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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".

 

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 :)

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.

Day 25: Raining again

"If anyone is interested, It’s raining cats and dogs outside.  First time in three years", said the floorman at the Planet Hollywood.

He was exaggerating of course.  There’s been plenty of cool storms this month, but it was the first time I’d been on the Strip during one.  It wasn’t quite important enough to get up during my tournament, but as soon as we hit a break I was outside with my camera set to "light polluted night scene in the rain" mode.

The P-Ho’s tournament features a very special guest star, a top poker professional who must be really good because he plays that same $120 tournament almost every night of the week, and also has a cool nickname, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi.  Clearly it’s good for business as the turnout was an impressive 30 runners, including the megastar.

I didn’t get a shot at the $300 bounty as he started life on a different table, and died after about 20 minutes.

Day 24: Poker room with a view

Once again with the sneaky taking of the photos inside the casino.  OK, they’re far from being great pictures, but I wanted to try to show a player’s-eye view of what it’s like to play poker at O’Sheas.

This game is cheap.  It’s $1-$5 spread limit, with just one $1 blind each hand.  Since the $1-$3 spread game at Excalibur is no longer running, I’m sure this must now be the smallest game in town.

The limits are low and the tables are tiny.  Their poker room consists of two 8-handed tables (and it’s still a bit cramped with eight) dumped right inside the front doors.  But playing here, you are sitting in air-conditioned comfort virtually right on the Strip itself.  It feels like you’re in the heart of the action – even though you’re actually playing a game where a pot over $20 is massive, and rare.

All the new nightclubs have a strip view.  I say more poker rooms should consider it too.  Getting to enjoy classic Vegas scenery while you play is a fantastic experience.

Day 23: Anyone for a kebab?

Doner kebab meat must be a gormet delicacy to have made it all the way to Las Vegas.  You can find it at the Palms buffet.

I do apologise for taking a bite out of my pitta before taking the photo.  I must have been hungry.

If you expected me to pay for this buffet, you’ve not been paying attention :)   Palms has turned out to be one of the best deals for video poker in town.  With several different types of positive expectation machines you sometimes have to fight for a seat, and there are clearly professionals in the place.  You can spot them by the way they slap the buttons really quickly.  That highly tuned flappy action ensures they get to play the maximum number of hands possible.

It’s so important to make sure you push that edge as much as you physically can by playing lots of hands.  A 400 hands per hour player might stand to win $3.80/hr on full pay Deuces Wild (that’s 100.76% payback with perfect play) but crank your speed up to turbo and you could be earning as much as a theoretical $5.70/hr for 600 hands.

The full pay Deuces Wild machines also have a progressive jackpot, adding a little more value to the game.  Once this is over $1100 (the normal Royal Flush jackpot is $1000) everyone seems to go mental, and it’s even more difficult than usual to find a seat.  That extra hundy adds less than 0.2% to the expected return.  Sure, it’s worth having, but it’s not much more than another dollar per hour.

The slot club is what ultimately makes it all almost worthwhile.  At $400 coin in per $1 in comp, it adds another 0.25% to the value of the game, and that’s without any other point bonuses.  We have coupons for 3x points in the Pocketbook Of Values and have picked up 4x multipliers from their swipe-and-win promotions.  In fact, I also swiped and won a $25 gift card for Wal-Mart and $5 for 7-Eleven.  Everyone who turns up for those promos wins something, even it’s it’s tat.  Claire got a nasty keepsake box and an almost worthless notebook and pen.  The draw is most likely rigged, or at least biased - all our play has been on my account, and only I got the decent prizes.

Using the best multplier and with a decent progressive jackpot up for grabs, a savvy player could earn a theoretical rate of nearly $15/hr in cash and comp.  Points have to be spent on comp – there’s no cashback – but you can spend it on anything: food, movies or tatoos.

The Palms buffet is actually pretty average.  Obviously it’s better than the raw functionality of Terribles for sure, and you cannot complain for a freebie, but it’s certainly not as good as it seems to think it is.  The selection is actually quite limited.

The Wynn buffet on the other hand is top notch, and was yet another meal I didn’t have to pay for!  No kebab meat here, but there was tandori chicken with poppadoms.  Good old fashioned English fare.

New slot club members receive $10 in free play for giving an email address, and get two free buffets when they earn 100 points.  You earn at a somewhat peculiar rate of $9 per point, but still that’s just $900 of play for dinner for two.  There’s a 99.5% jacks-or-better game if you can play $1 video poker, or slightly worse if you want to grind it out with quarters.  Either way, your expected loss is only a little more than the $10 free play, and if you use the buffet for dinner at the weekend it’s worth a whopping $37.95 each person.  Apparently.

And people still stand in line for two hours to pay that at dinner time.  Eat free, and eat early!

I can take or leave the Wynn casino, and to be honest I’m sure it’s no great loss to them if I take my limited play elsewhere.  The overall snootyness of the place makes this great promo a big and very pleasant surprise.  I was also pleased to see that their crockery came all the way from Stoke!  I always flip over the plates on the offchance – the funny shaped, almost triangular buffet plates are made by Steelite.

I do like their carpet very much, but that alone isn’t enough to make me go back any time soon.

  

 

Day 22: Self-proclaimed vintage Vegas

How could I not turn off the road when tempted by a sign like this?

The outside of the store looked promising too.

Although I have no idea what the phone box is for.

I did enjoy wandering round this store, and I did actually find two jackets that I rather liked, from the fabulous El Cortez and the World Series of Poker back when it was at Binion’s, and when Binion’s was still called the Horseshoe.

 

However, for the most part it’s wasn’t really what I thought it would be.  Instead of the fascinating collection of vintage casino junk I expected to find inside, I was greeted by a giant house clearance sale with just lots of old junk, and a few items of overpriced casino tat thrown in for good measure.

For example. the exact same carrier bag I got from historic Hooters with a t-shirt I bought last week.  Their price: $7.50.

Here’s a replica parking meter and a police light, alongside a horrible clock and a couple of empty bottles, all arranged on a blackjack table.

So there at least there’s a tenuous Las Vegas connection in the display.  But what about this? 

It’s all immaculately arranged, but what’s it doing here?

Some corners like this look like they’ve been preserved exactly as they were when the person who used to spend all day sitting in that chair was still alive.  There’s a picture of a cactus in there on the far right, but otherwise it’s just plain creepy.

But what’s more creepy than dummies?  The Venetian may have Madame Tussauds, but I doubt it has anything quite like these beauties.

 

 

Yes!  Elvis spinning a wheel of fortune.  That’s more like it!

And then there’s this.  Probably the best child-scarer I have ever seen.  A double-whammy of freakishness.  There’s no Vegas connection as such, but I think every casino should have one.

Day 21: World’s Largest?

The world’s largest pint glass?  WTF?

In other news, a ton of bricks is now actually heavier than a ton of feathers…

This monstrosity is at the gateway to the new Fremont East entertainment district, an attempt to remove the fear aspect from the scary part of Downtown you have to walk through to get to the El Cortez.  So where’s the fun in that now?

The sidewalk is wider (the street has become one-way to make room) and there’s a few more brand new faux-vintage neon signs added.  This one continues the alcohol theme.

It’ll be great when it’s finished, but right now most of the building are sitting empty, waiting to be turned into bars.  Mayor Oscar has re-zoned this section of Fremont Street as heavy drinking.

Why was that never an option in Sim City?