My family and I, together with my brother-in-law and his family, spent the weekend of July 29-August 1 at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. It turned out to be a very enjoyable weekend. My brother-in-law and I played blackjack at Binion's Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget, Circus Circus, the Stratosphere, and a little at the Golden Gate. We still like those single-deck games, so our favorite places were Binion's and Circus Circus. Unfortunately, Binion's, which until recently was the world capital of single-deck blackjack, has converted many of its games to six-deck shoes, and the capper is that they have the same rules as the single-deck games. If I'm going to play with six decks, I at least expect a concession from the house in the form of decent rules, like surrender, doubling down on split hands, and dealer stands on all 17s!

Still, Binion's has a good number of single-deck games, and they definitely give the most bang for the buck--over the long haul at least--to the non-card-counter. (I find it infinitely more satisfying to handle the cards, as well, as opposed to making hand signals that make me feel like I'm haggling with a street vendor in Tijuana.) The Golden Nugget, unfortunately, has canned its single-deck games again, and its double-deck games, unlike their Mirage Properties counterparts at the Mirage and Treasure Island, don't allow surrender or doubling down on split hands. The Circus Circus single-deck games are very similar to the ones at Binion's and I recommend them. The Stratosphere has gone way down recently in terms of blackjack; both its double-deck games and its six-deck games now have downtown single-deck rules. Can you spell B-U-R-N J-O-I-N-T? And, Strat, if you're listening--change your table felt! Cigarette burns and drink stains don't exactly convey an impression of class.

We were also able to do a few fun things with the kids. Bowling at Sam's Town, Manhattan Express roller-coaster (and the arcade) at NYNY, "Search for the Obelisk" at the Luxor, the Adventuredome at Circus Circus, the "Big Shot" at the Tower, swimming in the Golden Nugget pool, etc. It wasn't always fun hauling the little ones around, but I think they enjoyed themselves.

Finally, we were able to see a few interesting places. On the positive side, we saw both Mandalay Bay and the Venetian and were impressed by both. Bellagio may have cost more to build, but I'll take the Venetian for sheer grandeur and opulence. On the negative side, my brother-in-law and I took a walk down Fremont Street to the Western, which takes the cake as the crappiest casino in Vegas. A casino for the homeless, as it were. As the saying goes, if the Lord were to give Las Vegas an enema--not a bad idea, come to think of it--the Western is where He'd stick the hose. And the neighborhood it's in...stay out, folks! We saw a huge blood stain on the sidewalk, and big blood drops leading away from it, where someone had been knifed the night before. As we returned to the relative security of Glitter Gulch, the Fremont Street security cops warned us about not going back. I think I'll steer clear from now on.