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 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 to this game
8. Play at tables that fit your comfort zone; do you enjoy the company of loud,grouchy,smoking drunks? 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 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.