Friday, May 27

The excitement has been growing all day. I took my dog to the kennel at lunch. He's so used to it now the carrying on in the car is just an act. His stumpy tail is wiggling and he has a smile on his face as his pretty caretaker Amanda takes him and his favorite bed to his kennel. I go the the bank and get my bank roll. The teller must think I am a drug dealer for taking out so much cash. I have a 7:45pm flight so the afternoon drags at work. 4:30pm finally! Vegas time!

I don't usually go to Vegas on Friday night. Since I am a little value conscious (cheap). I prefer Sunday through Thursday when room rates and table limits are low. But my trip last June I didn't really get the place out of my system. Maybe it was because I won a little money. This time I took the hit and am staying at Ballys Friday though Wednesday. That is a long stay for Vegas. The gambling risks increase the longer your are exposed to the place so patience and money management will be paramount. I generally play craps and blackjack, and occasionally spend some time at the sports book. I have been re-memorizing the blackjack tables and reviewing craps odds and betting strategy. I am ready for the challenge.

I am divorced in my late 40's. I often to go to Vegas alone. I find it relaxing and pleasant. I don't focus on the shows, restaurants, shopping and such as you would when you have your lady with you. I walk around a lot, gamble and drink long hours and try to uncover Vegas' hidden gems. I have always met lots of people traveling alone and it leaves me flexibility to respond when opportunity knocks. Ladies my age abound in this town!

I got a middle seat on the cattle car of a flight out. I don't mind. I bring reading material. Since we are flying west we arrive in Vegas not long (in local time) after we departed. It is still early on Friday night. I travel light and have one small bag. In McCarren Airport you emerge from you plane to the sound of slot machines in the airport terminal. The joyous sounds - ding ding ding ding - are sublime. My brain stem is stimulated and spontaneously generates a day dream of a casino cashier peeling off a wad of 100's for me. I was made for vegas advertisers. The walk to the ground transport area is interminable. But seeing the hotel ads all over the place heightens my anticipation all the more. You can save a few bucks and ride the frequent hotel shuttles. But tonight they require more patience than I have. I take a cab. Ah, the familiar sites on Paradise Road! We drive by Terribles, which I plan to visit. I want to explore some of the smaller casinos this time. I tip the driver and get out at Ballys. I am bathed in the sights, sounds, and smells of this wonderful casino on Friday night. Mercifully the checkin line is short and the desk clerk is cordial. We are under way!

I am a value customer. I am willing to pay for what I like, but I hate to overpay. I am pretty casual and travel light. Ballys suits me for several reasons.

Bally's is on the best corner in Las Vegas, at The Strip and Flamingo Road. This corner has everything you can ask for from the Strip: the super swanky with Caesar's and Bellagio, the middle of the road with Ballys, Paris, and Flamingo, the old school Sams Gambin' Hall, and the ultra low end with the Back Stage Casino (if you can find it). You don't need a car.

I am comfortable here. The rooms are clean and the hotel updated. Ballys casino flat out makes me want to gamble. I think it is the bright color scheme of the carpets and tables. It gives the casino upbeat, natural energy, the kind that will admit a sweet run on the blackjack table or hot dice at craps. It sounds silly but this is hugely important! I compare this to, say, Luxor where the casino color scheme is weird and the gambling space is claustrophobic. Off weekends table games at Ballys are moderately priced - $10 and occasionally $5. On this holiday weekend, everything is $15 (boo, hiss).

To my surprise my room is in the Ballys North Tower. I had hoped to get a South Tower room where I have stayed in the past. I had an amazing view of Paris and the South Strip last year. If you look at a Google map view of the hotel you see that there really can't be a bad view in the South Tower. It is an island in the middle of the strip! I can assure you from experience that is not the general case. I head up to my room with some skepticism. Turns out the Ballys folks have treated me right, as a return visitor. I have a very large room with a refrigerator and wet bar at the end of a wing on the 23rd floor, one floor below the high roller suites and at the far west (quiet) end of the wing. I don't have a great strip view, but I have a nice view of the Planet Hollywood Westgate tower and the mountains south of town. I can also see much of the lago and fountains at Bellagio.

I unpack my gear and stash the majority of my bankroll in the hotel safe. In my mind these things are indispensable. I typically go around with only the money I'm going to use, my room key, and no wallet. It makes sense to always be on the defensive in this town. You need to keep your head on a swivel, especially late at night.

After a quick cleanup I head out at around 11:30pm. Tonight I am a little gun shy about plunging into the casino and going to work when the table minimums are high. You can't play craps at Ballys at this hour or in any of the other major casinos for less than a $15 minimum. That is suicide for your bankroll unless you walk up to the table with $500. I will be here for a while and I don't want to take that kind of risk right away. Add rather enjoy the Friday night atmosphere. So I decide to head over to Ellis Island for some food and maybe a little gambling.

Ellis Island is on Koval Ave right behind Ballys. It is a combo casino/brewery/BBQ/karaoke bar/restaurant. It is a small, hard workin' place that has been there for 40 years. It is growing and improving slowly but surely serving a local clientèle, overflow from the strip, and even its own fly in guests. There is an adjacent Super 8 with a pool - a mini replica of the larger casinos in every way. I think it is a great value. Wynn it isn't. I come in for a late dinner, but on this holiday weekend the restaurant is jammed. I settle for a slice of pizza - they have a Metro Pizza kiosk - and a 20oz Hefeweizen for around $5. Metro Pizza is very passable and the Hefeweizen goes down easily. Not bad at all. I also recommend the Ellis Island BBQ restaurant. Really good ribs and low prices. Be forewarned that the outdoor terrace faces west and can be very warm, and get there before 4pm as the place gets very crowded.

I saunter over to the the craps table thinking I will survive for a while on $100 and perhaps make some money. I lose all lose $100 at the $5, 3x4x5x odds table in 15 minutes. Ouch! The first shot in what will become a pummeling. I was playing pretty conservatively, but the dice were stone cold. The stick man is a riot though and has very good dealer skills. He knows the shtick, "A string of peals, for the girls...", another way of saying hard six. "Dice in the woods!" (No roll, a dice landed in the chip tray on the edge of the table. Already humbled I spend a while dulling the pain with another beer, this time an amber ale. First rate, and only $1.75!

I come dragging back to Ballys at about 2:00am and enter through the north side near the sports book. I walk passed the passage between Ballys and Paris. Most hours of the day this is a nice pedestrian mall with high end shops. There is a lot of coming and going between Paris and Ballys. But in the wee hours between 2:00am and 5:00am it is a veritable hooker's promenade! My advice, stay away from them. You'll probably spend a lot of money for a marginal time. (Not that I have any experience.) I avoid making eye contact with the hookers, for fear of being tempted. Nelly (the rapper) is playing next door at Paris so there are a lot of people still out.

I decide to play a little blackjack at a $15 table before turning in. The group of tables I play is called the "Pleasure Pit". There is loud music playing. At its center is a raised platform with a gorgeous dancing girl in a bikini shakin' it for the entertainment of the players. Nice concept. I noticed the Flamingo dressing the dealers in corsets in the last fews years. It got racier from there. A good idea catches on fast on the strip and evolves. I appreciate the show and head to bed at 2:30am after winning a quick $60.

Saturday, May 28

What to do today? Happily, the UAFA Champions League Finals are today between Manchester United and Barcelona at noon. Rooney vs. Messi for all the marbles. Who could ask for more? I think I'll make a wager at the sports book at the Bellagio. I love Vegas on a big event day or NFL weekend. The place is just abuzz. Today's match doesn't quite qualify but I am happy nonetheless. A nice evening watching and wagering on baseball is a great time too.

I love the Bellagio casino. Who wouldn't want to lose money here? There is warm amber color scheme, with printed cloth awnings everywhere. Amber seems to be a popular casino color on the strip. You see at at Caesars and Monte Carlo as well. I approve. I make a mental note to try the Bellagio buffet tomorrow.

Attacted by the potential payout I bet $50 on Man U to win at +220 (2.2:1). I then I wait for the game to start by playing craps with $100 on a $10 table, a rarity for Bellagio. I quickly bond with some friendly black fellas at the table. They are doing well smoking cigars making low probability field and one roll bets. They call me G (gee) when I roll. "Come on, G!" Not sure what that means. I actually win a few dollars taking advantage of their hot but streaky shooting. I head back to the sports book and seize a good chair in front of the big screen. No food source around, but plenty of booze, beer, great atmosphere, and luxurious surroundings. I play video blackjack to get free beers at the bar, and surprisingly win another $20. Widmer is one I haven't had before and enjoy very much. Life is good. Rooney scores but it isn't enough. I kick myself for not taking the "Rooney to score" proposition bet at 4:1, as he scores a beauty in the first half. But Barcelona's class wins out 3 to 1 and my modest bet goes down the tubes.

The rest of the day and night are spent playing craps at various spots on the mid strip. For the first time I encounter Casino Royale. My brother once stayed at the Palazzo and suggested it as a place to play good cheap craps. I don't know how this place went under my radar, but I loved it. In moving between Ballys and Casino Royale one is almost forced into the casino fronts of the Flamingo, and Harrahs. I have stayed at the Flamingo and would recommend it, especially its pool! But who decided to put a brown carpet on the casino floor of this pink paradise? Insane. Harrah's looks solid. It seems to cater to the country crowd as Toby Keith's name is plastered all over everything. The Strip promenade is also forced into a kink in the walkway in front of the Imperial Palace that opens up into an open air night club. It looks like great business serving cheap drinks to 21 years olds on their birthday, but it is annoying to those of us trying to move around.

Casino Royal is tucked between The Venetian and Harrahs. It is relatively small, reminiscent of Binions or Four Queen downtown. But the slightly musty casino has a wonderful atmosphere, a classic red, green color scheme. It is a working casino 24x7. They don't spend a lot of time cleaning it. It is the best place on the strip to play craps because of the very high odds limits (100x). I will put it on my short list of hotels to stay at next trip.

I don't recall winning or losing much initially even though I play all day and night. I think I lost an additional $200. I am treated very well by lovely and attentive brunette 40-something waitress. She is fit and looks fantastic stuffed into her skimpy black outfit. It must be all of the time spent on her feet. I force myself to look her in the eye when we speak, rather than at her ample breasts. I tip her for keeping my small glasses of Bud Light nice and fresh.

Cheap as I am I find it very worthwhile to generously tip for service. Give the housekeeper $5 a day and they will look out for you very well, especially since I keep valuables in the safe. Tip the casino waitress generously and she will treat you like a king. Tip the bartender well and that second drink will be a lot stronger than the first. Tip the dealers and they will keep you from making mistakes and remind you cover your come bets even if you are distracted by the pretty girl next to you. In the overall scheme we are not talking about of money here and it generates a lot of good will.

Sunday, May 29

This afternoon I decided to take a break from gambling and walk over to Gordon Bierch Brewery for happy hour. It is about a 15 minute walk from Ballys east on Flamingo then north on Paradise Road. I went to school in Phoenix and I have always loved the heat. But even this short walk is a little taxing at 90 degrees. Gordon Bierch is a successful chain of brewery/restaurants. They don't brew on the premises like some of my favorites in California or Colorado but it is a fine place anyway. I am a beer fan and really enjoy GB's lineup. They specialize in lagers which is a little different than most brew pubs where ales are popular. The food is quite good. I recommend the burgers and the garlic fries.

I settle in at the bar and order up a dark lager Schwarzbier and some pulled pork sliders ($5!). The restaurant is more crowded than I have ever seen it. I have caught the end of the Sunday brunch crowd. But I do find a seat at the bar and settle in. There is a live band playing. I didn't catch their name. First time I've heard Ohio Players tunes live, like "Fire", and "Skin Tight", complete with the horns. Very enjoyable. The choice a Schwartzbier is a little incongrous on such a hot day but it goes down smooth, dry, and crisp. I chase it with a red, malty Marzen. It is rich and delicious without being cloying. I top it off with a their wonderful Hefeweisen, my favorite beer style. It is brewed with barley and wheat malt and is cloudy with a top-fermented (ale) yeast suspension. The taste is scented and lemony, like a spring day in the desert. Good show Gordon Biersch! By now I have had enough. I watched some baseball and chit-chatted with the lovely bartender. She looks a bit like Marie Osmond.

I wander back to Ballys for a nap. I head out to the strip again at 9pm and flit about from casino to casino losing as I go. An unremarkable night in terms of results but still enjoyable.

Monday, May 30

This morning I decide to have breakfast at the Bellagio Buffet. Just as I am about to get on the escalator to cross the street I come face to face with a very pretty young black lady. At first I thought she was asking directions. But she put her hands on her hips and said, "you want me to s**k yo d**k?" While she spoke she tilted her head side to side for emphasis. "Not this morning", I say, and move along. The Bellagio Buffet as a great great choice. Although very expensive at $31 (the holiday I guess), it is a wonderful splurge. I feast on Prime Rib (yes, breakfast!) and smoked trout. I head back to bed to digest.

Next up, some pool time. The Blue Pool at Ballys located at the back of the property is above average for Vegas. It actually has a deep end. The sun is warm and cocktail waitresses are lovely. I have never seen navel jewelry look better than on these fit, tanned girls. I enjoy the Mai Tai served to me by the lovely Marissa and leer at her most subtly through mirror sun glasses.

I spend the late afternoon and evening at Sam's Gamblin' hall. I enjoy the crap game and stay about even. Sam's has $5 minimum tables and offers the standard 3x4x5x odds. I remember my old dealer friend Harold who is now a pit boss. He is a real old school wiseguy, has an eagle eye, runs a lively game. I also see Lana working back there as well. She is a tall, gorgeous, dark haired Russian woman dressed beautifully in edgy business attire. A real stunner, and in Vegas that is saying something. It is a pleasure to lose money to her. She remembers me from last year and we banter. It is nice to see these folks year after year.

Tuesday, May 31

It is 6:00am and I am wired to get up early. Little do I know, but today will be a great day. I am still jonesing for the steak I didn't have Friday night. So I head over to Ellis Island again and have it. The place is very quiet. I have the 10oz sirloin steak, the worst kept secret in Vegas, off menu. I have a nice big Hefeweizen with it, oh yeah, all for $7! It is a surprisingly nice cut of meat. You do yourself a disservice if you ignore this place!

I had roughly in mind to walk all the way over to the Orleans and couple of miles away southwest of the strip. I had lost over $1000 so far and felt poor and in need passing some time without gambling. I have wanted to visit the Orleans. I have heard good things about its buffet and pubs. I got to the MGM before I realized it was not really a good plan. I saw it way out on the horizon with no easy pedestrian access. So I figured I'd walk through some of the casinos on the south strip on the way back to Ballys. I love casinos in the morning. I stopped at the Tropicana, at which I have stayed. It seems to have been renovated. I didn't like the red and white themed decor very much. The old casino had a nice Victorian feel. But they did have an improved sports book.

Then it was over to Monte Carlo. I have almost pulled the trigger and stayed here multiple times, and surely will stay here in the future. This is a very nice hotel and I really liked the feel of the casino. They also have a fine brew pub in the back that meets my specifications. I decide to sit down and play some $10 blackjack. After a tough hour of playing my $100 becomes $60 before I win a couple of desperation "all in" bets and escape with $100 in winnings. In blackjack, unless you vary your bets you are just handing the dealer your money. Nice. Hopefully my luck is changing.

I walk through the Aria and Cosmopolitan. Man, the skyline has changed in the last few years. The new glass towers look out of place, in my opinion. It looks a little like the Hong Kong skyline. I'll give it a chance, but the strip is really becoming a canyon, and it is a lot harder to walk it than it used to be. I don't get a chance to check out either casino. They have tons of high end retail out front with the casinos in back, one must presume.

Like most days I end up at Casino Royale. Something is different today. It is a little quiet at 10:00am. The table limit has come down to $3! And they still allow 100x odds. You will not find a game in Vegas with such a low casino advantage. It is a good omen. I open up playing a little conservatively. Pass line and two come bets with $20 odds bets. I move up slightly. I am directly to the right of the stickman. My first roll is indifferent at the crowded table. The word has gone out about the table limits apparently. The gorgeous 40 something waitress remembers me and takes very good care of me again. A gentleman on the other side of the stickman begins to role. He has a smooth backhand style that I have confidence in. He begins to hit my numbers and I begin to progress by bets. I a few minutes I have 5 of 6 numbers covered with at at least $40 capping each number. He must have rolled for 15 minutes, about 20 times. The money was tumbling in $60-$100 per roll at the end. When he finally craps out, after much hootin' and hollerin' at the table my $100 turns into $600!

I stay at the table but tone it way down. I want to preserve my winnings. By the time the dice reach me again I have lost about $100. No matter. I am on my forehand rolling side. I have great confidence. On this side I can work the dice either way with english. I play the carom off the left far bumper and the dice ricochet pleasingly across the table. I works! I go on a roll. The result was virtually the same as 15 minutes ago. I play fast. I hit 3 points for the table but I also hit masses of come bet numbers for myself. I have the same aggressive come bet setup and run the printing press again. My $100 has now become $900. I am way up for the day, and coming close to recovering my losses for the trip. Gambling is easy. I should move to Vegas, buy a foreclosed home with a pool and marry the lovely waitress at a drive thru chapel...

There is no better feeling on this planet than plopping a stack of $100 chips on the casino casher counter, unless it is the feeling of stuffing a wad of $100's you didn't earn into your pocket. It is like Paul Newman said in the movie, "The Color of Money". "Money won is twice a sweet as money earned." It is basic human nature, to which I have wholly succumbed.

I spend the afternoon playing casual blackjack at Casino Royale and dining on their $1.99 foot long hot dog and free beer from my new friend the sexy brunette waitress. Man it feels good to win in Vegas!

After a brief nap I head out for casual strip gambling. At midnight and I come to the day's main event. I want to play at Ballys, full throttle, on a $10 game. The risk is high. I could easily lose $500 in an hour.

I leave O'Shea's fortified by a Guiness in a plastic cup. I decide to take $400 dollars off the top and march over to Ballys. I mean business. At Ballys' moving walkway I am surprised to be confronted by a very attractive young blonde at the Bally's moving walkway who wants to stike up a conversation. She is cute but I blow buy her, knowing how the conversion would turn. The timing is bad. I am greedy for more money and want to get to the craps table. I reach the casino floor unscathed and toss three 100's casually and contemptuously onto the table. The dealer asks if I have a players card and I say no. I don't tell him I have been camped out at a $3 game all day. I am a little nervous. But I don't throttle back at all. I often have well over $100 working on the table. An inopportune 7 can take it all down. I am comforted knowing the casinos advantage is only about 0.8% per game. My strategy is to play the pass line and two come bets with maximum odds, the hope for a hot streak. The table turns solidly positive right away.

My first roll of the dice was a bit of a disappointment. I order and the waitress hands me a cold Sam Adams in a bottle. A step up from bud light in a small glass at the lower end casinos. I can get used to this. I am fortified. My second roll was another one for the ages. This time I was on the left side of the stick man throwing in my elegant backhand style. I make a looping motion to put extra torque on the dice, like Bob Feller winding up for a pitch. It worked like a charm. I roll with grace and elan and draw admiring comments from the table. I think I only made 2 points for the rest of the table. But I must have rolled 20 numbers and most hit all of my come bets. Again the numbers were stacked with come bets and wedged into place by one. I have played enough simulated games to forget I was playing with real money and kept progressing by bets. In no time. My $300 becomes $900! I am now substantially up for the trip!

I entertained thoughts of coloring out but two very attractive girls showed up, separate but both attracted by the commotion at our table. They are friendly and experienced craps players. One of them looks at my swollen chip stack and remarks that the table must be hot. But it is too late. The fun was over, and I knew it. And in craps, when its over it is really over. You must come to grips with reality. Being cool with the chicks costs me $200 dollars. I should have throttled way back and camped out on the pass line.

Still up $400, I tip the dealers and color out. Very respectable. I head to the cashier and she fans out another deck of 100's. I have a celebration beer at the casino bar with my front pocket unexpectedly bulging with C-notes. I go to sleep at about 4:00am. What a day. It ends as it began. The staff is cleaning the carpets at this dead hour, the best hour of the day. I am up $1000 bucks starting with just $300. "Money won is twice as sweet as money earned", indeed.

Wednesday, June 1

My plane leaves at 1:00am Thursday, so I keep my room all day. A wise investment of $40. Nothing worse than being drunk, tired, and dirty, with your suitcase for company with nowhere to crash before you get on your plane. I have mostly shutdown my gambling. I am pretty happy where I am. Because of my hot streak I have preserved most of my bank roll. I have breakfast at the Le Village Buffet at Paris for $21. Superb, and the price was substantially less that Bellagio and just as good. I really like Paris. I have stayed there and recommend it. The casino has a unique color and light that appeals. The table minimums are a bit high. But for me the energy at Ballys is a little higher.

I putz around all day and take a cab back to the airport at 11:30pm. The flight home is uneventful. Suddenly I am back in the real world.

All in all a great trip. I'm going to try to visit twice a year from now on.