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Day 6: Three storms

There were three separate rainstorms visible to the South of the valley this afternoon, and even a few drops of water falling in Las Vegas itself.

I only managed to get a quick photo from my compact camera while driving (everywhere we stopped was too low down for a good view) but hopefully you get the idea.  It’s damn cool to see this extreme desert weather – from a distance at least!

Day 5: Sock news

I have never seen these socks before, or anything like them.

Just in case you can’t make out the detail among all those stripes, it says "Flamingo".

This is a very good sign.  Unless they’ve been sitting in a warehouse for nearly ten years, it means that Harrah’s are still producing new sock designs with their casinos’ logos on.

I’m still not 100% sure this is a man’s style (it’s a man’s size, but so were the baby girl pink ones I bought a couple of years ago, which are unsurprisingly still attached to the card they came on) but I didn’t think that was a good enough excuse not to get them.

A steal at $6 (with my Total Rewards Diamond discount) and hopefully the first of many.

Day 4: Gas man

Terrible’s casino looks set to be the place where I’ll be putting in most of my video poker action for the next few weeks.

There’s never just one promotion at Terrible’s, there’s usually dozens and understanding exactly what you’re entitled to is part of the fun.

I’ve long been a fan of their "gas days" (currently every day except Thursday and Sunday) when you can claim a $5 Chevron gift card for every 1,000 slot points earned – up to $25 per day. 

With the huge gas-guzzling Toyota Rav 4 (which I’m sure is almost double the size of a Rav 4 in Europe) we rented set to make some significant journeys as well as ferrying us around town for the next month, money to spend on fuel is as good as cash in the bank.

What makes this a great promotion is that you don’t have to redeem the points to get the gas cards, you can still use the same points for free slot play or spend them in the restaurants or gift shop.

To get 1,000 points you need to play $1,000 through a machine, which means a theoretical cost of about $5 on Jacks or Better video poker (99.54% payback).  The $5 value of the gas card therefore offsets the house edge of the game and the slot club points are all gravy.

The 1,000 points you accumulate are worth between $2.50 and $5, depending on what you spend them on.  At the gift shop – the easiest way to burn points on booze, soft drinks, cigarettes, coffee, donuts and sometimes even socks (although sadly none as yet this time around) – it’s 300 points per dollar.  You get a better rate at the buffet, or a slightly worse rate if you exchange points for more gift cards or gambling money.

It takes me about half an hour to cycle $1,000 on a 50c video poker machine (the highest denomination they have with the "9/6" pay table that’s needed for this to work) so assuming the 300 points per $1 rate, that’s normally a theoretical hourly rate of about $6.

Certainly not good enough to "go pro" for, but it’s not bad at all for a promotion that takes place five days out of every week.  If there’s nowhere else worth playing, there’s usually Terrible’s.

So you can probably imagine how excited I was when I read that Tuesdays and Thursdays were 5x points days – including (unusually) video poker as well as slots.  

I really didn’t expect the best video poker games to be included in the promotion, but I could only find signs indicating one particular game that was excluded, and that one wasn’t even as good as the one I’d been playing (Double Bonus, at 99.1% payback).

A couple of spins on the Jacks or Better game confirmed that they were indeed multiplying my points by five, so I made myself comfortable.

The point multiplier doesn’t award the gas cards any quicker (only "base points" count towards that) but the value it adds to the game is phenomenal.  It turns the 0.33% of money back from the slot club into 1.66% back.

Whenever you can get a full 1% back in any form – cash back, free play or comps – it’s worth taking notice of. 

Looking at it another way, for the first $5,000 you play the gas card still offsets the house edge but you also earn a whopping 25,000 points on top.  That’s worth $83.33 at the gift shop or $62.50 in gift cards or free slot play.

Pretty good for about two and a half hours work – it’s a rate of about $33/hr.

Beyond $5,000 played, it’s still a great deal (which means it’s also a great deal on Thursdays too, when it’s not a gas day, but you can still get 5x points and probably a free pack of beer or something too).  The point multiplier alone turns the 99.5% game into a 101% game.

Sure, it’s still a bit of a grind and I’m not going to come home from Las Vegas a millionaire because of it, but it’s an enjoyable way to earn food and beer.

And besides, if I spent every day chasing Megabucks for 5 weeks, I think the chances of going broke before the end of the trip would be pretty high…

Day 3: Stay three hotel nights (all at the same time) for the price of none

I still can’t get over just how recklessly Harrah’s have been giving away free hotel rooms, but I’m not complaining.

As our reservation at the Rio was booked in Claire’s name and she’s literally only gambled about $20 on her players card since she had it, there was no offer an awesome Strip view to go with our free room this time.

It’s still a suite – all the rooms at the Rio are – but we’re looking down onto Flamingo Road.  It isn’t so bad though, it’s a great view of Palms and Gold Coast.

Although we have this room until Thursday when we can get the keys to our rented house, we also had to check in to two more hotels today – just for the extra free goodies we’d get for accepting their offer.

Gold Coast is right next door so we didn’t even need to drive over there to check in and get the free stuff.  They’d offered Claire $20 per day dining credit and $10 per day free slot play if she stayed two nights for free.

The room was newly remodelled and quite nice.

This is the first hotel for quite a while where I’ve been hit by the dreaded "resort fee" stealth tax.  It’s only $3 per night – just about the lowest one I’ve heard of and a far cry from the $20+ per night at Station Casinos properties – but the list of amenities that the fee is said to cover is ridiculous.

Apparently this is what it pays for:

- Parking (which is free for anyone, including non-hotel guests)
- Shuttle buses to the Strip and The Orleans (which are free for anyone)
- Local phone calls (which are free)
- Toll free phone calls (I think they are missing the point)
- Incoming and outgoing fax service (I didn’t try it, but I just know there’ll be a charge per page)
- Coffee maker in your room (which would be a feature of the room, not the resort, surely?)
- Access to the fitness center

I checked to see whether there was an additional charge if you actually used the fitness center and there is not, so at least there is one genuine resort feature included.  Basically this dumb fee works out to be nothing more than a compulsory gym membership to eek out a few extra quid from guests – even those who have been invited to stay for free.

After taking a few bottles of shampoo and messing up the beds so it wasn’t obvious we hadn’t stayed there, we moved on to the next target.

We actually decided to spend the night at Harrah’s Laughlin, who gave me $85 in cash for showing up as promised.  We only managed to use $30 out of our $50 of food credit there for dinner though.  The Mexican restaurant closed at 9pm and we just missed it, so it had to be the cafe and I thought ordering myself a second pizza when I couldn’t even finish the first one would be a little unnecessary.

We were delayed getting there a little by the closure of Hwy 95, which was apparently shut for 6 hours after a truck did a somersault in one of the storms we’d been seen looming around the edges of the valley during the day (although they didn’t hit Las Vegas itself).

The desert skies were fairly clear by the time we set out but there were some monster puddles on the ground and the temperature dropped from the hundreds to a modest 80F along the highway.  The radio kept being interrupted by end-of-the-world emergency broadcast alerts saying very little of specific use but constantly advising not to attempt to drive through water on the road.

"Turn around, don’t drown", said the daunting message, repeatedly.

A single overhead notice sign warned "US-95 closed at Searchlight" but that was all.  It didn’t say why, how long for, or how to avoid it.  I didn’t really know what else to do, and wasn’t even sure if there was a sensible detour (I was driving a 4×4, but I didn’t actually want to use all four wheels) so we carried on in that direction.

As we approached Searchlight, there were dozens of trucks all parked on the shoulder and traffic started to slow down.

Amazingly our timing had been just about perfect.  Just ahead, trucks started to pull back onto the road – they’d obviously heard something – and we crawled along until we passed a solitary highway patrol car with one officer beckoning traffic through.

Thankfully the route to Laughlin is usually plain sailing all the way.  We have to return on Thursday morning to check out of the hotel room that we’re no longer using!

Day 2: Look! Shiny object!

Here’s a picture of today’s bonus value from The Palms.

The reason I’ve included my players card in the haul is that they reissued it at the "MVP" level when there’s absolutely no reason that it should be.  All my play there recently has been on Claire’s card, and we weren’t even sure that she would have qualified for a green card with the recent rule changes.

But as we had a linked account and Claire was asking for an updated card, I handed mine over at the same time and got one the same colour but still with my own number on it.  Whether or not it will work for half price buffets I don’t yet know – the register may flag me up as an imposter – but it’s definitely good enough to make me look like a VIP so I can carry on jumping various queues.

The other stuff was from a swipe-and-win promotion, and as there’s some kind of giveaway every day this month (and most likely next month too) this is just the first of many yet to come.

Today’s promotion is something to do with cars (I didn’t really pay that much attention) and I won a $10 gas card and Claire got the green stick thing in the photo, which is actually an air freshener that clips into an air vent.

Of course it’s tat, but at least it’s Palms-branded tat, not like those horrible clocks they were giving away in April.

In other tat news, I got this awful string of plastic beads from Binion’s.

The whole of Downtown Las Vegas has adopted a Summer of ’69 theme with tie-die shirts, peace symbols and lava lamps all over the place.  It’s pretty cool that all the casinos are taking part in the same theming in their own way.

I didn’t have to do anything in particular to get this piece of garbage, I just asked for a new slot card.  However, I think that giving me something shiny was really just misdirection while the players club took a sneaky scan of my driving license.

It was a swift move, as I could only tell as I’d already positioned myself to look down over their screen, knowing that I’m sometimes awkward to find when my British ID shows a date of birth with the numbers the wrong way round to an American, and when I’m actually listed under a California address anyway.

After I pointed out the right record and the lady handed me a set of beads, I saw my mugshot flash on screen before she gave me my license back.

If the Palms hadn’t also taken a scan earlier I would have asked what the hell is going on, but it looks like this is becoming common practice – I think so that rather than having to produce ID every time you speak to them they can just pull up your picture and make sure it’s really you.

However, at the Palms they actually asked if they could take a copy.  I don’t know why Binion’s were so deceptive about it.

Day 1(ish): Sometimes sat nav really isn’t necessary

(Technically it was Day 2 when we started out at 3am after a few hours sleep in a Travelodge next to the airport… but with absolutely nothing to report from the night before and with a full Day 2 ahead in Vegas, this is as good a place to start as any).

Once you leave behind the last traces of Californian civilisation, the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is pretty much just a long, straight line.

In 141 miles, take the exit.