Arrived McCarran Airport via US Airways after a 4 1/2 hour flight. It was uneventful. The movie was Godzilla and there was some turbulence during appropriate moments which almost salvaged this not-very-great movie. Picked up my Escort at Hertz in record time and was in the room at Palace Station ($25), with a free upgrade to a mini-suite in the tower, showered, and ready to hit the tables per my itinerary by five after eleven. I always like being quick out of the gate.

I hit the match plays at Palace Station and won on all three of them, collecting an additional five dollars for each five dollars bet. I also cashed in my funbook coupons and my $30 for $20 special and left Palace Station to go downtown. Up $50 with only having made about five bets. Once downtown I hit Binion's for the $3 steak special and found it as good as I remembered. I then went to use the 2 for 1 blackjack coupon at Golden Gate and after dropping a quick $100 and breaking another one I managed to cash out only $25 down for the session. I hit three blackjacks during an hour's play but the dealer drew numerous twenty-one's and I was glad to get out alive. I then validated my parking pass at Binions and decided to head home for the evening. I made the mistake of stopping by one of the craps tables and bet the don't against two shooters who could not stop rolling. I dropped a quick hundred there and decided to go home, rest, and lick my wounds. My total loss for the first day was about $75, but aside from that last run at the horseshoe I am pleased with my play today.

Wednesday dawns barely two hours after Tuesday ends. I am up at 4:30 PST and on the phone to the kids before school. A quick bath and then its off in search of the alleged to full-pay deuces machines in the casino. The place is a wreck with lots of construction following the flooding this summer, and I cannot find the deuces. I take a deep breath and ask for a $500 marker at the blackjack table. Fifteen minutes later I am down $250 and wondering why I even got on the plane. Over the next 45 minutes, however, I hit seven or eight blackjacks and greatfully cashed out exactly $50 ahead for the session. I used my remaining funbook coupons for two Keno tickets and actually made money for the first time at Keno, playing $4 and returning $7. While I had a comp for two to the breakfast buffet, I also had a $2 coupon bringing the solo price down to $1.99. I saved the comp thinking maybe I would bestow it on a lucky (or unlucky) couple and paid the $1.99 plus tax and tip. Good fresh-cooked omelets but not too much else to write home about.

I now figure I am about dead even for the trip and preparing to check out of Palace Station and begin my first strip run.

Check out of Palace Station was quick and easy. From there I got a little sidetracked and went by the Gold Coast and dropped a quick $40 playing full pay deuces wild. Gold Coast was O.K. though, and I got a lot of play for my money. I then zipped down to Vacation Village and spun the wheel for my airfare; it wound up being $2.00 instead of $200, but it was still free money. I came out about even on the matchplays but then used the roulette $11 for $10 buy-in and finished up $20. I then played video poker until hitting a flush and cashed in my Las Vegas advisor coupon for $8.75. A free hotdog and coke at the bar and I was fortified for my next stop; Bellagio.

On the way to Bellagio I could not help but marvel at all the changes since my last visit which was barely five months ago. Mandalee Bay is a beautiful property and the venetian is starting to shape up as well. The weather was gorgeous: cool nights into the fifties and daytime highs into the seventies. I was disappointed, however, to see so much smog obscuring the mountains. It was so easy to get around midweek -- I am glad I had a car because I think I saved a lot of time doing my own driving.

The grand tour of Bellagio was, in a word, exhausting. I have decided to rename the property Zoolagio. The line for tickets for the art gallery was probably a 45 minute to 1 hour wait. Luckily I had called ahead and had tickets waiting for me at will call; this still took much too long. The art itself was fantastic, about 30 pieces in only two relatively small rooms. The narration provided by Steve Wynn was worth the extra $4.00. As previously reported, the conservatory and the property itself is stunning but it is so overrun with people that I found the whole experience a bit unsettling. I was also surprised at how unprepared many of the employees seemed for their prospective positions. I picked up my previously booked ticket for O and even though the line was only 6 or 7 people deep, that exercise took 15 minutes also. I grabbed the tram over to Monte Carlo and thought about playing some there but I was simply too tired. Instead I decided to pick up my comp tickets for the shows at Harrah's and head over to Sunset Station to check in. Once I got to Harrah's there were the inevitable lines for the slot club point redemption program and the free tickets for the shows I did not plan to see. Thinking that life was much too short, I promptly turned around and went on Sunset Station. I did not even stop in at Key Largo to redeem my coupons there even though it was right on the way. Ditto the Continental; I did not need any further excuse to be depressed.

Now the report gets ugly and honest very fast. In spite of being exhausted, overcome with my usual hives and generally being tuckered out, I tried to rally when I returned to Sunset. I first had an excellent meal at the Costa del Sol oyster bar using the $5 off LVA coupon. I had the house pan roast -- a medley of crab, shrimp, and lobster in a light white sauce over rice in a huge bowl. It was some of the best seafood I have ever had and I will probably use my duplicate copy of the coupon again there before I leave. Then the good news. I planned to go to the Reserve right at 6:00 but sat down at the deuces wild machine and within 20 minutes hit my first mini-jackpot ever at VP. I was congratulated by my seat mates on the four ducks and I waited patiently, but no longer than 15 minutes, for the $250 hand pay. I then promptly lost $100 (or maybe a little more) at a very friendly but also very hot craps game. I am don't better and I got skewered. I then zipped down to the Reserve only to find the new slot club members were not eligible for the $1000 drawings and that the buffet promotion had been discontinued. A pretty good casino with even prettier cocktail waitresses, but all I picked up was 1500 free points (worth half a breakfast) and another $60 in losses at their wonderful fullpay video poker. The screen was blurring and it was time for bed. I know this. I know better.

Despite my best knowledge, I returned to Sunset and drew a marker for $500 at a shoe blackjack game. Earlier, I had good luck following atrocious luck at Palace Station's shoe game; it was not to be this night. I did not make any strategic mistakes, but the cards were simply awful and the marker was devoured in less than two full shoes. Yes, John, there is a Santa Claus; he just doesn't visit little boys who don't do what they're told, i.e. go to bed when they get tired.

Thursday dawned bright and clear (actually, it was a little overcast), and I decided to re-map my game plan somewhat. Feeling refreshed after 7 hours of good sleep, I decided to bag the side trip to Jean in favor of more lucrative opportunities in town. After cleaning up the room and myself, I found a friendly blackjack table at Sunset, drew another $500 marker, and proceeded to loose $70 but earning the good will of the pit and a buffet comp in the process. My first comp! Even though it was a $4 buffet, I felt like a big dog. Moreover, even though I lost money while earning the comp, I was not chasing the comp. I played the way I always do; in fact, I moved down from quarters to dimes and got treated just fine. Two lessons there; one, never play just for comps, you will almost always pay more than if you simply bought your meal yourself; two, gague your bets to the casino in which you are playing. There is probable no reason for me to play quarters at Sunset Station if I concentrate most of my play here.

We'll see, but I image that they will take good care of me for dime play. I then took a lunch break using the automatic comp I received from the machine for an appetizer. The most expensive appetizer on the menu was a huge plate of grilled chicken nachos, more than twice what I could eat comfortably. I polished that off and tried to call my casino host, only to find that he would not be in until after 4:00. I then decided to make a run to Boulder Highway and check out Sam's and others. When I got in my car, however, I found my right rear tire flat. Suffered the process of calling Hertz waiting on someone to change the tire, and deciding against going to Boulder Highway. Instead, I purchased a few gifts for the kids and UPSed them home. I then returned to the Pit and played blackjack for about 2 hours and had the pit call Kenny Cowen, my casino host. Kenny was very gracious and spoke with me for 15 minutes while I attempted to play two spots of blackjack. I dropped about $100 but was glad for the chance to meet Kenny.

Dinner Thursday night was at the Capri Italian Restaurant, and I was very pleased. I had the seafood risotto, and while the food wasn't quite as good at the Costa del Sol, the service was terrific. The food was just a little rich for me after two days of non-stop gluttony. I played a little fullpay deuces and won $30 then returned to my room to rest before the Ratdog show. The show was terrific and if there are any lurking deadheads who would like my best recreation of the set list e-mail me and I would be glad to

Came home to a phone call from Noreen Nash, a member of the VP news group. We made arrangements to meet at Sante Fe Casino Friday afternoon at 2:30 for some video poker play. She has hit two royal's and several deuces this week and is up over a $1000.00.

After a good nights sleep Friday began with an hour and half of blackjack followed by a comped breakfast. I tried not eat too much this time as the buffet food was weighing me down considerably.

Following breakfast I was able to use another $120/$100 buy in coupon and played for about an hour and half, leaving up about $50 for the session and earning several more Budweisers for blackjacks. The cans are starting to mount in my room; I think I will take them to the Phish show and give them away to poor decrepit Phish heads. I also collected a Visa Las Vegas t-shirt for applying for a credit card and a Budweiser polo and Sunset Safe Station T in the Budweiser promotion. I have cut out several extra coupons and hope to finagle them across through the weekend.

The Phish show Friday night was exceptional. I won't bore you with the set list but suffice to say the joint was jumping and the band was cooking. I asked various souls about their pick for the musical costume for Saturday night. Opinions ranged from Promise to Nirvana to my personal favorite, Led Zepellin II. I was tired after the first set but was refreshed at the break when security wisely opened some doors to a smoking area and let people sit outside. It was probably about 50 degrees and the view from the steps of the Thomas & Mack was glorious. A straight side view allowing a wonderful scene from the Luxor all the way to Circus Circus. I also tired somewhat in the second set, but found a good seat and picked up energy as the band did the same. The highlight had to be the second encore; an a capella version of Free Bird that had nearly the length and intensity of Lynard Vynard's live version. It was a hoot and everyone left happy.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and I vowed to get out of the casino for some sightseeing. I cleaned up and first hit the blackjack table for about 45 minutes until the buffet opened. I was going to get a comp from the automatic machine but realized it would take 4500 points since it was Saturday and a brunch was being served. I stopped by the dice pit and had a nice win there while Danielle wrote me a comp for the buffet. After breakfast I used yet another Sunset Station buy-in coupon and had a wonderful and brief blackjack run. I progressed my bet up to $65 and then doubled for a $130 win on one hand. That was about my total win for that session. My stomach and bankroll replenished, I returned to the room, called my casino host and asked him to check my play for me, and left to hit the town. Before I could get out the door, however, Kenny Cohen called me back and told me they would comp one night and of course I had casino rate for the other night. He also said he would check my play later in the day. I then left for the strip and Treasure Island where I briefly meet with the Skip Hughes group. I shook hands with Cory and Pat Starks, Skip Hughes, waved to Yuri, and talked for a few minutes with Michael Rod. I had limited time and no appetite so I did not stay for lunch but they seem like a good bunch of folks. I only wish I had the discipline to play more full pay video poker and less table games. Video poker has been great this trip, but I miss the interaction when I am not at the table. I guess that's part of paying for the entertainment of gambling.

I went from the strip to down town via the Stratosphere. I had earned the requisite 50 points on an earlier trip and went to the top of the tower in record time. While the view is great, I need to go at dusk and see the lights come on the strip. I even gambled briefly there on a pinball slot machine and won $20 or so which I blew on gifts for the kids.

From there I drove straight to the Lady Luck and used a number of matchplays from the LVA and from the gracious folks I have meet online. My first bet was $5 and that was the only money I pulled out of my pocket for the next 30 minutes, winning every matchplay I played except the last one for a net win of $53. I then went down and across to the Golden Gate and used my third Fremont Street Experience coupon for 2 for 1 naturals. Experience was not a good teacher; I dropped $50 but had a good time playing and ribbing the pit about what a wonderful advantage they were getting with the coupon. My downtown run, therefore, was a wash. Still, it has solidified my intent to stay and play exclusively downtown on my next trip. True, the casino's for the most part are not nearly as nice as Sunset Station, but I am not so concerned about that when I am staying by myself. I think the Sunset would be a great place for a family trip but; give me a clean if somewhat worn room downtown and unlimited coffee shop comps and I'll be your guest for life.

I then cleaned up and headed out to the Phish show which was phenomenal. Much easier entrance and exit this time with better crowd control. The show was three sets; the musical costumed donned by the band in the second set was the Velvet Underground's "Loaded". A fantastic choice and the band obviously had worked hard to master the material. The show was a marathon -- they started a little after eight and played 3 hour long sets with two 45 minute plus breaks in between. We did not get out until just after 1:00 a.m. I went back to the room and crashed and I slept like a log for seven hours.

I started making packing plans and checked in on the fam back home; Halloween had been a good success for them as well. I then cashed my 5th $120/100 buy-in coupon and played blackjack for an hour, snagged a buffet comp, and then I ate breakfast and went to continue packing. So far I must have earned a full case of Budweiser at the tables, in 24 ounce cans no less. I gave most of it away but jammed about 8 or 9 in my suitcase to surprise my wife. This stash will probably last her a good 6 months.

Feeling bold and knowing that checkout was approaching, I made one more play with my 6th and final $120/100 coupon which was stamped at the VIP experience center with no problem. I returned to a different pit in the blackjack area and started off badly. I had the floor person, Lisa, call another host as mine was off duty. Kenny told me he would have my play checked the last day and see if I was eligible for any thing additional. The host came over and after checking the computer, essentially told me what Kenny had the day before. Frankly, I was disappointed. I am not sure of my play, but I suppose that with all the running I did I just didn't have enough hours in on an equivalency basis. I estimate that I played 3 to 4 hours per day at an average bet of $12 to $15. I had hoped that this would be enough to get my room comped for all nights and at least some of the meals that I had charged to my room picked up. However, when I consider what I did get, I cannot be too upset. I was comped 2 breakfasts and 2 brunches at the buffet, a dinner at the buffet and 1 night. The two more expensive meals that I ate in their restaurants were not comped, nor was a coffee shop charge. The lesson here is that I need to ask for all food comps at from the pit. While the food in the nicer restaurants was good, I probably would prefer a comp buffet to a $25 meal for one out of my own pocket. I know this is a matter of personal preference but that is the way I will play it in the future.

While this second host was not very helpful, I was glad that I waited on him. My $120 in gaming chips had dwindled to $20 by the time he had checked my account, but then I had a great short run and finished up $50 for the session. I then went to the room, packed the last of my things and headed for check out. I grabbed a bite at the burritto bar using a comp from the computer terminal. I left Sunset with still about 7000 points upon my card and a desire to return again on one trip next year.

After checking out I proceeded to the Luxor, where I visited their beautiful spa. The facilities included a 102 degree hot tub with waterfalls, a 98 degree, or body temperature, tub and a 65 degree cold plunge pool. They also had a dry sauna and a steam room with eucalyptus. I indulged in all of the above before receiving an excellent aromatherapy massage. The total tab for access to their work out facility, all machines, the pool, the massage and trimmings came to $80 plus tip. It was probably the best money I spent in Las Vegas.

The grand tour was coming to a close. The weekend was to end with a final trip to Zoologio for O. Fortunately, I had previously scoped out parking since I would have a close connection leaving Balligio for the airport. This has got to be one of the easiest self-parking set-ups in town. Take the self-parking ramp up from the main strip entrance to the property and proceed straight up the ramp to the highest level of the self-parked garage. You will find yourself within a few steps of the elevator to the casino.

I had a few minutes before the show and won about $70 shooting craps amidst the luscious decor and cinnamon-scented pair of Bellagio. I then ventured into the O Showroom and settled in for what proved to be a terrific show. I must say, however, that I concur with the somewhat teppid review of O in the December 1998 Las Vegas Advisor. The bottom line is this: the show is very similar in tone to Mystere at Treasure Island. Both are spectacular and unique; but once you have seen Mystere, you have seen many of the plot devices, humor, and even acrobatics that are present in both shows. I still heartily recommend either show; I think for $30 less Mystere is a better value. As a final note, I enjoyed the music at Mystere much more than I did the O score.

Completely tuckered out, I left Bellagio's for the airport and with an extra thirty minutes on my hands, played some $1 poker. Even at this short-pay machine, I could do no wrong and won about $20 bucks before I boarded the plane. Four hours later I arrived in Charlotte and drove home to Columbia for a day of recovery sleep.

Postscript. Some six weeks later, the trip seems like a dream from six months ago. I learned a few lessons. One, Jean Scott is right in saying that while coupons are powerful plays, they are no guarantee of a win. I finished down about $200 for the trip largely because of my loses at the Golden Gate using their black jack coupon. The coupon theoretically gives the player a decided advantage, but my luck was not good. Second, I always try to do too much on these trips. I hope next time to pick my spot, say, downtown or northwest LV and stay there. Third, sleep is important and I need to enjoy that luxury more on my trips, but I doubt I will ever learn this lesson very well. Fourth, time spent in any health club in Las Vegas is probably money saved and pay relatively inexpensive way to feel like a high roller.

We are adding on a room at home and already have a family ski vacation planned for 1999. Therefore, I am likely taking a sabbatical from Vegas until January 2000. This is a long time, but not necessarily a bad thing. I have unsubscribed from a couple of LV newsgroups and spend a faction of the time I use to spend on line, freeing me up for more family time. In 1999, I will read and work on the Knockout blackjack counting system and continue to hone my deuces wild skills on the PC. I know this report has been ridiculously long but I enjoyed preparing and especially reviewing it; the memories are fond and now fresh again. Keep my seat warm, won't you?

John Hearn

PPS from 1998: Of course, I made another trip within six months. See the 1999 reports. :)