April 2010
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Classic sign deathwatch

I’m saddened to think that I may have seen this sign on the Las Vegas Strip for the last time.

It’s the end of an era really. The Tropicana has, as far as I know, the last remaining good old-fashioned letterboard sign on the Strip.

And while it appears they don’t have as much to say these days since the titty show finished, it’s still a classic sign.

There is still one of these at the back of the Riviera, but it’s way behind on Paradise Road. There’s another at Bill’s which is a Strip casino but the sign is far enough along Flamingo Road that it doesn’t really count. If you were driving from one end of the Strip to the other you probably wouldn’t even notice it.

I’m by no means an old timer but in the ten years I’ve been coming to Las Vegas I’ve seen quite a lot of these signs bite the dust.

The imploded Stardust, New Frontier and Westward Ho are still basically just rubble, but I can’t imagine either of the projects planned for these sites having anything so awesome as this or this, if they ever actually get built.

Caesars and Bally’s both had splendid old-fashioned signs that have been replaced by, basically, big TV screens.

They’re cool enough but I still kinda like the old style and it’s a shame there’s going to be none left.

There’s just something magical about knowing a guy with a ladder climbed all the way up there to spell out Gladys Knight’s name (or even just to let you know they have clean rooms).  It certainly beats watching adverts for Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld on perma-loop.

This is what’s happening to the other sign, just round the corner on Tropicana Ave.  A billboard and a video screen,and no doubt it’s going to be topped off with some representation of the Trop’s dreadfully indifferent new logo.

Just two of the great things about Las Vegas

The legendary shrimp cocktail and free beads, obviously.

Not really the right vehicle for the job

Off-road driving in the desert. In a little Toyota Matrix.

Shhhh… don’t tell Alamo 🙂

I don’t know what imma gonna do

I’ve never been so glad to fly a slightly inconvenient route. I think my plane from LA to Heathrow was the last one allowed in before the UK closed down to all air traffic this afternoon.

Volcanic ash. There’s something new to blame all kinds of shit on. Jump on it while you can.

If I’d flown “normally” with BA I would still be stuck in Vegas. At the international terminal, which has not much more than half a dozen wheel of fortune machines and a Pizza Hut. That flight was one of four full screens of arrivals showing as delayed or cancelled when Ianded.

If I had managed to get a handy connection for Manchester, Which I considered instead of driving to Heathrow (and again across the Mojave both ways), I would be stuck in London.

Any other route with a transfer in the US and the transatlantic flight would have departed late enough that it never would have taken off.

In fact, my flight was actually 20 minutes late taking off so we were already cutting it a bit fine. I guess the pilot put his foot down to make sure we weren’t forced to land in France.

Possibly the biggest win of the whole trip.

www dot what

File this one under “you really couldn’t get a better domain name than that?”

Stinking up the table

The player to my left had begun standing up while playing and was walking away from the table in-between hands.

A new dealer came to check in and asked him, “what’s up – does he smell or something”.

Apparently I actually did, and this guy and his BFF in the next seat had found a non-confrontational way to express their feelings about it, by wafting each other with a newspaper (it wasn’t hot inside) and wondering aloud – in a whisper that I wasn’t sure if I was meant to hear – whether or not it was shower time yet.

But, of course, their passive aggression had limits. When asked directly by the dealer, they denied everything.

I should admit that I’m certainly not blameless here. I had spent part of the afternoon climbing over mounds of rocks in the desert (that’s for another blog) and, thanks to a major accident on the freeway which held me up for more than an hour, I didn’t even go back to the hotel before running out to play poker after dinner. I may indeed have been pretty ripe, and if I offended your nose tonight, I apologise.

In mitigation though, it’s hardly uncommon to have a smelly fat guy sit next to you at a poker table. The “sport” does nothing to discourage those of a larger physique and, in Vegas, to get from one game to another you usually have to walk outside in quite warm weather.

These two twats were locals and regulars at the Flamingo, so I have to wonder whether this is a comedy double act they do on a regular basis to kill time between playing (in the case of the older guy at least) two hands an hour, or if I really was the most disgusting thing they ever smelt.

After I got to the bathroom and put my head in my armpit, I couldn’t see it myself. But I suppose that’s the point.

I guess if someone has BO that is really bothering you, and you don’t want to cause embarrassment by saying something to their face, what else are you going to do other than laugh it off by ridiculing a stranger behind their back (or at least as far behind my back as you can practically get when you are sitting less than a foot away)?

Not really something I expected to see in a gentlemanly game of poker, but I get it.

What really pissed me off though was that the cocktail waitress was in on the joke. It took me a while to realise as I happily minded my own business while she chatted to these guys that she clearly knew quite well. (In fact this whole thing was a good exercise to reassure me that I can ignore distractions and just get down to business at the table. I got my money in good and I stuck around as long as the table was juicy).

When she returned before with their drink, she also brought them…

A magic tree air freshener.

Seriously go fuck yourself.

Now this puts me in an awkward situation. This waitress is almost always serving the poker room in the evenings, and I am about to move to the Flamingo tomorrow. But I ain’t ever tipping her for a drink again.

We’ll just have to see whether or not it’s bad karma to stiff the bitch.

Location:S Highland Dr,Las Vegas,United States

Bette Midler’s Replacement

It’s the dead terrorist puppet guy off of YouTube and those silly ringtone adverts.

Surprising really. Given the massive publicity all over town for Matt Goss and his little show on a boat, anyone would think he was the biggest star at Caesars.

But somehow it’s Jeff Dunham who landed the gig of keeping Celine Dion’s picture frame warm until she returns.

Don’t leave home without your tourney schedule

While trying to find the schedule for the Deep Stack Extravaganza, I discovered that there is a mobile version of the Venetian’s web site.

It’s always good to see a web site that had made the extra effort to be readable on small screens but this casino site has overlooked one fairly important section.

Don’t they have gambling here?

The slow business of winning money

The screenshot below shows my split times from a mad dash I had to make from Planet Hollywood to my room at the Rio and back again.

I think a round trip of about 40 minutes is a pretty respectable result to be honest. You can never underestimate how long it takes to get places in Vegas and before I set out I had looked at my watch, seen that it was 8:30am on a Sunday morning and reasoned that I actually stood a chance of doing it in under an hour.

At night there would have been little chance, and I certainly would not have taken the Strip.

The reason I had to make this little excursion? Claire hit a royal flush for $4000 and apparently her driving licence wasn’t good enough to prove that she deserved to be paid.

Obviously the win was awesome – the second largest jackpot either of us had ever seen – but the buzzkill that followed was far from it.

To be honest, I should have seen this coming. We were playing at Planet Hollywood, which has recently been taken over by Harrah’s, and the last time I had trouble proving I existed using an official British ID was at Harrah’s Laughlin.

It was actually because of this ownership change that we were there in the first place. There’s likely to be only a small window of opportunity between the P.Ho. being linked into the Total Rewards system and the video poker being downgraded to unplayable paytables.

It was still far from great with 99.2% bonus poker and – at best – 0.3% back in comp. It’s a very thin advantage play – and only if you assume that your action is going to be enough to get some good room offers.

Everything has dried up for me since the start of the year, despite enough of a session to retain Platinum status at Christmas, but we figured it was worth a go on Claire’s account to see if we could keep the free suites at the Rio coming for just a little longer.

Without really thinking anything of it, Claire held an ace and a jack of hearts. Suddenly something beautiful dropped in.

After a few cycles of the jackpot tune, the lady who had run off with Claire’s ID returned to say that the driving licence was no good, and could she please produce a passport instead.

We’ve had hand pays in full with no such hassle from the Palms, Four Queens and even Terrible’s. None of these casinos have high numbers of international visitors and you would expect, compared to a major strip resort, they don’t have to deal with many big winners from overseas.

A driving licence is clearly a perfectly fine form of identification. Even just the photo card part. In fact I’ve never been asked for the paper half – even when renting a car!

Seriously, if Terrible’s can manage it, You’d expect the world’s largest gaming company would be ok.

But alas no. Two options: fetch the passport now or come back later to collect the money from the cage.

I really didn’t like the sound of the second option. The way things were going, I would have expected to get there to find a random percentage deducted and nobody in the casino who knew anything about it. And that was the best case scenario.

Knowing that they couldn’t silence the machine until they had paid the jackpot I told Claire to wait there while I sped back to the room and got her passport.

So this all started with a royal flush at about 8:15am. Yes, I love the smell of winning in the morning. I was back from my dash across town at 9:10am, and we finally got paid at 9:45am.

Apparently it still took another 35 minutes to count out four grand, even though they knew what was coming, and someone even told us once I’d got back that everything was ready and they would be right back. With the money.

No, we did not tip for this service. But I think they must have realised how shit it was, because nobody hung around with their hand out, and the last hundred was not conveniently broken down into twenties, tens and fives as it so often is – to make sure you have change to give away.

When the machine first burst into song, slimy staff were out in force. Anyone who was in earshot came to congratulate Claire in the most sleazy and obvious way you can imagine. The cocktail waitress wanted a piece too. I’d waited half an hour for my first coffee, but suddenly the service got much, much better.

The slot attendant who was first to respond was meant to finish his shift at 9am but when I got back he was leaning nearby pretending to do paperwork, and immediately came over to say goodbye. As transparent as you like.

No dude, we’ve not been paid yet so you’re not getting anything.

It’s a bad idea to play chicken with karma in Vegas so Claire and I talked about whether it was right to stiff the floor staff over what was, essentially, a brain dead corporate policy.

I felt they should be tipping me for having to drive to another hotel to fetch a document they didn’t really need and for Claire having to spend an hour and a half of her holiday sitting and waiting. Claire said that as long as there wasn’t a problem getting paid the full amount, the people we were dealing with were only following instructions – however stupid they might be.

But, after all that, we settled in agreement that another 35 minutes to take a photocopy of a passport deserved nothing but contempt.

Welcome to Fabulous Barstow

In what will surely become a tradition, the first gambling of the trip turned out to be nowhere near Las Vegas. We stopped in Barstow for a toilet break and to play some scratchcards from the California State Lottery.

Last summer I noted what a great selection of scratchcards these were and how – in the manner of a primary school football match report – even though we lost, we all enjoyed the game.

This time we picked ten dollars of random cards and ended up with an awesome break even result.

It managed to keep us in suspense right to the end – the very last card I scratched had a $10 prize.

I know in the picture I could have scratched off any letters – you will just have to trust me.

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