August 2007
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A fun-filled weekend

The write-up below is copied from an email newsletter I got today from Fitzgeralds, or The Fitz as they now like to call themselves since removing the giant leprechaun from the roof.  In fact I got to see the remains of "Mr O’Lucky" at the Neon Boneyard, but he’s in a sorry state.  The victim of an internal bonfire (please donate to the Neon Museum and help them buy sharper barbed wire) he’s been virtually destroyed from the inside out.  There’s now just a wire mesh frame remaining, apart from one leg, the top of his head and a charred arm that’s still tipping what’s left of his hat.  I wish I could post a photo, but I’m not allowed to publish them online.  Ask me to show you sometime if you’re interested.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is what it used to look like.

Anyway, I copied the text verbatim, right up to the point where I decided I really didn’t need to read any further.  It’s about an upcoming event in Las Vegas that I’d not heard of before.  Sure, it’s only just into its second year, but it sounds like a winner.

It won’t take you the famous 90 days to go ‘round the world in September. Instead, how about one weekend? On September 14-16, you’ll have the opportunity the celebrate many world-wide cultures at the 2nd Annual Las Vegas Culturefest, where the entire family can enjoy a fun-filled weekend of food, crafts, dance, arts and entertainment at the Fremont Street Experience. Special features include the Golf Cart Parade of Nations […]

Las Vegas just keeps on coming up with new and imaginative ways to get folks off the street and into the nearest casino.  They’re just so damn good at it.

Day 29: One last jackpot

Well it seems like a lifetime ago now, but I still have a little unfinished business.  One final morning in Las Vegas to write about.

We stopped by the Palms for one last chance to swipe-and-win, and Claire and I both won $5 gas cards – result!  Then we just had to put a last $20 through video poker.  Loose Deuces Wild was to be the lucky beneficiary, but while I was wrestling with a mangled old $20 bill that got stuck in my machine, this happened:

"I always hit deuces on the last morning", Claire reminded me as her $625 was clocking up.  That’s not quite true, but it’s close.  Three times now, we figured.  The first time was at the Stratosphere (boo), also on a Loose Deuces machine – a $625 going home present, plus an invitation to a "winners only" slot tournament including a weekend’s free stay a few weeks later.  We couldn’t use it so it went in the bin, but we later found that you can sell those invitations on ebay.  We actually bought one for another trip and used it to stay at Harrah’s for a very good price.  This was only about five years ago, but I’m pretty sure that back then Harrah’s only owned two casinos in Las Vegas.  Oh fond memories.

The other last minute jackpot was at the airport.  That was a regular four deuces payout of $250, but it was paid in quarters and their bent coin counter had a special "sucker about to miss a flight" mode, so it only registered as about $210.  We’d had to wait while they radioed over to the other side of the terminal for someone to bring over the only handheld counting machine in the airport, and I’d already had to go ask at the boarding gate "please don’t leave without us".  I’m still not sure if it was all one big set up, but there was no time to argue and they knew it.  We’ve never played at the airport since.

So with that final piece of good fortune, all the winning was done and the summer was over.  The last photo I took is the last thing you see before entering the airport.  It may as well say "it’s probably grim where you’re going".


Out of the darkness

After nearly a week without Big Brother, our cable box has finally fixed itself.

Well, when I say fixed itself, that’s not strictly true.  They told us everything would work itself out in the end, but in fact it took yet another call to Virgin Media to get anywhere.  This time they eventually told me the trick to resetting the box and making it perform an emergency recovery – something that I now learned would actually have been possible on Friday.  Had I bothered to look into the deepest corners of their web site, I’d actually have found this myself.

It’s a shame that technical supportings didn’t know where to look for this piece of information, rather than just telling me to please be patient sir.  The trick, for future reference, is not to report a fault but to ask to cancel.  Then answers suddenly seem to appear. 

That’s me that is

Thanks to the boffins at Party Poker, you can now watch episodes of the first series of Late Night Poker Ace – among all kinds of other stuff – at any time over the web.

I can now relive the excitement of my road trip to fabulous Cardiff two years ago anytime.  I actually met Jesse May, dontchaknow.

If you’d care to share in the drama – and if you’re one of the lucky few that I haven’t ever tried to feed a DVD copy of the show – go to and click "Watch PartyPoker TV Now" to open the player.  It’s under "Archive", then "Late Night Poker Ace", then Episode 3.

It’s quite possible that it’s been there for ages and I haven’t been paying attention.  However it looks like this new source of streaming poker TV is meant to coincide with the new qualification period for Late Night Poker.  The route into the $320 satellite is via a $35 turbo crapshoot, which itself has turbo sub-qualifiers that cost a massive $0.80.

With rebuys available for the first hour, some of those first round gamboolies may last as long as an hour and fifteen minutes.  It’s a game of skill, obviously.

Day 28: Leaving home

I’ve been back nearly a week now and I’m still upset to have to write this, but it has to be done.

The Stratosphere is no longer the place I call home in Las Vegas.  In fact it’s not even anywhere I want to visit again.

It’s heartbreaking really.  I’ve stayed there on eight separate trips, played just about every game they’ve had to offer – including the bizarre "crapless craps" that I’ve never seen anywhere else – and it’s always been the place that made me realise I’d landed in Vegas as soon as I walked into the casino.  Every time I’ve instantly felt like I belong there; that this is my casino.

There’s really not one single thing worth ranting about in itself, but a bunch of stuff all added together that’s made me feel this way.

Firstly, there still some holdover from the poker tournament last year where we had to bother a wise-guy casino manager over a $200 payout, because Rodney the floorman was an arsehole.  It looks like he’s still stinking things up over there.

Then there was my lost reservation in January, which was probably all TravelWorm’s cock up and very little to do with the Strat, but I just can’t be sure.

By the start of this summer’s trip, Claire had lost all her comp dollars.  Neither of us can remember exactly how much was on the account, but we think it was probably enough to feed us at least once.  Certainly it was more than $0.00, which is what the balance now shows.  Maybe I have mis-remembered them telling us that you keep your points and comp as long as you play on the card at least once every 18 months.  She did – this is mostly last summer’s comp we’re talking about.

Next thing – vomit.  Oh yes.  We sat down to play video poker and while feeding notes into the machine noticed an unusual smell drift by, and I just couldn’t tell what it was.  It was a little unpleasant, but not immediately bad enough that we’d bother to cash out and find another machine straight away.  It soon became unbearable though.  A few moments later a guy wearing part (but not all, so I’ve no idea quite how effective this is) of a hazmat suit appeared, and began to scrape some stuff off the floor and into a bag marked "biohazard".

I’m no expert in puke-disposal (to be honest I can’t be 100% sure it was a buffet malfunction, as somebody who’d just had their comp dollars stolen might have taken a dump on the floor in protest) but it looked like he’d poured some kind of magic anti-vom crystals onto the puddle – about three feet from where I was sitting – and then got the hell away from the scene while they took effect.

OK, it’s not the casino’s fault that somebody threw up on their carpet, but if they’re going to make the guy who cleans it up wear elbow-to-knee rubber, maybe they should make some effort to herd customers away from the incident.  Perhaps put a "wet floor" sign in the way, if the cleaner doesn’t want to stick around to divert people.  Or rope off the bank of machines right next to it so that players don’t have the aroma of industry-strength chemicals overpowering the casino-strength oxygen in the air while they play.  Are they really that desperate for action that they didn’t want to risk having us walk another few yards to the next bank of machines?

Right, next thing.  James and Sally hadn’t signed up to the players’ club yet, so they had a wonderful bonus in store – $120 in free slot play each, and other crap like t-shirts and tickets to a show.  The Strat has two shows, and I’ve seen neither.  One is a celebrity tribute act and the other involves erotic vampires.  I’m not sure I’d see them even for free, but the slot play was definitely worth having.

The Strat’s players’ club must be the only one in existence that does not accept a driving license for ID.  James didn’t have his passport on him, so he was cruely denied.  In fact that should read: rudely denied.  No apology, no explanation, no effort to even look in the Big Illustrated Book of International IDs to see that it was valid.

No passport, no players card.  Simple as.  Next in line.

I know with absolute certainty that a driving license – even a UK one – is good enough for anybody else in the entire USA.  I’ve stopped carrying my passport around completely now, and the photocard license has worked without any problems at all, whether it be when using a credit card, buying liquor, checking into a hotel or, indeed, making transactions at numerous other slot clubs.

You would think that the Wynn would be the casino that would look for an excuse to drive bonus-whoring white trash like us away, not the Strat, but a driving license worked just fine there.  New players are worth up to $200 in freebies, but not a smile or ten seconds of their time to give a polite explanation of an unusual policy – if indeed this was their policy, and not just a bitch clerk having a bad day.  I just don’t get it.

And finally, the tower.  I wanted to take some pictures from the top of the tower and – predictably – had left this until the last night.  So after dinner, I grabbed my camera and tripod and we headed over there.  While waiting in line, I was checking through the small print on the wall to make sure a tripod was OK.  I didn’t think it would be a problem, but wasn’t completely sure.  Nothing there that I could see, just stuff about no refunds, no unaccompanied children, observation decks may be closed if the weather is bad and they’re not responsible if you decide to jump.

Of course, tripods are not allowed, but this is only posted on a sign at the entrance to the tower elevators, a sign you would never otherwise see unless you had already bought your ticket and were waiting to go to the top.  They must make too much money from the "official" photos, where you are snapped against a green screen and then superimposed onto a heavily photoshopped picture of the view.  They look a bit like this:

I didn’t even think it necessary to ask when I bought the tickets.  It’s not like it’s small and I’d concealed it – it’s a three foot long fucking tripod, it shiny, and it’s hanging over my shoulder. 

Where could I leave it then, as they weren’t letting me anywhere near their beloved tower with this heinous piece of terrorist equipment?  The bell desk, apparently, which is just about as far away from the tower entrance as you can get without crossing the street and walking into one of the "rooms by the hour" motels.

I just left the tickets next to the elevator on the way out.  And without a very good reason, that’s the last time I’ll go to the Stratosphere.

There was one possible reason to return, and that was their selection of positive payback video poker.  However, according to a recent post on vpFREE, they seem to have been given the elbow just last weekend.  You need to log in to Yahoo! to read the post, so here’s the transcript:

Just got back from LV; thanks to the group for all the helpful posts
and databases. Did very well on the full pay machines at the
Stratosphere on Sunday, August 19, playing till about midnight. Went
back Monday evening to play some more and the machines were all gone,
replaced by penny slots. Walked the entire casino and couldn’t find the
[full pay video poker] machines anywhere.

I can’t think of anything else to go back for at all.

Early signs are that our new home will be the Palms.  It’s got good video poker in a fairly unpretentious casino (we conveniently ignore the Playboy club and in-casnio designer tattoo parlour) with music while you gamble – in fact if we get a good enough offer to stay in the hotel (normal rate: a whopping $129/night for weekdays!) it’s got absolutely everything we’ll be leaving behind.

The quest for home begins December 23rd.  T minus 119 🙂

What’s on the telly?

I don’t watch a lot of TV these days, but even I’m going to notice a complete blackout that lasts more than a day. 

The screen was like this yesterday tea-time when we sat down to catch up on Big Brother, and it’s the same story today.

Of course, I’ve switched the box on and off a couple of times since then.  Very naughty, but come on – a day to do a software update?  I just didn’t believe it.

I dreaded making the phone call, but it couldn’t be put off any longer.  However I did learn a couple of things.

Firstly, while on hold for an impressive 28 minutes as my call was transferred from the wrong Indian call centre to the right one, I learned that I am perfectly capable of eating a chicken kiev with one hand.  Using a fork, obviously, but I was very pleased with this newly discovered skill.

I also learned that despite having a set top box that says Virgin Media on the front, all the on-screen menus saying Virgin Media all over them and the fact that I get bills in the post from Virgin Media every month, I am in fact a not a Virgin Media customer.  I’m aparently with NTL – a company I didn’t think existed any more.  As Virgin seem to not have any customers of their own, the number on their web site (that’s the same web site you get to when you type in or Google for "NTL"; or go to, or Google for "Telewest") is probably just another call avoidance tactic.

The verdict, which may as well have been relayed on a recorded message that said "we realised we broke it", was that this problem has been affecting many customers since 4.30pm yesterday, and the engineers have said it should be fixed by 5.30pm today.

This was at 7pm.

So that twenty-five hour timeframe they’d given themselves to restore a fundamental service – in fact the primary reason for their business – just wasn’t long enough.  If that’s how seriously they’ve been taking it so far then why on earth should I expect them to do anything about it before Tuesday, now that the bank holiday weekend has started?

I don’t think it’s overly sensational to call this a major fuck up.  As much as I relished the prospect of leaving Sky and not paying them any more money to spend on outbidding the BBC to take shows like 24 and destroy them with commercials that aren’t even in the right places, there were never any problems with actually being able to watch TV.

Twins put Stoke on the map

After a fabulous month in Las Vegas, what I really needed on my return home was someone to remind me just how great Stoke really is.

The Big Brother Twins didn’t quite manage it in this clip. Actually it’s two clips slapped together – I only just figured out how to do that, but I’ll be amazed if you can tell! They’re talking to Liam about ideal places to go on a date. I think it’s Sam that’s doing the talking, but it doesn’t really matter, let’s face it.

Transcript, because I know you probably can’t be bothered to play the clip, even though it’s only eleven seconds long:

Liam: What your ideal date would be is to go and just scrounge drinks off everybody all night.

Twin: No, we’d go Alton Towers. 

(Did you spot the splice?)

Twin: If we wanted to go anywhere it would take like an hour or whatever to get somewhere good, right?

They’ve deffo put Stoke on the map alright.  To find it, use a pair of compasses set to roughly the distance you can travel in an hour, stick the pin somewhere good and draw an arc.  Repeat.

Where the arcs cross, that’s home.

Day 27: Up above the streets and condos

It’s a goddamn rainbow in the desert.

Day 26: Mad dogs and English tourists

I thought by now I was used to the heat.

Apparently not.  We decided to take in the Neon Boneyard tour, which was fabulous, except that after an hour I’d turned into a jibbering puddle.

It turned out to be a private tour too.  Only Claire and I turned up, with everyone else booked in for our session apparently realising that it might be rather too hot to walk around slowly outdoors in the middle of the day and making their apologies before heading for the more sensible climate of a casino.

I’ll be alright, I thought.  I’ve got a hat.

I know the whole point is that the signs don’t actually light up any more so it has to be during daylight hours, but at midday or 2pm – the only times you can request a tour – you do start to wonder what the body count is.

I’m not allowed to post my own photos here, so instead these pictures are from Google Earth.  Fly to "36 10 38.71 N 115 08 03.85 W" for the Silver Slipper, or "36 10 35.99 N 115 08 06.55 W" for the Treasure Island pirate skull and zoom in to get more detail.

The major addition to the boneyard since these ariel shots were taken is the Stardust sign, which is in pieces (some of the letters arranged to spell out "trust", for a recent wedding) but they do have it all.  Rumour has it that Bette Midler is going to pay to have that sign restored when she arrives next year.

In retrospect

Back home, curry eaten, life returning to normality.

I’m aware I have three days worth of blogging to catch up on.  That will follow shortly, but I was too busy actually doing stuff on the last few days on my trip, so ner 🙂

There’s also probably going to be a lot of photo randomness still to come when I finally look through all the junk I’ve taken.  My photo count is a whopping 3200.  Blimey, that’s over a hundred a day.

Here’s one which doesn’t really fit into any particular context but was just too good not to sneak a picture of when I saw it – in Wal*Mart.

 I’d love to know if this is only available in Vegas.  I do hope so.