August 2008
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Day 22: Free posh food

The one slot club sign up offer I always tell people they must take advantage of is at Wynn Las Vegas. It’s very easy to earn a free buffet for two people which, depending on when you decide to eat, could otherwise cost you in the region of $70.

It’s a great buffet, but somewhat overpriced if you pay for it the regular way.

This new player offer has changed since I last did one of these, but it’s still great value.

You still get $10 in free slot play just for giving them an email address, but now once you have earned 25 points you get to "spin a wheel" for a prize.

It isn’t a real wheel though, it’s a video screen with a wheel that shows prizes ranging from $10 slot play to $10,000, and other prizes including, of course, two free buffets.

Even though it looks like the eight different segments are the same size, the odds of winning each prize are rather different to 1-in-8. In fact I didn’t see anybody spin anything other than the $10 in slot play while I was watching.

But still, there’s apparently a chance you will get a buffet for two after just 25 points earned, and even if you don’t you can use the bottom prize of another $10 slot play towards earning it the hard way, by earning 150 slot points.

It takes $9 of coin in to get 1 point, so that’s $1350 of total action, which if you play on a 99.5% game costs a theoretical $6.75. They pay you to eat!

You only get that payback on dollar video poker or 25c spin poker, but even if you play the 7/5 bonus poker game for quarters you can get 98.0% making the expected loss $26. Remember they give you $20 of that to get started so you’re looking at $6 to feed two people there.  Still a bargain.

We ended up earning and redeeming two buffets on Vij’s player account for Sunday brunch, which is $28.95 or $34.95 with champagne. Unsurprisingly, you don’t get champagne included with the comp. We had to pay for the third buffet (I haven’t yet found a solution to the dining in odd numbers problem) but this offer made the price digestable, theoretically about $5 each.

Here’s the menu:

Brunch seemed like a good option when eating with a vegetarian because, if all else failed, there was an omelet station.

Even if this part of the menu made me get my red pen out:

Really, one expects so much better of the Wynn…

Day 21: Tripling down

The best thing I heard all day was a trainee cashier at Texas Station being told:

"Now these black chips, they’re worth a hundred".

Indeed, I had black chips. Plural. Apparently nobody else had had black chips. And I’d only come in to play two hands of blackjack.

One of the supplements in the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago was the MyStation magazine from Station Casinos, and this contained one $25 matchplay coupon for each of their casinos. In fact, Boulder Station offered two $25 matchplays – each one valid for half the month.

Seven casinos and eight coupons makes $200 in total matched bets. That’s a lot of free money to get inside a $2.50 newspaper, before you even take into account the other seven coupons for each casino for points multipliers, buffet discounts, free games of bowling and the like.

You can understand why it was worth the effort to hunt down and capture a second copy once we’d realised this, so that Claire and I could go on a romantic bonus whoring cruise together.

Unfortunately this was when we were staying on the Strip at Flamingo, and thanks to Harrah’s "cost cutting" decision to no longer sell a newspaper that exposed their cost cutting building practices neither that casino nor any of the adjacent ones were prepared to give me the good stuff.

I also couldn’t find a shop common enough to sell a newspaper in Bellagio, but eventually got one in the Mirage. A lot of late night walking for sure, but I wasn’t going to pass this one up.

So we both sat down at a new table at Texas Station and played the coupon with a green chip. I’d lose $25 or win $50.

Claire stood on 20 and I was dealt a 9 and a 2 with the dealer showing a 7. I reached for my wallet and pulled out another $25 to double down.

"You can double for $50 if you like", said the dealer.

This has never happened before, and I’ve never even thought to ask. Why would they let you make a double down on money that isn’t yours? It’s effectively a triple-down!

I didn’t need asking twice, whipped out the $50 and watched the dealer turn over a ten for a total of 17.

I needed a big card – a 6 to push or 7, 8, 9, 10 or face card to win – more half the deck in my favour, but far from a certainty and the dealer did a great job of keeping the tension by peekng at my face-down card, making a sad face and saying "aw, six".

Then she flipped up an 8 for the win and the crowd went wild.

Claire’s $25 bet won $50 with the coupon and my original $25 bet was tripled to $75, paid at even money plus an additional $25 for the matchplay. $150 profit, thank you very much.

Clearly if doubling down on a hand is a good play, tripling down is even better. Just how much better, I didn’t really know at the time.

According to the Wizard of Odds, the expected value of doubling down on eleven against a dealer seven is about $0.46 per $1 of the original bet. He doesn’t show his working, only a table of numbers, so I’m going to assume that tripling down has the effect of adding another 50% to that value, making it an additional $0.23 per $1 of the bet. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So for a $25 bet, and forgetting about the coupon, being able to triple down made me a theoretical $5.75.

I was fairly certain this was a dealer mistake, and I tipped $5 because of it which made it much less valuable, but of course it meant in future whenever I had to double down on a matchplay I was going to ask about this, just in case.

At Palace Station my $25 coupon was uneventful but I had another $5 coupon with a double down, but the dealer said I could only play another $5. Similarly at Tropicana, where I had a $15 payoff for $10 bet coupon (apparently you can pick up one of these every day) I pulled out a $20 to double down but the dealer gave me $10 back in change.

However at Suncoast, another $5 matchplay, I asked if it was $5 or $10 to double down and the dealer checked the table sign, said "it’s single deck, so you can double for $10".

I don’t understand why a single deck makes the difference (nor do I understand why he had to look at the sign to know how many decks he was dealing) but now I know that it’s always worth asking, just in case you can find a dealer that allows it!

Day 20: All the eights

I’m writing this a little bit late and backdating it, but let’s try to pretend that it’s still Friday 8th August, 2008.

The eight of the eighth, oh eight. Gimmicks ahoy in Las Vegas.

There were plenty of food and drink deals like $8.88 buffets and 88c beers.

For live poker, Station casinos offered an $8,888 jackpot for anyone hitting quad eights that day, or the same prize for bingo if you won in certain games with a full house on ball B8.

But the promotion I was most interested in was an 8x points multiplier at all Coast Casinos properties. It ran between 8am and 8pm of course.

There are no points multiplier coupons for these casinos and since they introduced the new tierred slot club scheme the benefits have been sliced to a fraction of what they used to be – unless you are in the highest ranking tier.

As you only retain your status for 6 months at a time, there didn’t seem to be much point in me going mad and trying to cycle through $125,000 just to be able to increase the comp rate (only for anything I played above this level) and get a line pass to the buffet.

Occasionally, Sam’s Town has one-off 6x points days which usually make it worth a special trip to play their full pay deuces wild machines.

However this 8x day added a new dimension of value.

When you play video poker with a payback greater than 100%, you only earn slot points at half the speed.

The earning rate for comp is then a paltry 0.083% (one twelfth of one percent), whereas the normal rate if you play on a "negative" machine or any slot machine is 0.167% (one sixth of one percent).

Multiply this up, and the 8x day gives you an extra 0.67% back on positive games, but 1.33% back on negative games.

So you could play full pay deuces wild (FPDW), and turn 100.76% payback into about 101.4% (almost doubling the expectation), or the slightly negative 9/6 Jacks or Better (JoB) and turn 99.5% into a roughly 100.8% game (turning a losing game into a decent winner).

Clearly FPDW is still a better game dollar for dollar. However, that bank of "positive" machines has the speed control locked way down whereas "negative" JoB deals almost twice as quickly. With this in mind, JoB was the game of choice to start with.

However, the multiplier even made it profitable to play 8/5 Bonus Poker (99.2% payback, now worth 100.5%). This game is available in $1 denominations as well as 25c triple play, which was a particularly attractive option.

Being able to pummel money through the system more than three times as quickly at 100.5% than at 101.4% actually gives this game a slightly better hourly rate than Full Pay Deuces Wild, and that’s before you take into account the progressive jackpots for a royal flush. A bottom line royal was worth a a massive $2200 and the others stood around the $1200 mark (vs the usual $1000 payoff).

On a 6x points day, the 99.2% Bonus Poker is effectively worth 100.2%. 8x points doesn’t seem like that much better deal, but it actually makes that game more than twice as profitable.

Day 19: Lose’dicator

The latest promotion at the Palms, tucked in among the Monday, Wednesday and Friday scratchcard promotion, and just managing to stay out of the way of Tuesday’s shot at free gas is yet another swipe-and-win day on Thursdays in August.

You can still win various standard pieces of free tat, like this amazing multi-functional notebook contraption. It features a pen, a ruler, a magnifying glass and both 2008 and 2009 calendars.

But this time there’s also the chance to win a Coca Cola "Win’dicator". It’s a kind of fancy raffle ticket, and it looks like this:

I swiped. I won. Here’s what it I was meant to do next:

"The Win’dicator is a random prize generating system. Not all Win’dicator holders will be winners.

To activate your Win’dicator, please pull the tab out of the side of the device. At that point, it is activated.

In order to win, your Win’dicator must start blinking. This may occur between 15-60 minutes after it has been activated. Once blinking, you will then have a short allotted period of time to return the blinking Win’dicator to the promotional area. Your Win’dicator MUST STILL BE BLINKING when you bring it to the promotional area, or your prize is no longer valid."

As I’d seen that the prizes on offer ranged from a large bottle of Coke to a six-pack of smaller bottles of Coke, I pretty much expected every one of them to be a winner, with just a very simple piece of circuitry to make the lights go mental after a fixed delay.

However the instructions suggested something much more high-tech was going on:

"We do suggest that you stay in the casino after receiving the Win’dicator, as the range isn’t extremely far, and the time to return it is relatively short. So stick around, have some fun, and wait for your winnings."

Well duh, obviously it’s a ploy to get you to stay in the casino rather than just turning up to swipe your card and collect a prize. I got that already.

But do they seriously want me to believe that this is some kind of one-use wireless pager device which must be worth much more than the actual prize they are giving away?

After mine failed to start blinking (we did stick around, not because of this but because Claire swiped and won a 4x points multiplier) it was obviously going to get dismantled.

Now I’m not an electronic engineer and I might not be fully comprehending how clever this shit really is, but I’m pretty sure this one is a non-working dummy. Hence the non-winning.

There appears to be three LEDs and a small battery on a circuit board…

But on closer inspection, those silver blobs that look a bit like chips are just silver paint, and the LEDs appear to be just red plastic domes.

On the the reverse you can see that they are not actually wired to anything, and they popped right out of the board with almost no force at all.

However, the battery does seem to be real. I guess this is so that the tab you have to remove to "activate" the device (making the battery connection) works in exactly the same way whether or not you have a winner.

It all seems like a very elaborate way to get stiffed on a bottle of Coke to me.

Day 18: Strip-ish view

Technically, I guess this is a Strip view, there’s just a great big hotel tower right in the way of most of the Strip.

In reality, I’m lucky to have got a free room from Caesars Palace at all, so I can’t complain.

The room was on the 8th floor of the Roman tower, which is the oldest tower at the property. It’s the original hotel building from 1966.

There’s currently 5 towers, with a 6th on the way – which seems to have shot up by about 20 stories since I’ve been here, and even though this "Classic Room" is the cheapest of the bunch it still runs at about $200 a night, and $300 or more at weekends.

My recent play at Harrah’s Las Vegas has re-requalified me for complimentary room nights at Imperial Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s and occasionally Rio, but not a sausage for Caesars. The best discounted rate I can find is $110 for a few weeknights.

That play has now secured my Diamond status through to March 2010, and I’ve also discovered a couple of other undocumented perks.

I asked for a new card to be printed at Caesars so that Claire and Vij could both clock up reward credits on my account for whatever they played, and it came on a bungee cord with an extra dangly bit.

The lady told me this is so the cocktail waitress can see that you are Diamond and will therefore bring you more drinks. Awesome!

I also discovered, totally by accident, that I can jump the waiting list for live poker. I have no idea whether this works in all their poker rooms but it did at Flamingo.

I thought I’d seen an empty seat so I asked if I could get in the game, with $200 in my hand and my players card on top, ready to be swiped in.

"There’s one ahead of you". I glanced up at the screen and indeed there was a waiting list. But then he said, "Is that a Diamond card? OK, you’re top of the list".

And lo, there was my name on screen at the top of the list, in orange – to jump the queue, I was listed as wanting a table change. Sweet!

Day 17: D.B. at the Gold Spike

Here’s something new to cross of the list of things to see and do in Las Vegas.

[X] See a dead body on the sidewalk.

At least that’s what I think it was. I didn’t stop to ask the cops.

It’s definitely person-shaped.

I drove past close enough to see a nose-shaped bump at the other end of the sheet.

Because I’m only human, I went round the block three more times trying to get a better look. It didn’t really help, but they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move it.

One seven-out too many?

Given the distance from the nearest tall building, I think we can rule out it being a jumper.

So what happened? I guess we’ll never know.

But is it normal to leave a body warming up on the kerbside with just a bit of yellow tape and a bedsheet to try to keep it out of public view?  It didn’t work.

Day 16: One million dollars

It’s the return of an old favourite. Binion’s are bringing back the million dollar display!

I assume it’s not the same million dollars that Becky Binion spent before she ran the place into the ground, but you never know. Surely it is going to be clean, crisp hundies and not the rare $10,000 bills on display – but I guess you never know.

If nothing else, it’s always reassuring to know that the place has a million to hand.

In other changes at Binion’s, I’m sure the pastrami sandwich has been downgraded a little. It’s no longer touted as a "full pound of meat" and wasn’t so much of a challenge to eat, although it’s still pretty fine.

The poker room is also set for an overhaul.

These pictures of the drawings on display aren’t great but even up close I couldn’t really figure out what was meant to be going on anyway.

I’m a little worried about this and it will be interesting to see what kind of job they do. There are dozens of spanking new poker rooms all over town; Binion’s is the only one with that kind of history.

Day 15: Across the river

Laughlin looks amazing from the Arizona side of the Colorado River, especially at night. Here are a few pictures I took that don’t really do it justice.

Day 14: Lovin’ an elevator

"Your room is in the North tower, 18th floor. The first elevator on the left is an express elevator".

I didn’t really think too much of this at first, until I saw this sign.

Harrah’s Laughlin has suites? They’ve never, ever appeared as options when you try to make a reservation online.

So am I actually kind of a big deal or what?

Maybe it is because I won last time? Or perhaps they felt sorry for me because I didn’t check in until 1am after a flat tyre incident just outside of Searchlight, NV – a town that has little more than a gas station and a Terrible’s casino.

Searchlight is about half way between Las Vegas and Laughlin (and just about the only thing resembling civilisation along the way) and we decided that carrying on driving on the temporary wheel was asking for trouble – especially as we’d be driving back in triple digit heat on Sunday morning – so we took the car back to Vegas to swap it while it was (relatively) cool.

Bye bye Hyundai Sonata, hello Chrysler Sebring. Which is apparently an upgrade, even though it’s much noisier and appears to be made out of 95% plastic.

The anticipation in the private elevator was unbearable. Would it be really be a suite?

Damn right it was. Separate living and sleeping quarters, with a wet bar…

… a large plasma TV in the bedroom as well as the living area…

… and another television in the bathroom (although out of shot below) which you could watch from the Jacuzzi bath!

In another separate room there was also a double shower!

So we were winners before we started, but then Claire went on to hit three more royal flushes on the multi-line machine.

She leads me in royals 4-0 now this trip. Must try harder.

Day 13: If you finish building it, they will come

Construction of the massive Echelon project on the former Stardust site has been suspended.

You can read more here.

This is what it looked like when I went past today, and how you can expect it to look for the next year or so.