Well, another great Las Vegas trip has come and gone. The beautiful 'sunny and in the 80s' weather was definitely difficult to leave behind, but it's warming up here in the Midwest, so it's not too bad. No big wins to speak of, but I'm pretty much a low roller and play more for entertainment than making large sums of money...although moderate wins now and then are definitely nice, and luckily I had a few of those during the trip. Actually, I never really had any big losing streaks either, so while in the end I was down for the trip, I still came home with a nice chunk of my original gaming budget.

First, a little background about the trip. I'm in my early 20s, and my godparents, who are in their 50s and live in New York, visit Las Vegas a couple of times a year and had mentioned a while back that it would be nice if I could meet them out in Vegas sometime (for simplicity sake, I'll be referring to him as 'G' and her as 'E'). Prior to this trip, I had been to Vegas twice...once in May 2002 and again in March 2003, so I was definitely ready for another trip. G and E had mentioned back in January that they were going to be heading out to Vegas again in late April, so after I realized that I could easily get the time off to meet them out there, I started planning for a 6 day/5 night trip. I had traveled to Vegas previously with friends, and while we always talk about going back again, unfortunately due to new jobs and conflicting work schedules, none of them would be able to join me this time. Even though it would have been great to travel with friends, I knew I would still have a great time with G and E, as we're all low rollers and I've had plenty of fun with them at casinos in the Niagara Falls area. Our agenda for the trip was pretty much non-existent, although we had planned on checking out a number of the off-strip casinos and taking advantage of ACG (American Casino Guide) and POV (Pocketbook of Values) coupons and matchplays in the process.

I had originally booked my first two nights at the Hilton and last three nights at the Luxor, but then I received a 'Blossoming Bucks' mailer from the Mirage and decided to take advantage of the $75/weekday and $99/weekend rates advertised in the offer. I stayed at the Mirage last year and absolutely loved it, so when I received the mailer there was no question. With NAB wrapping up upon my arrival, I was afraid that the first couple of days of my trip would be blackout dates for the offer, but I called and luckily all 5 nights were available, at which point I booked all 5 nights at the Mirage and cancelled my previous reservations. Speaking of NAB, I work in television broadcasting, and after setting the dates for my trip I realized that I would be in town during the last two days of the convention. I was able to pick up a free exhibits pass, so I decided that I would check out the exhibits shortly after I arrived on Wednesday.

Anyway, enough background information. On to the trip...

Wednesday, April 21st

As has been the case for my past two trips, this Las Vegas trip started very early for me. I was up at 3:00 AM to catch a 7:00 AM direct flight to Vegas. Back in January, I made my flight reservations through ATA for a total round trip price of $196.70, taxes included. Southwest had very similar pricing, but I thought I'd try out ATA this time, as I had never flown on ATA before. As a side note, both ATA and Southwest have very nice non-stop flight schedules from Indy to Vegas. Both have an outbound flight that leaves around 7:00 AM which puts you in Vegas nice and early, and both also offer a late afternoon outbound flight which gives you a decent amount of time in Vegas on the last day of your trip. Anyway, electronic check-in and security at the airport were fast and easy, so I had plenty of time to kill before departing. Thanks to my Sprint cell phone and Vision service, I was able to connect my laptop to my phone and check my email while waiting in the terminal, and I even posted a farewell message on the Las Vegas Talk message board. Having this wireless internet capability was also great in Vegas, as I was able to check my email from my room without having to pay the high internet access rates at the hotel.

Once in the air, I watched a couple episodes of The Simpsons that I had on my laptop, then I took out my GPS and started tracking my flight. For those who have a handheld GPS, it's neat to bring it along on flights to track your location and see how your flight is progressing. The flight was smooth, and we landed in Vegas just a few minutes after 9:00 AM, local time.

After picking up my luggage at the carousel, I headed outside to catch a shuttle to the Mirage. I picked ODS shuttle service, hopped in, and was on my way. Traffic on Paradise was surprisingly heavy for a Wednesday morning, but after we made it north of Tropicana, traffic cleared up considerably. My shuttle bus stopped at Paris, IP, and Harrah's before dropping me off at the Mirage, so fortunately there weren't any out of the way stops en route to the Mirage. As I was getting out of the shuttle at the Mirage, a bellman approached me and said something to the extent of 'Check-in isn't until 3 PM, so I can take your luggage'?. Having stayed at the Mirage before, I knew very well that early check-in is often available. That said, although I was a little taken back by his cheap effort to help out and get a tip, I responded politely by saying that I had checked in early at the Mirage on previous visits. I have no problem with hotels being swift to offer assistance to arriving guests, but to me, this particular bellman's come-on was a little deceptive as he made it sound like I had no choice but to check my luggage since I had arrived early. In my opinion, a simple 'Would you like assistance with your luggage?' would have been much more inviting and hospitable.

In preparing for this trip, I learned about the much-discussed $20 trick, so I decided that I'd give it a try at the Mirage. When I first read about the trick it seemed a little intimidating, but then as I thought about it more I realized that worst-case scenario, I simply wouldn't score the upgrade, so why not give it a shot. As I approached the desk, I placed my driver's license with the folded $20 underneath on the desk, and when I asked if there were any free tower deluxe or pool view upgrades available, she informed me that unfortunately there were none available at that time, but suggested that I instead try to check in a little later. I could tell that she was playing along and would have offered me a free upgrade if it was available, so I thanked her and decided to check my luggage and try checking in a little later. Since G & E's flight wasn't due to arrive until around 4:30 PM, this was an ideal time for me to check out the NAB exhibits, so I pulled out my NAB credentials, checked my luggage at the bell desk, and then headed for the NAB shuttle stop at the Mirage. Luckily, the bus was waiting as I approached the shuttle stop, so I hopped on for the ride out to the convention center. I won't bore you with the details of the NAB exhibits, but as someone who works in television, I was really impressed with all of the manufacturers' exhibits, and it was really neat to 'test drive' and play around with the equipment on display, especially the HD cameras that were prominently showcased. I had allocated myself a few hours for checking out the exhibits, although if I ever go again I'm sure I could easily spend a whole day checking everything out, as the Las Vegas Convention Center is unbelievably massive in terms of area.

After finishing up at the exhibits, I took the walkway from the convention center to the Hilton. As I walked from the convention/conference area of the Hilton into the casino and saw the craps tables and banks of machines in the distance as I approached the end of the hallway, it was at that point that I had my first definite 'I'm Back in Vegas!' moment. Sure, the NAB exhibits were awesome and I'm definitely happy that I took some time to check them out, but let's get to the tables! While the tables were definitely calling me, I was able to muster up some restraint, as I wanted to first get back to the Mirage and take care of check-in. Since I didn't feel like taking a cab and the free NAB shuttles from the convention to the hotels didn't start until later in the afternoon, I walked Riviera Blvd. from the Hilton to Circus Circus so that I could catch the CAT 302 express route back to the Mirage. I'm a pretty fast walker, so the walk took only about 10 minutes. Since I had never been in Circus Circus before, I walked in just to have a quick look around the casino. Well, let's just say that I hadn't been missing much. There were kids running around everywhere (isn't spring break already over?), and to top it off, the casino seemed really dark and worn, so I was in and out within a few minutes and went to take a look through Slots A Fun. What SAF lacks in class and cleanliness, it makes up for in cheap gaming, as I saw a number of $2 and $3 tables. I thought about trying out their $2 craps table, as the bus stop is right outside SAF and clearly visible from the craps table, but I thought that I'd probably end up having money on the line as the bus rolled up, so I decided to hold off and wait for the bus. The 302 showed up fairly quickly, so I jumped on for the relatively short ride back to the Mirage.

When I made it back to the Mirage check-in, I noticed that there was quite a bit of a line at the check-in clerk who had helped me earlier in the day, so I prepared my license and $20 bill and decided to take my chances with someone else. I walked up to the window of a middle aged male check-in clerk, casually put my license with the $20 underneath on the counter, and asked if any free upgrades were available. By his tone, I could sense that he had seen the $20 and was willing to play along, but he apologized and said that unfortunately the hotel was pretty full and no tower deluxe rooms were available, however a pool view upgrade was available. I had been hoping for a tower deluxe upgrade, but if nothing else I was going to ask for a pool view upgrade, so I happily accepted his offer. Granted, a tower deluxe upgrade would have definitely been more bang for my $20, but I think that paying what amounted to an additional $4 per night for a guaranteed pool/strip view was definitely worth it. I thanked the clerk for his help, and as we proceeded with the check-in I handed him my driver's license and the $20 bill, at which point he discretely pocketed the $20 and thanked me. Having never tried the $20 trick before I was a little weary of trying it, but after all was said and done, I realized that there's really nothing to worry or be nervous about, so I'll definitely give it a try in future visits.

My room was on the 16th floor of the west tower and had a very nice view of the pool area and the strip. I called the bell desk to have my luggage brought up to the room, and they responded promptly and had the luggage delivered no more than 5 minutes after I called. At this point, it was only around 2:15 in the afternoon, and since G&E weren't scheduled to arrive until 4:30, I had a couple of hours for casino hopping. After a bit of unpacking, I headed down to check out the Mirage casino. After walking around a bit to see what had changed and what had been moved since my last visit, I stepped up to a $5 craps table and bought in for a whopping $20 which I proceeded to lose in fairly short order. Since the table at the Mirage was ice cold, I headed across the street to what's perhaps my favorite place for low roller craps on the strip, Casino Royale. I spent a couple of minutes checking out all of the tables at CR before I settled into the SL position at the $2 craps table adjacent to the bar. Shortly after stepping up to the table, I recognized an older gentleman who I had seen last year at CR, and just like last year, he was placing $2 - $5 PL and multiple Come bets with full 100x odds. While there weren't any hot streaks, this table certainly wasn't as cold at the table at the Mirage, so I was able to stay in the game for a while. In the end, I think I cashed out at $10, so certainly no big losses at CR. At that point, I was expecting to hear from G&E within an hour or so, so I headed back to the Mirage and passed the time playing a little on the nickel reel slots.

I received a call from G&E around 5:15 PM, and they had already picked up their rental car and had just finished checking in at their hotel, the Gold Coast, so they were on their way to pick me up. I met them at the Mirage tour bus pick-up area...a location that receives much less traffic than the main entrance...and we were on our way to the Orleans for their dinner buffet. The French Market Buffet at the Orleans is very good, has an excellent selection, and is priced very reasonably. To make it even better, G&E used the 2-for-1 coupon from the ACG, while I used the same ACG coupon to get 50% off my dinner buffet. After eating, we played at the Orleans for a while. I played a bit at one of their $2 craps tables, and G found a $3 blackjack table while E scoped out their slot and video poker selection. After a while, we re-grouped and decided to move on and spend the rest of the evening downtown.

Once downtown, we parked in the Golden Nugget parking garage and then meandered through the Golden Gate, LVC, California, and Plaza, playing a little bit here and there. I was happy to find a bank of nickel and quarter Multi-Game machines with video Let it Ride at the LVC near the sports book, but I couldn't get much going at LIR that evening so I didn't play those machines too long. I had a little change of luck at the California, where I hit a few small payouts on quarter slots. Having been up for close to 24 hours at this point and having slept only a few hours the night before was starting to catch up with me, and G&E were about ready to call it a night, so after playing at the Cal for a while we decided to head back to our hotels. After returning to the Mirage, I walked around the casino for a bit but decided not to play, so I headed up to the room around 1 AM for some much needed rest.

Thursday, April 22nd

I had a feeling that I would end up sleeping in a bit on Thursday morning, but instead I found myself up at around 7:30. The night before, G&E and I planned on meeting around 12:30, so I had the morning to myself. After showering and getting ready, I went across the street to the new McDonald's between Casino Royale and Harrah's, picked up an order of hotcakes, a yogurt parfait, and an OJ, then brought everything back to the room and watched a bit of the local morning newscast. How about that...do it yourself room service at a fraction of the cost. After eating, I grabbed my video camera and headed out to the strip to get some shots of the Mirage and surrounding properties. After shooting some video of the strip, I ran my camera back up to the room, then headed out again to spend a couple of hours at the Fashion Show Mall and Forum Shops. The newly renovated facade at the Fashion Show Mall looks great, and the new stainless steel 'cloud', while perhaps not very functional aside from providing shade, is aesthetically a really neat addition. I walked over to the Forum Shops after finishing up at the Fashion Show Mall, and from the Forum Shops I went back to the Mirage, dropped off my shopping bags, then went out to the shuttle pick up area to meet G&E.

Today we were going to meet G's sister, who lives in Summerlin, for a late lunch, but with a few hours to spare, we decided to go get a few pictures of the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign. Afterward, we decided to check out what was perhaps the classiest casino we visited the whole trip...that's right, the Klondike! Having seen Vegas Vacation countless times, I had wanted to check out the Klondike for quite some time but had never found the time to do so on previous trips. I had always envisioned the Klondike as a dark, dingy, smoky casino, and in that respect the Klondike certainly met up to its reputation. If you've seen the movie, you may recall seeing an older-style slot machine situated against the wall as Clark and Eddie are entering the casino. Well guess what...it's still there! G was actually adventurous enough to play a few hands at the $2 pitch blackjack table, while both E and I played a couple of dollars on their VP and slot machines. While it's certainly nothing to be proud of, at least now I can say that I've visited and played at the Klondike!

After the Klondike, we headed over to the Palms, where I signed up for their player's club and redeemed an ACG coupon for $10 in free slot play. I love the atmosphere at the Palms and wouldn't mind trying out their hotel, so hopefully I'll receive promotional mailings or emails on account of signing up for and putting a few points on my player's club card.

We regrouped after spending an hour or so at the Palms, then headed out to meet up with G's sister who lives in Summerlin. Having never really been more than a few blocks away from the strip aside from downtown, this was the first time that I had seen the 'locals' side of Las Vegas. Summerlin, in particular, is a beautiful community, and all of the residential and commercial areas looked very new and well maintained. After picking up G's sister, we headed out to the fairly nearby Suncoast for a late lunch at Cafe Siena. I ordered the open-faced hot turkey sandwich which was excellent and very filling. After eating, we split up and went our separate ways in the Suncoast casino for a while. I bought in at a $2 craps game, and after loosing about half of my buy-in, I decided to try a few hands of mini-baccarat at a nearby $5 table. With no luck at the mini-baccarat table either, I cashed in my remaining chips and went off to meet everyone else.
When we all regrouped at the Suncoast, we decided to check out the nearby Rampart Casino. G and I wanted to redeem our $5 ACG blackjack matchplay and $10 POV blackjack matchplay, so we looked for a blackjack table and settled at an empty $5 pitch game. G won his matchplays, and although I lost mine, I stuck around to play a few more hands before leaving the table about even. I then played a bit at a $3 craps table, but the table was fairly cold, so I didn't stick around too long. After cashing in my remaining chips, I wandered around the casino which can be a little disorienting to first time visitors on account of its circular design. G and I even had a little trouble finding our way to where we were supposed to meet his sister and E, but nonetheless, the Rampart casino and its grounds are very well maintained and classy.

After dropping of G's sister at home, we decided to check out the Frontier and take advantage of a $5 ACG matchplay in the process. If memory serves me correctly, I think I lost this matchplay too, but I decided to play a bit more and ended up loosing my $20 buy-in. I spent some time scoping out the casinio, as this was my first time in the Frontier, and dropped a dollar or two here and there in slot machines. Something that really caught my eye was the bank of older video poker machines close to the north entrance. I was not only surprised to see that these obviously older machines were still in play, but also that they had been retrofitted to be compatible with the player's club card readers that were seated on top of the machines. Wow...those machines looked like they were probably about as old as me!

At around midnight, we decided to head back to our hotels, so G&E dropped me off at the Mirage. I wanted to get some video of the strip at night, so I went up to my room, grabbed my video camera, and then headed outside. I walked up to the Venetian, crossed over to the Fashion Show Mall, then walked down to Treasure Island. I went into Treasure Island to check out the casino which seemed a little cluttered and disorganized in places on account of the ongoing construction and renovation. I walked back out to the sidewalk and started heading back to the Mirage, getting more nice shots of the strip at night along the way. After returning to the Mirage, I went back up to my room and decided to call it a night.

Friday, April 23rd

On Friday morning I was up again around 7:30, and after I showered and got ready, I headed over to McDondald's again to pick up a quick bite to eat. G&E and I had agreed to meet up around 1:30 in the afternoon, so with plenty of time to spare, I decided to walk down to Caesars, as I hadn't visited CP since my first trip in 2002. I took a walk through the casino, then sat down to play a video poker machine for a little while. One thing I noticed at CP that I've never seen before at any other casino is that they have a little bowl of peppermint candies at each gaming table. I don't know if they have always had these at CP or if this is something new. Anyway, after checking out Caesars, I headed across the street and walked through the Flamingo, IP, Harrah's, and the Venetian on my way back to the Mirage. I had spent a fair amount of time walking through each casino I visited, so by the time I made it back to the Mirage it was almost time to head out to the shuttle stop and meet up with G&E.

We had decided on Thursday afternoon that on Friday we would check out Green Valley Ranch and try their lunch buffet, so after G&E picked me up, we were on our way to GVR. As we entered the GVR grounds, we saw the new, beautifully designed District shopping area that had opened only a week or so earlier. Before going to the buffet, I made a quick stop at the player's club desk to sign up for the Boarding Pass so that I could not only get a dollar off at the Feast Around the World Buffet, but also to take advantage of the 'Xtra Play Cash' promotion where new Boarding Pass members get $5 - $100 in free slot play. The lunch buffet was excellent, the dining area and overall decor and design of the buffet area were really nice, and to top it off, the $7.99 price was very reasonable. After eating, we checked out the GVR casino for a while, and it was here that I had my first decent win of the trip. After playing through my $5 in free play fairly quickly, I put $10 into a 2-coin multi-denomination Double Diamond machine (I selected a denomination of 25 cents), and shortly thereafter, a 7,DD,7 lined up on the payline for a nice win of 320 credits ($80). I played the DD machine a little more, then played a couple of dollars on nickel slots and VP. In the end, after figuring in my initial buy-in, I left GVR up about $70. Probably nothing to get excited about for the seasoned players out there, but nonetheless a nice win for me.

From Green Valley Ranch, we decided to take a little trip out to the Lake Las Vegas Resort and check out Casino MonteLago. The Lake Las Vegas Resort, as its name would indicate, is adjacent to Lake Las Vegas, has a golf course, and just overall is a beautiful and elegant area. Casino MonteLago is relatively small, but in keeping with its surroundings, is clean, classy, and situated at the summit of a walkway/village area that leads out to the lake and is complete with small shops and restaurants. I played the quarter slots and nickel VP for a while, and while I didn't get any big wins, I managed to hang in and ended up about even when I cashed in my EZ pay ticket. I had noticed that there was a $20 even money matchplay for Casino MonteLago in the ACG, and since it's very rare that either G or I will have $20 riding on a single bet I figured that we would end up not using the $20 matchplay. But just before leaving, G and I decided to each throw in $10 for the matchplay coupon, so we stepped up to a roulette table, put the $20 and matchplay on red, and wouldn't you know it, we won! After collecting our chips, we decided to try it again, this time with the matchplay from my ACG, so we each put down $10 on red and won again! We decided to try it one more time as we still had the matchplay in E's ACG, and while E doesn't play table games, she was more than happy to tear out her coupon and place the bet for us. Unfortunately, our lucky streak was over, as black hit the third time, but in the end, G and I still left with a tidy roulette profit of $40 each thanks to the matchplay coupons.

After Casino MonteLago, we drove around the Lake Las Vegas Resort for a bit (apparently, Celine lives somewhere out in this area), then decided to hit Fiesta Henderson on our way back to the strip. On our way to the Fiesta, I noticed that the ACG had a coupon for 1,000 bonus points for new Amigo Club sign-ups, so upon arriving I headed over to the player's club desk to sign up. The Fiesta was also running a $5 in free slot play for new members promotion, so that was another nice bonus for signing up. Also, while at the player's club desk, I signed up for the WinCards promotion. With this promotion, you fill out a little name/address card, and then for $10, you get $15 in non-negotiable gaming chips. You also receive strategy cards, or WinCards, for table games, but the $10 for $15 offer was my primary reason for taking advantage of the offer. By the way, with this promotion, you're given fifteen $1 non-negotiable chips, so you can be fairly flexible in how you use them. Also, keep in mind that these non-negotiable chips can remain in play until they lose, so it's not like matchplay chips or coupons that must be surrendered even on a winning bet. After finishing up at the player's club desk and picking up my non-negotiable chips at the cage, I walked around the table game area and stopped to play at a $3 craps table. The table started to warm up just shortly after I started playing, and to make things even better, the crew at the table was friendly, fun, and talkative, especially Ned, a dealer from New Jersey with a thick accent to match. Eventually the table started to cool down, and I left after using up all of my non-negotiable chips, but luckily I had built up a profit of $20 or so in the process. G was playing at a blackjack table just to the left of the craps table, so I joined him for a bit of blackjack. I won a bit at the blackjack table, and although I didn't win anything with my $5 in free slot play, I still left the Fiesta up about $30.

From the Fiesta Henderson we headed back to the strip area and stopped at the Hard Rock casino. At this point it was getting late, and being a Friday, the relatively small casino at the Hard Rock was absolutely packed. My first stop was to sign up for the Backstage Pass at the player's club desk, then I wandered around the casino and played a few dollars in the slots. I noticed that the coupon sheet I received after signing up for the Backstage Pass had a $10 matchplay, and I knew that there was another $10 matchplay in the POV. While both G and I rarely play roulette, based on our luck at MonteLago we decided to use our matchplays at a roulette table. I ended up loosing both of my macthplays on red, while G lost one bet but won the other on even. Although I didn't win at the Hard Rock, I really liked the younger clientele, so I'm sure I'll spend more time there the next time I'm in Vegas with friends.

After spending some time at the Hard Rock, we headed over to the Sahara. None of us were members of the player's club at the Sahara, so we all signed up and took advantage of the free $10 in slot play for new club members. Neither G nor I had much luck with our free play, although E did hit $30 or so on a half dollar machine. G and I also wanted to use a $5 ACG matchplay, so we found an empty $5 table and played a little bit of blackjack. In the end, I finished up with a $10 or $15 profit.

We decided to make a final stop for the night at Westward Ho and Slots A Fun, so we parked in the Ho's parking lot and walked through the Ho to Slots A Fun. Being a Friday night, Slots A Fun was packed, and although there were some $3 blackjack tables (and I think I may have even seen one $1 table), they were all packed. Not surprisingly, the lone craps table, where the normal $2 minimum had been increased to $5, was also packed. We played a few dollars through the machines, and G even found a spot at a $3 blackjack table and played a few hands. After about a half hour at SAF, we headed back to our hotels.

Saturday, April 24th

We decided to meet a little earlier on Saturday, so G&E picked me up at around 8:30 in the morning and we headed downtown for the Saturday brunch buffet at Main Street Station. I was very impressed with the MSS dinner buffet when I tried it last year, and their breakfast buffet was equally impressive and delicious. While I don't eat omelets, G&E were both happy to see Manuel (I think that was his name), the friendly omelet cook at the buffet who has apparently been working at the MSS buffet for quite some time. After taking our time at the buffet, we played at MSS for a little while then walked over to the Cal. G & I played for a while at a $3 blackjack table while E played a little VP. Around noon we decided to head back toward the strip, as G&E wanted to spend a few hours by the pool, so they dropped me off at the Mirage and we made plans to meet up again around 4 PM.

One casino that I had never visited was the Stardust, so I decided to take a walk and check out the place. The Stardust was pretty much what I expected...a fairly clean but older-style casino, similar in style to some of the other older properties on the north strip. I did make a point to check out the legendary sports book, and while it certainly isn't as fancy as the sports books in newer resorts, it is of decent size and has a number of large screens.

As planned, I met up with G&E again at 4:00, at which point we decided to head over to the Rio to check out the casino and see the Masquerade Show. Being a Saturday afternoon, the Rio was busy, but not so busy that the slot and VP machine choices were very limited. All of us put a few dollars through slot and VP machines, and then headed over to the stage to watch the 5:00 Masquerade show. Considering that the Masquerade Show is free entertainment, the Rio did a nice job of putting together a lively and entertaining show for casino patrons. The show had completely changed since I had last seen it two years ago, so apparently they change it on a regular basis.

After walking around the Rio a little more, we made the short drive over to the Gold Cost for dinner at the Ports O' Call buffet. While not quite as big as the buffet at its sister property the Orleans, the GC buffet was still very good and, although I'm not familiar with the history of this buffet, was very clean and looked as if it had been recently built or renovated. While even the standard prices at this buffet are very reasonable, G&E used a 2 for 1 coupon from the ACG and I used the same coupon from my ACG to get 50% off my buffet. All of the food was excellent, and the dessert station had strawberry shortcake that was absolutely delicious. After finishing up at the buffet, we played for a while at the GC. Even on a Saturday evening, the GC had a $2 craps table available, so I played at the table for a while but the table was fairly cold so I didn't stick around too long. I guess it's just me, but I've never had much luck at the craps tables at Coast properties. Anyway, I cashed in my remaining chips then caught up with E who was playing at a bank of nickel full pay JOB machines. I put a few dollars in an adjacent machine and actually ended up playing for quite a while on my initial investment, even hitting a quad (I think it was in kings) for a nice, small win. I think I ended up ticketing out when I was around $15 or $20 up, at which point we decided to head over to the Aladdin.

After parking
in the Aladdin garage, we made the trek through the Desert Passage shops to the casino. As always, I was tempted to try something from the Gelato parlor that's located close to the entrance from the parking garage, but I was still full from the Gold Coast buffet, so I decided to pass this time. We all signed up for the Aladdin's players club, then we broke up for a while with plans to reconvene a little later. Being a Saturday night, I was expecting the Aladdin casino to be packed, and while it definitely was busy, I still thought there was plenty of room to move around and a wide variety of unoccupied machines. Another thing I love about the Aladdin is the high ceiling in the casino, which probably contributed to my sense of the Aladdin being open and with plenty of room to move around even on a busy night. What's more, I was just playing a few dollars here and there in the quarter slots, and I was happy that the machines actually gave me a little play for my money instead of sucking it all up immediately. All of these factors, combined with what are apparently very nice guest rooms, make me want to stay at the Aladdin sometime, so hopefully I'll be eligible for some promotional mailings an emails by signing up for the players club and putting a few points on my card. After a while, I ran into G&E at a Little Green Men video nickel machine. G was having some luck at the machine, so I stuck around and watched for a while. He ended up cashing out when he was around $20 up, and after he cashed in his ticked we headed back to the car and drove over to New York New York.

For my first trip to Vegas in 2002, my friend and I stayed at NY NY, and since I didn't get a chance to check it out again when I returned in 2003, I was looking forward to visiting the casino that I remember so much from my first Vegas trip. In addition, I had received a coupon for $10 in free machine play in a promotional mailer from NY NY, so I wanted to take advantage of that offer as well. The NY NY casino, being somewhat smaller than the Aladdin, seemed much more packed than the Aladdin, but I still made it through the player's club line fairly quickly and was off to redeem my $10 in free play. I spotted a small bank of 2-coin quarter Top Dollar machines, and since these are one of my favorite quarter slots, especially the 2-coin variety, I decided to try my luck at one of the machines. About 3 spins into my free play, I watched as Triple Diamond, double bar, Triple Diamond lined up on my payline. I can't remember exactly how much that win amounted to, as I don't recall the payout for a double bar across the line on those machines, but nonetheless it was a decent win for me. I played the machine for a little while longer, hit one or two Top Dollar rounds with small wins, and ended up cashing out around $40 or $50. After all of us met up again, G&E were ready to head back to their hotel, so we headed out to the car and they dropped me off at the Mirage.

I was in the mood for craps again, but I figured that being a Saturday night, I would have to do a bit of searching to find a $5 table. There was no question that I wouldn't find any $5 tables at the Mirage, so I headed across the street to Harrah's. All of the craps tables at Harrah's were set at $15, so I proceeded to walk through the very thick weekend crowds on the sidewalk down to the IP. I found a few open $5 craps tables at the IP, so I picked a table and bought in. Unfortunately, the table at the IP was ice cold, so my $40 buy-in disappeared fairly quickly. As I was leaving the IP, I decided to try a few dollars in the quarter Red, White, and Blue slots that are just to the left of the main entrance. These are 2-coin machines with top jackpots of 400 and 1,000 credits, so they caught my eye as I tend to go for machines that have smaller top jackpots. I ended up hitting three white 7s on one of the machines for a win of 150 credits. I played those machines a little more until I was down to around $30, at which point I cashed in my quarters. Certainly not a big win, but at least I made back most of what I had lost at the craps table. I headed back to the Mirage, walked around the casino for a bit, then went up to my room for the night.

Sunday, April 25th

I was up again at around 7:30, and after getting ready and bringing some McDonald's back up to the room for a quick bite to eat, I was ready to go. I was going to meet G&E around 11:00, so with the couple of hours I had before meeting them, I decided to walk down the strip to Bellagio, Paris, and Bally's. I only spent a few minutes in Paris during my last trip, and hadn't visited Bellagio or Bally's since my trip in 2002, so I just wanted to check out the casinos again and get a few exterior pictures in the process. My first stop was Bellagio, where the casino was surprisingly dead, but I guess that's probably typical for relatively early on a Sunday morning. After playing a few dollars through a quarter Top Dollar machine at the Bellagio, I checked out the Conservatory, then headed across the street to Paris. I put a few dollars into the quarter machines at Paris and actually got quite a bit of play from a Wild Cherry and Double Diamond machine, and then took the walkway over to Bally's where I played a Top Dollar machine for a while (EZ pay tickets printed on machines at Paris can be used in machines at Bally's, and vice versa). I played my credits down until I was even, then cashed in my ticket and started walking back toward the Mirage to meet up with G&E.

G&E were moving to the Hilton today, so after they picked me up we headed to the Hilton for check-in. They had made this two night reservation using a POV coupon for a $45/night room rate (the same offer, by the way, is available in the ACG). I helped carry their luggage up to the room, and all of us were impressed with the room quality, especially at the rate of $45/night. From the room we could see the Hilton's monorail station, and off in the distance was a nice view of the strip. We were going to meet G's sister for lunch at 1:00, and since we had some time to kill before heading out to meet her, we spent some time in the Hilton casino. I redeemed my ACG coupon for $10 in non-negotiable chips at the cage (it actually turned out to be a single $10 chip), and then I headed over to a $5 craps table and put my chip on the PL. I won the bet and was paid $10 in regular chips, but I was a little surprised that they took away my $10 non-negotiable chip. I certainly didn't make a big fuss about it, but I thought that non-negotiable chips could be played until they lost on a losing bet. I lost the $10 I had won from my initial bet fairly quickly, so then I headed over to the sports book and played a little VP.

After we regrouped at the Hilton, we headed out to meet G's sister for lunch at Blueberry Hill, a local restaurant chain. The serving size of everyone's meal was very generous, and the food was very good. G's sister wasn't able to join us for our casino hopping this afternoon, so after a nice leisurely lunch, G&E and I were on our way. We were heading toward Texas Station, but decided to first stop at Arizona Charlie's Decatur. G&E told mentioned that this Arizona Charlie's wasn't exactly the nicest locals casino in the vicinity, but we decided to check it out anyway. Plus, G and I had POV matchplays for the casino, so we stopped to check it out. While I wouldn't necessarily call it a dump, Az. Charlie's Decatur was definitely much more worn and smoky than most of the locals casinos we had visited previously. Even so, I won my blackjack matchplay and did fairly well at the blackjack table, so I left the casino up about $35.

We ended up spending a little over a half hour at Az. Charlies before deciding to head over to the much newer and cleaner Texas Station. On the way to Texas Station, G&E drove me by Siegfried & Roy's house and grounds. There wasn't too much visible, as the entire area is surrounded by walls and gates, but they do seem to have a large block of property at this location which is at the intersection of W. Vegas Dr. and N. Valley Dr. Anyway, once at Texas Station, G & I headed toward the tables since we realized that we had a $5 blackjack matchplay in the POV. I lost my matchplay, and after playing a few more hands I headed off to check out the machines. I was happy to find a small bank of four Multi-Game machines with video LIR, so I picked a machine and played LIR for a while. There were no big wins or losses to speak of, but at least I was able to play for a while on my initial investment of a few dollars, and in the end I think I cashed out of the video LIR about even, or maybe even up a few dollars.

After Texas Station, we decided to head a little farther north on Rancho Dr. and check out Santa Fe Station. Both G & I used our $5 POV blackjack matchplays, and after I lost mine, I went over to the player's club desk to inquire about WinCards, as I had heard that the promotion was available at Santa Fe Sation. I filled out the little card, then went over to the cage to pick up my $15 in non-negotiable chips for $10. I saw a single open spot at a $3 craps table, so I stepped up to play. The table was actually fairly warm for a while, but then is started cooling down. I left the table after losing all of my non-negotiable chips, and after figuring in what I had lost in blackjack a little earlier, I found myself up a few dollars.

In keeping with the Station casino theme of the day, we decided to head back toward the strip and check out Palace Station. Compared to the newer Station casinos we had just visited, I thought Palace Station was a bit of a disappointment. I found it to be a little more dingy and smoky compared to Texas and Santa Fe Stations, but I realize that Palace Station was the first of the Station casinos, so it's understandable. I played a few dollars through the quarter machines but didn't really have much luck here.

After what turned out to be a relatively quick stop at Palace Station, we headed toward the south strip to visit Mandalay Bay and the Luxor. I hadn't visited either of these properties since my trip in 2002, so I was looking forward to checking them out again. We parked in the MB parking garage, and after walking to the casino, we all went to the player's club desk and signed up for the One Club. We played the machines at MB for a while, then took the monorail up to the Luxor where we again hit the machines. As much as I like MB and the Luxor, I wasn't able to hit a thing on their machines this time, although G did get quite a bit of play on the penny and nickel machines at both MB and Luxor. As we were ready to catch the monorail back to MB, we thought that we would first have to ride up to the Excalibur in order to catch a ride back to MB, but to our surprise, a southbound monorail stopped at the Luxor and took us directly to MB. If I recall correctly, I think that originally, the southbound monorail didn't stop at the Luxor, so maybe they've changed the southbound route to stop at all three hotels.

When we made it back to MB, G&E decided that they were ready to head back to the Hilton, so we headed out to the car and they dropped me off at the Mirage. I was in the mood for craps, but before heading out to play I wanted to get a quick bite to eat, so I went across the street to the new Chipotle that's part of the McDonald's complex between Casino Royale and Harrah's, picked up some grub, then headed back to my room to eat and catch the late local news. After finishing my chicken burrito, I headed downstairs to check out the tables at the Mirage, but all of them were still $10 or $15 minimum, so I headed across the street to Harrah's where I found a $5 table with a few open spots. I ended up playing at the table for around 2 hours. The table was actually kind of streaky at times, but every now and then a shooter would get hot and keep everyone in the game. Occasionally I switched from betting PL with odds to placing the 6 and the 8, which was really nice when the 6 and 8 started showing up one right after the other. I was actually up a fair amount for a while, but since it was my last night in town I wanted to keep playing for a while. Eventually the table cooled down, at which point I decided to stop when I was about $20 down. After cashing in my chips, I headed back to the Mirage and, now around 1:30 AM, found a $5 craps table with a few open spots. I bought in for $20, but the table was pretty cold, so my $20 was gone fairly quickly. After walking around the casino for a bit, I headed up to the room and called it a night.

Monday, April 26th

Even though this was the last day of my trip, I still had a decent amount of time to spend in town since my flight didn't leave until 6:50 PM. I was up at around 7:15, and after getting showered and ready, I got everything together and packed all of my bags. G&E were going to pick me up at noon, at which point the plan was to drop off my luggage at their room at the Hilton, have lunch and go casino hopping for a few hours, then return to the Hilton to pick up my luggage and head to the airport.

After I had everything packed and ready to go, I had a few hours before checking out and meeting up with G&E, so I went over to Casino Royale to check out their craps games. Since it was still relatively early on a weekday, none of the full size craps tables were opened yet and the only game going was at the Crapshoot table, so I sat down at an empty seat and bought in. The table was fairly cold, so I didn't stick around for too long. After cashing in my remaining chips, I went over to Harrah's and spent some time just walking around the casino and looking around. Nothing was really calling my name at Harrah's, so I walked back to Casino Royale and saw that the full size craps tables had recently opened and were already starting to fill up. I was able to squeeze into an empty spot at the table right across from the bar and proceeded to buy in. At first, the table was fairly cold, and I had almost lost all of my buy in, but then the table slowly started to heat up a bit as the dice came around to my side of the table. When the dice came to me, I managed to put together a decent string of throws and made 3 or 4 points before sevening out. While I wasn't up for the session, at least I made back most of what I had lost at the table previously, so I ended up cashing out only a few dollars down. Seeing that it was almost 11:15, I went back to the Mirage for check out.

Back at the Mirage, I went up to my room, did a final look around to make sure I didn't leave anything behind, picked up my luggage, then headed down to the lobby to check out. Being about 15 minutes before the official check out time, there were lines at all of the check out windows, but they moved quickly and check out went smoothly. I then walked out to the shuttle stop for the last time this trip and waited for G&E who showed up a few minutes later. We drove to the Hilton, dropped off my luggage in their room, then headed out to Boulder Station for lunch.

We decided to try the Gourmet Feast Buffet at Boulder Station, and while it wasn't quite up to par with the buffets at the Coast properties or at GVR, the food was pretty good, and at $5.99 for lunch, was priced very reasonably. After eating, we split up in the casino, and I decided to play a while at a $3 craps table. One neat thing I noticed at Boulder Station is that they have a large LED counter display behind each table that displays the number of times a player has shot the dice before sevening out. The friendly boxman at the table explained to me that they have a promotion for Boarding Pass members in which each month, the player with the highest roll count wins a prize, so they always encourage players to present their Boarding Pass card so that their rolls can be tracked and registered in the system. Anyway, the sparsely populated table was fairly hot when I started playing, as the guy who was shooting when I stepped up ended up with something like 36 rolls before sevening out, but after he finished the table went cold, so I didn't stick around very long. I think I left the table down a few dollars, so after cashing in my chips, I went to meet up with G&E, at which point we decided to stop at Arizona Charlie's Boulder before heading back to the Mirage.

Arizona Charlie's Boulder was definitely much newer, nicer, and cleaner than AC Decatur which we visited on Sunday. G and I decided to buy in at a relatively deserted $2 craps game that had only one other player at the time. G actually held the dice for a while and made 3 passes before sevening out, and after I sevened out fairly quickly, we moved over to a $5 pitch blackjack table. The dealer, though very friendly, was probably new as her dealing was a little slow, but we stayed at the table anyway. I ended up re-investing my small winnings and buy in from the craps table, and after G played a few more hands, we decided that we should probably start heading back to the Hilton.

We made it back to the Hilton faster than expected, so we split up in the casino with plans to meet up again in 30 minutes. I headed over to the banks of quarter slots near the hotel lobby and was happy to find that they had a few 2-coin Wild Rose machines...this is another one of my favorite quarter slots that I saw only in one or two other casinos this trip. Thanks to frequent small wins, I was able to play these machines for quite a while on my initial investment of a few dollars, and I ended up cashing out about even. While on my way to meet up with G&E, I noticed a few nickel Top Dollar machines fairly close to the quarter machines I had been playing. I had never seen nickel Top Dollar machined before, so next time I'll have to give them a try.

After picking up my luggage from the room, we headed out to the airport. G&E dropped me off at terminal 2, we said our goodbyes (G&E were staying in Vegas until Saturday), and then I headed inside for check in. Lines were very short, so I made it through check in and security in less than 15 minutes. With plenty of time to kill before my flight, I decided to try out one of the Double Diamond machines in the terminal, so I put $3 into the machine. I wasn't expecting much, as the airport slots are notoriously tight, but to my surprise, I watched as DD, triple bar, DD lined up on the payline. Granted, it wasn't a jackpot, but a 160 quarter win at the airport was definitely a pleasant surprise. I played the machine a little more, then cashed out with a nice $35 win...the perfect end to a Las Vegas vacation!

As my plane taxied to the runway and took off, I had a very clear, almost bittersweet view of the strip from my window seat. It was certainly difficult watching the strip slowly vanish in the distance, but I know that there will definitely be more trips in the future. Aside from some light turbulence now and then, the flight home was smooth and on time, arriving just a few minutes after midnight.

A few final thoughts...

While I absolutely love staying and playing on the strip, it was nice to hit quite a few of the off-strip casinos this time. While the off-strip, locals oriented casinos aren't as big as the large strip properties, many of them are not only as classy, clean, and well-maintained as the larger strip properties, but also offer lower table limits and better dining values.

Coupon books like the ACG and POV are excellent resources for Vegas travelers and can easily pay for themselves many times over, especially if you're going to be hitting a number of off-strip casinos. Contrary to what my TR may seem to indicate, we actually didn't plan our casino visits around hitting only the properties for which we had coupons or matchplays. It just so happened that the ACG and POV had coupons for many of the casinos that we were going to be visiting anyway. Also, the WinCards '$15 for $10' promotion that I took advantage of at the Fiesta Henderson and Santa Fe Station is a great offer. I'm not sure how often one can take advantage of the offer at each casino, as I've heard that there's some variance on how frequently player's club members can take advantage of the offer. In addition to Fiesta Henderson and Santa Fe Station, the WinCards promotion apparently is available at the player's club desk at the following properties: Circus Circus, Excalibur, the Cannery, Four Queens, Fiesta Rancho, and Boulder, Sunset, and Texas Stations. If you don't see any signage regarding the offer, just ask about it.

As I alluded to earlier, I'm 23 years old, and a young looking 23 year old at that, so I was carded numerous times in about every casino I visited. I understand that casinos have to play it safe and be on the lookout for underage gamblers, so I have no problem presenting my ID, but it would be nice if more properties offered some kind of identification...a hand stamp or wristband...for younger looking patrons whose age has been verified. Throughout the entire trip, Harrah's was the only casino that offered me a wristband. Again, I have no problem presenting my ID to prove that I'm over 21, but I was actually a little concerned about losing my driver's license somewhere since I was constantly taking it in and out of my wallet.

Finally, this was the first time that I spent a weekend in Las Vegas, and while sidewalk traffic on the strip was very heavy and some of the smaller casinos were packed, there was still plenty of space to play and move around if you hit the right places. Even on Saturday night, I thought there was plenty of room to play and move around at the Aladdin, and I found plenty of $5 craps at the IP, which I'm sure would have also been the case at some of the other older strip properties. While the slower weekdays in Vegas are better in some respects, I think there's an added degree of excitement and energy in Vegas on the weekends when the sidewalks and casinos are bustling and packed with visitors.

Well, that's it for this trip report, and if you've read up to this point, you definitely deserve some type of award, as I realize that this has been a very lengthy TR. Unfortunately, I don't have any future Vegas trips planned right now, but at least Caesars and the other Indiana riverboats are only about two hours away when I get the itch to play, and there's no doubt that I'll be back in Vegas sooner or later.