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Reflections on Las Vegas

Carefully constructed compositions using all available light sources, or photos spoiled by taking them through perspex?  Art or bollocks?  You decide…

 

 

Who hell they?

Forget the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, check out this beauty from inside the McDonalds between Harrah’s and Casino Royale.

I mostly get this.  Gladys Knight (left), Celine Dion (centre) and Wayne Newton (right) – none of them have shows in town anymore, but that’s OK.  I understand why they would be chosen to be immortalised in a burger joint on the Strip.

But who is that staring over Celine’s shoulder?  I just can’t figure it out. 

Oh but there’s more…

It’s an amazing picture, but who the hell are they all?

Diamond geezer

Isn’t this pretty?  Say hello to my Diamond Total Rewards card!

It’s not the very top tier of the Harrah’s players club, but it should still be enough to fool them into treating me like a high roller!

This card acts as a priority pass to just about everything.  Staying at the hotel?  No need to wait in line to check in.  Don’t want to wait for a buffet, or for the casino cashier, or for the players club?  Even for a damn taxi.  Just flash the plastic and step right past the plebs to the front of the line.  Valet parking full?  No sir, not if you’re Diamond.

There’s also the Diamond Lounges - one in every property – where you can go and chill out with free food and a bar.  If you’re worthy.

Then there’s the wealth of offers that I should now start to get by mail.  Room discounts (possibly even free stays), free show tickets (two every month guaranteed) and even cheques for real money just to get me back into the casino.

Best of all, because I earned this status on January 1st, it’s valid right through until March of 2009.  Although the card pictured says 03/08, apparently they don’t have the new batch yet and they’ll be sent out in the mail in February.

So what does this little life upgrade cost?  Much less than you would expect if you do it right.  To earn Diamond status you usually have to earn 10,000 reward credits in a year, but if you clock up 3,000 in a day and ask nicely, you’ll get upgraded instantly if it’s your first time.

To earn a reward credit you have to feed in and spin through $5 on a slot machine, or $10 on video poker.  Clearly, doing it in a day is much better than gambling $50k or $100k over the course of a year, but pumping fifteen grand through a slot machine in one sitting wasn’t an attractive proposition.  But with the horrible paytables at the Harrah’s casinos in Las Vegas, neither was $30k on video poker.

So we drove to Harrah’s Laughlin, where there’s several 99.5% payback video poker games, including a 50-line multi-play effort.  50 lines x 5 coins per hand x 5c per coin is $12.50 per spin, but because you’re drawing each hand fifty times you always get at least some money back – in theory it’s a low-variance way to churn through the play requirement quickly.  With two of us playing on the same account, we got there in about four hours.

This really is one of the most peculiar advantage plays I’ve tried.  I never thought it would be possible to get good value out of Harrah’s, but so far the signs are very good.

With a 0.5% house edge (compared to about 3% at best in Vegas) the theoretical cost of fifteen months of VIP treatment is $150.  The 3,000 base reward credits I earned and (I don’t know why but I’m not complaining!) a further 9,000 bonus credits awarded on top of that are worth in total $120 back in comp for starters.  Just one room offer, cashback cheque or pair of free show tickets will push this into a money making play!  Heck, I’d pay $30 just for hassle-free parking at Caesars for a year…

In fact I ran below expectation (just two royal flushes between us in 120,000 hands – I’m owed again!) and it cost me about $600, so I might need to see Jubilee! twice or three times to get full value.

Things would have been sweeter with even just one $200 royal when we drew 50 times at the TJQK of diamonds:

No smoke without fireworks

Thanks very much indeed to Channel 13 News who reassured me that the roof of the Gold Coast car park would actually be a great place to watch the Strip fireworks.  They got it wrong.

I already knew that the view of most of the landmark hotels from there is obstructed by either the Rio or some construction project, but there is a great view of Luxor and Mandalay Bay.

The TV report I saw went something along the lines of:

- "I’m here at Mandalay Bay with lots of drunk people.  Hey look, here’s a middle-aged couple who scored tickets to get into the Foundation Room tonight, they dance like your dad, how cool is that?".

- "Yeah!  Happy new year!  Woo!  Vegas baby!".

- "Fireworks are going to be set off from the roofs of seven hotels along the Strip at midnight and this is one of them.  Now, back to someone else who is somewhere else in Vegas with more drunk people".

I’m absolutely sure she said that, even if not in those exact words.  So I set up camp facing the far south end of the Strip.  This is what it actually looked like a couple of minutes after midnight:

Right there in the Luxor’s tractor beam you can see smoke drifting across from the fireworks – as they shot up from the roof… of the MGM Grand.

Mandalay Bay was never supposed to be one of the seven.  They were: MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, Flamingo, Venetian, Treasure Island, Circus Circus and Stratosphere.

This is the most direct pyro shot I could get:

That’s the CityCenter construction, illumated by some badly obstructed fireworks.  MGM is behind there somewhere, but you just can’t see any of its green glow.

This really doesn’t look like Vegas at all, if it wasn’t for the Bellagio sign in the foreground it really could be anywhere!

How many ducks is that?

Playing deuces wild video poker, a four deuces hand doesn’t happen very often but it’s very nice when it does.  It pays off $250 for a $1.25 spin – second only to a $1000 royal flush.

So when Claire and I both hit four deuces within seconds of each other on adjacent machines, it was pretty special and much hi-fiving ensued.

What’s more, I still can’t believe it came in after I decided to record the redraw.  It’s crappy cellphone video, but still…

When airlines go busto

All the excitement of having my next three trips all booked up turned out to be a little premature, following the announcement on Christmas Eve that MaxJet has filed for bankruptcy.

They’re trying to make arrangements to get anyone who is half way through a round-trip back home, but their own flights are all suspended.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the planes were on eBay by now.

Three of my four flights booked for 2008 are cancelled, and the freebie return with BMI is useless without an outbound flight to match.  Every one-way ticket I looked at was more expensive than buying a round trip and throwing away the return half.  It cost £25 per ticket to cancel the miles award booking and have the remaining money and all the miles recredited to my account.

MaxJet’s recorded message says to contact your travel agent or credit card company for a refund and I’ve spoken to MBNA who told me there shouldn’t be a problem but it could take some time to get the money back.  They said MaxJet should write to confirm that they don’t intend to provide the flight, and then there will be strong claim that can be made against their bank (they still have money, we hope) which is virtually impossible to dispute.

Otherwise I’ll have to wait for the travel dates to pass and not fly, and then apply for the chargeback.  It could be getting on for next Christmas before I get the money back if that’s the case!  It should all be a formality, but I haven’t even had an email from MaxJet yet – I only found out when I stumbled on a post on openvegas.com.

So given how popular the summer flights are, I already panic-booked replacements today.  Well, a little thought did go into it as I actually ended up on a £1400 business-class fare.  Compared to the £800 I expected to pay for MaxJet, it’s a little steep but that extra £600 should help to secure some extra value for the future.

As well as the nice big flat-bed seat I was so looking forward to and a chance that the food will be edible (the sausage crap I had on the way out last week was the worst yet; how hard is it to warm up a sausage?) the double miles award for business-class will bump me up to Diamond Club Gold status which opens the door for free upgrades on future flights and the ability to put your name on a waiting list to book seats on the flights you actually want to redeem your miles for.  Given that Claire and I now have enough miles for nearly five return USA trips between us, that’s got to be a good thing!

How to dominate with a Christmas jumper

It took me a while to realise, but last night at Binions I was playing $1/$2 NL with Sam O’Connor, apparently one of the first men to ever be seated in a Texas Hold’em game when it arrived in Las Vegas.

In fact I only realised when he started recounting a story about being on the set of Lucky You and being asked for an autograph by someone who didn’t know who he was.  Well really, why would they?  Although he was a poker advisor for the movie, his part on screen is credited only as "Old Man".  But he was in a movie with Drew Barrymore and that, apparently, is enough to make you a celebrity.

I was sure I’d heard the same story told the same way, it just took me a few minutes to remember where: an episode of the Gamblers’ Book Club podcast.  I posted a clip of that interview here.  A stroppy local woman ran her queens into aces and left the table moaning that "Sam is always bad luck for me", even though he wasn’t involved in that hand, and the penny dropped.

He wore a cracking Christmas jumper.  Although very popular with the ladies over here, you don’t see so many worn by men so I was pretty impressed.  Almost impressed enough to pretend I was a fan of Drew Barrymore myself and whip out the camera phone to take my picture with him.  But not quite, so I’ll just have to describe it: blueish with many large white snowflakes.  I’d wear it for sure.

Now that I know that O’Connor actually plays $1/$2 live games I have a little more respect for his book, which contains some of the tightest poker strategy advice you’ll ever read.  Fold all draws and most pairs btw, just try to flop the stone cold nuts.  Perhaps it’s suited to the ultra-tight game at Binions, which is usually comprised of at least half a table of rock-tight locals looking for just one big pot before they turn in for the night.  If it’s not a strategy for beating them (wouldn’t that be rude?) it’s going to be a guide to joining them, so I’ll attempt to read it again with this context in mind.

No longer owed

My second career royal flush came yesterday morning, and not before time!  I was so owed!

My only other video poker jackpot came several years ago now, and all I held to get it was one ace.  This time I actually had to hold two cards before the miracle happened.

If you look closely you can see the top of my head reflecting in the paytable.

 

Christmas cacti

Photos from the Ethel M chocolate factory and cactus garden, in full holiday costume.  I couldn’t have timed this better – I had no idea if the lights would still be on at 6am but they were, it was just getting light and there wasn’t a soul about except for one security guard, who wouldn’t let me walk around inside but didn’t seem to care about taking photos from the roadside.

 

  

The next big thing

Palazzo already delayed its soft opening until December 28th.  That means it’s supposed to be opening in three days time.  It doesn’t quite look ready just yet though… (photos taken Christmas morning).

EDIT: 28 Dec 8.30am – the TV news just pretty much said that nobody knows if Palazzo will actually open today.  They still need a final inspection and to obtain permits.

EDIT: Later same day – according to the RJ they’re not opening today, and nobody still knows quite when.