. If you
like all or part of it, tell me why. I'm interested in honest appraisals of it's content..or what it's content is missing / needs to encourage visitation. If it's a common Vegas blog, I'd like to hear from you. If you think I need to find a building to jump off of,
tell me. Thank you ..


Friday, December 19, 2008

Where I Play Blackjack In Vegas...and Why

Earlier blackjack posts here referred to the importance of player-favorable rule sets and use of accurate basic strategy play
as two means to lower the house advantage and increase player expectation. Blackjack (BJ) routinely offers the lowest house
advantage over players as compared to all other games (including craps) provided we know perfect basic strategies for a given game and insist on locating those games that offer the best rules. Over time, these can make a huge difference in enjoyment and potential wins/ minimized losses. BJ also offers one of the best venues to accrue comps for those interested in playing the comp game; there are many ways to positively augment accrued comps at the BJ tables (we'll highlight these in future posts). The MINIMUM rule sets/conditions (ultimately rendering a house edge between 0.25 and 0.42% off-the-top) at a given BJ table ( 6-deck shoe games with no continuous shuffling machines [CSM's} in use) that I look for are :

Standard game I play= 6 Deck Shoes / 5 -25 dollar minimum bet tables / 1 - 12 bet spread variation( x minimums)/ no CSM's

DAS (doubling allowed after splitting pairs) ; adds + 0.14% to player expectation / expected value (EV)

S17 (dealer stands on his soft seventeen, eg A,6 hands); adds + 0.20% to EV versus H17 (dealer hits soft seventeen)

3:2 payouts on naturals (blackjacks); worth + 2.5% EV ; it's idiocy to play those with even money or 6:5 payouts on blackjacks

LS (late surrender offered; allows player to surrender hand with certain 2-card totals vs specific dealer up card AFTER dealer
checks hole card for blackjack; adds + 0.075% )

If a given locale does not offer the above on it's 6-deck shoe games, I simply refuse to play unless there is a special set of
rules / promotion that drives the house edge down. Where are these games USUALLY located (you have to refer to BJ sources and then scout the actual conditions while there) ? I've often found these games at the following casinos (keep in mind that you might have to bet 15 or 25 dollar minimums to collectively locate all these rules and conditions at a given game).

MGM Grand (Strip)
Mandalay Bay (Strip)
Monte Carlo (Strip)
New York, New York ( Strip)
Tropicana (Strip)
Red Rock (Off Strip)

Notice there aren't any Harrah's properties on the list? Be aware that the above 6-deck games are easier to find during the day
on weekdays than on more crowded weekends. If conditions are crowded for most any reason, the better games will be harder
to find initially and more difficult to find a seat at. Additionally, traditionally the casinos increase table minimums as demand increases and in evening shifts. There are other additive rules that some casinos offer that lowers house advantage and thus increases the accurate basic strategy player's expectation:

RSA resplitting of aces after initial split; adds + 0.06% EV; variations are rsa3 (resplit only once to make three hands)

D3 player may double down on first 3 cards; adds + 0.23% EV

Two casinos that consistently offer the above are:


*note that rules at these usually involve H17 (dealer hits soft seventeen ); the cumulative advantage of these two additional
rule allowances offset the H17 disadvantage; off-the-top house edge at these games is approximately .25% (perfect basic
strategy used). Good games here; off-strip locales with none of the glitz and glamour, low minimums

Other rules that further reduce the house edge but are seldom (if ever) found in Vegas casinos are:

DSA doubling after ace splits; adds +0.10% EV

21s suited blackjack pays 2:1 ; adds + 0..56% EV

BJ2:1 natural player blackjacks pay 2:1 ; adds + 2.28%

6 player's unbusted 6-card hand (automatic winner even against dealer blackjack); adds+0.10%

ES early surrender; game allows surrender of hand and half your bet BEFORE dealer checks for natural; adds+ 0.63%); e-mail
me if you find such a game in Vegas; beyond rare

There are some decent 2-deck games in Vegas; simply playing a two-deck game versus 6 decks adds 0.25% to your expectation. Thus, you theoretically could sacrifice some of the other rules as a tradeoff to arrive within a reasonable house edge range. The house edge with S17,DAS, and RSA = 0.19%. S17 ,DAS -only games can be found at Luxor and Mirage if
you can tolerate the 25$ minimum bets. The following off-strip casinos offer H17,DS,and RSA games for 2-10 $ minimums
and a house edge of .35% :

Arizona Charlie's East
Station casinos (Boulder, Texas, Santa Fe, Palace, and Sunset Stations)
Green Valley Ranch
Red Rock
Silver Nugget
Wild, Wild West

I'd expect the casinos to consider if not slowly begin to offer more player-favorable rules at their BJ games in light of the present economy; they need patrons. Promotional games with short-term rule improvements should occur more often in these tough times..possibly. We'll see.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Recent Las Vegas Gaming Revenue and Visitor Counts Indicative of Nationwide Economic Crisis

We're all aware Las Vegas' economic condition and outlook is in a downturn. The following numbers* describe the depth of
several critical measurements which are both interrelated and interdependent .

- October Strip gaming revenue declined over 25% compared to last year at this time (actual casino win was 475 million vs 640
million last year )
- Las Vegas gaming wins were also down for North Las Vegas (- 34.3%), Boulder Strip (-28.2%), and downtown (-19.6%)
- October visitor counts are down 10% vs October 2007
- October was the tenth successive monthly decline in gaming wins for the casinos
- Casino stock shares have declined in value by 80 - 90% compared to last year's indexes
- Gaming properties debt is now 7 - 10 times greater than their earnings
- By the end of September, over 3200 employees had been laid off at Strip locations
(will certainly escalate as last quarter numbers are reported); many more employees have seen their hours cut
- Many 401K match savings plans have been suspended by gaming companies to reduce costs
- Las Vegas visitors through McCarran Airport was down 13.2% by September (vs last year); many of the airlines such as
Southwest have reduced the number of flights here in response to lower demand
- Restaurant and bar sales in Clark County ,which are traditionally thought of as good indicators of tourism levels, are down
nearly 20 % ( from 623.4 million to 580.5 million)
- Many resort expansion or development projects have been stalled, put on indefinite hold, or cancelled outright due to the
credit crisis
- Hotel occupancy and room rates are down by approximately 10-25% and expected to decline further
- MGM MIrage, one of the largest gaming companies, has seen net income decline 67% (from 183.9 to 61.3 million)
- Some casinos have significantly reduced entertainment schedules and either closed or reduced operating hours at
- The local unemployment rate hiked to 7.6% in October ( significantly higher than the national average) ; unemployment
claim filings have increased by 44% as compared to October, 2007
- Business confidence indexes all point toward a deepening of the above numbers; ie, it will get worse

What does all the above mean for potential visitors? There will be attractive room rate/ travel deal offers to lure us to visit Las Vegas resorts; yet consumer willingness to spend discretionary money for Vegas visits will likely continue to decrease. Patrons who have visited lately are obviously spending less money while there. For those in a position to go, perhaps unprecedented offers will be in the offing. Resort survival will be an interesting scenario to monitor during the next year. The severity of the economic condition seems to scream belt-tightening for us all.


*Sources ; compiled from Nevada Gaming Control Board, Las Vegas Sun news articles, UNLV Center for Business & Economic
Research, In Business Las Vegas, Las Vegas Business Press, New York Times Business Section articles

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Las Vegas travel "deals" will escalate; room costs will continue to decrease

Yes..it's the general economy, stupid. Las Vegas casinos are hurting economically and scrambling for patrons. Room rates
have decreased approximately 20 - 30 % at Las Vegas resorts compared to this time last year. Due to the widespread effects of
the economic recession all of us are experiencing, Sin City's casinos are offering many room rate deals to entice us to darken
their doors with cash in hand. Free or significantly reduced rate room deals are on the rise for player's club or casino website
members; many of them have been trending in this direction since at least September, 2008 when the early news of mortgage company bailouts began. My wife and I stayed at 4 different upscale strip properties for nine days in late October, 2008 and didn't pay for a single night's stay (we're long-standing player's club members at multiple properties but are not upper crust gamblers; penny slots, blackjack at 10 -25 dollar minimum tables). Again, a key tip is to sign up for casino website e-mail
lists and join every casino player's club you visit while there. Remember to remind room reservation personnel that you're a
player's club member if booking direct with individual casinos..it might make a huge difference in room rate quotes considering the present economic conditions ..ASK for a better rate. All they can say is jump off a cliff (no). If you happen to be an old hand at the comp game, it's likely you've received multiple free or greatly reduced room offers (mail or e-mail) . The casinos, like any enterprise, can't survive if we don't show up and spend money. Presently , one of the largest gaming conglomerates only has 61 million dollars cash (poor guys) on hand ; that amount is nearly 90% less than this same time last year. Essentially all resorts are being forced to scale down their operations and expenses in order to weather this economic storm we're all enduring; visitor counts have understandably dwindled and this has lowered demand / increased the supply for rooms and occupancy. All this translates into the need for the casinos to generate customer enticements to get us through their doors. Room comps/ reduced rates are particularly attractive presently for that reason. You still need to be diligent and do your research for best rate comparisons and best timing..if you can afford a Vegas trip yourself. If so, there is and will continue to be some super accommodation deals in Vegas. New Year's eve will still be three-pickles-short-of-a-full-jar
expensive, but considerably less at some properties than last year.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recent Trip Report : The Venetian

My wife and I stayed at the Venetian October 26th -28th. A huge plus was the large (700 square feet) fabulous room accommodations with a split-level floor design (sunken living room ), wonderfully comfortable beds, elegant furnishings , and for our purposes an overdone bath area (TV, too much glass,brass,and mirrors). Overall, an elegant room comparatively speaking. The service at Venetian was THE best we've ever experienced in Las Vegas as virtually all service contacts (registration desk, table dealers, hosts, slot reps, cage cashiers, and player's club reps ) were gooey to assist and please us. It must be one of owner Sheldon Adelson's axioms that all contact employees and service people sidle up to patrons because it was consistent throughout. It truly added a lot to the stay .
The gambling was also a positive experience as we were able to locate a few apparent higher payback slots (particularly
one bank near the entrance to the Palazzo walkway) and we ended up ahead 400.00 + by the visit completion. This particular bank was consistent for us ( it included a Tiki Torch, Flame of Olympus, and Helen of Troy machines in this 8-machine bank).
Our average bets per spin ranged from 40 cents to 2.00 and we used a 50% buy-in stoploss benchmark (ie $50 dollar buy-in
session was cashed out at $25 remaining credit point). The blackjack games were primarily 2 deck pitch and 6-deck shoe
games ; I prefer to play the shoe games at the 10 and 15 dollar minimums. Overall, the beginning house edge at this level
at Venetian was approximately .56% ( mediocre regarding rules set) for the 6-deck shoe games. I managed to finish in the black following about 22 hours of play (+ $ 230.00). Again, all the dealers I encountered were quite congenial and friendly; during that play span I only observed 3 minor dealer errors ( 2 on player payouts and 1 count total that a player missed as well). Overall, the gambling experience here was acceptable (we took out more than we invested; there were certainly much better and much worse blackjack games regarding game rules and off-the-top house advantage at other locales).
The visuals at the Venetian resort were opulent with the Grand Canal Shoppes, the frescoe reproductions adorning the 65-foot domed ceiling at the front casino entrance, the exterior and interior gondola canals, 3-D marble flooring tile, the huge
Venice-like illustrated map behind the front desk, and the blue, whispy-clouded sky facade overlooking the Grande Canal
Shops and canal. Cumulatively, it truly offered an opulently tranquil visual imagery; it succeeded in making us want to relax
and hit the casino (part of their plan, I assume). As a sidenote , the performing mime was a kick at the Grand Canal Shoppe walkway..the only time he moved was when he received a tip (imagine that?)
We chose to dine at the food court area as we had several coupons applicable for use there (the Bella Panini sandwich
shop was excellent); there is no buffet per se at the Venetian but there are approximately twenty restaurants and the mentioned fast food court. You can find and spend what you want on the culinary choices here.
The valet service was the only negative experience we encountered here. The waits were too long and there was an overall aura of disorganization. One apparent logistical problem that we observed was the long distance between the actual valet parking area and the pickup area ( I asked our valet rep and he specifically indicated this). Also, their inter- communication seemed poor; these two factors resulted in a 40 - minute wait for our car from contact until arrival and we weren't the only
ones with an extended wait. We solved this problem by parking in the self-parking garage which was quite casino-accessible
relative to other large resort self-parking lots.
The primary reason we chose to stay at The Venetian was because the rooms were comped ; we would not have stayed
here without that element (actual room rates for these dates were over 200.00 per night). We had not gambled here much
prior to this trip so we assume the poor state of the economy and/or shared gambling lists from other resorts resulted in
the free three-night stay offer ( a mailer). We'll reiterate..sign up for player's club and casino e-mail subscriptions..it does pay off. We've received more free room offers from Venetian since our return.
We absolutely recommend this resort if you can obtain a decent room rate offer ; comparatively it ranks very high on our list of favorite resorts.. in the top three. On a ten-point rating scale, it rates a 9 from us. Check it out if it's affordable for your
next trip budget; it's a grand joint.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reduced cost times to visit Las Vegas

When planning Vegas trips on a budget, hopefully potential visitors have some options / flexibility as to when they can choose to travel . Some don't have those options due to pre-set vacation windows with their employment and/ or other constraints. If you have some flexibility , there are some basic supply and demand factors that significantly influence travel costs . For the most part, it's cheaper to hit Vegas when it's less crowded; this factor reduces the demand for airfare and rooms and generally leads to more cost-saving opportunities. Price swings are usually greater for rooms than for airfare and generally we suggest you reserve a place to stay before reserving a flight (exceptions might be one of those fantastic "package" deals involving both rooms and the flight.)
Room rates are routinely cheaper during weekdays (Sunday through Thursday) than on weekends; overall, the least
expensive days for airfare are Wednesdays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays (in order). Thus, midweek arrivals can result in significant
savings if your schedule permits. Seasonally, winter (November through February) is the least crowded with December being
the overall least crowded month according to the Las Vegas Convention Visitor Authority (LVCVA). Most of us are saving and preparing for Christmas and this reduces Vegas trips. There are some excellent room deals after the National Finals Rodeo in early December through Christmas day; room rates escalate during the week between Christmas and New Years. There's nothing economical about room rates on New Year's Eve..300,000 plus people force high demand and high prices. If you just have to go to Vegas then, book 6 months in advance if possible; you can possibly get the room you want but it'll still be pricey particularly at a strip property. The week after New Years day often offers some great room rates. Thereafter, some significant conventions begin to increase room occupancy and rates. We suggest you obtain a list of scheduled conventions( ie Consumer Electronics Show in January; National Association of Broadcasters in April) and special events (ie Nascar, National Finals Rodeo, Superbowl) and where these are specifically hosted or sponsored; again, demand for rooms and thus prices escalate when major events hit town, particularly on the strip. The downtown and off-strip casino-hotels have generally less convention traffic and they'd offer better rates at these times( and most other times,too) generally speaking. You can obtain a list of conventions/events from the LVCVA website @ "http://www.lvcva.com" ; if you can avoid the major convention crowds you'll be able to obtain generally lower rates. Weather-wise, spring and fall are optimal times to visit for comfort; average daily visitor counts historically are higher in spring than fall; overall lower room rates can be found in the fall and is a great time to be in Vegas. March is the busiest month in Sin City (110,000 per day in 2008). If you can stand the literal heat,
often it's possible to obtain great room rate deals in July and/or August; hell, just stay indoors and enjoy the AC. Other important holidays include Thanksgiving (not busy) ; Halloween,Labor Day, and Memorial Day are all huge visitor draws.
If you're a gambler ( you don't have to be a whale / high roller) and you've signed up at the casino-hotel websites and are a player's club member, you might possibly receive free or reduced - rate room offers. One could theoretically plan an entire
trip around such offers if they're representative of significant cost savings ; they often are. This is particularly true
presently due to the state of the economy as the casino properties are all scrambling for patrons. Many so-called
"low-rollers" are obtaining e-mail and mail offers with other incentives attached because of reduced occupancy and visitors in
Las Vegas. Of course, utilizing these offers assumes we can afford to go at all. Consider these if they apply to your situation.
If you have no such offers but are a member of player's clubs , attempt to book direct with a given property / property group
and mention that you're a player's club member; depending on the hotel, you might be pleasantly surprised at the rate quote.
Of course if you've accumulated a significant number of player's club points on your account, you can apply these to room bills
at most properties.
Regardless of when you choose to act a fool in Vegas, attempt to plan well in advance if at all possible. Generally, if you have a specific time window defined for a trip, room rates between now and then will usually increase. Research your options
well ahead of the intended itinerary and you can certainly save some travel costs; when and how matters !
As many of you are aware, there's a plethora of Vegas travel ,hotel, and airline websites. Most of the casinos these days
have their own "Best Rate Guarantee" on room rates and often can offer best rates when compared to the travel sites; you should consider booking direct as a part of your trip planning in our opinion. MGM Mirage and Harrah's properties will offer
a 10% bonus if you can find a better room rate quote than their own offers (some exceptions). We recommend the following airline / travel info or booking websites to obtain the best deal when considering Vegas trip timing:
1. http://www.kayak.com ; excellent info comparative site for flights/ hotels; routine alert service
2. http://www.southwest.com; routinely offers lower fares to Vegas; sign up for "Ding" service to your email
3. http://www.southwestvacations.com; package deals, reasonable rates
4. http://www.priceline.com ; bidding site; if your bid is accepted, you're joined at the hip with the deal; research!
5. http://www.hotwire.com' ; alert services for defined trip;
6. http://www.farecast.com ; airfare watchsite ; alerts you when flights expected to increase/ decrease
7. http://www.travelaxe.com ; hotel rate comparative site; excellent source

To summarize, key considerations for timing of Vegas trips for reduced costs are:
1. Flexibility of schedule
2. Be aware of the timing of lower historical visitor counts (supply and demand for flights/ rooms); winter low, spring high
3. Plan well in advance; research options; peruse hotel-casino websites as early and often as possible
4. Obtain convention and events schedule listings; avoid huge convention / event dates (if you prefer reduced costs)
5. Midweek arrivals are cheaper (rooms and flights)
6. Sign up on property/ property group (ie MGM Mirage, Harrah's, Stations casinos,etc.) websites and join player's clubs
(comped / reduced rate rooms and other incentives ; partially due to present economy)
7. Currently booking directly with property is advantageous vs travel websites; Use Kayak, Southwest,Priceline and Travelaxe as
outside starter sites; compare with hotel websites; they offer Best Rate Guarantees now in Vegas
8. Off-strip generally less expensive; if you can stand it
9. Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are not busy ; New Years is personified insanity; Labor day, Memorial Day, and
Halloween are busy
10. Costs aside, go to Vegas when you damned well feel like it.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Results of our initial reader poll

The results our first reader poll follows:

A. Which 5 criteria are most important to you when planning Las Vegas trips? (select only 5)
1. Costs/cost savings = 69%
2. Airlines/ flight options = 51%
3. Hotel - casino location (strip vs off-strip) = 64%
4. Hotel quality / service = 55%
5. Dining options = 35%
6. Entertainment = 29%
7. Gambling options = 57%
8. Comp programs / player's clubs = 48%
9. Nightclub / lounge venues = 4%
10. Room amenities / comfort = 41%
11. Family- oriented options = 2%
12. In-town transportation = 5%
13. Recreational options = 0%
14. Shopping venues = 13%
15. Out-of-town excursions = 5%
16. Business / convention logistics = 1%

Comments: Top 5 criteria (in descending order of importance) were costs / cost savings, hotel -casino location,
gambling options, hotel quality / service, and airlines / flight options. Unsurprisingly, particularly in
light of the present general economy, costs or saving money was the most selected criteria. Hotel -
casino location (presumably the desire to stay on the strip) was only slightly less important vs. trip
cost savings. Gambling options barely nudged out hotel quality / service as selected criteria (57% vs
55%,respectively) followed by airline / flight options rounding out the top five. Flight options are no
doubt related to trip cost factors and likely to time of day arrival and on - time . Comp programs and
room comfort were also significantly important concerns in the poll. Evidently our readers (most of whom
fly to town) are cost-conscious gamblers who like to stay at a strip hotel that offers comfortable rooms and
good service. These results support many of the reasons why Frugally Vegas exists. Thanks for your
participation..we respectfully solicit your own comments regarding poll results.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

*Vegas Trip Tip* : Buffet Savings

Some casino-resort buffets don't shut down between meal - type changeovers. Buffet costs generally increase with each progression from breakfast < lunch < dinner < specialty buffets (ie Fri and Sat specialties). There are several buffets that don't close between shifts (see partial list below which is current as of this writing; always check before going). If your conscience allows, you can arrive 30 -45 minutes prior to posted shift changes and pay a lunch buffet price and enjoy the dinner buffet offerings. For example, we paid 19.95 each for two lunch buffets at Bellagio's buffet (superb!) and sampled all the dinner dishes (normally costs $27.95 ; a $16 dollar savings overall). A few of the highest -rated buffets in Vegas don't close between shifts. We haven't sampled all the buffets in Vegas ourselves but have patronized many of them. Our top 5 buffet choices based on quality of the dishes, overall selection, and service are (in no particular order) the Bayside Buffet (Mandalay Bay), The French Market Buffet (Orleans), The Buffet at Bellagio, The Buffet at Wynn, and The Carnival World Buffet (Rio).

Vegas Buffets That Don't Close Between Meal -Type Changeovers*

1. Aliante Station
2. Bellagio
3. Boulder Station
4. Caesar's Palace
5. Excalibur
6. Flamingo
7. Golden Nugget
8. Mirage
9. Paris
10. Red Rock
11. Rio
12. Suncoast
13. TI
14. Wynn
* as of this writing; check with specific resort


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Value of "comps" in Vegas

Our initial Vegas Trip Tip outlined and encouraged player's club signup in every casino you enter. Gaming properties compete for gamblers time and money by compensating them with complimentary gifts (comps). These comps involve free drinks, meals, free or reduced rate rooms,show tickets, and extend to airfare reimbursement/ flyback certificates and even Super Bowl tickets (the latter two comps are usually restricted to the high rollers, of course). Sometimes the awarded comps are offered after you leave town (mailers. e-mail offers) in order to entice a return trip and future wagering of your cash. Comp programs are inherently designed to build customer loyalty and to foster return visits with your purses and wallets in hand. You do not have to be a high-roller to receive low to midlevel comps; low level gamblers can and do receive a surprising amount of freebies/discounts in Las Vegas. The current economic downturn in Vegas and everywhere else has casino marketing departments scrambling for patrons; my wife and I didn't have to pay for a single room night during our recent 9 -day stay in Vegas ... and we're absolutely not upper crust gamblers. Thus, the present conditions are conducive to generally better ROOM comps/ reduced rates than those even 6 months ago in our experience. The casinos need customers and providing reduced -rate or free rooms at least gets us in their doors.
Comp levels are generally determined by average bet X hours played X bets per hour X expected house edge X % casino
comp return to players. Let's assume you play a decent blackjack game (you know basic strategy and game rules are favorable) and your average bet is $10/ hand.If you're playing at an "average" 6- deck shoe game you can expect to see 60 - 80 hands/hr. if the table involves 3-4 players. Most casinos use 60 hands per hour and a house edge of 2% when figuring comps. Most casinos will return approximately 40% of their expected win back to a player in the form of comps. Let's assume you play 5 hours under these conditions ( hopefully at more than one table). The comp calculation would be $10 (average bet) X 5 (hours played) X 60 (hands/hr.) X .02 (house edge) X .40 (casino return). This means cumulatively you wagered approximately $3000.00 (surprised?) X .02 = $60.00 X .40 =$24.00 in earned comps. A key thing to remember about comps while on site in Vegas..ASK for them.. in a courteous manner. At some properties, you'll have to wager $15 or $25 / hand to even get rated for table game comps (ie MGM properties). Some off-strip casinos are more liberal with their meal comps than many of the strip properties; on several different trips I've played BJ for 2-3 hours at the Orleans with a 10-20 dollar average bet and have never had a problem obtaining buffet comps for two..I always asked and asked nicely. There is a huge variation in comp programs and many locals claim that the off-strip casinos are generally more liberal with their programs vs the strip properties. You have to determine where you like to play and then avail yourself of specifically what is required to earn comps at a given locale.
It's doubtful that a player's club rep/ host will tell you precisely how they calculate earned comps ...awarded comps can vary
with season and any factor that increases patronage (weekday vs weekend, major event /convention). Low to mid-level players
will find it's tougher to get comped during these high traffic situations sometimes. It's worth it to develop a relationship with a slots/table host if you gamble and expect to play the comp game. It can pay off in future visits and asking for/receiving comps is a means to minimize losses/ add to winnings while gambling . On the other hand, "chasing" comps (ie playing too long just to obtain a meal) can lead to disaster , particularly if you're losing hand after hand or slot pull after slot pull. Utilizing/ acquiring comps can lead to very significant dollar value over time so we'll reiterate the need to sign up for player's cards..everywhere. BJ is an excellent table game to acquire comps because of it's generally lower house odds vs. most other games; anything you can do to slow down the speed of the game is critical for playing the comp game. If you can reduce (play crowded tables, talk to the entire group at the table, take a long time to make decisions on hand plays, take frequent breaks, etc.) the number of hands per hour actually played below 60, you're ahead of the game from a comps standpoint. Slot play tracking for comps requires that you have your player card inserted and inserted properly to accumulate points. Video poker routinely offers generally higher payback/ returns vs slot machines but comps for VP play are generally less for the same wagers/ time played vs the slots. It's a standard casino tradeoff mechanism. If you find a casino that you like to patronize , you enjoy the slots, and you have ample time, we believe it's possible to identify some particular machines that exhibit a higher payback percentage than others. The key here is to not get soaked for a huge loss; you have to know when to quit at a given machine. If one is able to ID some of these higher payback machines, these and the video poker machines with the better pay tables (9/6) would provide the best opportunity to acquire comps when playing machines vs table games. The average slot machine will generally drain your funds but if you can locate them there ARE some with inherently higher paybacks that you can afford to play if you apply sound money management and common sense. Accumulating comps at these and the VP machines with solid paytables (minimally 9/6 Jacks or better or Double Bonus; meaning it pays 9 for 1 on a full house and 6 for 1 on a flush) are reasonable gambling alternatives. While accumulating comp credits, always seek out individual player's club promotions ( eg point multipliers) as these can ultimately reduce losses/increase winnings if applied wisely. Good luck.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blackjack rules and their effects on house advantage and your wallet.

In the previous post, we touched on the importance of learning basic strategy(BS) if you're at all serious about limiting the house odds in BJ games. Billions of computer simulation calculations have been conducted that back the mathematically correct plays that BS charts provide. Of course you can purchase one of many BJ books on the market but be certain it's by a credible author; as in any information area, there's some inaccurate BJ info as well. The Web offers countless BJ sites with tons of info (ie BJ21.com) including printable BS charts. Note that there are some slight differences in BS decisions for identical plays (your hand total vs dealer's upcard) depending on the number of decks in play (1,2,4-8 deck options) and specific rules in force. If detail isn't your forte, then you might consider a single generic basic strategy and apply it for all regular BJ games; the latter would be preferable to guessing or making decisions based on those proverbial gut feelings. Over time, you can minimize house advantage with basic strategy. Seek out the following BJ rule options/conditions/table environment for more fun and lowering house odds at BJ.
1. Avoid dreadful 6:5 or even money (worse yet) payoffs on naturals(blackjacks); insist on standard 3:2 payoff games;
2. Playing fewer decks( single,double deck games) increases player advantage; not many decent 1-deck games left in Vegas (3:2)
3. Double down options; double on any two cards(DA2) and doubling allowed after splitting(DAS) a pair (many available)
4. Surrender option offered; you can find games with the late surrender(LS) variety, but it's often not posted..ask if it's offered
5. Dealer stands on soft 17 (S17); there's a few of these left and worth hunting for; most games are H17 (dealer hits soft 17)
6. Re-splitting of aces after initial split (RSA); few and far between particularly on the strip
7. Promotional blackjack payoffs (naturals); very rarely, a casino will offer 2:1 money on a blackjack ..run to this game
8. Play at tables that fit your comfort zone; do you enjoy the company of loud,grouchy,smoking drunks?..it can affect your play
9. BJ needs to offer some enjoyment; if that aspect disappears while you're playing, go see Fab Four Mania,hit a buffet,etc.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Decreasing House Advantage in Blackjack Games; Increasing Player Expected Value (EV)

*Vegas Trip Tip* There are a multitude of specific blackjack (BJ) game rules that can collectively make very significant differences in house advantages over players in a given game. It's simply wise from an expected value (EV) standpoint for any
blackjack player to appraise themselves of these rules and variations; over time they will make a difference in your win/loss rates per unit time. Initially, if you're at all interested in reducing house odds against you in any BJ game, invest some time
to learn Basic Strategy(BS) for the specific game/s you intend to play (ie these strategies vary somewhat with regard to specific hand decisions depending upon the number of decks in play and specific rule variations; the BS for a 6 deck shoe game is a tad different than that for a double deck game and is also slightly different dependent on double down/ split rules and whether the dealer stands on/ hits soft 17 ,ie A-6, for example). Attempt to memorize a BS chart for a given defined game or at least pick up a BS chart and use it while playing (most all casinos will allow it). BJ is a game that CAN offer patrons
one of the lowest house odds advantages( player favorable) when compared to the other casino games if you seek out the better BJ games. With appropriate use of BS for a given game coupled with playing decently-ruled games, it's relatively easy
to reduce the house odds to an approximately .5 to .6% advantage (very good relative to other game alternatives). In the next blog post, we'll outline some defined game rules,conditions, and table environment elements that can help reduce the house advantage in BJ games. We'll also address the "luck" factor, which mathematicians refer to as positive variance (shoot me).

To Aces and Faces..

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Value of coupon use in Vegas

Coupons,coupons,coupons! Their use can save dollars on meals,shows,gambling, drinks, car rentals, room rates,attractions
nightclub cover charges,transportation..pick a legal Vegas activity and you can likely find a coupon for it. On our recent
(October 2008) Vegas trip, I calculated that use of multiple sourced coupons saved us about $600.00 during a 9 day stay.
We utilized many 2 for 1 dining coupons (buffets, food courts, specialty eateries), about 25 matchplay or free ace coupons,
several point multiplier coupons for slot play,free drinks, 2 for 1 shows , and one all-purpose comp worth $45 specifically.
We invested about $125.00 in these assorted coupons ..a considerable return to our Vegas budget. Redemption of a large
volume of coupons (like ours) requires some time and effort as you have to hit several casinos/locales. However, an old-fashioned "coupon run" can be enjoyable and most always helps obtain some savings.

There are multiple sources for obtaining coupons ; the best sources involve a modest investment. There are many free coupons located in several free tourist magazines such as What's On, 24/7, I Love Las Vegas, and Vegas Values.
Of these free sources, What's On is our favorite (the wife likes the pictures and articles) but Vegas Values has a website
feature allowing you to download coupons which would permit some advantages regarding trip planning before arriving. If you're a member of player's clubs (are you signed up yet?) you'll occasionally receive mailers that offer room rate deals and
coupons for assorted savings. At some casinos, player club signup will provide you with funbooks with coupon savings.
As you might expect, the best bulk sources for coupons require a modest membership or subscription signup fee;
in our opinion they're all more than worth the initial cost. Our best sources for these coupons are, in order of value to us
personally (we gamble and like matchplays and all the dining options these offer):

1. Las Vegas Advisor Pocketbook of Values (membership signup perk; 37$ online/ 50$ regular membership fees)
2. American Casino Guide (18.95 cost)
3. Casino Player Magazine ( $27.95 subscription cost)

*Vegas Trip Tip* Matchplay coupons are worth approximately 50% of face value (ie a 10$ matchplay has an expected
mathematical value / return of 5$). Collect all you can and use them if you play table games in Vegas.

Happy returns..

Monday, November 10, 2008

Introduction to Frugally Vegas

In 2007, more than forty million visitors immersed themselves in surreal Las Vegas. Presently, visitation and occupancy rates are down (8 -15%) in 2008 due to a depressed overall economy. Yet as always, this city's elements and opulent
distractions allow us to elude our normal routines. My wife and I have visited many times within the last 5 years (since our marriage there) and we've always invested serious time in planning and executing a budget-oriented trip. I enjoy that aspect of these trips and it's my hope that many of you do too as this is the primary intent of this blog..to present value-based tips and options regarding direct costs and time efficiency while there. At the same time, we appreciate the value of spontaneous decision making; we opt against an "over-planned" trip and purposely leave openings for assorted whims of choice. While in Vegas, visitors have seemingly endless options to experience greater and grander illusions/ delusions than the day before.
We're only limited by how long we can remain conscious and our cash supply (dammit!). One intent of Frugally Vegas is to provide information that might assist visitors with their Vegas trip budgets; those budgets vary widely but most all of us can
appreciate potential opportunities to save a few bucks and /or enhance time efficiency while on a Sin City escape.

We encourage your Vegas comments and experiences here and how you approach planning your trips. Thankfully, we have
different likes /needs/dislikes and we're interested in yours (please complete survey). In the near future we'll offer more polls/
surveys for you to contribute to if you so choose. We intend to offer periodic general Vegas Trip Tips as we post here; if you disagree with these, please let us know. Your contributions will ultimately make the info here more accurate and fun. Until next

* VEGAS TRIP TIP *: Acquire player's club cards at each and every casino you gamble at whether you play slots/video
video poker or table games. Depending on your gambling bankrolls and wagering levels, use of these
cards can lead to free meals,future gambling incentives(free slot play/ table match plays), reduced rate
or free rooms, and even airfare flyback certificates.


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Mostly Useless (and approximate) Las Vegas Facts

1. Number of Las Vegas citizens   500,000
2. Number of Clark County residents   1,500,000
3. Year first casino licensed   1931
4. Number of slot machines in Vegas   200,000
5. Number of annual Vegas visitors   40,000,000 (and dropping)
6. Number of licensed gambling entities   1700
7. Hours per day average visitor gambles   4
8. Annual state gaming revenue   9 billion (and dropping)
9. Average gambling budget per trip   560  (and dropping)
10. Mean price per acre in valley   161,000.00
11. Price per acre on the Strip   11,000,000.00
12. Number of  hotel rooms   137,000 +
13. Number of pillowcases washed at MGM daily   15,000
14. Number of doors at MGM  18,000 
15. Annual no. toilet paper rolls used at Bally's   1 million
16. Lucky The Clown marquee sign at Circus Circus has
      1232 fluorescent bulbs, 14,498 incandescent bulbs, and
      3/4 mile of neon tubing light  (no wonder they're replacing
17. In good times, Excalibur goes through over 44,000 
      Cornish game hens, 15 thousand pounds of hamburger
      meat, and 4200 pounds of prime rib monthly
18. Caesar's Palace has used 2 million plus maraschino 
      cherries, 11 thousand ounces of caviar, 2 million ounces
      of tomato juice, and close to 600 thousand ounces of
      vodka yearly (bloody mary winner?)
19. Mandalay Bay has 5,300 palm trees and their wave pool
      has a capacity of 1,640,270 gallons of water
20. Average nightly room rate  119.00 (and dropping)
21. Average number of Vegas weddings per day   300+
22. Number of golf courses  37
23. Miles of neon tubing on the Strip and Downtown  15,000
24. State's nationwide rank in gold production  1st
25. Cost of Nevada marriage license   35.00
26. Average cost of filing for divorce  450.00
27. Average length of stay for visitors    3.7 days
28. Number of hosted conventions annually  3750
29. The electric bill to operate the Luxor pyramid beam is
      approximately 55.00 per hour.
30. Las Vegas has 17 of the world's 20 largest hotels   


Just a cautionary tip when in Vegas.. there are active
pickpockets all over town. I experienced this first-hand
and came within 10 seconds of losing my cash stash last July
while visiting one of those upper end joints on the strip.

I was gambling significantly at a video poker machine, unabashedly slipping C-notes in them. Somebody had been
observing my wagering behavior. I was happily winning at the time and my cautionary tendencies regarding my bankroll
money went south and out the window.

A lady approached me from behind as I played and was all aglow with my run of good luck. She initiated a conversation about nothing and anything . I was concentrating on proper VP strategy and responding to her comments with a lot of "yeah-yeahs". I was fortunate enough to get ahead on the machine again and I cashed out. I had a satchel (I normally never gamble under those conditions) with me that had assorted trip stuff in it. The satchel presence and the relatively high denomination coin-in amount collectively screamed " please rob me!" I placed my wallet in the satchel along with the machine cash-out tickets and proceeded to reconnect with my family and head to our room.

I had developed a sense of cautionary unease as I mulled over the contact with the effusively talkative woman at the VP machine. My senses told me that something about that encounter was skewed, although at the time I didn't know what it was and I wasn't bleeding profusely..yet. My group then proceeded to meander through a very crowded slot machine aisle and some other 6th, 7th, or 8th sense that vaguely detected an impersonal yet succinct encroachment into my personal space kicked in. Instinctively, I immediately dug into the satchel to locate my wallet and it was gone. I then immediately turned around and backtracked about ten feet (a matter of maybe 3 seconds, tops) as my endogenous adrenaline kicked in. I'm not sure that my hair wasn't on fire briefly.

I then spotted my wallet (and life) in a woman's hand who was playing a slot machine. I walked straight at her and demanded it post-haste in a tone that screamed seriousness. I immediately grabbed the wallet and called for security. The woman claimed she picked it up off the floor and so did the man (her accomplice) behind her, both vowing that they were planning to remit it to the security desk. My svelte ass they were.

This team of thieves including the woman who was all goony-googoo at the VP machine were pros. I have to claim part of the blame for the openly careless manner I had displayed with my money. They were held by security and the eye-in-the-sky tapes were to be reviewed.

The good thing is I didn't lose a cent because my peripheral senses kicked in immediately and they didn't have time to bury the evidence ( perhaps they weren't the best of pros?). Take heed folks..these people are everywhere in Vegas. Know where your cash is at all times; take precautions to protect it, don't flaunt it around carelessly as I did, and if you sense something is awry while gambling trust your instincts.

Distractions from one member of a team of thieves is a common MO. Store your gambling session monies in a front pants pocket or in one of those god-awful front-loaded fanny packs (pride be damned). The lesson I learned here after several years of Vegas gambling experiences turned out to be one of the most valuable for me personally.