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.


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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.