Friday, February 28, 2014

Off-Strip: The Rampart

Today we head up West Charleston to the tony suburb of Summerlin, turn onto Rampart, and find ourselves at the Rampart Casino, attached to the lovely Mission-style J.W. Marriott Resort. Signing up for the player's card here got us all kind of nice bonuses, like a two-for-one buffet coupon, and getting to spin the wheel for points (I earned enough points for a Rampart hat and t-shirt). They're pretty generous with the comps at the table games, too. Playing blackjack at a $5 table for an hour or so earned us two lunch buffets. That buffet is usually $9.95 (it only goes up to $19.95 for dinner on "theme nights") and it's good hearty fare, with an interesting selection at the ice cream freezer (Hawaiian Vanilla! Sea Salt and Caramel!). Naturally they have fun promotions to keep the regulars coming back. Like Plinko! And their Bonkerz Comedy Club features some of the same hilarious comedians that we've seen playing the clubs on the Strip. What's even sweeter: The Sunday has coupons for two-for-one tickets, good through March 27.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On The Fast Track to Cash

Vegas is about to go speed crazy with NASCAR weekend coming up in March, and the Stratosphere is doing their share with another three days of free slot tournaments, Thursday March 6 through Saturday March 8. All ace|PLAY members get one free entry per day into the "Speedway of Cash" slot tournament, and you can get up to two additional entries per day by earning points on your player's card. The top ten players each day win cash and free stays at the Strat, with first place taking down $700 and a three-night stay. Start your engines!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winning At Video Poker Made Easy

The Sunday is carrying a nice raft of coupons in its back pages, including match plays and other goodies to help you come out ahead at casinos around town. Of these, the most lucrative with the least risk are the coupons from the Gold Coast and The Orleans offering you $10 in slot play if you put $10 through one of their machines. While not quite the sure thing that free slot play is, it's nearly as good a deal. When I play Deuces Wild on one of their nickel video poker machines at 25 cents a hand, I might not make all of my money back when I play $10...but I'm almost certainly going to keep more than $10 if I play $20 through. How it works: You take your coupon up to the B-Connected desk, give them your ID and your player's card, and they make the Play $10 Get $10 active on your card. As soon as you've played $10 through your machine (I get out a pen and paper and keep track of exactly how many hands I've played at, say, 25-cents per, which means after 40 hands I'm done), remove your card, re-insert it, press the "Slot Play" button and you'll be able to download the $10 in free play to your machine. How well you do depends greatly on how much you manage to keep of your first $10. On one trip I only kept $6.25 of my ten bucks, so I only came out about $3 ahead at the Orleans...but I moved on the Gold Coast, used the same coupon, and came out $8 ahead, so I better than doubled my money for the trip. This week, at The Orleans, I actually managed to come out ahead on my $10 thanks to a straight flush with deuces, and so came out $9 ahead for the one session.

The Gold Coast and Orleans are also putting free entries into their video poker tournaments into The Sunday, and you'd be a fool to pass these up: While not nearly as sure a thing, they're a free chance at winning some money!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Off-Strip: The Sun Never Sets on the Sunset

I always knew the Station Casinos run a little on the large side...they usually incorporate a bowling alley, a movieplex, and a food court, after all...but I was unprepared for the news that Sunset Station, off of Boulder Highway and Sunset, sprawls over all of 98 acres. Wait...are you serious? Yep. Ninety-eight acres of serious fun. Of course everyone needs to visit Sunset Station if only to check out the gorgeous stained-glass ceilings of the Gaudi Bar. But beyond that, you have the Pirates-of-the-Caribbean grotto vibe of the Oyster Bar, just one of a set of dining options that includes Pasta Cucina, the Grand Cafe, the Feast Buffet, and that food court. If you have little ones along, there's a Kid's Quest and an arcade, or you could just drop them off at the movies for a couple of hours of course. Afterwards, the whole family could go bowling, eh? As a bonus, the Galleria is just across the street, for all of your let's-blow-all-these-winnings needs. I made a much-needed Panera Bread stop there myself after putting in the legwork for this story. Sunset Station is on the same Boarding Pass player's card program as the other Station Casinos (as is the Barley's Casino & Brewing Company across the street, and the Wildfire casinos around town, one of which is right in front of Sunset Station). The only question I still have is: Why is Sunset Road in an Eastern suburb of the city? Maybe that's where the sun goes down in Henderson.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm Gonna Keep On Lovin' You

The last time I saw REO Speedwagon live it was in my capacity as a roving music critic for the El Paso Times, the band was touring in support of the High Infidelity LP, and their opening act had just scored their first big hit on the Rocky III soundtrack. So, yeah, it's probably that time again. The Fremont Street Experience seems to be starting their free summer rock concert series a little early this year. Now, the last concert by a big-name artist I saw on Fremont Street was when Lady Antebellum gave a free show the weekend of the Country Music Awards. Fremont was wall-to-wall people, and there was quite the wait for the valet. I'm not saying the Speedwagon still has that kind of drawing power, but food for thought. I plan to show up early. I'm just sayin'. (REO Speedwagon, Fremont Street Experience, Saturday, March 8, 9 p.m. Free.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Crown Jewel of Vegas Bargains

I first discovered the Poker Palace when I took two of my Colorado friends north of downtown on Las Vegas Blvd., looking for virgin territory where we could all sign up as new members. Spin the wheel when you get your players' card and see how much free slot play you win! One of the dealers told me it used to be a restaurant whose owner expanded it into a little casino. It's quite the haunt for the frugal gambler: $1 blackjack, poker tournaments with an $18 buy-in, and Bingo! They have 16-oz. T-Bone steak for $5.98 all day, while Friday and Saturday are $3.98 Prime Rib night. If you're not up for a sit-down meal, the snack bar by the gaming tables can fix you up with a good burger and other cheap eats. It's also home to what may be the single best bargain in town (and for the first time I wish no one was reading this): the newspaper machine out front sells the Sunday paper for a dollar.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Get Your Green On

Too soon to start making plans for St. Patrick's Day? Balderdash! The Fremont Street Experience already has three days and four nights of free live entertainment planned for that weekend, with acts like Whiskey Galore, Finnegan's Wake, 1916, and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. I don't see any details on their website or Facebook yet, but I find it hard to believe that the newly revived O'Shea's at the Linq won't be doing something for the occasion as well; a maybe-reliable source predicts their Blarney Bar will do $23.7 million in business on St. Pat's (but that may just be the blarney talkin').

Friday, February 21, 2014

Journey to the Center!

I only stumbled upon the Sci-Fi Center because the Pep Boys were working on my car across the street, but I'm glad I did. In between selling comics, graphic novels, DVDs, and back issues of FANGORIA, these guys host screenings of classic science fiction and horror movies...for varying definitions of the word "classic," of course. Tonight they were running the Oscar-winning Disneyfied version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in glorious widescreen; upcoming screenings this week include Creature of the Black Lagoon (in 3-D!), Dawn of the Dead, and Pink Flamingos. Admission prices range from $5 to free, for the Cinemonday screenings and the family-friendly Saturday night drive-ins (Coming Soon: The Phantom Planet). A local troupe of players "shadows" some of the features, so a recent screening of Night of the Living Dead might be accompanied by the walking dead hovering over your shoulder, or Rocky Horror by enthusiastic re-enactors; future offerings will take on Ghostbusters and...the one I'm most anxious to check out....They Live. If that's not enough to entice you, I have just one word: Nerdlesque. (Sahara & 6th,, (702) 792-GEEK)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Off-Strip: The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is on West Flamingo, with the Palms across the street on one side of it, and the Rio across Valley View on the other. It's held its own against these behemoths for decades, as a favorite locals joint. It's especially dear to me because, while free room offers from other casinos would dry up as years passed between my visits, the Gold Coast would faithfully keep sending me offers for two free nights, plus a $25 food credit and a free $30 bet each day. They never lost faith in me, bless their heart. It's an older hotel (you can open some of the windows on the higher floors, in case things don't go well at the tables) but the rooms have been fixed up real nice. They have a bowling alley, and, like the Orleans, on Super Bowl day they hosted a free viewing party in their ballrooms. There are low table minimums ($5 blackjack, $1 roulette with a $3 minimum total bet), the double-deck rules are generous, and I can point you to the $1 Wheel of Fortune machine where I once hit a $500 spin on the Wheel. Like The Orleans, it's part of the B Connected player's card program, and your card gets you a discount on the buffet, so for Friday seafood night (piles of crab legs and crawfish, peel-and-eat shrimp, shrimp cocktail, shrimp ceviche, shrimp salad...) it's $19.99, but the next night's New York steak buffet is only $9.99. It's a perfectly good buffet. Other dining options are a T.G.I. Friday's, the Cortez Room for fine dining at moderate prices, a Subway, Java Vegas (for coffee and ice cream), Noodle Exchange,  and Ping Pang Pong, which some consider the best Chinese restaurant in town...and if you doubt the Gold Coast draws heavily from the local and imported Asian population, check out the racks by the men's room full of Chinese-language newspapers. The Gold Coast can also take the credit for my achieving an upgrade to Sapphire status on my player's card, due in no small part I'm sure to the $1000 bet that let me break even at the roulette table.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Off-Strip: The Orleans

The Orleans, at Tropicana and Arville, pays tribute to its namesake city far beyond the faux French Quarter facade. A quick look inside reveals three bars....the Mardi Gras Bar, the Alligator Bar, and the Crawfish Bar...all within easy walking distance of each other, and if that doesn't say Big Easy to you, I don't know what else will. Maybe the statues of jazz-playing gators greeting you at the entrance. Maybe the Mardi Gras pit, where my name was drawn as I sat playing blackjack, making me the King of Mardi Gras for the next hour. They gave me a crown and everything. And beads! Mustn't forget the beads. 
I also got to spin the wheel for a chance at fabulous prizes (I won two movie passes...yes they have a movie theater on the premises) and for the next hour every blackjack I was dealt would pay me two to one.

The Orleans is part of Boyd Gaming's B Connected player's card program, which has always been good to me. In fact they gave me two free nights there recently, which gave me a chance to observe how thoughtfully their hotel registration area is laid out. Notice the lounging area with lots of comfy chairs and sofas for the rest of your party to relax while you're standing in the registration line. Notice the many flat-screen TVs for you to watch while you're waiting in line. This speaks well for the level of consideration they're going to accord you as their guest. Southern hospitality, Vegas style? You right.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Gambler's Mecca

The Gamblers Book Club has moved to several locations in its long, storied and peripatetic career. When I finally made my first pilgrimage, it was residing in a small storefront on Eastern south of Tropicana, and I found myself in book collector heaven. Shelves and shelves of books, which despite repeated visits I've never managed to note down every title so I can add them to my to-be-read list. They'd frequently be visited by authors like Nicolas Pileggi and David Schwartz, some of whom were dropping by to be interviewed for their regular podcast. And aside from classic titles like Ovid Demaris's Green Felt Jungle and Doyle Brunson's How I Made A Million Dollars Playing Poker (the original title of his Super System), and all the latest titles on everything from Backgammon to the Mob, they had collectibles! Remnants of vanished casinos, like an El Rancho ashtray or, my personal favorite, bars of soap from the Stardust!

Gamblers Book Club has finally relocated to its old downtown stomping grounds, moving in with the Gamblers General Store at 800 block S. Main. (A clerk at the General Store told me the Book Club had bought them out.) Now more than ever, this is the one place anyone who's serious about studying their game, or anyone who's serious about collecting gaming paraphernalia, has to visit. The General Store was always a cool place, a veritable museum of ephemera like old slot machines and gaming tables, except that if you raked in enough chips at the casinos, you could actually buy them. Want an old Hooters blackjack table with a "Big Pair" bonus? Check. Your friends want to humiliate you into buying a deck of Hannah Montana playing cards? Check. Got twenty grand to blow on an old fruit machine? Check. 

My advice? Go early and often. Show up on the weekend for a 10% discount. Don't forget, the American Casino Guide has a discount coupon as well!

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Nothing Up My Sleeve!"

Tucked away in a little row of shops off the Riviera lobby is the Las Vegas Magic Shop, which proudly proclaims itself "Nevada's Oldest Magic Shop." Here you can find everything from classics like the Chinese Linking Rings to the complete Criss Angel Magic Kit. In fact there's an entire display case dedicated to local favorite son Angel, featuring videos of his Mindfreak show and more magic. Since magic tricks have always been pitched to kids and adolescent boys, there's also (as was inevitable in magic catalogs when I was a boy, anyway) a generous selection of novelties and practical jokes. If you want a pair of oversized boxer shorts that make it look like your big old butt cheeks are poking out and mooning your friends, they have you covered.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pumper Beware!

Hope you were planning on filling up with Regular at this place, but if they could find a way to make their prices any more vague, I guarantee you they would. I already noticed when I moved to Las Vegas that gasoline prices were higher than they were back home, but do they have to make it even harder for you to figure out if you're getting a good price? If you're new to Vegas or you're going to be renting a car here, you might as well know how deceptive the gas prices are at each station's sign. First of all, although Rebel and Arco AM/PM stations will generally have the best prices, the price they're posting on the big sign alongside the street to get you to pull in are going to be the cash price, so if you're running low on the greenbacks and were planning to use your debit card, it's going to cost you. AM/PM stations are a particularly bad offender here, because although their sign may say the cash and debit price are the same, once you swipe your debit card you'll find you're going to be charged a 35-cent debit card fee if you proceed. So if you only planned on pumping two or three gallons, those savings will evaporate faster than the fumes in your empty tank. 

(AM/PM stations have installed self-service kiosks between the pumps to save you a trip into the store. Don't even bother using them. Just go inside and pay in cash; give them a twenty and say you only want ten dollars' worth if you need an excuse. Often the debit card swipe won't work so it will just tell you to use cash or find another pump, and often they won't have installed a cash slot yet. That's if you're lucky; otherwise you'll learn about that 35-cent fee.)

The other bait and switch is if you see a really great price at that Shell station on Flamingo, but when you get closer you notice the fine print: that price is only if you buy a car wash at the same time you buy your gas. The most deceptive of these miscreants is a 76 station on Charleston; there's really nothing on their sign that said to me the regular price was valid only if you were also buying a car wash. I'm sorry, merely having the words "Car Wash" somewhere on your sign doesn't do it for me, and I'm just going to go back inside and ask for my cash back rather than pay the extra 15 cents a gallon.

In summation: Here's the real reason you always have to have cash in your pocket when you drive around Vegas.

Now, another way you can save on gas is if you get Fuel Rewards, which you can by picking up rewards cards from Smith's and Food 4 Less, or by signing up for Shell's Fuel Rewards Network. In the latter case, you can save 3 cents a gallon at all participating Shell stations, and an extra 7 cents a gallon every time you spend $50 at participating Vegas restaurants. Hey, that's only ten breakfasts or tapas orders at the Florida Cafe! That 10-cents-a-gallon discount will only apply to your first fill-up after you earn it though, so don't waste in on a top-off of a couple of gallons; afterwards you have to start all over again making trips to the Florida or Hussong's Cantina or one of dozens of other restaurants around town. First you fill up, then you get your car filled up; not a bad deal.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wizards' Wonderland

For a guy with an hour or two to kill, the better part of a roll of quarters left over from buying the Sunday papers, and a mild case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, there may have been better places to stop off than the Pinball Hall of Fame at 1610 East Tropicana. But darn it, I was going to pry at least one free game out of that Captain Fantastic machine or I was going to go bust trying.

Behind the unprepossessing storefront is a veritable shrine to the silver ball, with machines dating back to the dawn of pinball (wooden rails! analog digit counters!) through the age of Playboy and Xenon and Son of Pin-Bot, to contemporaries like James Cameron's Avatar machine with obligatory 3-D back.

As with any museum, a lot of hard work and love goes into maintaining these classics in playable condition. It's the ultimate hands-on interactive museum; you can play these puppies. Not just pinball, either; there are classic arcade games too...not just video games from the 80's but real penny-arcade favorites like claw games and boxing robots. And what kid can resist playing with Peppy the Musical Clown? I know, me neither.

All this is the work of volunteers, and all the quarters are donated to the Salvation Army, which to date has received more than half a million dollars in donations. If most of the players are as rusty as I was, I can believe it. I did finally manage to claim my free game off of that annoying Elton John, but I might have been better off sticking with a classic like the 1960-vintage Flipper! game, the first steel-rail machine and the first to offer free balls. Designed for locales where awarding free games was illegal (!), it makes it insanely easy to win extra balls, although if you're me that quarter will eventually run out.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Taking A Chance On Love

It's Valentine's Day, and you still have no plans? Vegas Speed Date wants to hook you up. In fact, Vegas Speed Date wants to hook up just about everyone in this town. "Date-A-Thon 2014" starts tonight at 6:00 p.m. downtown at the D, and they're hoping to break the record for the world's largest speed-dating event, so don't let them down. Participants get $1 drinks, too, in case you have trouble handling with that much rejection. Or, as is sometimes the case, you can't deal with dating that many people at once. It's always feast or famine for me, at least.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

No Plans for Valentine's Day?

Well, like Tom Petty says, "Even the losers get lucky sometimes." The Stratosphere is holding a free Cupid's Cash Slot Tournament this weekend, Friday the 14th through Sunday the 16th. All player's card members get one free entry per day, and you can get up to two additional entries per day for each 150 base slot points you earn that day. The top ten get cash and a free stay at the Strat, with 1st place taking down $700 and three nights. If that's not enough action for you, you can still get in on the Riviera's free slot tournament, every Saturday between 1 and 5 p.m., where the top 20 can win between $50 and $1,000 in free slot play. With prizes like that you can afford to drown your sorrows at your favorite watering hole, or if you're a guy alone on Valentine's Day, perhaps at an entertainment venue populated by women of limited sartorial means.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Archaeologists of a Vegas Vanished

If I ever go broke in Las Vegas, this will be the real reason why. Lost Vegas Antiques at 625 S. Las Vegas has some of the same campy collectibles you might find at any shop devoted to antiquated pop culture (Betty Boop! Elvis!), but with a heavy concentration of stuff related to the old Vegas casinos, as you might guess from the neon signs in the window for the Mint and the Sands. There's an age-21-and-over admission restriction, but once you get past the vintage showgirl photos, signed porn star pictures, 1960's Playboys, and old ads for Nevada brothels, there's a treasure trove of souvenirs from the fabled casinos of yore, from coffee mugs to ashtrays and jackets. Oh, sure, other vintage shops in town might have some chips, dice and matchbooks in a case or two at the front of the store; at Lost Vegas, they have buckets of the stuff to sift through until you find that one you've been looking for. I haven't been so happy since I was a preteen stamp collector rifling through the two-for-a-penny bin. One of the owners was telling me they used to be located in the Tropicana, and later at Neonopolis downtown. Their current location is nestled between Showgirl Video on one side and the Graceland Wedding Chapel on the other, and it just doesn't get more Vegas than that.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Once upon a time, I was having dinner with some friends downtown at the Golden Gate, and after dinner we decided to take a walk around Fremont Street and the vicinity checking out the sights. While we were standing at a corner waiting for the light to change, I glanced down and something on the sidewalk caught my eye.

"Hey," I said to my friends, "there's something funny-looking on the sidewalk here."

I bent down to pick it up.

"Holy crap," I told them, "it's a $100 chip from the Palms."

"Are you kidding?" they asked me, or words to that effect. "Is that thing real?"

"As far as I can tell," I said.

Next day, on my way out of town, I stopped at the Palms to see if I could cash it in, and, yeah, it was a $100 chip from the Palms.

So, I found $100 just lying on the street. Now, nothing about this story makes any sense. The Palms is a good distance from downtown; how did someone manage to make it all the way to downtown with a $100 chip and then drop it on the sidewalk and leave it? More to the point, how did none of the street people and homeless straying occasionally onto Fremont, not even mentioning the hundreds or thousands of passing tourists,  happen to notice it and snatch it up before I did?

Which speaks to our moral for the day: Keep your eyes peeled. Once the sightseeing wonders surrounding you have begun to lose their charm, keep one eye on the ground. An old flame of mine moved to Las Vegas and said walking around town she would find all kinds of things: Coins. Bills. Chips. Watches. Jewelry. You name it.

My poker buddy took a break from gambling to have a smoke next to a slot machine, happened to glance down, and saw a $10 bill lying on the ground behind the machine. I myself found $20 lying on the floor of a casino bar in Colorado once. Finders keepers. On the other hand, I once noticed a $20 bill protruding from the slot of a machine, and I immediately alerted security. Taking someone else's money from a gambling machine in any fashion is against the state laws in that jurisdiction, and you don't want to be on camera breaking the law in a casino.

I used to have a little black plastic business card holder that I kept in my shirt pocket. While I was gathering my bags at the ticket counter at McCarran Airport, I saw my little black plastic card holder lying on the ground, picked it up, dropped it in my shirt pocket and forgot about it. Until later when I got home and realized I had two little black plastic business card holders in my pocket: Mine, and one in which someone had tucked away $300 in cash.

Ah, well. If you go to Vegas you should expect to drop a few hundred bucks.

Just the other day I found someone's business card lying in the driveway of the Strat. They're the special events manager at the Hard Rock, so I imagine I can impress some of the club chicks with it.

Now, at some point you may have found someone's discarded slot ticket for $.02, or $.03, or $.05, or even some munificent some between $.10 and a quarter. You may, like the original bettor, decide to toss it away. Good Lord, why? That's real money. I can imagine someone disgustedly tossing away the few cents which is all that's left of the $20 or $100 they stuck in a machine, but gambling is a very low-profit-margin activity, and every penny you can hold onto is contributing towards your bottom line. (You know those pros that count cards and use every other dirty trick they can think of at blackjack? You know what their edge against the casino is? About 2%. That's why they have to form teams that can make huge-volume bets, like in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Donald Trump says he bends down to pick up a penny if he sees one on the street, and I'm no different. You may not think it matters much to the casinos if people throw those 5-cent tickets in the trash? Multiply that by millions of casino visitors every year who are probably doing the same. It's making a huge impact on their bottom line; it's the same as if they left those coins in the machine along with the rest of their losses. Let it make an impact on your bottom line instead.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Not Bread Alone

Do you have a My Panera card by now? And if not, why not? I mean, if not, make a trip to your nearest Panera Bread location and pick one up. When you register your card online, you get your first reward right away: a free pastry or sweet loaded to your card! And they have free wi-fi at their bakery-cafes, so you can register your card and pick up your sweet reward right there. I can't even begin to tell you what a great present this makes a Panera gift card. Vegas locations: 740 S. Rampart (inside Boca Park), 7175 W. Lake Mead, 5130 S. Fort Apache, and in Henderson: 9911 S. Eastern, 2235 Village Walk Drive, and 605 Mall Ring Circle (Galleria Pavilion).

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hacienda Update: The Last Picture Show. Plus: Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

As previously reported, the Hacienda in Boulder City was acquired by slot-parlor operator Dotty's in December and ceased operating as the Hacienda at that time. Since then however I have noticed little outward evidence of the change. The big Hacienda sign is still luring visitors from the highway, all the Hacienda signage is still in place at the hotel, and the helicopter keeps circling Lake Mead for $29 a pop. On closer inspection, the north side of the hotel has been fenced off, so I suppose the exterior renovations will start at that end.

Inside it's a different story. The live gaming tables have all been removed and replaced with electronic equivalents. (Is there any sadder sight in a casino than an electronic Big 6 wheel?) The Dotty's booth on the north side of the casino is familiar to anyone who's ever been to one of  their ubiquitous slot joints; a vivacious bartender is on hand to pour you a drink or sell you some cheap packs of smokes. On the bright side, the bare-bones snack bar has been replaced by what actually looks like a rather nice coffee shop.

But then comes the sad news that the Lakeview Cinema, a Hacienda fixture that screened a mix of first-run features and classic films, is closing its doors after today. Last time I stayed there you had your choice of Casablanca or Shane, but those days are gone. They're going out with a double feature of Gone with the Wind and The Majestic. Oh, Dotty. Is their no end to your perfidy.

One Window Closes, Another Window Opens: In the wake of last week's news that City Life was folding comes the premiere of a new weekly, The Sunday. The first issue combines thoughtful reporting on teen sports with, in the best tabloid fashion, the gruesome murder of a dancer in the Luxor's "Fantasy" revue. But what's more of interest to us is: "$932 in coupons inside!" Free drinks! Two-for-one eats! Match play and bonus play and casino comps! Ladies and gentlemen, to the newsracks!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Vegas Days Gone By: Bill's/Barbary Coast

Speaking of Bill's Gambling Hall, which we mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm going to miss this Victorian-themed casino that sat on the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard, currently being overhauled as part of the Linq project. Formerly the Barbary Coast, it was all stained glass and chandeliers red velvet drapes. They had low table minimums for blackjack, too. But what I'll miss most was the drive down from the parking garage: a steep spiral descent that was the best thrill ride in town.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wheel in the Sky Keeps On Turnin'

When I returned to Vegas late last year after many moons away, my big "What The Heck?" moment was catching sight of the big wheel going up near the Strip and Flamingo. The Skywheel, at 550 feet taller than the Big Eye in London, is anchoring The Linq, the new open-air shopping and dining (and wining) complex going up about where Bill's used to be. For an unobstructed view of it in all its glory, right now you can stop at Paradise and Winnick where we took this picture. (Because Vegas is all about the competition, someone's planning another, equally tall one at the South end of the Strip.) It just happened that our bus back from Laughlin was passing by the recent night that they were testing the Skywheel's  lights and its ever-so-slow revolution, so here ya go.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fashion Show Mall

North and Center Strip are full of high-falutin' shoppin' options these days; Crystals at City Center and the Bellagio and the Wynn offer high-priced outlets like Tiffany's, Louis Vuitton and a Ferrari showroom. But if you're on a more modest budget or homesick for the kind of shopping experience that your hometown mall offers, there's always the Fashion Show Mall, under the big UFO-shaped thing (they claim it's a Cloud) up towards the northern end of the Strip, between Treasure Island and the Trump.

It's anchored by familiar names like Macy's, Nordstrom, Dillard's, Nieman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. If you can locate the Concierge Desk, you can pick up a coupon book full of discounts for food and shopping (and it's bound, Ace Double style, back-to-back with a similar coupon book for the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian across the street). The two-for-ones and other discounts for the food court and other dining locations (including a Jamba Juice) are especially good values.

They call it the Fashion Show Mall, by the way, because there really are fashion shows held on a runway down the center of the mall on weekends. We were lucky to be there for their Christmas spectacular, featuring this fetching but really odd use of showgirls.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Vegas Days Gone By: The Western

On our last visit to the El Cortez, I looked out over the balcony and said, "Hey, look, it's a casino I haven't visited yet. How did I overlook it all these years?" But it was something of a mirage. (Just not, you know, The Mirage.) The "BINGO" sign for the Western Hotel and Casino keeps flashing 24 hours, as does a portion of the "Cocktails" sign, but like the "Girls! Girls!" sign that lights up outside the late lamented Library on Boulder Highway, it's deceptive. A sign behind the chain-link fence informs us the Western, owned by the same group as the Plaza and the LVC downtown, has been closed, apparently for a while now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Container Park

As part of the burgeoning art scene around the revitalized Downtown, the Container Park at 7th and Fremont stands as a shining example of green building. The scrap metal preying mantis that stands guard over the entrance shoots out great gouts of flame in the evenings, when on weekends it's likely to be accompanied by a drum circle. You can hear all this in the Pavilion Tower of the El Cortez across the street, so you might want to turn on the TV or listen to some music.

The buildings, all salvaged from shipping containers, house several well-regarded restaurants and bars, including Pork & Beans, Pig Ears BBQ and The Boozery. There are several galleries too; the Disney Fine Art is well worth a browse for art lovers of all ages. For the youngsters there are all the trappings of a real park and playground, especially a treehouse for the climbing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

It's The Best Deal in Town (But You Have to Go to Laughlin)

We were toying with the idea of extending our stay and hitting up Laughlin, on the scenic Colorado River, on the way out of town (we had a two-nights-for-the-price-of-one coupon from a couple of Laughlin hotels), but then I saw an ad in one of the local magazines: Call 702-360-8687 and book a free bus tour to Laughlin. You actually pay $5 for fuel, but that's still one of the best deals imaginable: not only do you get a four-hour round trip to Laughlin (think of your fuel savings), and six hours in Laughlin, you get a free buffet at the Trop, and $5 in free slot play there. So heck, yes, we took the bus instead. Their shuttle picked us up downtown at 8:30 in the morning and after picking up guests at various other hotels around town we were at their main terminal ready to board the big bus at 10 a.m. Our driver kept us informed and entertained as we stopped at the Las Vegas sign for pictures, and passed through the quaint towns of Noname, Calnevada, and Searchlight (home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, woo). Billboards and ads made clear Laughlin is a happening place: upcoming headliners include Reba, Alan Jackson, Rascal Flatts, Willie & Family, Jo Dee Messina, Leann Rimes, Paul Anka, Paul Rodriguez, and Bill Engvall.

First stop: the Tropicana Express. First big tip: As soon as you get off the bus and get handed your voucher for the buffet and slot play, walk (if not run) as fast as your legs will carry you to the left past the hotel registration desk, then to your right and most of the way back until you come to the Players Club on your left. Get there before your fellow passengers have figured out where it is and you'll save a long wait in line. You'll need that time back later, because passengers start waiting in line of the buffet at 3 p.m., an hour before it opens; so you either wait an hour for the buffet to open, or you wait even longer to get into the buffet. Veterans, take note: Every fourth Wednesday, you and a guest are entitled to a free buffet here. The buffet was well worth the wait, and I made $3 off the free slot play, so as of this point the trip was only costing me $2.

Next stop: the Colorado Belle. Both here and at sister property the Edgewater, new members can get $5 in free slot play for signing up. I made $5 on my free play, so now I was $3 ahead for the trip. These properties show off the propensity of Laughlin casinos to host popular chain restaurants: at the Edgewater, for example, Coco's, Capriotti's and Krispy Kreme are all dining options.

Next up: the Wild-West-themed Pioneer. Here too you can get $5 free slot play; I earned another $5.25, so instead of costing me five bucks, I got the bus trip, the free buffet, and I came out ahead $8.25, which makes this surely one of the best deals if not the best deal in town.

Now, the Golden Nugget has a big sign advertising that they'll match any competitor's coupon for new members, but there are some big strings attached.

When we showed up, they told my poker buddy he couldn't use a coupon from the American Casino Guide because it had to have the player's name on it; when, on hearing this, I presented a coupon I'd torn out of a mailing from the Eastside Cannery, they said it still had to be attached to the mailer for it to be accepted there. A friend of mine has wondered if they'd also find a way to dodge any coupons from non-Laughlin casinos by claiming those aren't their competitors, even though I could have chosen to stay in Vegas and play there instead of coming to Laughlin and playing at the Golden Nugget. I'm actually curious to see what would have happened if I'd brought the mailer I had back in my room for a free room at the Ameristar in Black Hawk. In any case, they let us spin the wheel and we each won a perfectly nice travel mug instead of any free play. On the bright side, they have some beautiful walking areas, and dining options include Saltgrass Steakhouse, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumper and Starbucks.

Briefly noted: Aquarius is on the same APlay player's card program as the Silver Sevens (and the Golden Mardi Gras & Golden Gates back in Black Hawk, Colorado). The Regency is a litlte slot joint attached to a restaurant, with no players card program. The River Palms is on the same player's card program as the Trop. We had to head back for the buffet line before checking out Harrah's Laughlin, which we assume is on the same Total Rewards program as every other Caesar's Entertainment property, and it was simply a massive oversight that we bypassed the Riverside, which might very well have proffered up more free slot play, and which was sorely missed because once on the road I discovered an old Riverside ashtray, which subsequently slipped out of my backpack and broke. It might take years before I get my hands on another one. Especially since I don't smoke.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Not-So-Super Sunday Entry

Since I find myself in the best place in the world to watch the Super Bowl, this entry by all right should have been about where I decided to take in the game: Caesars? South Point? The free viewing parties at the Gold Coast or The Orleans? The Bronco Bar on Boulder Highway? Larry Flynt's Hustler Club's "Super Pole Day"? A friend's house like when we watched the Saints win here a couple of years back? Instead I came down with a cold and was confined to my bed, not that watching the Broncos go down in ignominy would have given this Colorado transplant reasons to celebrate.

Before that, though, we went about town collecting on various match plays and free play we wanted to use up before the end of this trip. Rather than shell out a buck at McDonald's, we decided to see how much comp we had at one of our favorite off-strip joints. It turned out we had enough between us to get one order of chicken fried steak and eggs and split it. Our waitress was so disheartened to see that we could only afford one meal between us that, obviously assuming the worst about our financial straits, she offered first to let us use whatever points she had on our card, and then to let us have the last three-dollar tip she had picked up. (Don't worry, she got a nice tip instead.)

This town is famous for separating visitors from their money, but you can also encounter remarkable acts of generosity, kindness and selflessness, not to mention the many people in the gaming and hospitality industries here that have gone out of their way to give us their absolute best.

Laugh if you will, but I would make a case that Las Vegas has become one of the great international cities. Visitors flock here from every corner of the globe; all the world-class chefs want to open restaurants here (although they all want to eat at a Thai restaurant in a little strip mall on Sahara); world-class entertainers all want to perform here. There are world-class museums here. Some of the facades may be fake reproductions of other cities, but there's nothing phony about this city's credentials.

All this may help explain why I've accepted a job offer in Las Vegas and plan to move here shortly, although I'm sure the real reason is so I can continue to gather material for my blog.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why We Love The Silverton

Take Dean Martin south of Tropicana and just keep going, and you'll come up on the Silverton to your left. With its rustic lodge motif, and a huge Bass Pro Shops next door separated by an interior waterfall, this is one of our favorite Vegas casino resorts. A big aquarium greets you as you enter, with glass alcoves you can stand in to replicate the underwater experience, and the occasional mermaid gliding by. Speaking of which, the Mermaid Bar is decorated with big porthole-shaped tanks of floating jellyfish. If you have kids, they could find hours of amusement here. If you don't, you could. They get some big-name entertainment in their showroom, too; my friend Steps insisted we make a return visit to Vegas solely because she saw Randy Travis was going to be appearing here. They have an equestrian center here that can hold rodeo events, although I personally haven't taken in any.

When I signed up for my player's card, I got a nice ceramic pitcher as a welcome gift. When I brought my poker buddy along, he quickly comped a free buffet for earning a minimal number of points; in fact after playing just a couple of sessions of blackjack, we earned so many comps we could both get free buffets for two days in a row! Their Seasons buffet is no slouch either, with as wide a selection of sushi as I've seen, peel-and-eat shrimp that met my poker buddy's high standards, and, on Hawaiian luau day, a roast pig. (They have several other fine restaurants as well.) They also upgraded both of us from Silver membership to Gold...and remember, my buddy had only been
a member for a couple of days! On our most recent visit this morning, we were pleasantly surprised when we swiped our player's cards at a kiosk and discovered we each had between $15 and $25 in free slot play, and another $9 to $19 in points that we also used for free slot play (although we could as easily have used it for food or shopping). Don't think the money we won didn't come in handy, either. The Silverton takes really good care of its players.

If that's not enough, the cocktail servers will bring you complimentary Starbucks coffee if you ask. What more do you want?

How About Free Music? Mickey Gilley is finishing a three-night stand of free shows at his namesake club at Treasure Island, tonight (Saturday Feb. 1) at 7:30 p.m. Sorry for the late notice, but I had to scramble to find the latest issue of the Weekly. Speaking of which...

On A Sadder Note: City Life, one of Las Vegas's free alternative weeklies since 1996, announces that this week's issue will be their last. In a crowded landscape that includes the Weekly, Neon, and Seven, it must have been tough to survive in today's fragile economy.