August 2009
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Day 35: The Lance Burton parade

Not one, not two, but three mobile billboards with Lance Burton’s mugshot on, all waiting at the same set of traffic lights.

I just thought it was a bit weird is all.

Day 34: Day of the jackpots

In case it wasn’t obvious from the gaps that have started to appear in the blog, I’m now back from Vegas and have to catch up on writing the trip report alongside catching up on other almost-as-important things, like earning a living.  There’s still a couple of back-dated entries to come.

Just like last year, our most winningest day came right near the end so bragging about it will have lost some of it’s edge now I’m back at home.  But I’m still going to have a good go.

It started off at Red Rock, where we had a magic coupon to get $120 in “non-negotiable chips” for table game play for $100.

Usually the chips you get with this sort of offer are worth their face value for a bet, but when you win the promotional chip stays in play after you get paid off with real money.  To work your way through the bonus, you have to lose all the original chips.

At Red Rock, that they didn’t just give us $120 in promotional chips – $100 of it was in regular red $5s chips!  So to complete the bonus, you only have to lose $20 in bets.  The other $100 (of your own money) is completely risk free!

Still, this time we’d come to play and as there weren’t two adjacent seats free at a $5 blackjack table we sat down at Let It Ride, where I proceeded to hit an unholy run of great hands.

It kicked off with 334 in my hand I pulled one bet back before the dealer flipped the third 3.  Since I now had a wining hand, I let it ride, called for another 3 and it was almost as good… a 4!  Boat!

A full house pays 11-1 on every bet you have out there, so I won 22 x $5 = $110, and the $1 bonus sucker bet (hey, I was playing with their money) was worth another $150.

Then I hit a flush with two bets out there.  I’d already noted that the 8-1 payoff made it worth leaving your last bet in play on a flush draw when you are 39-9 (just over 4-1) to hit it.  That was $40 x 2 and a $50 sucker bonus for another $130.

What I hadn’t worked out is how much being able to see another player’s cards affects the draw.  You’re not meant to look at what everyone else has, but as there’s no disadvantage to letting someone else see your card, you generally don’t get players who pull up their hoodie and press their face into the felt just to grab the smalest peek in Let It Ride.

If fact, Claire and I openly show each other what we have so we can cheer for each other, or whinge about what a con those computerised shuffling machines are when we both have virtually identical hands with almost no chance of hitting a win.  Nobody cares.

When I found myself staring at four hearts just a couple of hands later, but saw that Claire already had two cards of my suit, I completely choked.  Partly thinking that the odds of hitting were much worse now than they really were, but also at the back of my mind that surely I couldn’t hit another flush so soon, I pulled a bet back.

Way to save five bucks.  Of course, the heart came on the river, and although I won $90 it would have been $130 if I’d let it ride, like I was meant to.

I should have taken a little more time to work out that even with only 7 hearts left in the deck out of 45 unknown cards I was still only slightly worse than 5-1 to hit it and so I should take the 8-1 odds they were offering me on that extra bet.

Still, any win on Let It Ride is worthy of a fanfare, and there was me with three of them!

Claire also won a bit and, for novelty value, we coloured up together and for the first time ever I got to hold one of these.

But there’s more.

We’d been to the Palms for dinner – which in itself was a win.  For the past two weeks they’ve been doing a daily giveaway that almost always awarded one or both of us $10 food credit.  For a while it looked like we’d have loads left over, but fortunately you can combine as many as you like when paying for one meal, rather than just getting a $10 discount each time you eat.  So we took a handful of them to Gardunos and had a very good Mexican meal.

On the way out, Claire said she wanted to play Loose Deuces Wild as we almost always hit jackpots on that game at the end of a trip.  See this and this for proof, and just accept that three or four times out of twenty something trips is “almost always”.

Horror of horrors – the Loose Deuces machines had gone!  It wasn’t the best game in the casino, but they are technically positive expectation machines (albeit a highly marginal 100.02% payback with perfect play) so hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come.

Instead she decided to take a punt on $1-coin ($5 per game) Double Double Bonus Poker, which is an extremely volatile game, way beyond our bankroll, except for taking the occasional silly shot like this.  The paytable means you receive less for all the winning hands except for four of a kind, which can produce some very juicy payoffs much more often than the 40,000-1 royal flush.

“Just four spins”, she said.  It took three.

Hold a pair of aces.  Draw.  Deuce.  Ace.  Ace.

Jackpot! Two thousand dollars!

The machine locked up and went mental well before we’d actually realised what was going on.  Having held only one pair of aces for the other three perfect cards to drop in, it took a while to catch up.

I’d barely taken any notice of the upper end of the paytable and how that related to the $1 denomination.  I knew most quads were going to be $250, but aces, 2s, 3s and 4s were worth more.  But four aces with a 2, 3 or 4 kicker is an awesome win.  It pays 2,000 coins – half as much as a Royal Flush!

On a $1 machine, that’s $2,000 – which means a human has to pay you – and complete some tax paperwork.  I’m pleased to say that, once again, this was a painless experience and we got all the money without any problems.

It was impossible to get a photo of the jackpot screen without some kind of reflection spoiling it, so I made the best of it and lined up this one.

Yes, it’s four aces, and a kicker, and Kylie.

Day 33: Hold yer horses

I spent a few minutes taking photographs from the far side of the Excalibur’s garage this evening.

The side closest to the strip I’d already done.  You get a pretty good view of Mandalay Bay and Luxor.

Over the other side, you can see the bronze lion outside MGM Grand, or you can watch the NY-NY roller coaster go round.

You can also look away from the Strip and get an almost unobstructed view of the fabulous In-N-Out Burger neon sign.  If only that pesky freeway ramp wasn’t in the way…

After a few minutes of shooting, a security guard came up to me and asked what I was taking pictures of.

“Just buildings and signs and stuff”, I said.

“Uh huh”, he replied, in a “that’s what they all say” kind of tone.

“Well the girls down in the stables are getting excited”.

Stables?  Apparently, yes.  Stables.

With horses?  Apparently, yes.  With horses.

I really wanted a bit more of an explanation, but I didn’t get one.  I peered down over the wall where he had vaguely motioned his head and indeed there was a bit of a yard but I still didn’t exactly buy it.  More research was required.

True enough, the Excalibur has a dinner show that uses live horses, and I guess those animals would have to live on the property or close by.  But really, who keeps horses in a sandpit in the city, sandwiched between a car park and a freeway.

That’s Interstate 15 along the bottom of the picture with the funky exit ramp onto Tropicana Ave, leading up to the World’s Busiest Intersection.  Apparently the brown bit, bordered by these two busy roads and large surface-level parking lots as well as the three-level garage, is the World’s Smoggiest Stable.

Never mind the air quality though, the aerial photo evidence shows that those lucky horses do actually get to walk around in circles too.

Looks to me a bit like Horse prison.

I was hoping for a bit more of an insight into exactly what I was doing to raise the alarm.

Did “the girls” refer to the horses themselves, and if so why were they getting excited about me leaning on a wall, being quite still and not really making any noise?

Or if he meant the stable hands, were they really anxious that a guy in a distinctly unstealthy Hawaiian shirt who was clearly pointing his camera over their heads towards distant landmarks could have been casing the joint for a horse heist?

Of all the robberies to carry out in Las Vegas, rustling horses doesn’t exactly seem like an obvious one.  Maybe I’m underestimating the black market for animals trained to pretend to joust, but it just seems like there are many more desirable targets.

But whatever.  Either I was inadvertently causing trouble, or I’d met a guard who was quite loopy.  Either way I figured my best move was to get the hell out of there.

Day 32: Not a poker story

I always thought I’d write more about poker than I do.

Specifically right now, relative to how much I’ve been  playing in Las Vegas the past month, the volume of poker content in this trip report is really very low.

The thing is, unless I play a hand or a session that’s particularly out of the ordinary, or something eventful happens in or around the game, or someone says something clever or interesting, I probably won’t remember much and probably won’t bother to write anything down.

Today I played a hand and at the time I thought "that was quite interesting" so I typed some notes into my phone. Then when I came to write it up and wanted to slit my wrists out of boredom, I realised just how lame the story was.

In a nutshell, I made another player fold a better hand than mine.

Wow, stop the press.  That almost never happens in a poker game.

Now, I know I’m probably underestimating the wider appeal of a dry re-telling of a hand that made it all the way to a showdown.

There’s enough of it about that somebody has to actually enjoy reading "So I had two cards… and the flop brought three cards… I decided to [fold/call/raise]… of course he had [pick some garbage] for the [pick some suckout]".

Poker is not chess – there are only a few possible ways any given hand can play out.  You might make four or five decisions on a hand (but it’s usually less) and although the next card to be dealt could be one of forty-something left in the deck, those cards can be grouped together into just a few logical outcomes.  Completed a draw; paired the board; it’s a complete brick… 

Nothing is ever that surprising.

What makes poker exciting is having to make decisions based on the limited information that you have as a player at any given point in time.  Once it becomes a story, the very fact that somebody thinks it’s worth telling gives you more information than the player ever had at the time.

You can be fairly certain that it’s not going to end up with the hero making a pot-sized bet on the turn to take it down.

But you never know… perhaps, if I spin it the right way to make it sound like I had an awesome read and knew the other guy’s exact cards (including suits of course) and pretend that I did actually think I was beaten but also knew that I could get him to lay it down with a precisely sized bet, my story could single-handedly change the way the game is played.

At the very least, it would probably be enough to get a sponsorship deal from Ultimate Bet. 

Anyway, instead of today’s scheduled installment of poker snooze, here’s a picture of my new favourite street sign in Las Vegas, which just happens to be named after a poker hand.

Day 31: Is this you?

I don’t know why carrying a large camera along the Las Vegas Strip actually looks like a sign around your neck that says "Ask me to take your picture".

Actually I don’t mind at all, but if people think that just because it looks like I might know what I’m doing I can somehow produce stunning night portraits on the first attempt by hand-holding a compact camera I’ve never seen before and using its harsh built-in flash in wildly polluted Vegas lighting conditions, they’re probably going to be disappointed.

Tonight, in just a short walk between Caesars Palace and The Mirage, I was asked to take three pictures.

First, two English girls wanted to throw a quick pose by one of the Caesars statues.  I snapped them, and offered the screen so they could make sure it was OK, but really they just seemed happy that I’d had a go and didn’t want to bother me with nit-picking when I’d already done them a favour.  How very English.

Then there was a guy of unknown foreign origin who wanted a little more input into the creative direction of my work, albeit in broken English.  He knew where he wanted to stand and what to get in the background and gestured like a pro.  I understood every hand-wave.

He let me fire off a couple of shots and then broke pose for my personal appraisal and to initiate a brainstorming session.

"Can you …" was all he said, and his arms did the rest.  I knew immediately that he just wanted to be taken from the waist up.  I made the correction, shot, showed him and he gave me a thumbs up.  Another happy customer. 

And then there was this couple:

I was trying to do something with the big neon McDonald’s arch outside Harrah’s when the guy approached me.  The exchange went like this:

Him: "Hey, can you take our picture?"

Me: "Sure"

(They pose)

Me (confused): "Do you have a camera?"

Him: "No, but you do" (pointing, in case I’d forgotten where it was).

I took the picture and showed them how it turned out on the screen.

"Wow, we look good together", said the girl.

And that was that.  A quick thankyou and before I could even suggest giving me an email address so I could send them a copy they were off. 

It’s a bit of a long shot (although the person I saw hit a staight flush against quads at Bill’s last Christmas read my blog and went "woah that’s me") but if this is you – or one of them is your husband or wife – and you want a copy of the picture, leave a comment. 

Day 30: Two pair

I’ve only found two more new pairs of socks since my last report, but they’re both from the Rio and I’ve never found any Rio socks before so I guess it’s quality over quantity at the minute.

Day 29: Welcome to shagadelic Las Vegas

This weekend, Downtown Las Vegas is hosting Woodstock-Palooza, which features loads of different tribute bands playing on the two stages under the canopy as well as the usual "Summer of ’69" theming that’s smothering the area this summer.

We were Downtown for quite a while this evening, dotting between casinos on a craps crawl that was significantly more successful than usual (in other words, we left with money!) but I didn’t really see much of the musical entertainment.

When I heard a woman start singing, I turned to Claire and said "What really? Tina Turner was at Woodstock?".  She told me she thought it was probably meant to be Janis Joplin but I didn’t buy it.

I guess it was a bit of work on the side for one lucky Dealertainer.

A lot of the folks there were well into it.  Peace and love were all around and there was plenty of organised dancing (which this video captured much better than anything I got myself).

And, really, what better statement of flower power is there than wearing a balloon hat shaped like a daisy while you get drunk and gamble?

We did get to see an awesomely groovy show on the big screen canopy.  I don’t know if this one is just on this weekend for the Woodstock thing or it’s been there the whole summer alongside the less-appropriately themed shows featuring the music of Queen and Kiss.

It’s taken them nearly fifteen years to figure this out, but trippy psychedelic graphics are clearly what the massive Fremont Street Experience was made for.  It was extremely cool.

If you click through to YouTube you can watch the video in stunning high definition.  Although, really, it’s still no comparison to seeing it on a 1500 foot long screen…

Day 28: Silver (plated) Strikes

This is a "Silver Strike" gaming token, from the slot machine of the same name.

In fact, this is just one of series of gambling-themed token designs at Sam’s Town.

In a recent visit, Claire and I joined forces and managed to walk away with a handful of shiny coins. Thanks to this win, we also left with a little profit.

Seven – Seven – Double.  Three sevens is 160 quarters, doubled makes it 320 quarters, and divided by 4 gives $80.

It’s not huge, but the only possible bigger wins on this machine are Seven – Double – Double ($160) or Double – Double – Double ($500 jackpot).

Usually it’s a slow (losing) grind until you hit the "Silver Strike" symbol on wheel 3, when things start spinning and a shiny coin pops out.

There may still time to complete this particular collection, but invariably there’s one design that is ten times more common than the rest so you actually have to win dozens of tokens before you’re close to getting one of each.

In the case of these tokens depicting gambling games, we cashed in a handful of Roulette tokens and another Blackjack one, and we still need Keno, Poker, Craps and Slots.  It’s going to be quite hard work.

Another machine was giving out another set of tokens, this one themed after Mystic Falls Park – the atrium at Sam’s Town that looks a bit like a wood with dodgy animatronic animals and an occasional fountain show that’s just like at the Bellagio, except there’s only half a dozen jets.  To compensate, they add a laser show at night.

It’s actually quite a cool place, and it’s a perfect escape from gambling right in the middle of the casino.  Natural light, water, plant life and a stuffed bear that turns its head erratically now and again to a looped "roar" tape.  You’ll soon forget how much money you just lost.

Unfortunately, it seems that "Silver Strike" has become a misnoma, because the majority of these tokens are no longer made from silver – they’re silver-plated brass.  It took a while to notice this well-disguised sticker on the machine but the confession is there.

In the picture above, only the wolf (top left) is an actual silver Silver Strike.  It’s very difficult to tell just by looking (although the light certainly reflects differently in that photo) but while that one does say ".999 fine silver", the others are simply stamped with the letter "S".

There used to be at least one Silver Strike machine in just about every casino, each with their own collectable token or a range of tokens.  You don’t play this particular slot game to win money, you play it to collect a piece of memorabilia from the casino and in theory it’s a big winner for the casino because every $10 payout should cost them less than $10 – and that’s in addition to their edge on the machine.

However this is actually one of the very few slot games that can be considered a winning game for the player.  It’s a bit of a stretch, but for a collector who values the tokens at more than $10 each, or for a shrewd player who seeks out the rarer tokens that he can sell at an inflated price, you can overcome the house edge on the game.

Back at home, we have a bag of Silver Strikes from dozens of different casinos.  It weighs a ton.  I dread to think how much it’s cost, and you can be sure that over the long term each one has cost more than the ten dollar face value but it’s a pretty cool collection.

It’s a bit of a shame we haven’t come up with a way of displaying them and they are, literally, kept in a bag.

Silver Strikes are, sadly, a dying breed. The rising cost of silver has been blamed, with the cost of manufacturing the ten dollar gaming tokens becoming prohibitive.

A quick search on eBay will show lots of tokens from the casinos all over Las Vegas, including most of the big name Strip resorts.  However, right now, as far as I know the only casinos in town that still have a Silver Strike machine are Sam’s Town, Palms, Four Queens and Planet Hollywood.  Two locals’ joints, one Downtown casino and one Strip resort.

For a while, the Fremont casinos offered a slightly larger token with face value of $40, which briefly looked like it might be a resurrection of the game but it didn’t last long.  Maybe these cheaper, silver-plated tokens are what’s needed to get Silver Strikes back into every casino.

While I’m glad to see that at least a few casinos are still producing new collections of Silver Strikes and optimistic that they might be coming back into style, it’s a little disappointing that they’re no longer actually made from a precious metal.

Bronze Plated Strikes just doesn’t sound the same, does it? 

Day 27: Buger it

The first time I saw this screen as part of the "Employee of the Month" awards on the Bally’s sign I did a double take.

The second time I managed to take a picture to make sure.  Hey, it’s the best I could get while driving…

Yes, it really does say "Buger Brasserie".  Which is one unfortunate letter away from the actual name of a restaurant in Paris Las Vegas.

Is appetising, non? 

Day 26: It’s not too late to win the WSOP

According to the in-room "Poker TV" channel, Harrah’s casinos are still offering satellites to the World Series of Poker main event.

I know it’s almost all finished this year, except for making the last nine players wait a few more months before being able to finish their game.  But they don’t mean this year’s WSOP.

Apparently you can still qualify for last year’s…

And I thought the sign in the Flamingo Poker Room advertising their "Poker Souvenir’s" [sic] was embarassing.  I’m not the only pedant to care about stuff like this you know…