Prelude- This trip, first of 2001 is being done in conjunction with my kids spring break from school. Making the trip is my non-gambling wife and sons Michael (Age 13) and the little guy (Age 4). Before you begin to pass judgment on my decision to take kids to LV let me preempt your criticism by saying that this trip will be more about family activities than gambling. Mind you, there will be a fair amount of gambling by most people's standard but far below my 6-8 hours per day of combined blackjack and VP play. A few months prior to this trip I purchased a book titled '101 Things for Kids in Las Vegas'. I asked my 13 year old to share some of the applicable ides with his younger brother. In the end, I've gotten a highlighted book returned with enough activities to take us through a few weeks. The goal on this trip is to spend quality family time, enjoy the odd romantic and high quality meal with the wife, and satisfy my gambling fix. And so, the odyssey begins...
Day 1, Sunday, March 18th- Despite living closer to the Tampa airport by ½ hour, we opted to fly from Orlando. Economics was the primary reason, as unlike most trips, this one will require the purchase of four airline tickets. In the end, between Delta SkyMiles and American Express Membership Rewards points, I was able to squeeze one free ticket for the trip. Still, at a cost of $227.25 per ticket left me minus $680 before I got on the plane.
Previous play at NYNY provided me with 3 nights at $60/nt. casino rate and the final 3 weekend nights (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) comped. This room was booked at the end of September, prior to having booked plane tickets. A month or so ago I received a mail offer from the Rio where I also had fairly limited previous VP and BJ play. It offered room rates from $49 to $79 per night with 2 free nights thrown in. The bottom line is that I could get 5 nights (Sunday thru Thursday) for $147. This was cheaper than the 3 nights at NY, NY by a few bucks, offered a suite instead of a regular room, which would come in handy as there would be 4 of us in one room, and there was a $75 cash coupon upon presentation of the coupon and a room key. This brings the room rate down to less than $75 for 5 nights, which is a pretty strong deal. We would then move to NYNY on either Thursday or Friday for comped nights for the remainder of our stay.
Arrived in the Orlando area early for a relaxing dinner prior to our 10:30 pm direct flight. Got to the airport two hours in advance of flight time. Pre-assigned seats all together. Got the kids signed up for their Delta SkyMiles accounts. Agent said that the flight was very full which turned out to be an understatement. Soon thereafter an announcement was made looking for volunteers to get bumped. The deal on the table was a $500.00 travel voucher and a flight out the next afternoon or evening. I didn't want to waste a vacation day so we opted not to pursue it. They began loading the 757 about ½ hour before scheduled flight time. Needless to say, with that many people it worked out to being a hour before the plane was loaded and we took off. I know they fly smaller planes and I hate their boarding card system but many of the majors should take a less from Southwest in getting a plane turned around. For what it's worth, if you can avoid flying a long trip on a 757, your legs and bottom will thank you for it. Although I'll admit that I'm perhaps 'wider' than my doctor and I would like me to be, I am nonetheless not that large and these seats are just too narrow. Perhaps the rocket scientists who designs the interior configuration for Delta and Boeing need to fly in cattle class sometimes and see what a joy it is. Despite our ½ hour departure delay we arrived on time in LV at 12:25 AM local time. Baggage claim at McCarran is ridiculous, and from the time we arrived it took 1 hour for our 5 bags to surface. No worries, at this late hour the only place we were going was to bed and in the end I was very glad to be here. Went directly outside to the Hertz bus, as I'm a #1 Gold Club member. Bus arrived as soon as we got to the loading area. Driver advised that there weren't any cars in the Gold pickup area and that I would have to go inside to get an assigned car. Promptly handled inside and was assigned a Ford Excursion as a free upgrade in lieu of my reserved full sized car. Rate is $126 a week, which makes this a deal. Drove our new 'bus' through the tunnel and up the I-15 to the Rio.
Check in at Rio was a snap and we were given room 640 in the Ipanema Tower. I asked for something higher up with a view, the desk clerk disappeared and reappeared to advise that this was all he could do. I wouldn't be a good poker player, as I don't hide my body language expressions well. The wife just smirked as she could tell that I was less than thrilled with this setup. My internal response is that I'll give them less play than I was planning on so 'screw 'em'. Liked the Rio from a gambling point of view but not thrilled with the location and the slot club definitely went down hill since acquired and incorporated into Harrah's system. If I never get another offer, it won't break my heart.
Room # 640 has a lovely view of nothing. Looking northwest, you'd be pressed to even believe you're in Vegas. The skyline, other than the mountains in the distance is very non descript. The room is quite spacious with two queen beds and a wrap around couch. The plan is for separate beds for the wife and I with the little guy in with her. Michael would get the couch, which was by his choice.
Attempted to call down to the bell stand to have our bags sent up but no answer after continuous attempts. In the end, called the operator, told her I was annoyed at the wait and asked her to get someone to sort it out. At 2:30 am, I thought I had a bit of a right to be annoyed with having to wait what I felt to be a ridiculous amount of time to get our bags so that we could get ready for bed. 15 minutes later the bags arrived and we were soon off to sleep.
Day 2, Monday March 19th- Woke up early at 5:20 am despite the previous long day due to the time change. This is a pretty normal event for me when I travel west but the family seemed to settle in to the local time zone quite comfortably as they were still sleeping. There's only so much you can do this early in the morning with no lights so I eventually got up, showered, and whispered to the wife that I was going down stairs to make some business calls and do a bit of gaming. Told her I'd be back between 9:15-9:30 which she thought would be ample time to sleep and get ready for breakfast.
Got my calls out of the way so cruised the casino for VP schedules. Despite all I read and all of the software, it is still difficult for me to determine good pay schedules on bonus games. Rather, I try to rationalize things by seeing if they have 9/6 JOB which is an easier game for me. Couldn't find anything other than 8/5 in the area of the casino that I surveyed. So, in the end, I gravitated back to BJ. Found a $25 min. table with one other player so jumped in. Normally, I'm a $50 progressive player, which gives me a range of $50-500 depending on how the cards are running. I'm committed to spending a bit more time practicing counting in a real life situation. I've read K-O BJ, have the software, and am pretty good with numbers. Unfortunately, I seem to process lineally so it's one thing at a time for me. This makes being a well-camouflaged counter difficult. It's not the process but all the things that go with it. As we'll be in LV for a week, I decided that slow and steady was the order of the day. Also, it's my gut feeling that the room offer will come off the top before additional comps are granted. I'm not planning on enough gambling on this trip to get anything more from them. Played a $25 progressive with a lot of initial giving and not much taking. Got a small run going and was up $120 when I called it quits after 45 minutes.
Went back up to the room and the kids were ready and the wife was on the right side of being good to go. They were hungry so the plan was to make a quite stop at LVA and pick up my 2001 Pocketbook of Values coupon book and then off to Arizona Charlie's West for the $2.49 steak or ham with eggs special. Missed the turn up Decatur and took Spring Hill to the end. Circled around and finally got the scenic tour out of the way and finally go to ACW. This is my first visit to a 'locals' casino and the place was pretty busy given the fact that it was a Monday morning. Short line followed by prompt service. I had the steak and eggs, the kids had the ham and eggs, and the wife had a mushroom and Swiss omelet. The steak was small and because of its size was overcooked. The bone-in ham steak and eggs was the thing to get. Too big for the little guy so I had to 'help' him finish! Breakfast for 4 with tip was $19.
The plan from here was for a little low-key strip sightseeing. The last time the wife was here, Paris and Aladdin weren't open so we thought this would be a good place to start. Valet parked at Paris, went in to take a stroll. Not as nice as Bellagio or Venetian in my opinion but still one of the top properties. I received a free $100 cash birthday 'card' from Paris so I thought I'd use this opportunity to cash it. Actually received two cards from them, one was during my actual birth month of February and then a few weeks later got one for March. Wasn't going to be in LV in February so that one went into the trash. Figured that if there were a problem trying to cash it, I would 'stretch' the truth a bit and tell them that while my birthday was in February I got the card for use in March. After very little scrutiny and the proper ID, I walked with a Benjamin!
As I was queued up getting my money, the wife and kids strolled the area and when we caught up to each other, they decided they wanted to take the trip to the top of the faux Eiffel Tower. This is a true ½ scale replica of the real thing. At $9 a ticket for each of us, it should have been 1 ½ scale! As I can recall, this is more expensive than going to the top of the real one. The view was good but the necessary fencing around the observation deck limited my ability to video the sights. Great view of the Bellagio fountains but the first show starts at 3 PM so we were too early for that. Had I know, would have opted to time that better. Nice to do, especially when I rationalized that it was on Paris's dime but a bit pricey for what it is. They take your group picture before you board the elevator and we opted to buy these for an additional $20.
Paris has an outdoor terrace dining restaurant called Mon Ami Gabi which sits right out front on the strip facing the Bellagio fountains and looked like a good place for lunch later in the week.
We exited Paris and walked next door into the Dessert Passage shops at the Aladdin. Quite a bit of activity but not many people making purchases. I can see why many of these places are floundering. Used our first LVA POV coupon for 2 for 1 cone at Ben & Jerry's for ice cream. $13 and change later we continued our journey up the strip to Gameworks. Gave the kids some time to play and exited there and crossed the strip to walk up to the Bellagio for the 3 PM fountain show. After the show, crossed back to valet parking at Paris to retrieve the 'bus' and head back to the Rio. Stop at Walgreen's for some water, soda, etc. as the rooms in the Rio have a mini-fridge. Got back to the room where the wife and kids opted to relax and I made a plan to play a little more BJ. Intended to play for up to 1½ hours or so and made a plan to meet back in the room. Played a conservative $25 min game and went up $700 or so. So after only 45 minutes I opted to cash out plus $510. Went back to the room to relax for a while.
Decided that we'd go to the Hard Rock to sign up for the slot club using the 6 pack coupon in the POV book and to partake in the off the menu $5.95 Steak and Shrimp special at Mr. Lucky's. Got the slot club sign up taken care of for both the wife and I as soon as we arrived and then sat immediately for an early dinner. Michael and I had the special, which we both found to be ok for coffee shop fare. The shrimp were better than the steak, which was a little fatty and gristly. Left Mr. Lucky's and redeemed our coupon for shot glasses and playing cards at the gift shop. Michael mentioned that he likes Maryland to win it all in the Final 4. I don't follow college basketball so I have no idea how good of a tip this is. Maryland is 12-1 to win it all. Tried to put some points on new slot cards using a $5 free play card given when we joined the slot club but at .25 Pick `em this was more time consuming than I was prepared to commit at this point and we left -$40. Got back to the Rio by 8:30. Wife laughed that she was so tired so early. I decided to play some more BJ while they decided to retire for an early evening. Stopped by the cage to pick up my $75 cash from the offer I received. I sat again at a $25 min game and played a $25 progressive. Like most experiences, went down early losing $500 in the first shoe. The rest of the shoes were mostly up and down. Came within a hand of getting even at some point but continued a downward spiral. Should have backed off but actually at some point got more aggressive using a $50 progressive. Lost $900 for the session before all was said and done. The table location was right on a main aisle between the check in desk, main entrance, and the elevators up the Ipanema Tower. This caused a lot of jumping in and out by various players. Also, it never ceases to amaze me that despite the amount of money being bet, the majority of players don't know basic strategy. I know that these things shouldn't bother me and have nothing to do with my ultimate outcome, but human nature doesn't allow me to look beyond this. I was tempted to rebuy but saner minds prevailed and I opted to call it a night. Went to a dark room by 11 PM and immediately fell asleep.
Gambling Total for the Day- ($310)
Gambling Total for the Trip- ($310)
Day 3, Tuesday March 20, 2001- The little guy and I are still on east coast time. I awoke at 4:30 am and the little guy was up about 45 minutes later. The wife was less than thrilled with this but he was too wound up to do anything about it. The plan today was a southeast sojourn to the Henderson and Boulder area which will begin with breakfast at Arizona Charlie's East, a tour of the Hoover Dam, and visit to Ethel M candy factory and a marshmallow factory (no, it wasn't my idea!).
While the wife was getting ready, I went downstairs for the morning BJ session. This is always short as the plan is to go to breakfast as soon as she's ready. I told her I'd be back in 45 minutes. During that time, I proceeded to lose $400; most of which was in the initial shoe. I was a bit more aggressive today starting with a $50 progressive. When things started going sour, I backed down to a $25 progressive, which kept me in the game. I left when my allotted time was up.
We then left the Rio in search of Arizona Charlie's East. The valet car hop didn't know where it was but I knew it is on Boulder Highway. I took Flamingo out to Boulder Highway and turned south. After a number of miles and signs welcoming me to Henderson, I realized that it was probably north on Boulder Highway. No problem, we'd just improvise and go to the Reserve instead. Wrong! I thought this was on Boulder Highway but it's actually off the 515/95/93. At that point we were in Boulder City so we wrote those choices off and stopped at old reliable McDonalds, which played well with the kids.
After breakfast we continued on to the Hoover Dam. Both the wife and I had taken the tour before but neither of the kids had. Dealing with customers in my business who are in the municipal public works arena perhaps gave me a greater appreciation of the size and scope of this project, especially given the fact that it was built in the 1930's under budget in both time and money. When was the last time you heard of something that the government was involved in that met that criteria? Although I readily admit that I had made numerous trips to LV prior to going to the Dam, I would strongly suggest that if your schedule allows you should take a few hours out of a day a make the trip. Cost for all of us was $22. We left Boulder City and the next scheduled stop was at the infamous marshmallow factory in Green Valley. When we arrived and walked into the lobby, a sign that said that the tours were discontinued since June 1999 and there was no plan to ever resume tours greeted us. That quick stop out of the way, we made our way to the Ethel M chocolate factory, which was only a few minutes away. The Ethel M is a self-directed factory tour in which you peer into windows at the goings on. A sample is provided at the half way point and the tour dumps you into the gift shop where you essentially have your choice of any of the candies to sample. Have to admit that it was pretty much a whole lot of nothing. If you are partial to their candy, it is readily available throughout the LV tourist areas and as a last ditch effort you can find it at the airport before you board your plane home. The candy is very good and yes, we did get a few things to go.
As our original plans for the day were fulfilled, we improvised from there and hopped on the strip at Sunset and headed north. The amended plan was to go to the Mirage and see the Secret Garden of Seigfried and Roy (known comically in our home as Hem and Roid) and to see the pirate ship battle at Treasure Island. We valet parked at Treasure Island but were in a bit of a time dilemma. It was now 2:45 and the idea was to see the 4 o'clock pirate battle. I didn't think this would give us enough time to tram over to the Mirage, take in the Secret Garden, and get back to the T.I. to watch the show. We went with an alternate plan that called for a visit to the amusements area at the T.I., which I briefly cruised through during a few previous visits. I hyped this to the kids as being one of the best amusement areas in a casino. What I didn't know was the part of that area was closed and being renovated into a restaurant. Because of this, this was a pretty much run of the mill amusement area. Michael did proceed to beat me in a side-by-side Nascar type car race 3 times in a row. From there we went to the Battle Bar that is located next to the sportsbook. This is a patio lounge which I had read gives you a great vantage point for the pirate battle show. Unfortunately, you must be 21 to sit there as it's considered a lounge, which is some kind of law. If you meet the age criteria I would suggest arriving 45 minutes or more before the start time of the battle you want to see and having a relaxing drink there to take in the show. Very civilized! As this wasn't an option for us any longer, we opted to wait outside on the bridge that connects the sidewalk to the hotel as our viewing point for the battle show. It was amazing to see how this area filled completely as the time of the show drew near. None of the others had seen the show previously as the past attempt resulted in a cancellation due to the wind. The show is amazing; especially given the fact that it's replicated a few times each day, day in and day out. The little guy wasn't too happy with the loud noises but otherwise it was a booming success with the entire family. It gets very crowded to say the least so you should make a plan to arrive early to get an 'up front' vantage point. As the crowds dispersed, we headed into the T.I. to hop on the tram to take us to the Mirage. Once there, we went to the Secret Garden only to find that it closes at 3:30 and is closed completely on Wednesday. The Dolphin exhibit was still open until 5 or so and could be viewed for $5, which is half the price of the complete exhibit. As we would have more time toward the end of the week, we decided to wait so that we could see the whole exhibit. While at the Mirage, we did go see the White Tiger display that was particularly enjoyable to the little guy and at the price (free) was a no brainer. We tramed back to the T.I. and got our car and headed back to the Rio.
The wife was feeling a bit tired and wanted to relax in the room. The kids were happy to watch a bit of TV. This was the perfect opportunity for me to 'sneak' downstairs for an afternoon session of BJ. This session was a bit more of up and down; give and take. Once again, started with a $50 progressive and backed down to a $25 when I wasn't getting the cards. After a hour which was when I told the wife I'd be back up I cashed out minus $50.
Left the wife with the task earlier of choosing a place for dinner. When I returned, she told me that she wasn't feeling too great. Feels like some early cold and flu symptoms so the plan was to stay in the hotel to have a meal. Michael was leaning toward pizza so we went to the most casual of three Italian themed restaurants; a place called Toscano's. This was more cafeteria style than I was in the mood for so I suggested that we try Momma Mia Cucina. We strolled over only to find that it was closed tonight. With 15 restaurants in the Rio, we figured we could find something that we could all agree on. The choice became the coffee shop called the Sao Paulo Café. Basically soups and sandwiches for all. Toward the end, The little guy began to seriously fade and in the end, his brother carried him up to the room when we all departed. As it was only a bit after 8, I guess the early wake up came back to haunt him. I went back to the room to help them all get settled in and departed to go play an evening session of 2 hours or so of BJ.
Once again, found my self behind early playing a $50 progressive. I prefer playing 3rd base and found it easy to get my seat of choice. Ironically, as other players came and gone, the vast majority left winners after a short period of time.
No matter how many players, how good or bad they were playing, didn't really seem to affect their outcome. Not complaining really because I've played this game long enough to realize that until you get paid, anything can happen. But it really was so ironic that even the pit boss lady commented. During the 2 hour session I managed to pocket $250 so at the end during the cash out process my play looked like break even. It was actually a $260 win. Left at 11 and off to the room and my shared bed with the little guy.
Gambling Total for the Day- ($190)
Gambling Total for the Trip- ($500)
Day 4, Wednesday March 21, 2001- The little guy as adjusting a bit to the local time and compared to yesterday, slept in to 5:50 AM. Today's plan was for yours truly to attend a Bob Dancer VP Class on Double Bonus at Arizona Charlie's West with the family spending the morning at the pool. Because of my internal wake up call, I signed on to check and respond to 2 days of email, got showered and dressed and was ready to go for 7:30. The early start gave me some time to play a little BJ and eat before the 10 am class. First, had a coupon for 2 tickets to the show De La Guardia. Didn't think we'd use them but since they were free I made reservations and picked them up for Saturday nights early performance. Thought that we could find someone to give them away to and help make someone's vacation a bit more enjoyable. From there I bought in for $1,000 and began to play a $50 progressive BJ. The first shoe was basically a push, which was better than I've fared in any previous opening shoes. The second shoe was a tale of two shoes. I won the first 8 or 9 consecutive hands. This allowed me to press my bets up to $250 before I ultimately lost. Then, believe it or not, I lost all of the remaining hands in that shoe except for the last one. For what it's worth, my strategy is to begin at $50 and continue to press up using the following bet schedule; 50,50,75,75,100,100,150,150,250,250,350,350,500, and 500. I increase the bet when I win and revert back to my minimum when I lose. Not rocket science and plays well when you catch a run. Otherwise, you lose at a flat bet rate. Played only the 2 shoes and netted a $715 win.
Retrieved car from valet and drove to ACW. Went to the Sourdough Café and was immediately seated for the $2.49 ham and egg special which is hard to beat for the price. Went to the slot club to sign up and asked about the class. They directed me to the area and advised that I needed to sign up. When I got there and presented my new card, I realized that they gave me someone else's. Back to the service desk, new card issued, and registered for the class. This was actually the first of two classes on Bonus Poker. The first one, from 10 to 11 was a beginner's class while the 11:30-12:30 class was more advanced. The first class was pretty full and I found it to be quite informative. I was probably the youngest person there with Bob Dancer at 54 being the next youngest if you get the drift. During the break, he unselfishly answered questions and offered his strategy cards, VP reports, computer simulation software, and VHS tapes for sale. I purchased one titled 'Secrets of a Successful VP Player'. I already have every other item he offers so I figured I should complete the collection and I also felt a bit of a moral obligation to spend some money with a guy who offered so much good info at no cost. The second session had a much smaller crowd. It's amazing how difficult it is to squeeze a fraction of a percent out of this game through proper play to make it positive EV. If you have the time and you're here on Thursday's, which appears to be the new day when these classes are held, it would behoove you to take it in if you are serious about VP. This guy is perhaps the leading professional in his field. He knows what he's talking about and this class with the software will make you a better player. Beginning in April, Dancer will be holding these classes at the Regent. I was party to a conversation he was having with a local in which he described the Regent as having the atmosphere of the Mirage with the VP of the Fiesta. The local TV ads really seem to indicate that they're trying to reinvent themselves as a local's casino. Hard for me to justify going for a look around with the family but might be worthwhile for those of you who favor local's places versus the tourist dominated strip area.
Left ACW immediately after the class was over, retrieved car from valet and as I was driving back to the Rio got a call on the cell phone from the wife. Asked me to stop at a pharmacy along the way and pick up Imodium A D, which I did. This was a precursor to an interesting evening.
Got back to the room and found the family watching TV. As the wife wasn't feeling 100%, they decided to bail out on going to the pool and opted to go and eat at Toscano's. They bought me a slice of pizza which I needed like a hole in the head after the mega meal at ACW. No problem, I squeezed it in anyway! Rested a little while and then I suggested we take in the auto museum tour at the Imperial Palace. This is another thing that I've not previously taken it. The tickets for the whole family were free with a coupon from the Showbiz magazine in the room. The museum is really enclosed level 5 of their parking garage. It was very interesting for all even though none of us would be considered enthusiasts. All of the cars on display are for sale with price tags ranging from $15K to almost $2 million! From there we crossed the street and went to Caesars to walk through the Forum Shops and see the statue show there. Cruised all of the obvious kids stores and took in the 6 pm show. Left Caesars with the plan to retrieve the car from the IP and go to the Stratosphere for dinner and the elevator ride to the top of the tower. When we walked outside my wife felt very dizzy and hot. We chilled out there and Michael was very helpful in getting her bottled water and generally looking after the little guy while I was looking after her. In the end she wound up getting sick over the railing onto some of those beautifully manicured bushes that line one of the driveways. I asked Michael to go inside and get someone from Security to come out to help me make a plan getting her down to street level and at a place where I could get the car and come back to pick her up. The Security guy came and after giving him the brief on the symptoms and telling him that we're from Florida, he indicated that it is pretty common for most people to allow themselves to get dehydrated without knowing it. Given the symptoms, he figured that this was what it was but offered to call the paramedics. The wife is a non-practicing nurse and felt she didn't need that. He suggested making sure you keep yourself well hydrated and for her to drink OJ to help get the blood sugar back to normal. He helped up get down to street level and told Michael which area he'd be patrolling should she continue to have problems. I got the car and picked them up. She said she was OK but really didn't look it. We didn't even make the swing through Caesars driveway and she got sick again. Yes, all over the passengers side floor. I'll spare you the gory details but suffice to say that it was less than pleasant for all involved. We arrived back shortly to the Rio. I parked down a little ways from the main entrance so that we could make a plan and help her get collected. In the end, the floor mat took the worst of it. Suffice to say that the Excursion will be returned to Hertz sans the passengers side floor mat. I dropped them off close to the door and parked the car. On the way to the room I stopped at the gift shop and picked up a few bottles of OJ. She immediately began feeling better and suggested that the boys and I go get some dinner. In the end, the little guy and I went to Toscano's for take out sandwiches, which were very good for the price and freshly prepared. After dinner and once I was certain she was sorted out, I gave Michael my cell phone with instructions to page me if his mom had any more problems as I'd be downstairs trying to take ownership of the Rio. Original plan was to play for 2 hours and call it a night. Bought in for $1K and began playing a $50 progressive. Got on a bit of a roll early. In the same shoe I pushed a $150 BJ and ultimately lost my progressive on a $250 double down of a soft 18 versus a dealers 4. That was a $1K swing and basically kept me down and having to battle back all night. In the end, I buried $300 so when I had to rebuy another $300 to stay in the game I was actually still on my first $1K. Not sure if it helps but might get some sympathy points during the comp showdown at the end of the stay if it looks like I'm leaving something there as my playing time to date is probably not enough to warrant any comps. I'm interested to hear my rating at the end of the stay because unlike most places I play at, no one seems to be keeping a close eye in the pit on the game. Not sure if they have double deck here and what the rules are but I'll make a point to find out. No one cares what you're betting and how much you're spreading so it might be a bit of a sleeper for a counter.
In the end, I stayed 3 hours. My loss was $690, which basically negated this morning's session. They'll get another shot tomorrow morning before we bail to go to NYNY.
Gambling Total for the Day- $25
Gambling Total for the Trip- ($475)
Day 5, Thursday March 22, 2001- It appears that the troops are settling into the current time zone. The little guy slept in until 7:30 or so. Woke up this morning with a plan to play a little BJ, head out for breakfast with the family, and resume where we left off before the wife got sick. The short-term plan was for the wife and kids to find me at the BJ table at which time we would immediately head out. In the course of 1½ hours at a conservative $50 progressive, I managed to eek out a win of $408. The BJ at the Rio tended to drive me a bit crazy because there always seemed to be people jumping in and out of the game. The table location added to this, as they tended to be located close to a high traffic aisle. I know this doesn't have any bearing on my cards but it creates such a personal distraction that I can't help but be bothered by it. Not any one thing stood out but boneheaded plays prompted me to bail out before the wife and kids arrived. I like to play a bit of low dollar roulette and used this time to play a strategy that I recently read about. My plan was to cash for $100 and play each of our birthdays (5,20,25, & 27) with $2 on each number to see if I could catch a small streak. I did catch a 25 on the 4th or 5th spin, which kept me going for a while. I had a very personally embarrassing situation in which I played 5, 10, 25, & 27 from the beginning. When 20 hit (Michael's birthday), I realized that I was playing the wrong number! Just a mental lapse and not very financially meaningful. Eventually wound up losing the $100 buy in so the net on the morning session was a positive $308. As the roulette session wound to a close, the wife and kids arrived and we hopped in the Excursion and decided on the Aladdin buffet, which was on the LVA top 10 list.
We arrived at the Aladdin at 10:40 only to find that the buffet was closed to transition from breakfast to lunch. Had I been a bit more cognizant of this, I would have made a greater effort to get there before 10:30 so that we could play the game where you pay the breakfast price and get to partake in both breakfast and lunch. However, this wasn't meant to be and the buffet wasn't scheduled to open until 11:00. We walked a bit around the Desert Passages mall to kill time and got back to the buffet to find a small line awaiting the opening. We got in very quickly and paid $48 for all of us to eat. The quality and variety of the food was excellent. The choices were broken down ethnically; I concentrated on the shrimp, sirloin and turkey. Ran out of room before I ran out of choices! There were Italian, Asian, Mexican, Seafood, American, and Dessert stations. I'm not a big buffet person but I would recommend this one. Might have helped that we were there when it opened so the food tended to be fresh and hot.
From there, climbed back into the Excursion and headed to NYNY to check in. I think we'll opt to stay at the Rio for tonight as we have rooms at both hotels for this evening. Being a suite, the Rio room had to give us a bit more room. However, having a place to settle into on the strip should we get tired during the day or need a place to crash for a little while is an advantage especially as it's free. Also, we knew that there was the de la Hoya fight across the street at the MGM Grand on Saturday night and we knew that it would be exceptionally busy and rooms would be scarce. Checking in early would give us the best possible chance of getting an upgraded room. Checked in at the Invited Guest area for the start of a 3 day room comp. I explained to the clerk that there would be 4 of us sharing the room and would appreciate anything she could do to provide us a room with a view and a bit extra room. She had a room ready for immediate occupancy that was larger than the one that was reserved for us but didn't have a view. Alternatively, if we could wait, she had a bigger room with a view available but it hadn't been cleaned. As we didn't need the room for tonight, we were happy to wait for the upgraded room. We used this time to stroll around the property, get the wife signed up for a slot card so the little guy could get a funny looking taxi design hat. We went to the Mirage to go to the Secret Gardens of S & R and the Dolphin exhibit. It was $10 for the 3 of us and free to anyone under age 10. Most of the tigers, lions, etc. found in the Secret Gardens were asleep during this early afternoon. The dolphin exhibit was really worthwhile as you could actually get close enough to touch them. Not sure if you could do one (and pay a lower price) without the other. Regardless, this was particularly enjoyed by the little guy and worth doing with younger kids. From there we went back to the Invited Guest check in area and after another ½ hour delay was issued room 1444 in the New Yorker tower. This room has a southeast orientation and gives you an airport view as well as the MGM and the Excalibur. The room was fairly spacious and configured so that it is deeper than wider. This room featured 2 queen beds as well as a sitting chair and a small table with 2 chairs near the window. Like the Rio it had a blow dryer and a free in-room safe. What it was missing was an iron and board, which was quickly rectified with a call to housekeeping. Looking out the window gave an unobstructed view of the roller coaster. This ride appeared to start around 9 AM and on the Friday night ran well into the early morning hours. The noise however was not a factor from this room location.
Staying just long enough to get acquainted, we headed back downstairs and out to continue our journey. The next stop was to the Stratosphere tower. This is yet another site that I had not previously taken in although I have played VP there on a few occasions as they have some positive JOB machines at the quarter level. Our first stop was at the slot club desk. I wanted to check my point totals from previous visits to see if I had any cash or goodies coming my way. It appears that they changed their slot club from the time I joined last year to a 3 tiered system based on cash in and/or average bet for table games. Looks like I could be a room comp guy up front here without having to ask. Not sure how flexible the system is and if you qualify for additional comps based on loyalty, actual loss, etc. Didn't pursue the question, as I'm not too sure that I'd want to stay here. Have never seen the rooms but there is a certain 'cheapness' about the place. Maybe I remember it from its previous life and reputation as Vegas World. Whatever the case may be, not sure if it's for me. Anyway, I didn't have enough points for any cashback but did happen to qualify after the initial 50 points to have either a free trip up the tower or a free buffet. I opted for the tower ticket, as this was the primary reason we were here. Redeemed the ticket and paid for 2 more adult tickets at $6 each and were promptly bound for an elevator that would take us 108 floors above the valley. The elevator stops at an enclosed observation deck that offers a 360-degree vista of the City. From there you can walk up an additional flight of stairs which we did and see the City al fresco from a double fence enclosed level. Ironically, we heard a day or two later that 3 guys parachuted from the tower. Some security guard is going to get his ass fired for that! This was well worth the $6 each to do once. I've also read good things about the restaurant, which would have made the observation portion of this trip free. There are a number of pricing options, which include the Big Shot and/or the roller coaster ride. While at the outdoor observation level, we had seen a few Big Shot launches and a roller coaster spin. The coaster appeared to be pretty tame but I don't imagine you want anything too severed that high up. The Big Shot was interesting to watch. Looked like you'd imagine someone would who was being shot out of a cannon. Not particularly big on rides nor is the rest of the family so we took in the sites, shot the appropriate video and pictures and headed back down.
During a short visit to LV 1 ½ years ago which included the four or us and my favorite mother-in-law (she is amused at the inference which forces her to refer to me as her favorite son-in-law) included a dinner at Roxy's, which is a 50's themed coffee shop. I don't remember the food here during that visit to be anything special although it was Michael's choice and I didn't get the hoped for negative response from the wife. So, it was Roxy's for dinner, which was at least convenient as we were already here. The food was as I remember. Not bad but certainly not anything to recommend. Just south of $40 and we were out the door on our way downtown.
Arrived downtown and valet parked at the Golden Nugget, which is what I always do when I'm in this part of the world. The purpose of the visit is to cruise Freemont Street and take in an Experience show or two. Our timing was perfect and the 7 pm show started within minutes of our arrival. This was sort of a tribute show to entertainment and much tamer than the one that had fighter jets which the little guy didn't like during our previous visit because it was too loud. This was very good and I would recommend a visit downtown just to see the Experience. I know that there are some real diehard downtown fans but I'm simply not one of them. I can appreciate that there is an advantage of being able to walk to so many different casinos so quickly and easily. But outside of that, I don't see the advantage. If you took the GN out of the equation, it looks like a place that time has forgotten. Despite how much I complain about the crowds and traffic on the strip, in reality, it is a big reason as to why I come to LV in the first place. Anyway, I am pleased that the Experience exists and will make a point to come back here with people who have never seen it before. We spend the next 45 minutes or so walking Freemont Street and decided to bail on seeing a second show and headed for the car. Rather than contend with the strip traffic I took the 95 north to the I-15 south and was back to the Rio in less than 15 minutes. Walked the family up to room, made sure that all were settled in, and after asking my very tired wife out of courtesy if she's like to join me downstairs, headed down solo for some final play at the Rio.
For the first time during my visit, started out OK and continued to build a small base. Continued on a $50 progressive and caught a few key hands that all seem to make the difference between winning and losing. Wound up with a ½ drunk/ ½ arrogant lawyer from Flint, Michigan at the table. You know the type, claims that he got his ass kicked somewhere else, calls out the number of the next card that he needs to equal 21, and wants to high five everyone when the table wins. To each his own but I'm a bit more cerebral when I play and although I believe I enjoy it has much as he does, I'm just a bit more conservative and keep my emotions to myself. I was closing in on my allocated time to walk and I was up $891 at a shuffle point and decided that would be a good time to call it a night at the Rio.
Realizing that my comp clock has already started running at NYNY as I'm technically staying there, I decided to take a quick spin over and make an appearance at the VP machines. My goal was to put 100 points on my card, which equates to $3,000 cash in. I figured that I could do this in a hour and a bit and then head home. I searched to locate my preferred VP game, $1 Pick `em. While some people may claim that this game is slow and not very exciting I would counter with the fact that it has a relatively simple strategy, pays better than 9/6 Jacks, and is not too volatile. An earlier stop at the slot club confirmed my points balance at 453 which equated to cash back of $45 and an equal amount of points toward gifts or promo items. At the beginning of this year, NYNY changed their cash back on VP from .67 to .33. This continues to make Pick `em a positive game with perfect strategy but not as good as it was earlier. As my room was comped for the weekend in advance, I wasn't going to let that deter me from staying here as I also intended to play BJ and at 6 decks their rules are as good as any place on the strip and in many cases better. The VP gods weren't smiling early on and I burned through approximately $450 or so when I was redeemed with quads. This was a $600 hand pay and put me on the right side of life for a bit. My goal didn't vary and at exactly 100 points I cashed out a $20 loser. As a result of the hand pay I also received a blank coupon for a 2 night stay between December 7th and 16th. I know this is a slow time and if I find that I won't be using it, I'll offer it to my partners in crime at the LVA website as it is not customer specific and therefore transferable. Didn't ask about any promotion at the slot club booth earlier so it was bonus. Ironically, saw a guy hit quads for a $600 hand pay the following night and he didn't get one. Not sure if it is restricted to a certain day of the week or if it's excluded on weekends, etc. Waiting for the hand pay slowed down the pace and it took about 1 ½ hours to run the 100 points through. Finished, retrieved Excursion from valet, drove back to the Rio and directly off to bed.
Gambling Total for the Day- $1,179
Gambling Total for the Trip- $704
Day 6, Friday 23, 2001- Today was our last day at the Rio and therefore required a bit of administrative tasks to be sorted out before we left. This basically precluded me from my normal morning session. I went downstairs and bought up coffee, juice, and pastries from the cart called Rio Java. While the wife was getting ready, Michael and I headed downstairs to sort out my comp status. Unlike most LV casinos, Harrah's owned properties tend to sort this out at a central desk staffed with clerks. She promptly entered my account number, hit the buttons on a calculator a few times, and deemed that I was entitled to $53.41 worth of comps. I didn't actually have a pre-conceived notion of what I thought I was entitled to and my play was fairly limited. Also, most places apply your comp entitlement first to rooms that they pre-comp you so anything over and above the 2 free nights and discounted room rates for the other 3 nights was bonus. I asked about my vital stats and was told 13 hours of play, $63 average bet, and a $900 loss. It was interesting to see how wrong they were on the results as the actual versus their computer was more than a $1,500 swing. Regardless, this didn't hurt my feelings as they might be inclined to be a bit sympathetic on a future Harrah's property visit and this might be beneficial if I get back to Lake Tahoe where Harrah's has in my opinion the best property there. This left me with a $115 balance for a 5 night stay. It wasn't until after I got home and scrutinized the bill that I realized that they also had removed a lunch and take out dinner from Toscano's, dinner at the Sao Paulo Café, and the Rio Java cart charges off the bill. This wasn't an oversight as these charges were originally on the bill when I viewed it on my TV so that resulted in an additional $69 savings.
We got the bellman to pick up our bags and deliver them directly to the car valet where they were loaded and we were on our way to NYNY. Pulled into valet parking and a bellman appeared. I advised that we were already checked in and would need the bags delivered to the room. He said that the program was that he took the bags to the bell stand and we had to call down to have them delivered. Maybe I read too much into this but I view this as an opportunity to get shaken down for a double dip on a tip. I refuse to do this because the tips are shared. Why should I have to tip twice to have bags removed from my car and delivered to my room? Am I wrong about this? Anyway, went to the room and the bags arrived a little slower than I would have hoped but being cynical I thought this was part of a bigger plan to stiff customers who don't tip both the guy who takes the bags out of the car and then the guy who delivers them to your room.
Headed out of the room and went to have lunch at Chevy's, a Mexican restaurant chain. This one is located at Flamingo and Eastern on the east side of the City. Got back in the Excursion and went to the Scania (sp) family fun center which is basically a miniature golf and go kart place off the I-15 near the Spring Mountain exit. The kids played a round of miniature golf and then the little guy and I hopped into a go-kart to race against Michael. We had the better car (and driver!) and before it was over, lapped Michael near the end for a decisive win.
Went back to NYNY and the kids suckered the wife into going to the amusements area which afforded me some time to do a bit more gaming. The VP goal once again was to put 100 slot points on the card playing $1 Pick `em which I managed to do in a hour. Left there and bought in to a $25 min BJ game for $1K. In the course of less than 2 hours I managed to lose $935, most of it at $25 at a time. A pretty discouraging session but it's early in the game with more aggressive gambling to start.
Went back to the room to shower for dinner. Despite the original goal of sharing a few good quality romantic dinners with my wife, for a variety of circumstances this did not occur. Having reviewed the top 50 casino restaurants from a recent issue of Casino Player magazine, we decided on Il Fornaio, which is at NYNY. We had been to Il Fornaio in Burlingame, CA that is near the San Francisco airport and enjoyed it. It isn't the best Italian restaurant that I've ever eaten in but it is certainly above average. Left Michael with my cell phone and told him to page me if there were any problems but we'd call intermittently to check on them.
Arrived downstairs with a ½ hour to spare so the wife & I headed over to $25 min BJ so that I could show her how easy it was to lose money. Bought in for $500 and cashed out at the end of the shoe for $175. She was obviously impressed!
No sooner had we sat for dinner than my pager went off. Picked up a house phone and Michael reported that the little guy had gotten sick. Michael said all was in control but just wanted to let us know. Went back to the table and told the wife who wanted to see how things were going in the room. I ordered for us and waited for her to come back down. Things were very much in control and she attributed it to the Nathan's hot dog he had earlier. Michael proved to be very grown up and responsible in handling this and helping out during the previous episode with his mother. The wife came back down and we had a nice dinner with a good bottle of Chianti. Out the door for $120 with tip.
After dinner went back to BJ. I gave her the first of what I thought would be numerous $100's the day before we left to come out here with the express purpose of having her run a $100 per day through a slot machine, win or lose. I began this report by saying that she was a non-gambler but this was a bit of an understatement. Up to this time, she hadn't put a dime into a machine. Strongly suggested that she find a slot machine that she liked and told her to run a hundred through. She found a 3 coin quarter machine named 'Cherry something' and 20 minutes later was back at my BJ table busted. I offered to bankroll her but she wasn't interested. I told her I was happy to bail from BJ where I had won my pre-dinner loss back and managed a small win of $265 and go listen to a band who was playing top 40 pop songs. We listened through a set and a round of drinks and which point we walked around the casino, stopping in the high table limit area to watch people play $1,500 a hand BJ. I have a unique appreciation for this that obviously she doesn't share. She was getting tired and wanted to call it a night but encouraged me to stay and play. I walked her up to the room to make sure that she got there all right and that the kids were OK. Once confirmed that all is in order, I headed back down and decided to play more Pick `em to rack up 200 slot point session. Actually the wife's earlier slot session utilized my card so that I only needed to whack up 180 or so points to have accumulated 400 for the trip. That session ended with a $130 win. Called it a night and headed back to the room.
Gambling Total for the Day- ($590) (Including the wife's $100 slot loss)
Gambling Total for the Trip- $114
Day 7, Saturday 24, 2001- Today marks the beginning of our last full day in my idea of paradise. I got up and showered and with Michael in tow headed to the Grand Central coffee shop to get Krispy Kreme donuts, coffee, and milk for the troops. The plan was that as soon as the wife was ready, she and the kids would find me at the BJ table and we would depart to Fly Away Indoor Skydiving. This was a requested visit from Michael and seeing how helpful he had been during the sickness episodes of both his mom and brother, we figured this would be a well deserved reward. Other than the quick blurb that I read in the book and a quick call to their info hotline that was on during closed business hours, I learned that a first flight session lasts 1 hour including a training course and costs $45. In the book in which he found out about this dated 1999 it listed the cost at $35 so I concluded that it was popular. They don't take reservations and everything is first come, first served. New classes start each ½ hour. The plan was for the wife and kids to find me when they were ready. I figured I was getting close for time and quit on BJ after a $337 win. I called upstairs only to find that she wasn't fully ready so I said no problem and stayed down to play $100 worth of Pick `em. The $100 didn't last too long and I stayed watching a BJ game waiting for them to arrive which they did a short time later. The plan was to do the skydiving thing with Michael and then grab a big late lunch/early dinner. Michael was in the 1 pm group. In a nutshell, you get an instructional class, don a jumpsuit, and enter a round chamber with a large, loud fan sitting down below a spring frame. Once inside with 3 others from your group and an instructor, they crank up the fan to create a 120 MPH wind speed, which they seem to marginally adjust for each skydiver based on their size and weight. Through physical contact and hand signals, the instructor gets you airborne and shows you how to position your arms and legs to maintain the proper balance in which to 'float'. It was an amazing thing to see and when it was over Michael was ecstatic about having done it as well as learning that they also have a place near Universal Studios in Orlando where he can do this closer to home. I have to admit that it was cool to watch and a real hit, not only for kids. From there, left and went to the Caesar's Forum Shops which I jokingly refer to as the 'scene of the crime' for the wife. We were a toss up for either Spago's or the Cheesecake Factory as we hadn't been to either previously. Opted for Spago's as it was closer to get to and we were hungry. Had a very good but rather expensive meal at $85 including tip for basically salads, sandwiches, pizzas, etc. Left there and headed back to NYNY. The idea is for the kids to rest as we are leaving the hotel at midnight to catch a 1:30 am Sunday morning flight back to Orlando with a change of planes in Dallas. The kids wanted to cruise around the amusements area where the wife was happy to take them and I headed back downstairs for what would be my last gaming session of this trip.
At this point I am managing a small win but I know that with my style, unless I'm up over $1,500, all the profit and then some is still risk capital. Sat down at a $25 min BJ game and started playing a $50 progressive, which I would drop back to $25 if things turned and continued sour. Went through the first $1K marker pretty quickly as I just wasn't getting the cards. My pat hands always seemed one short of success. If you've played BJ for any period of time, you know the drill. Took out the second $1K marker, as I knew that I was in the homestretch of this trip. The tide continued to remain negative and I was beginning to regret my aggressiveness and stupidity for not cutting my losses. Players continued to float in and out of the game after just a few hands which psychologically made me feel that the negative results I was experiencing was due to them.
I looked over the players shoulder at first base and noticed the table behind him was completely empty. I gathered the $200-300 of remaining chips and decided to try my luck there at least until some other dweebs decide to jump in and ruin that game for me. I was playing heads up for the first full shoe and on a $75 progressive the bets escalated fairly quickly. Caught a BJ with a $225 bet and won the next hand at $375. As best I could tell, I was pretty much back to even.
I asked the pit boss to page my host Sue LaForce who I read about at the various gambling websites and who made my reservation but had yet to meet in person. I played phone tag with Sue over the last two days and thought it important to see where I was at on the incidentals and to let her see who I was so that she could sort me out on future stays. Sue arrived quickly, was very personable, and said she would look at my play. She returned quickly to say that exclusive of today's BJ play, everything but $35 or so was taken care of. When today's play was recorded, she would look at it tomorrow and adjust my bill accordingly. This was pretty good news as I really hadn't given them the time or average bet that I would normally do if I was there alone or on a 'boys weekend'. I could see that this has the potential to be a fairly easy RFB comp in the future.
A shift change occurred and the hands came and gone. In the end, I had $1,380 in front of me. Having given enough play and stomached enough of a roller coaster ride, I decided to cut my losses and call it a trip. I paid one of the markers, took the remaining chips, and headed up to the room.
Upstairs, I found the little guy napping and the wife and Michael relaxing watching TV. Collected my remaining chips and allowed enough time for the second marker to hit the cage. Went downstairs with Michael to pay it off. Spent the rest of the time in the room watching TV and relaxing while we waited for 11:00 to arrive. Got everyone moving, went downstairs to the pizza parlor and had a quick bite. Shouldn't complain but when you get to the register it said, 'cash only'. Had I known this, I would have had a proper meal at Il Fornaio and charged it so that NYNY could have bought. Anyway, we finished our snack, I headed to the front desk to check out and organize the Excursion from valet. The wife and kids headed upstairs to wait for the bellman to collect the bags and bring them down. Loaded up, headed to the gas station to deposit $44 worth of gas in this hog, headed to Delta curbside check in, and sent the wife and kids to the gate while I returned the rental car. This vehicle was truly a bargain if you could afford to put gas in it. $125 + tax for the week!
Gambling Total for the Day- ($393)
Gambling Total for the Trip- ($279)
Day 8, Sunday 25, 2001- Flight departed at 1:30 am. Another Delta 757 with cramped seats and a full flight. Arrived in Dallas at 5:50 am and caught another full outbound 757 to the Land of the Mouse (aka Orlando). I got the car from satellite parking which was prompt and affordable and collected the family with bags at the curb. Arrived home at noon and promptly hit the couch for some well needed rest!
SUMMARY- In no particular order, here are a few of the things that I found of note on this trip:
1. Given an alternative for around the same money, I will not fly on a 757. Not sure if it's Delta or all the airlines who fly this plane but it's just too damn uncomfortable.
2. The Rio is too far from the action. The rooms are comfortable but the wall mural with a window view of the bathroom is goofy and the TV is smaller than I would have for a room that size.
3. Hertz #1 Gold is the only way to go. Cars are well equipped, no waiting in line, no pressure for added insurance. Very civilized.
4. If you go to Arizona Charlie's for $2.49 breakfast, go with the ham as opposed to the steak.
5. The Paris is a beautiful casino and worth having a stroll through. I think the Eiffel Tower would be worthwhile to do once but try to time it so you can see the Bellagio water show from above.
6. For a non-gambling sight, the Hoover Dam is really an impressive structure and worth a few hours to venture out to see.
7. If you're a VP player and are in town on a Thursday, take a few hours to attend the Bob Dancer VP Class. You will learn something.
8. Make sure you're well hydrated. It was only in the low to mid 80's and my wife had a problem. Unless you're familiar with the desert, you don't even know it's happening because you don't sweat.
9. Although the weather was great, it was extremely crowed even during the weekdays. Not sure if there is ever a good time to go to avoid the crowds. I like people watching but sometimes the shear volume and traffic is a bit ridiculous.
10. The Secret Gardens of Sigfried and Roy, the tower at the Stratosphere, the auto museum at the IP, the Freemont Street Experience, and the free pirate show at the T.I. were really worthwhile to see. Total cost for all of these per person is only $16.
11. Everyone (not just kids!) who did the indoor skydiving while we were there thought it was a tremendous hit.
12. NYNY was a clean, well-located mid-level hotel and casino. You can do a lot worse!
13. Vegas is still a relative bargain. I would estimate that including the plane tickets, rental car, meals, hotels, attractions and diversions, this trip cost less than $1,500. Our other destination alternative was going to be Aruba, which would have cost me $2,500 in plane tickets alone!
Epilogue- Sent Sue LaForce a thank you email and a subtle reminder to check the remaining items on my folio to see what else NYNY could pay for. Told her my plan was to be back at the end of June and asked her to check on specific availability. No response as of yet. Just learned that I have 2 trade shows to attend next year in LV. As you get older you hate to wish the time away but I have to admit that I'm looking forward to these trip.
Stayed at Rio & NYNY March 18, 2001 to March 25, 2001
- Category: 2001
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