Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

It's that time of year, and normally I don't make resolutions, save for 'eat more vegetables.' And, despite what they believe in the South, Macaroni and Cheese is NOT a vegetable.

But 2007 was a doozy for me -- a time of great change, and great loss. And yes, I mean slot losses.

So, I will resolve to eat more vegetables, and play less.

Thankfully, I can get my veggies free at the buffet, but of course that means walking into a casino.

It won't be easy. Nary a day goes by that I don't play the slots. It's become a habit, but rules and habits were made to be broken. As my habit has left me broke, it's time to turn the tables.

Of course I have three more days to indulge.

The Final Indignity -- Another F*cked up Bud

Someone up there is trying to send me a message. Last night, yet AGAIN, a cocktail waitress at Red Rock refused to serve me a Bud, a Budweiser beer, the most common and simplest of all Beverage choices.

To make matters worse, I was dying for a drink. Here's how it all went down. I visited the Bellagio to take in the Conservatory, which was sort of a disappointment, as it seemed sort of slapped together from former Holiday installations. I lost a few bucks playing some Bally games I hadn't seen before, I believe one was called "Cashin' In" and the other had a Scottish theme. I never got a drink, but the night was young.

Then I headed down the strip -- the Frontier is nearly gone, with only the front tower (about 6 stories) and the sign still standing. It is weird to see the vast expanse of darkness where the Frontier and the Stardust once stood, though cranes are now rising from the Stardust property.

I went to Circus Circus to play the WMS "King Midas" machine. I tried to stay calm in the sea of families and children, and was proud of myself for maintaining my composure. I got ahead on King Midas, but then foolishly put my winnings back and lost $40 more. I played for about an hour and never got a drink.

Next stop was Binion's to play my free play. I again tried a Bally's game "Samurai Something or Other" -- it's not really called that, but you get the picture. I was proud to leave with $15 in hand, but still no drink. I walked over to the California where I parked, but decided to check out one of my favorite casinos for it's buffet and decor -- Main Street Station. Unfortunately, no new games over there, still I put $5 in a "Hot Hot Jackpot" and left again, stone cold sober.

So I made the long drive up Alta to Red Rock Casino as the Jumbo Jackpot was in the $147,000 range and at the very least a free cheeseburger awaited me there. I sat down at WMS' "Pay Dirt" machine and was down $15 before I finally flagged down a waitress. I smiled sweetly, gave her my order, and even watched her write it down. At this point I was dying of thirst and hungry to boot.

The waitress finally returned with a very full tray and walked right by me. After she served a couple across from me, I got her attention (of course I had my tip ready and in full view) and asked for my Budweiser. She looked at her tray, said "Nope, No Buds, only Bud Lights -- sorry I'll bring it next time." I should have killed her right then and there. I certainly felt like it.

It's a conspiracy, plain and simple . . . I'm not sure if it includes the cocktail waitresses (or perhaps they are just as dumb as they look), the bartenders, Red Rock management, Stations Casinos and God, but truly, truly I am being targetted.

I got up controlling my anger and headed into the cafe for a cheeseburger and a Budweiser, I had to pay for the beer, but at least the meal was free.

As soon as I left, of course, the Jumbo Jackpot hit.

From now on, I'm ordering Champagne.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No FIRM Soft Opening for Palazzo, Crikey!

The Review-Journal chimed in on the delays for the opening of Palazzo today -- apparently the management won't commit to a firm soft opening date. I got a kick out of that. Jay Z's 40/40 club is slated to open Sunday night, December 30th though.

I feel a trip to the strip coming on. Many folks who live in Las Vegas NEVER go to the strip, and they are proud of it. Not me, at least not yet. Granted I don't play much there, not so much because I'm unlucky, I'm unlucky everywhere, it's more on principal of the comps, or lack thereof. Like DeNiro as Lefty Rosenthal says in the movie "Casino" -- That's the truth about Las Vegas, it's all designed to get your money, the players don't stand a chance.

So I'll check out the conservatory at the Bellagio, cruise by to see the wreckage that once was the New Frontier, and stop by Circus Circus to play the one slot machine I like -- King Midas.
"King Midas" is an older WMS machine in the "Treasure Tales" Series. It has quite a few bonus rounds, and special features -- I've played this particular machine at Circus Circus (the ONLY machine I have found in Las Vegas) three times now and I haven't lost yet.

I'll probably head downtown to play my $15 free play at Binion's -- and if the mood strikes swing by Red Rock for a free burger.

Well, if I'm going to do all that, I best be going. One thing though, is sticking in my craw -- those damn "Lightning Box" games by IGT.

My google search for Lightning Box Slot Machines turned up nothing, but my Super Happy Fortune Cat was useful. Here is a link to a journal that describes the experience of watching someone else play the machines - It's a long entry, so if you don't want the complete rundown of this person's Vegas trip scroll down to the Fortune Cat logo. They include a link to the IGT site -- I should have know from the "Crikey!" that these games were made in Australia -- perhaps James Packer has something to do with it.

Sometimes I forget that there is a world of slot machines and casinos out there. Something designed for a particular market might filter into another. I've never been to Macau or down under, or South Africa, or Dubai (do they gamble in Dubai?) but it holds true that fools are abundant the world over.

This fool is just trying to live a little before she dies, which leads me to the subject of New Years' Eve . . . perhaps I'll address that tomorrow.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Just When the Heck Will the Palazzo Open?

The Palazzo is a much bally-hooed addition to the Venetian that is slated to open very soon. Well, actually from earlier reports it should already be open. But that's the "soft opening" mind you, which could have been December 20th, or December 28th, but now it is anyone's guess between now and the official opening of January 17th.

At one point, the website was taking room reservations beginning December 28th which would have been nice for New Years' Eve revelers. Apparently those reservations were shifted to the Venetian, as the workers still labor on the Palazzo.

I went by the joint from December 5th - 16th as I took in the NFR Rodeo and it's Country Christmas retail trade show at the Sands' convention facility. I could have told you then there was no way the doors would open before January 1st.

There is something exciting though, about seeing the final touches applied to yet another overblown temple to greed.

In fact now, this slot jockey is rather chomping at the bit to see the interior, and if it has anything to offer me. It's sister property the Venetian has a simply awful slot selection, and there is little chance of winning anything there, or even breaking even. I have no trouble walking right through the casino to get to my destination.

The Palazzo will feature a float in this year's Rose Parade, and that is a first for a Vegas casino.

It would be nice if it would enter a float in Las Vegas' wild and woolly Helldorado parade, a tradition that all the casinos have abandoned. In days of yore, Vegas casinos would compete for bragging rights, and dazzle the crowds with their creations. Just check out all the slides the UNLV research library has of the floats (sorry, they don't link to the actual pictures). Here is a link to the info about Helldorado Days from the Elks website. Unfortunately, I doubt Helldorado Days and the parade will ever return to it's glory days, it was cancelled in the late 1990's until brought back for the Las Vegas Centennial in 2005.

I'll give you the latest on the Palazzo when I get it, and will check it out at first opportunity. My expectations are low, but you never know . . .

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas at the Casino, or More Reasons to Hate Red Rock

I was sucked in by yet another deceptive Red Rock Casino marketing ploy today, and ended up stomping out of the casino again. Merry F*cking Christmas.

It looked to me from the mailer that I would receive free play today, but alas as is most of the Stations Casino promotions -- they are hardly ever what they seem.

So I had no free play, and the first machine I tried had sticky buttons, on the verge of malfunctioning. A couple of lumps were sitting at the machines I wanted to play, they weren't playing them mind you, just resting their bones, and they never left for the duration of my stay.

I tried some really crappy *new* IGT machines, and they were awful. IGT machines are getting worse and worse, and I can't win on them to save my life. I played "Super Happy Fortune Cat" and "Radar Riches" -- both machines are a venture between IGT and a company named "Lightning Box" presumably from Japan judging by the moronic messages that pop up when you have scored. Stuff like "Laughing Duck" ???!!! and "Crikey" and "Howzat" signify a win. I have no idea who they are designing these machines for, but they certainly insult my intelligence.

So I keep losing, and to top it off I can't get a drink. When I finally do flag down a cocktail waitress, she takes forever to return and then get this -- she says "Budweiser?" and hands me a COORS LIGHT! I say "No, I said Budweiser" and hand the offending beer back to her. Naturally, she doesn't have a Budweiser, or even a friggin' Bud Light on her tray. She says "Oh, I couldn't get that" in her thick Russian-like accent, like the bar guy wasn't handing out Anheiser- Busch products today. She says she will return with it, and I say forget it, I'm leaving. That after losing more than $50 in a stupid IGT "Wolf Run" machine waiting for my drink.

Come the New Year, I may not be gambling at all -- or if I do it will be strictly on free play. That is how bad my luck, and my treatment at most casinos in town has been.

Harrah's Finally Private, Who Cares?

So the big news is Harrah's has finally gone private, the deal getting it's last approvals. Now they are free to rape and pillage their customers and the Vegas Strip without the prying eyes of the New York stock exchange.

But really, what's new and who cares? In a Las Vegas Sun article entitled "Harrah's can chase high rollers or stay mid market -- Executives face tough choice but have new owners' backing" Liz Benston gives us the rundown.

It is a well written story about a company in transition, with plenty of background on the Private Equity firms that are now holding the reins. I read the whole darn thing, and suggest you do the same. Then we can all put our two cents in on what Harrah's will do. Of course, they're private now, so they don't have to tell us. It's any body's guess.

One thing that seems fairly concrete is the expansion to Caesars Palace, the most overly expanded casino resort in history. I miss the days when you could see four decades of design in the properties many different facades. Now it is a fairly congruous 1990's Roman theme light. The funny thing is, if they had just kept part of the 1960's modern grating they'd fit right in with Vegas' modern cum slightly mid century retro design craze going on right now. But that's always the way, just when you destroy it, it comes right back in spades.

What does all this mean for the slot jockey? Personally I stopped playing at Harrah's as soon as I became a local. The slot selection is poor, the machines are tight, and the comps tighter. However when I travelled to Vegas I was known to stay at Harrah's properties when the price was right. I fit into the mid-level market scenario and even stayed at Caesars once on a December deal, doing my Christmas shopping in the Forum shops.

I really don't give a rat's ass if Harrah's revamps their East Strip properties or not. They've stripped Imperial Palace of it's Slot Club, and I'm pretty pissed off about it. They can do as they please, but it won't be on my nickel. I'm through with Harrah's. There you have it Gary Loveman -- put that in your privatized pipe and smoke it.

Red Rock's Ham Scam

On Sunday, Red Rock Casino had a Hormel Spiral Ham giveaway. This proved to be another heartwrenching exercise in futility for me, not as disappointing as the disastrous Robe giveaway, but frustrating as hell none the less.

The rules seemed simple -- earn 1,000 points and pick up a ham. I learned from the Robe debacle to start the process early, lest they run out of hams the second I earn my 1,000th point.

When I entered the casino around 3:00p.m. and sat down at my first slot machine, I made a note of my points. I had 17, 472 to be exact. When the counter on the slot machine reached 18,472 I could run over to the redemption desk and grab my ham.

A few hours later I had 18,630 points. I'm not sure how I ran over, I must have been sucked in by the "Love Boat's" spell.

I hurried over to the ham desk and was delighted to see many hams waiting. Finally, the coveted Christmas pork would be mine!

I handed the attendant my card to swipe, and she told me with a look of derision that I hadn't earned enough points. I couldn't believe it. I told her I most certainly HAD earned 1,000 points, and what was the deal? She gave me the standard 'I just work here and I hate it look', swiped my card again and said I had only earned 386 points.

I was crushed, and angry. Much like the horrible day Red Rock ran out of robes, I marched over to the slot club booth for an explanation.

I got the same closed response there -- by their accounts I had only earned 386 points, and no explanation as to why the slot machines showed I had earned over 1,000 was given. I asked if multipliers could factor into the discrepancy and got no answer there as well. The guy simply handed me back my card with the same 'I just work here and hate it look', mixed with a little 'you can't fight city hall or Stations Casinos.' I said 'I am so done with this place' and stomped out.

I don't even like ham.

The moral of the story is -- besides God and Stations Casinos hate me -- never, ever play for a point based "freebie". It's all rigged against you, and as usual the house always wins.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Slot Machine Hygiene -- Cold and Flu Season Hits the Casino

Well, I didn't get a flu shot this year . . . and I've picked up my first virus of the season. It's not so bad, really . . . just a sore throat resulting in a whiskey tenor. Do I think I picked it up from a slot machine? Absolutely.

You see, casinos are a veritable hot bed of infection. Certainly you've heard the stories of the germs lurking in hotel rooms, and the nasty Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships. I bet you've even been grossed out at the Buffet, especially on king crab night, watching people lick their gluttonous chops and fingers and then return again and again to handle the serving tools. How often do you ponder the cleanliness of your slot machine? If you're like me, often.

I'm a pretty consistent hand washer to begin with, not compulsive, but thorough. I probably wash my hands five to ten times a day, depending on what I'm doing, and where I've been. Granted I'm not phobic like Howard Hughes, just cautious.

In the summer I developed a mysterious rash in the webs of my fingers, and palms of my hands. It was barely noticeable, but present none the same, and I had no idea what it could be. One evening I was watching the news, and a short story grabbed my attention. An outbreak of SCABIES was being linked to more International travelers in casinos, and the popularity of slot machines! I never found an internet link to this story, but as I live alone with little or no contact with other people, I believed my slot habit to be the culprit.

I began to really ponder slot machine hygiene, and began to look for way to disinfect the surfaces I touched so frequently.

I thought about the towelettes that used to be so prevelant when slot machines coughed out real coins. They could be found here and there, and I found the company that makes them online. Mostly now, you will find the generic looking "Winners" towelettes made by Sanfacon Mills -- but back in the day every casino had customized designs. It's not really clear what is in the towelette to combat germs, although some appear to have alcohol as an ingredient.

I waited for the Global Gaming Expo to find a suitable product, and I wasn't disappointed. A company named Germstar appears to have a system that would work well on the casino floor. The representative told me that mostly they are being used in the back of the house and are finding their way into the dealer pits, but casinos have been reluctant to make them available to the players. The active ingredient is rubbing alcohol, and I was given a couple of sample bottles of the citrus scented spray.

I began to look around casinos in Vegas and did spot a few of the units in place in the pits. I also found a couple in the Women's bathroom in the Star Trek casino at the Hilton.

I must admit, I have not been carrying around my spray bottle in my purse, falling on my old habits. I suppose I feel my hand washing is enough, after all, I do visit the restrooms at least once or twice in a slot session and wash up thoroughly there.

I do wonder how effective the folks that clean the slots are, with their rags and such. Do they wipe down the slots with a different rag than the area between them? Are they really just spreading more germs around? I've never really watched the process close enough to guess.

The good news is my scabies cleared up, and in time my cold will too. But if you ever meet me, and refrain from shaking my hand, I completely understand.

Bally Reverses Losses for Shareholders, Players Still Lose

Yesterday the Review Journal ran a story entitled "Bally Technology Reverses Quarterly Losses" -- apparently Bally is selling slot machines and making up with their shareholders.

"The company credited increased game sales for the quarterly earnings jump. Bally sold 5,151 games in the quarter, compared with 3,427 slot machines in the same period a year ago. Those games also came with a higher average price; $13,275 per game compared with $12,011 last year. "We are very pleased with our continued improvement in both business momentum and margins in all the key parts of our business," Bally Chief Executive Officer Richard Haddrill said."

I've never been a fan of Bally slot machines, but they are on the floor, and I have played them.
Here is a link to their website

My favorite part of the Bally's booth at G2E were the bright shiny red shopping bags they were giving away. I showed little interest in their slot machines, and couldn't even tell you about their new offerings.

Their old offerings I know plenty about. I was sucked into the S&W Green Stamp machines but could never come out ahead with them. I've played "Hot Shot", and even tried "Golden Monkey", in fact I've probably tried all their games at one point or another.

One thing I will say I like about the Bally games is their large screens -- perfect for an aging slot jockey whose eyesight isn't what it used to be.

I did learn something new from the Bally's website, and that is that they appear to rule the gaming market in Washington state, and many IGT and WMS machines appear in that repetouire that they control.

Of course, I can't really speak of Bally's without delving into their long and storied past - here is the Wikipedia entry that covers that -

So, it would make sense that Bally's would rebound, as they have plenty of times before. Unfortunately, as a slot jockey, I have not been so lucky on their machines. To make matters worse, I find their machines simplistic and rather boring.

For a slot machine pioneer such as Bally's trailing the pack won't keep a large number of their machines on the floor, and I predict their stock to be (to borrow the industry term) "volatile".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Slot Jockey Etiquette

I'm constantly amazed by the manners and lack thereof of my fellow slotplayers.

I understand that casinos are stressful environments and players last nerves are continually being worked.

Still, they are public places, and a code of behavior should be observed.

Last night I encountered all sorts of slot players' dos and don'ts --

DO -- Ask politely if a machine is being played before sitting down between two people, especially if they are having a conversation.

DON'T -- Play two machines, and become indignant if someone tries to sit down at one of them.

DO -- Adjust the volume on your machine at a comfortable level if someone is sitting next to you.

DON'T -- Sit right down next to someone who is not smoking, and light up like you own the joint, before asking politely if they mind if you smoke.

DO -- Decline from smoking, or move to another area if they are bothered -- they were there first.

DO -- Try to have change ($1 bills) for your cocktail waitress, and have the tip ready when she returns.

DON'T -- Swear out loud and bang on your machine, unless you are in an uncrowded area, or you have cleared your behavior with your neighbors. Most slot players understand the frustration factor and will overlook your outbursts, but keep the mood as light as possible.

DON'T -- Ask your neighbor to "watch" your machine for you while you take a bathroom or ATM break. They may want to leave their machine while you are away.

DO -- If you need to leave but want to reserve your machine, ticket out your balance, and tip your chair onto the machine -- the slot player's universal code for "I'll be back."

I'll add to this list as the need arises, but for now, remember to mind your manners.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Advent of Video Gaming Style Slots

The Las Vegas Sun had an interesting article today entitled "Slots for a new generation --
Video-game enthusiasts seen as customers for slots that ultimately might reward skillful play."

As I've become increasingly bored with the slots on the casino floors, I welcome any progression toward "fully-interactive" games.

I've played Bally's "Pong" game, and it is as primitive as it's namesake. The skill-based feature bonus round only awards an extra 15 (or maybe 25 -- I can't quite remember) credits for winning the ping-pong game with the slot machine. The Atari logo random bonus, with mystery wilds, pays much better. Even though this machine hasn't held my attention, or that of the slot going public (judging from the empty seats), it is a step in the right direction. I even think the Atari Pong concept/theme was a wise choice to broach the bridge between video games and video slots.

I am eagerly awaiting Williams' Clint Eastwood "Dirty Harry" machines, with their video game- style wild ride through the streets of San Francisco. I was happy the FedEx guy left WMS' latest catalog on my doorstep yesterday, but was disappointed to see that the "Dirty Harry" machines were not listed. I got the impression at the Global Gaming Expo that these machines were part of the "Sensory Immersion" line and would soon join "Top Gun" and the "Wizard of Oz" on the floor.

The WMS catalog did give me hope that "Money Burst", "Rotating Wild" and "Spinning Streak" games may be available, and headed to a casino near me. As I've mentioned before I'm about played out on the current crop of machines, and can't wait for new ways to lose (um, I mean wager) my money.

My guess is that skill-based gaming of the future won't be any more skill-based than say, video poker. Casinos are masters at cashing in on the gap between perception and reality, and the slot machines will always reflect that. In short, you may think you have a chance to win, but you are really just paying dearly for the dream.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Guaranteed Play Not Catching On, but Still Being Crammed Down Our Throats

Yesterday I read an article in the Las Vegas Review Journal about the "Guaranteed Play" machines not performing as expected, due to the slot playing public being leery of the whole concept.

For the life of me, today I can't find a link to the article -- perhaps it has been removed from the website -- but trust me, it was there, and I'm not just writing this as a "I told you so!" moment.

The article did say that IGT and Stations Casinos were not giving up on the machines, and would boldly press forward with the concept. They compared it to the TITO (ticket in, ticket out) technology which was slow to be trusted. I find this comparison highly amusing, as slot players warmed to the TITO machines as soon as they realized they didn't have to tote heavy buckets of coins around -- for me that took about two minutes.

In a related issue Doc Schwartz over at reports on a crew of wiley insiders who figured a way to rip-off their employers through a ticket slot scheme. It seems fairly sophisticated and lucrative, and I have to applaud the skimmers ingenuity. Schwartz goes on to question the stated figure of casinos' skim loss of 6% -- it does seem extremely high in the light that corporate gaming nickel and dimes every aspect of their industry.

At any rate, "Guaranteed Play" is no TITO, and IGT and Stations is fooling themselves if they think they can cram an unpopular slot concept down a slot jockey's throat. They can lead our horses to water, but they can't make us drink.

Cannery Casinos Bought by Aussie Whale James Packer

This news came out of nowhere -- Cannery Casinos is being purchased by notorious Australian whale and Casino Operator James (son of late Kerry) Packer. Another American Casino lost to a damn foreigner. There I said it. This really stinks, but apparently Packer's money doesn't.

Sure Packer has long had his sights on Vegas, and American gaming -- he is buying into the Crown project, and working on the Fountainebleau -- but the Cannery deal is a shocker to me.,25197,22916178-2702,00.html

So us lowly locals see another Casino swallowed by a foreign corporation.

I've already stopped playing at the Rampart, run by Cannery -- I couldn't win or break even there to save my life, their slot selection sucks, and they quit sending me my free play and buffet. The namesake Cannery Casino is larger and more loser friendly with their promotions, but their location in North Vegas makes it too far for me to travel for 5X play.

This week I've found my playing options severely limited, what with the Imperial Palace finally being swallowed by Harrah's and now this news of Cannery Casinos being bought by Packer putting the final nail in their coffin.

It is becoming harder and harder for me to play everyday. It seems I've hit that point, where the corporate casinos have finally killed the golden goose. This slot jockey may have to hang up my silver spurs, and watch a movie tonight.

A Sad Day Indeed - IP Changes to Harrah's Total Rewards

I used to love Imperial Palace on the Strip in Las Vegas. When I was living out of state, they used to send me the most incredible deals -- cheap rooms, plus a fun book that had two free buffets, and four free drinks, along with match play, tournament play, freebies to the IP Car Collection, and drawing tickets.

Sure the hotel was old, with a layout so convoluted that I still hadn't quite figured it out after staying there probably 20 times, the elevators were slow, and the beds had no blankets -- but the comps were generous, the food was edible, and most importantly, the slots were relatively loose for the Strip.

And of course, you couldn't beat the location, right across from Caesars and within walking distance of 80% of the major resort casinos in Las Vegas.

Imperial Palace was a budget minded gambler's dream. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and for me, yesterday it did. I was on the strip with an hour to kill before rush hour calmed down, and decided to check in with my old friend.

I sat down at a machine as a waitress was walking by and ordered a beer. The machine would not take my player's card, and kept saying "Reinsert Card." I reinserted my card over and over, but to no avail. I tried another machine, and another with no luck. The waitress walked right by me with my beer, and I became increasingly frustrated. I had about $4 in comps from previous play, which could have gotten me a slice of pizza or a burger upstairs, but I knew something was terribly wrong, and I would have to visit the player's club. I grabbed my stray beer at the bar, and headed on over to the desk. That's when the bad news hit me like a ton of bricks -- I was told the IP cards were obsolete, and had been switched over to Harrah's Total Rewards.

I knew this day was coming eventually, as Harrah's has owned Imperial Palace for about a year, but I had missed the memo. I was told the switch occurred about a week ago. I was crushed -- I absolutely hate Harrah's Total Rewards, which should be called Harrah's Total Ripoff.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

An Icon Gone but Not Forgotten, Evel Knievel and his Slots

The guy who never said die, finally did.

If you looked up Icon in the dictionary you might see a picture of Evel. I'm reminded of the "What Becomes a Legend Most?" ad campaigns for Blackglama mink from the 1970's. I don't think Mr. Knievel ever draped ranch raised dead animal skins over his red white and blue leather get-up, but it would have made perfect sense. Evel was certainly a legend, in fact the English language could use a few more words to pin on the daredevil. He was completely original, and certainly invented himself. In a time when the U.S.A. was taking a beating, Evel came back time and time again after knocking on death's door. He was a hero, a flesh, blood, and bone man who refused to give up.

I once stood for hours in the cold of a downtown Vegas winter night to get Evel's autograph. It was only a few years ago, and they were taping the promos for "American Gladiators" if I remember correctly. I'm not one to be starstruck or collect autographs, but Evel was special.

He had his own slot machine, and it that doesn't make you an icon, well I don't know what does.

Here are few links you might enjoy. I haven't been able to find any Evel slots to play this week, but if I do, I'll slip in a $20 and revel in the voice of an American Master.

More Good News/Bad News for Server Based Gaming

It seems the casino slot honchos were getting mixed messages about the beauty of Server Based gaming at G2E last month, as this Review-Journal article entitled "Flashier slots revel in their day at G2E, but patrons will have to wait for games" states.

Server Based gaming was touted as everything from an enhanced experience for the player to a real revenue God-send, but the most important questions regarding time and money essentially went unanswered.

So the good news is Server Based gaming is still a ways away, and the bad news is new slots will be slow to debut on the casino floor.

Of course, the casino operators are much more concerned with revenue per square foot, than "enhancing the player experience", which I suppose is a euphenism for new ways to fleece old sheep.

I'm personally becoming so bored with the current slot selections, and the reality of always LOSING, that it becomes more work than play for me to hang out in a casino. I've crossed so many casinos off my list, and have even been ignoring $10 free slot play in some cases. It is going to take a free buffet, free play, AND new machines to get me in the door.

So, my word to the operators is -- let Server Based machines develop in their own sweet time, but please, please get the new slots that are available, like Williams "Dirty Harry," "Money Burst," and "Rotating Wilds" on the floor.

Oxygen Tanks and Smoke Filled Casinos Dangerous Mix

Well, here is a horrifying bit of local news filled with graphic detail -- "Man, woman seriously burned in fire -- Cigarette sparks oxygen tank blaze; clothes melt to his body"

Just like that proverbial wreck, you have to look.

It seems oxygen tanks and cigarette smoking are a very dangerous mix indeed. Which leads me to question the safety on a casino floor when the two are in close proximity. I usually see at least two or three people with oxygen tanks every time I enter a casino, and naturally I encounter hundreds of people smoking.

This link from the New Jersey Health Department entitled "Hazards of portable oxygen equipment in smoking-permitted areas" certainly supports the theory

What it doesn't do is list any circumstances where fires broke out in casinos injuring patrons. It does list incidents of home fires, but perhaps the risk to the public isn't so great.

Maybe cigarette smoking slot players are not as rude as I generally hold them to be, giving oxygen tanks a wide berth.

I personally have yet to see a non-smoking slot area in Las Vegas, though I believe they exist elsewhere in the country.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Harolds Club Pioneered Slots, Ads, Working Women and Giving Back

Legendary Harolds Club of Reno has been gone for over 10 years now, but the innovations established by the casino and the family that ran it, have flourished the world over.

A must read for the gambler is "I Want to Quit Winners" by Harold S. Smith. Here is a link to a website that covers the demise of the Nevada Club in Reno, and if you scroll down you will see Harold's book listed as well.

My favorite link on the history of Harolds Club is this one from

The Smith family were pioneers in many respects -- from elevating slot machines to their place of status beside table games, to hiring female dealers, to innovative and humorous ad campaigns, to giving back to the community -- their unique character and foresight broke the rules, and changed the complexion of gambling.

If ever I had my own casino, it would be a modernized version of Harolds. I would love to see Binion's in downtown Vegas take a step back in time, add more rustic western themes, and recreate a page out of history.

I pine for the way things were -- the wild west in modern splendor, to borrow the catchphrase of the Last Frontier.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday puts me in the Pink!

This year's traditional kick-off to the Christmas (er, um , for you PC types -- HOLIDAY) retail season seemed especially crazed.

Some stores were opening at 4a.m., while some decided to stay open ALL night, slashing prices at midnight on Thanksgiving. Yes, I know Las Vegas is touted as a 24 hour town, but this is just plain ridiculous. You see, I used to work retail -- and I think I can guarantee that no stockers, salesclerks, or cashiers were thrilled with these hours.

Still, it made for good press and promotion, and it appears to have worked in getting shoppers in the stores. I'm pretty certain a recession still looms ahead (Thank God gambling is recession-proof,) but on Black Friday 2007 retail mania was on full display.

I joined the throngs in dutifully pouring over my sale flyers and nailing down a plan of attack. I was tempted by the flat screen TVs and digital cameras (so that I can give you some visuals with this blog,) but as these items are usually "while supplies last" I cast my attention on one simple plentiful item -- a pink plush robe to replace my freebie so drastically lost at Red Rock.

Luckily, my object of desire was on sale at Kohl's until 1p.m. I rolled out of bed around 11:30 a.m. grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to the store a couple of blocks away. The parking lot was almost completely full, but I don't mind walking, so I snagged a spot in the back and headed on inside. I couldn't believe how crowded the store was, and when I tried to determine the length of the checkout line I was in shock. It stretched around half the store, running into a second line that stretched around the other half. I was pleased to see that the pink plush robe met my expectations and there were plenty, but then I had a decision to make. Was it really worthwhile standing for perhaps up to an hour in line to save a couple of bucks?

I had nothing better to do for a few hours, and it is getting colder by the day, and the robe is very soft and on sale for $18.99 -- oh what the hell, it's the holidays -- one long line won't hurt.

I sort of went into a zombie like mode as I inched forward along with the other shoppers. It wasn't so bad, I was out of the store by 12:55p.m. and didn't have to suffer the fate of my bargain expiring while I was in line.

I love my pink plush robe, and am wearing it as I write this. I'm pretty bound and determined not to turn on the heat until at least December 1st, even if it is now dipping into the 30's at night. Anyone who thinks Vegas is warm and dry year 'round has not been here for Monsoon Season and the snow flurries.

To sum it up, Black Friday put me in the pink, and I look forward to all this season has to offer.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Let Us Give Thanks for Free Buffets and Giveaways

I have a saying that I reserve for a word of scarcastic consolation in those trying times when the slot machines have their evil way with my wallet. It goes a little something like this -- "Well, you can't lose ALL the time!"

It reminds me of the scene in the movie "Casino" when the slot manager Don Ward (played with aplomb by Joe Bob Briggs) is getting bitched out by DeNiro's Ace Rothstein (based on legendary Lefty Rosenthal) for letting three jackpots hit in close succession. The exchange goes something like this (I'm paraphrasing) -- Ace - "Did you not see you were being set up on the third win?!"
Don - "It's a casino, people got to WIN sometimes!"

Yes, indeedy! People got to WIN sometimes!

And so, on this day set aside to eat and give thanks, I will set my table with my promotional casino turkey platter, tureen, and pumpkin gravy boat, cut my free pumpkin pie, reminisce about my free buffet last night and it's bounty of offerings, and give sincere thanks for all that is good in life.

After all, people got to win sometimes, and last night I did. I had turkey with all the trimmings, and even some duck and fried shrimp (I just have to have fried something at the buffet) all for free, paying with my points at Red Rock. If I had been playing instead of eating I would have even scored $50 free play when the Jumbo Jackpot hit! Come to think about it, the night before I came out slightly ahead and scored a free apple pie. So everynow and again there IS such a thing as a free lunch, and a free pie. God Bless Las Vegas!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

IGT's New Slot Offerings from the Expo

I'm still perusing the stacks of brochures and magazines I picked up from last weeks Global Gaming Expo.

The big news from IGT (other than server based gaming, and guaranteed play) seems to be the eBay themed machine, Indiana Jones, a new Star Wars, and a space saving version of the Wheel of Fortune UFO.

The eBay bank certainly took up the most space in their booth, and was eye catching in it's graphic simplicity and primary color palette that is the eBay logo. In a world of bells and whistles, the message here seems to be "less is more." Unfortunately, they followed that theme to a logical end, and made the game itself, well, rather boring.

As someone who spends a lot of time on eBay, I have to say the online auction virtual marketplace is anything BUT boring. The auction concept brings instant and constant excitement, an aspect the eBay slot machine game designers seemed to have missed entirely. There is no auction bonus round in this machine, one where your credits increase as eBayers bid up your items.

There is a community bonus -- which is essentially a "Group Play Free Spins Bonus" with wilds and scatter pays.

IGT describes the allure of this machine thusly: "There's instant brand recognition and an "I HAVE to play THAT game!" reaction when players see the eBay Video Slots game."
I'm not sure this is true, but the five machine bank is big, and if bigger is better, I will say the new machine is hard to ignore. I just think the game itself is a huge let-down.

On the subject of size, IGT has made it's giant UFO looking round Wheel of Fortune machine bank smaller. In their own words "A redesigned wheel and machine footprint means you have more space on your floor. Five player stations face a vertical eye-catching wheel, offering a social atmosphere with great attraction."

IGT is constantly reinventing the Wheel of Fortune machines, but I doubt any have proved as popular as the original quarter machine. If you read between the lines like I do, you might see "The big thing didn't perform as well as we all hoped, and have been vanishing from casino floors, here is our solution -- we are downsizing." As far as I'm concerned they need to make a version that doesn't require an 80 credit bet on the penny machines to be eligible for the big spins. Loosen up the wheel and you might get more players.

I'm not terribly excited about the new Star Wars or Indiana Jones machines. The graphics are great, but if they are anything like the Star Wars predecessors the bonuses will be extremely hard to get.

I'm not saying I won't test ride these machines when they hit the floor, but I seriously doubt any of them will hold my interest or capture my gambling money for long.

IGT has simply rested on their laurels for too long, and allowed their competition WMS to overtake them as arbiters of innovation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The REEL Deal Downtown -- Fabled El Cortez Boasts 26% Looser Slots!

You read right, folks -- the legendary El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas boasts 26% looser slots than any other operator in Clark County, Nevada!!!

I'm not sure how exactly they arrived at this figure, but it certainly warranted a trip to the other side of the tracks -- or at least Las Vegas Blvd.

You see, the El Cortez is historic, and value-oriented, which is a nice way to say it is an old grind joint. It's location on Fremont East doesn't help it's allure, but the casino/resort (a stretch to call it a resort, but actually it is the first and oldest operating "resort" in Las Vegas) has been upgrading itself, and so has the neighborhood.

This link is a great read on the life of the El Cortez Built in 1941, the Dude ranch western themed resort predated the El Rancho Vegas, but the original partners soon ran into trouble and Thomas Hull of the El Rancho soon found himself with interests in the El Cortez. By 1945 Bugsy Siegel and his cohorts were involved, but he soon sold his interest to finance the Flamingo. We all know how that ended up for Bugsy. Meanwhile downtown, the El Cortez prospered under new ownership while it played host to many illustrious guests in the post-war era.

In 1963 it found it's most loyal owner yet when Jackie Gaughan purchased the property and began building his downtown casino empire. Although "Mr. Jackie" sold his casinos in 2002, he still lives in the penthouse of the El Cortez, and occasionally plays poker downstairs.

Although it's location a block east of Las Vegas Boulevard put the El Cortez well beyond the comforting canopy of the Fremont Street Experience, it never lost it's charm with die-hard (and down on their luck) locals.

Recent renovations are bringing the El Cortez back to it's former lustre. The Fremont East Entertainment district is reinvigorating night life, and the condo high rise going up next door will surely gentrify the neighborhood. An entrance from Las Vegas Blvd. is being built, the neon sign is in place, but not yet lit.

So things are definitely looking up for the El Cortez -- but what about 26% looser slots? I haven't yet devised a system for comparing slot play from one casino to the next, the best I could do was just sit down and play.

I began with a "Thanksgiving themed Special Edition IGT Wheel of Fortune" machine. I'm not sure if this theme is year round or what -- but it certainly seemed appropriate for the season. I hit a 1000 credit wheel spin, and then made an unfortunate decision to try my luck with the ever volatile "Life of Luxury Far East Fortunes." I quickly lost $50 -- so there I was, down $40, but I did get a drink in the process.

I wandered over to the "Monopoly Super Grand Hotel" bank of machines and played for quite a while, hitting numerous bonus rounds, and retrieved $17 of my losses. The player on the other end of the bank seemed to be hitting many bonus rounds as well.

So I can't say for sure that El Cortez's slots are looser, but I'm tempted to try again, leaving the "Life of Luxury" machine out of the mix.

The joint has a pretty good selection of slots, it isn't too fancy, but it is comfortable. It's running a few different slot promotions I couldn't quite figure out in my short time there, but I will return.

The El Cortez has retained it's Vintage Vegas feel, and is changing just enough to compete with the casinos down the street. A new porte cochere, ventilation system, upgraded rooms, decor and restaurants are nice -- but it's the loose slots that will keep this jockey mounting up.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christmas Shopping? Don't Head to the Mall, Head to the Casino!

I got my first email come-on from the MGM/Mirage casinos today, after updating my info at Mandalay Bay a couple of months ago. It came in the form of a "Lasso Some Loot at Monte Carlo" $40,000 free play giveaway promotion. I poked around the links in the email and found the Player's Club website.

I clicked on the Holiday Gift Shoppe (I guess and extra p and e spells classy) 2007 catalog. A Cartier Tank Watch, and Apple MacBook --Wowee -- this crap beats the hell out of the offerings at Silverton's Expansion Sale! Of course I'll need in excess of 500,000 points to put these presents under my tree, but how hard could THAT be?

There's the rub . . . after reading over all the FAQs on the website, TWICE, I still could not find the answer to the most basic question -- how does coin in convert to points? I was able to determine that a point was worth a penny, and 1000 points equals $10.00 -- therefore these high dollar gifts are worth roughly $5,000 in the points conversion. But, I still don't know how much I have to gamble to earn my points. I'll ask at the Player's Club next time I'm in one of their casinos

As pretty and enticing as the MGM/Mirage Holiday Gift Shoppe is, I doubt it will replace a trip to Target or Best Buy on black Friday. Perhaps the high rollers at the Bellagio can dispatch their personal shoppers to redeem their points, but for the time being I'll begin wrapping up my freebie "As Seen on TV" Pasta Makers and Foot Massagers.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Adaptive Gaming featuring Star Trek Machines from WMS

I'm just now starting to digest all the new slot machines I saw at the Global Gaming Expo last week.

One of the big, new technologies from WMS is something they call "Adaptive Gaming." One of the guys in their booth told me it will allow a player to create a profile, (much like in a video game,) and they will be able to advance through tiers of play, even picking up where they left off on subsequent play.

The WMS brochure describes it as "a completely immersive environment that adjusts to player's personal accomplishments and preferences. Using our Wide Area network and advanced WAGE-NET system, players can unlock new "episodes" in the STAR TREK adventure and save their state so they can "pick up where they left off" during their next visit."

I picked up on the concept rather quickly, and asked the WMS guy to show me exactly how a player would create their profile. He told me it would probably happen through the player's card, but he didn't seem so sure. I asked if the player's info could go from to casino to casino, and he wasn't sure of this either. He assured me it would all be worked out, and that these machines wouldn't be on the floors for quite some time.

It's a good thing I'm not a slot manager, otherwise It would piss me off to see a machine I wanted on my floor ASAP, only to get the runaround on the specifics and ETA.

The "Star Trek" machine itself seemed pretty fun, it was mounted on one of those Bose stereo chair systems like the "Top Gun" and "Wizard of Oz" machines. There is a "Trouble with Tribbles" Bonus and a sort of pinball looking bonus, and you collect Medals, that I believe are tied into the tier system.

You would think with all these new machines on free play, my urge to hit the slots would be satiated. Not true, as there is no substitute for playing with real money.

I suggest the slot makers really up the odds next year and offer cold hard cash, for testing out their machines at the show in 2008. A free drink and demo is nice, but why not hit the industry where it lives, and give the insiders a real taste of their own medicine?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Crappy Casino Come-ons or the Night Red Rock Ran Out of Robes

This may possibly be the last blog I ever write. I'm serious. My whole belief system has been shaken to the core. My world has come to an ugly, crashing halt.

I honestly don't know whether I can go on. It's one of those days where something a rational person may perceive as minor, to me becomes a major blow to my sanity.

It's the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. I'm simply crushed. You may think I'm joking, or exaggerating for effect. But I am not. It's a personal tragedy of such proportion, that my very ability to live and breath and make it through the night will be severely tested.

Today was the day, that Red Rock (and I presume other Stations Casinos) finally had a decent give away -- a nice, big, fluffy, white robe -- and the very second I finally achieved my 500 points, and strode up the the promotions counter, they ran out of them.

I had been waiting for this day and my fluffy white robe for weeks. . . WEEKS . . . God and Stations Casinos really does hate me.

I can take losing money --- lots of money --- I've learned to stoically walk out of the casino, and drive away controlling my anger and fear.

But this . . . THIS, I don't know if I can survive this slight.

Mostly, Stations Casinos give away really, really crappy stuff. How crappy? Last week they gave away a drawstring bag, I kid you not, now THAT'S crappy. These giveaways happen once or twice a week, and are used to lure us locals into their gambling dens. It may be ice cream bowls or a "Guaranteed Play" T-shirt (which I cut up to use as rags to polish silver,) but generally the stuff is pretty cheap and useless, ergo a drawstring bag -- which I suppose I could store my rags in. When you have to actually apply thought towards re-purposing an item, that is one crappy come-on. The crappiest of give aways usually appear during "Mystery Gift" day, which Stations uses to clean out their inventory of crap.

Silverton Casino gives away slightly better stuff. I actually like my turkey tureen, and pumpkin teapot I got this month, and the turkey platter may actually get used this holiday. This weekend Silverton had an "Expansion Sale" to clear out their inventory under the guise of making space for their new tower. I guess all that crap takes up a lot of space. You see, I do believe that Silverton (take note Stations) judging from all the stuff at the sale, buys enough of these items so that every slot member can get one, should they show up that day.

The "Expansion Sale" had most items available for $1 or 500 slot points. Their big fluffy white robes, however were $20. Of course in anticipation of picking up my big fluffy white robe at Red Rock the next day simply for earning 500 points, I wasn't interested in buying Silverton's.

The sale was set up by the pool, and the item displayed on my promotional post card that I had my eye on was a red enamel colander -- quite useful, and attractive. I got to the sale around 4pm, and there were no colanders left. There were weird modern chrome plated toilet paper holders, chrome hanging baskets, As Seen on TV Pasta cookers, food flipper thingies, foot pampering kits (only 50 cents,) pumpkin teapots, pumpkin gravy boats, turkey platters, battery cables, American flag trays, gingerbread man trays, bunny trays, wire fruit baskets, sweatshirts, and the aforementioned robes, among other things.

For every five items you purchased you got one free. In the line for cash payment, the guy running it was giving away an average of two or three things free to those buying quantity, and making deals on whole boxes of stuff. My first run through, I bought five items and paid with my points (It came out to about 1000 points for five things, not 2000.) I took the stuff out to my car, and came back for more. On my second trip I paid $5 cash and left with two sacks full of assorted and sundry freebies (well, not free today, but damn near close.)

The sale seemed to be very popular, and I kept thinking about all the friends and relatives unwrapping modern chrome toilet paper holders on Christmas day saying "What the HELL is this?!!"

Rampart Casino actually tailors it's Christmas season giveaways to Grandparents (Rampart is in area surrounded by retirement communities) shopping for little ones, by offering radio controlled cars.

So now I have bags full of crap, and I know the true value of this promotional stuff -- about a buck.

Still, I was excited to get a big fluffy white robe (BFWR) from Station Casinos (I had spied it in a case at Palace Station, and it did look quite useful.) To get the robe, I would have to rack up 500 points, which from previous experience I knew would take a few hours of my regular play. The giveaway counter was open until 8pm, and I arrived around 4:30pm, which should have given me plenty of time.

I first swiped my player's card at the kiosk, which told me I was eligible for both 7x and 3x points. I chose 7x and tried to chose 3x as well, when the kiosk freaked out and told me to see the Player's booth.

I wasn't certain if the multipliers would figure into my 500 points, if I understand correctly the multipliers don't kick in for 72 hours. No worries though, I commenced to playing "Sultan's Jewels and the Genie" an older game, I've recently discovered that has a feature reel with 3 different bonuses (Snake Charmer, Right to Left win, and Magic Lamp) plus a traditional bonus game. I was sitting across from the giveaway table and could see the BFWRs, and all the players picking them up.

I moved over to the new "John Wayne" machine and got almost $40 ahead. I was feeling pretty good, but I kept checking my points, and they weren't racking up as fast as I thought. I continued to play "John Wayne" and began to lose my lead. I moved back the Sultan and the Genie and began playing faster. This seemed to suit this machine, and I hit quite a few bonus rounds. I kept eyeing the BFWRs and anticipating picking mine up. After a couple of beers, I went to the restroom and when I return someone was on "Genie and the Sultan" so I walked over to the "Goosin' Around" machines. I couldn't hit a bonus round (I've since learned these are part of WMS' G+ "volatile" "celebrate the win" series) -- and I wasn't celebrating.

I tried "Village People Party" and then moved back to my position across from the BFWR. I was playing as fast as I could, and although it was getting later, I thought I would still hit my 500 points in time.

As I looked over to the giveaway table I saw a disturbing sight. There was still a pile of BFWRs but it was growing smaller, and a pile of "As Seen on TV Foot Massagers" had appeared. I should have known right there that they were running out of robes, and would replace them with the crappy gift I had already received on a previous visit, but I kept the faith and continued to rack up points. I was only 50 points away from BFWR nirvana, and I comforted myself with the thought that surely they wouldn't run out of robes, especially for such loyal a player as I.

Of course, I was wrong. As soon as I hit 500 points (not one more, not one less) I bounded over to the table only to have all my hopes and dreams dashed. The girl at the table couldn't have been nicer, and she could sense my distress growing. She offered that they often run out of the good stuff -- this statement didn't real help, except it did give me a little ammunition for my arsenal against Stations and their plot to ruin my life. I asked if I could pick up the BFWR at other Stations (I was desparate at this point, I knew this was unlikely) and she replied they might have some, but they all close at 8pm (it was 7:45pm.) She mentioned that I could check at the Player's Club, and I walked over there, but the line was very long. I asked a floor guy standing there in a suit, and he said they had nothing to do with the giveaways.

I returned to the table, thanked the girl for her kindness, and told her to give her boss hell. I took my crappy Foot Massager, and tried to put on my bravest face.

I hit the "Life of Luxury Far East Fortunes" machine on the way out. I got a bonus round, but quickly began to see I was losing control. The only thing worse than leaving with a Foot Massager instead of a BFWR would be losing a considerable amount of money in the process.

I got home, poured myself a drink, and had a good cry.

Tomorrow I will shop for a BFWR paid with cold, hard cash to sooth my troubled soul -- it won't be the same, but I suppose it is not the end of the world.

So the moral of the story is -- at Station's Casinos gamble early and gamble often on big fluffy white robe giveaway day -- the good crap goes fast.

A Trip to the Strip Where Dreams and Themes Die Hard

This evening I decided to visit the new Planet Hollywood themed Casino resort in the old Aladdin. The Grand Opening was not yet in full swing, but plenty of lights, cameras and red carpets in anticipation of plenty of action were in place.

Only in Las Vegas could one bankrupt entity, Planet Hollywood, find the backing to buy another bankrupt entity, the Aladdin. Apparently in Sin City, two wrongs make a right!

In a town literally made of money, there is always a chance to roll the dice, even with borrowed, high risk dollars.

Judging from my slot losses, if they can keep the suckers walking through the door (this sucker does not plan to return), Planet Hollywood will do just fine. But before I give you the rundown on the slot action -- a little background on the theming and financing of the joint.

This article from the AP entitled "Planet Hollywood Exec Rebuilding Wealth"
gets it mostly right. It does state that Aladdin did not have a player's club to track action -- which is not true -- when I updated my card at the "A-List" PH (Planet Hollywood) club, my accumulated points from the Aladdin were present.

Perhaps the Aladdin player's club was so bad, they would like to believe it didn't exist. On this point, I don't see the PH club doing much better. I asked if there were any incentives for locals, the the representative told me "no" but I could play the big slot machine once a day for a chance at a big win (I pushed the button and lost, I can't remember what the big win was.) There also was one of those goofy, phony "slot tournaments" where you walk in at any time on a bank of machines, push the button a lot and walk away with a pair of plastic dice.

They did not ask me for email at the slot club, and failed to inform me that there was a drawing for a big (58" I believe) TV I could enter. Someone REALLY needs to train the Players' Club people in this town to be pleasant, upbeat, informative, and thorough. PH does have two Player's Club locations on opposite sides of the casino, which is a plus, that is how I noticed that the one didn't let me know about the drawing bin at the other.

Judging from the room rates on the Planet Hollywood website it appears that perhaps they are aiming for a mid-market clientele, undercutting the competition (Bellagio, and Paris) across the street.

The Aladdin always seemed to strive for an upper-middle market, never being the classiest joint in town, but respectable enough to draw it's share of stars of celebrities (Elvis married Priscilla there), that added to it's allure through the years. The opulent Arabian Nights theme seemed perfect for the desert, echoing a time when themes actually reflected the physical landscape of Las Vegas.

The landscape of Las Vegas has definitely changed -- from a dusty western outpost, to a desert dream of rags to riches, to a sex-drenched, celebrity infested, hyper-modern money grab. Okay, Vegas has always been about sex, money, and celebrity, but the LOOK of the fantasy has evolved.

A few years ago, I wondered why no chic, sleek, modern (a la W hotels at the time) resort/casinos existed in Las Vegas. Little did I know that fast forward to the present, and "modern chic" would overrun the Strip and beyond, trampling overt theming such as the Luxor, and Treasure Island, in it's wake.

If you are expecting the Planet Hollywood Casino to look like a Planet Hollywood cafe exploded, you will be disappointed. I couldn't find any Hollywood or Movie memorabilia on the casino floor, save for some framed B&W celebrity photos on the walls leading to the mall. I haven't seen the rooms, but apparently some do include memorabilia and are themed to specific movies, such as a "Pulp Fiction" suite.

What Planet Hollywood does look like is "modern chic" crossed with Times Square video screen monstrosities. I suppose Hollywood is too cool to celebrate itself with historical vestiges, but more than happy to acknowledge that life now is one big silver (video) screen. Perhaps you could call it "purity of form," I call it boring.

The look of the exterior and casino floor just doesn't do it for me. I did appreciate the Swarovski crystal globe like chandeliers, but they aren't quite as pretty as the ones at Red Rock. The crystal columns in the lobby are different, and downstairs you will find "Obsessions" a celebrity drenched memorabilia and art gallery that includes a wonderful room devoted to photos of Frank Sinatra.

All and all, visually Planet Hollywood has it's high points, but they are few and far between. Gentlemen will appreciate the sexy dancing dealers on pedestals in the "Passion Pit" -- but I'm first and foremost a slot jockey, so it was time to choose a mount and get to the business at hand.

I found some older Monopoly penny machines "It's All in the Cards," "Own it All," and the one with the dog. I quickly lost $20. On the other side of the floor I found what is probably the last "Fortune Cookie" penny machine in town. I lost there too, but did get a beer in the process. Armed with a little liquid courage, I sauntered up to "Drew Carrey's Big Balls of Cash" carousel. If you read yesterday's post, there is a link to a New York Times article that details the development of these machines. I haven't seen any in Vegas in quite some time, and thought they were a flash in the pan. Drew took my money as well, and I was berated by a couple of his put-downs and wisecracks in the process. Note to IGT -- being told you're a loser while you are losing, is NOT funny.

At this point I had to visit the ATM, which charged me a whopping $4.00 for the transaction. I headed upstairs to check out the vantage point from above, and yep, the casino floor still looked rather bland from that perspective. The VIP party was getting underway for "invited guests" but no celebs were to be seen, just your regular avid casino customer types. I spied some "Monster Mansion" penny machines in what used to be the high roller area of the Aladdin, and sat down there, losing about $10.

On the way back downstairs, I thought maybe Elvis would be lucky for me, and quickly lost a bunch on his 25 cent machines. Now I was plain pissed off. Still not convinced that PH could be so damn tight with their machines, I attacked Monopoly once again. Nothing. When all was said and done, I lost well over $100, possibly closer to $200.

PH needs to spend less time and money updating the decor and more attention to their outdated slot selection.

I walked through a portion of the "Miracle Mile Shops" on my way out, to distract myself from my losses, and make a few more notes on the "modernization" of the mall.

Even my beloved "Trader Vic's" has gone sleek and chic, and it's menu streamlined. No more Tikis and thick menus with exotic entrees that could leave even the most sophisticated gourmet scratching his head. For that you'll have to visit the original Trader Vic's in Emeryville, California.

This is Vegas, baby -- where new modern retro cool is 50 years behind the times, and the real deals are imploded with abandon. Ain't it a kick in the head?

Saturday, Bruce Willis will preside over the big Grand Opening event at 7:30pm proving that themes and dreams really do die hard.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cherry Dribblers or Cherry Bombs?

I just wrapped up G2E Day 3, and after all is said and done, one thing (other then the impending doom that is Server Based Gaming) is sticking in my craw.

Yesterday, I was discussing the Williams (WMS -- but I've learned most people refer to the company as "Williams") Transmissive Video Reels "Monopoly Super Money Grab" game with one of their representatives.

If you've read my former posts, than you'll know I am not a fan of these machines that Williams introduced with much hoopla, and online enticements.

I should know better than to offer my opinion as a humble player to industry insiders, but I just don't friggin' give a sh*t -- if it wasn't for us, these jokers wouldn't have a job. There I said it.

I said something to the effect that the "Money Grab" machines weren't performing up to expectations, (I base this on my own experiences, and that a bank of the machines at Red Rock have already been replaced with the newer model "John Wayne" machines only after a few months, while "Monopoly Grand Hotel" machines introduced around the same time and located on the other side of the bank are still always occupied and quite popular.) and the Williams guy insisted they were doing great. He backed this up with a comment about seeing the numbers, and knowing for a fact that they were performing quite well. I replied that I couldn't argue with the numbers, but that as a player I just couldn't win on them, didn't like the gimmick and was quickly turned off. That's when he said "Well, they are VOLATILE machines!"

VOLATILE -- a word I had never heard used to describe a slot machine.

In general, to me -- a Junior College Dropout -- but a person who prides themselves on a better than average grasp of English vocabulary, volatile means unpredictable and prone to violent outbursts.

So what exactly, is a volatile slot machine? My guess before doing the perfunctory internet research was one that may be frustrating in the short term, but after a prolonged investment may pay off in spades.

Last week I drove past Silverton Casino and noticed their video billboard advertised a lucky player who won the "Super Money Grab" progressive to the tune of $600 + thousand dollars.

I rarely bet the max to qualify for the progressive, or invest more than a couple of $20 bills in any one machine (unless of course I'm drunk, pms-ing, or "Life of Luxury Far East Fortunes" is involved.)

Still I connected the dots, the "Super Money Grab" machine is not a "cherry dribbler" burping out small wins to suck the gambler in, but perhaps a "cherry bomb" a machine that promises and is programmed for the big win.

Check out this article from the New York Times (2004) by Gary Rivlin entitled "The Tug of the Newfangled Slot Machines" for a fascinating look inside the mind of chief IGT game designer Anthony Baerlocher. At more than 3 years old, it is rather outdated, but still gives a great background on the developmental process of a themed slot machine.

A few more google searches and I learned that slot machines had VOLATILITY INDEXES. I'm surprised this is a term I had never encountered before, perhaps the ole slot jock needs a little remedial education in Slots 101. According to "Strictly Slots" the Volatility Index " is a number that casino managers use to determine whether or not the results (i.e. a machine’s hold percentage) are in line with expectations, or whether something is wrong and needs investigating." It involves mathematical equations too advanced for my brain to wrap around, but the concept is simple enough.

It makes sense that if "Super Money Grab" is a volatile progressive machine, it wouldn't begin to approach it's expected payouts for quite some time. There goes the myth that new machines pay out better than old ones. From now on I will play new machines with more care.

So, gentle reader, the word of the day is VOLATILE -- not just as it applied to your ex-husband, wife, or significant other, but how it applies to something much more near and dear to your heart -- your slot machine.

Go in peace, and Good Luck!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Brave New World - the Eye in the Sky Inches Closer

Big Brother is watching, and as a slot player your paranoia is completely founded in fact.

As if the ubiquitous "Eye in the Sky" wasn't bad enough, and your Slot Club card didn't give the house free rein to track your every move, desire, and weakness -- along comes -- ominous "dum dum dum" music please -- the dreaded SERVER BASED GAMING.

On the second day of the Global Gaming Expo, I learned a little bit of information, that I found to be scariest of all -- brace yourself -- Server based slot machines will be indistiguishable from the traditional one armed bandits you have come to know and love/hate.

If you're not up to date on what Server Based gaming is, let me give you a couple of things to chew on.

First my simplified explanation -- Server Based gaming allows the house to change any machine at any time -- the cabinet is essentially a monitor or video screen, and the game is controlled by a centralized server (computer). The game itself, its odds, its bonus rounds, paylines, and your information via your slot card are all immediately accessible and rateable and/or changeable by the house.

Scary, I know. But, if you don't trust my paranoid knee-jerk response to this marvel of modern technology, read on . . .

The Las Vegas Review Journal covers the subject thusly - in an article entitled cheerily enough "Wave Hello to Tomorrow" in which they write --

"Conceivably, downloadable gaming would allow casino managers to change a slot machine's games, denominations, bonus payouts and promotions from a central computer server rather than requiring technicians to perform the work manually. In some forms, the server-based systems would allow customers to change out their games themselves.

Most slot machine company executives admit server-based gaming systems, being tested in several markets, are still a year or so away from the slot floor."

A WMS guy I talked to today said the machines could be 18 months away from the casino floor, and I didn't press the point, but I'm guessing local gaming regulation boards may have something to do with the delay.

If you still have questions, and certainly I do, why not get some answers straight from the horse's mouth? -- here is a link to IGT's promotion I will call "Everything you wanted to know about Server Based Gaming, but were afraid to ask." (it is an Adobe file.)

Whoever wrote this piece entitled "A Brave New World" should have been reminded that Adolf Huxley described his novel as a "negative Utopia" or to paraphrase -- a cautionary tale.

Big Brother is watching, and his yearn to control our every move and thought inches closer and closer every time we enter a casino.

As I was mulling all this over, it occurred to me that server based machines must have standardized cabinets. That's when it hit me -- no more character based 3-D sculptures hovering over your head like Elvis, the Beverly Hillbillies, Spam Cans, the Addams Family, or Arnold the Pig from Green Acres. Are not even our beloved pop culture icons sacred?

Much like the eleborate visual themes and neon that are being wiped from the Las Vegas strip and replaced by giant video screens, the slot machines themselves will be whitewashed, or more appropriately chrome washed, mere shells -- one just like the other for the powers that be to project their chosen games upon.

This is the future of gaming -- a Brave New World, where the house controls your play in ways you never thought possible, and you are not a name, but a number -- Don't believe me? Look -- it's right there, on your slot card.

Global Gaming Expo - Day 1

If you haven't gleaned from my previous posts, the Global Gaming Expo, or G2E is the premiere trade show event for the GAMING industry. That's gaming, NOT gambling, mind you.

The American Gaming Association is quick to assert that Gaming is entertainment, and gambling, well, that has connotations of high risk and ruined lives.

A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, and the fortunes made by the house are sweet indeed. The thorny issue of problem gambling, (note that when "gaming" stops being fun, it becomes "gambling" and therefore a problem -- I say, it is only a problem when I'm losing!) is a PR issue the mighty AGA is only too eager to tackle.

But enough about that, what about the new SLOT MACHINES!!!

Before I headed into the main exhibit hall, I picked up my badge and enjoyed the F&B (Food and Beverage) exhibits. As I mentioned in earlier posts, trade shows are all about the freebies, and G2E certainly does not disappoint.

I stuck with mini roast beef deli sandwiches, hot dogs, a nice merlot and beer. There were plenty of more gourmet inspired options, but sometimes simple is best.

With my strength and spirits rising I headed into the big hall and the WMS and IGT pavilions. I was instantly overwhelmed.

I naturally gravitated toward WMS and looked over a new version of the "Life of Luxury Progressive." A lovely young lady in a very little black dress was happy to show me the bonus round. Of course I was more than familiar with the Life of Luxury free spins, but she couldn't figure out how to queue up the bonus round unique to the machine. No matter, we went around to the other side and she demonstrated the new "Happy Days" Machine for me. She was very pleasant considering she had been standing on very high heels for a very long time, and I thanked her and moved over to the new Clint Eastwood "Make my Day" machine.

"Dirty Harry" and the Sensory Immersion (basically a Bose stereo chair that vibrates) technology is a match made in slot machine heaven. Similar to "Top Gun" in it's macho appeal, the shoot 'em up car chase through the streets of San Francisco in the bonus round, takes the marriage of slots and video games to a logical and exhilarating match. Oh, and I just love Clint.

While trying it out I got to talking to one of the audio techno guys responsible for the creation, and he was quite charming, and only a little bit nerdy. I told him of the popularity of "Wizard of Oz" over "Top Gun" and he offered that "Top Gun" was rather aggressive and testosterone driven, while the "Wizard" was a softer approach. Well, Glinda the Good Witch is all well and good, but Flying Monkeys, and Wicked Witches are only slightly softer than F-14s in my book, still I understood his line. I asked him who did the voices for Clint and John Wayne, and he told me that they had guys they used that were approved by Mr. Eastwood and the Wayne family.

So there you have it. That is not Clint Eastwood making your day, but an approved impersonator, or perhaps "Tribute Artist" as they like to be called.

I couldn't tarry long with Clint, as there were a slew of other new machines waiting to be discovered. I quickly checked out "Harlem Globetrotters" similar to "Dukes of Hazzard" in line configuration and the new "Rotating Wild" machines.

I found myself at the "Slot Machine University" kiosk in the WMS booth, and cut right to the chase with the attendants. I asked them about the function of the RNG in bonus rounds. They both admitted that they had asked the same question themselves and had never gotten a straight answer. I then asked them where the party was. Like I said, time was a'wastin' and I had a whole exhibit hall of new machines to conquer. They offered that the parties were at the House of Blues and Tangerine, but they were ticketed affairs. These dudes didn't seem to have access to tickets, so I thanked them and moved on.

The largest display in the IGT booth was the "eBay" themed machines, and a new version of "Star Wars" -- that's right, I said "eBay" -- if monopolizing online auctions wasn't enough eBay wants access to your wallet on the casino floor as well. I am very active on eBay, but honestly the concept just does not translate into a slot machine. I was quickly bored with the look, and that whole "Community Gaming" thing, similar to the "Monopoly" and "Press Your Luck" machines by WMS.

It was nearing 5pm, so I fanned out over the floor to take in the offerings of Atronic, Bally, and other lesser slot machines companies. I grabbed a beer from the roving cocktail servers and walked the aisles. Nothing really jumped out at me, and I decided to call it a day.

As I was headed toward the Hilton skywalk, the "Gaming Hall of Fame" booth caught my eye. It had an affiliation with UNLV, and featured luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and Merv Griffin alongside lions of the industry.

Basically, a two dimensional (the panels of the booth featured photos and bios of select inductees) representation, a real live human did stand in the middle, so I asked him about the display.

On thing led to the other, and I asked him if he knew that UNLV gaming research guy, what was his name? Um, Schwartz . . . David Schwartz? He said "I am David Schwartz," in a polite and unassuming way that made me laugh, and not feel the least bit embarrassed.

I'll let the good Doctor Schwartz's (he's a PhD) accomplishments and endeavors speak for themselves through his website "The Die is Cast"

Peruse his site, and his insight, he's written three books on gambling and casinos, and is the director of UNLV Gaming Research Center.

I especially like his gallery of casino carpets, that's just the sort of quirky visually detailed kind of stuff I thrive on.

Even though I would consider Schwartz a sort of "Rock Star" at the crossroads where academia and casinos meet (yes, I think there is such a place, and we can thank folks like Schwartz for it) he appears to be an affable, down to earth guy.

If ever I can tear myself away from the slots, I'll be sure to read his books . . . I've been meaning to, but like Bette Davis says in "All About Eve" I'm a girl who "reads book reviews like they were books!" I'm sure Schwartz's offerings are probably perfect for a lazy afternoon by the casino pool. They have been on my radar screen for quite some time, I need to start zooming in.

I walked through the Hilton, to get to my car, updated my slot club info, and played the "Gold Lame" penny Elvis slots. Shockingly, I hit a couple of bonus rounds, left $20 up, and cruised down the strip to Mandalay Bay.

The party at the House of Blues seemed difficult to sneak into, so I played a little "Monopoly Super Grand Hotel" drove to Silverton for a free buffet, and rounded out my evening by picking up my free turkey platter at South Point.

Now I'm off for G2E - Day 2!

The FINAL Frontier, A True Classic Makes Space for Progress

If space is the final frontier, then the Last Frontier met a fitting if somewhat ironic destiny, making space for new casino resort complex on the Strip.

I call it the "Last Frontier" because that is how it began life in 1942. Through the years it's name would be changed to "the New Frontier," "the Frontier" and back to "the New Frontier" illustrating a time when established brands were respected in Las Vegas, and successful names could be tweeked, but not destroyed.

The Frontier, as I will call it for simplification, was so old that it's history was somewhat maligned in it's final days. The press got it wrong, mostly. A local news anchor reported that the hotel tower from the 1940's was to be imploded. The tower was built in 1990. T-shirts sported by employees said "The New Frontier -- 1965 - 2007." 1965 was the year Howard Hughes dropped the "New" from the name.

I won't bore you with all the details about the history of the property. has done a great job covering the closing and implosion, so check out all they have to offer.

Some of my favorite stories about the Frontier involve it's birth, and the rivallry between Thomas Hull and R.E. Griffith. Hull opened the El Rancho Vegas in 1941, the very first Casino/Hotel (actually more like a Motel)/Resort and is usually credited with creating the strip -- that is when Bugsy Siegel is not being improperly celebrated for the honor.

R.E. Griffith, brother of movie mogul D.W. Griffith also had his eyes on the strip and already had a string of hotels called "El Rancho."

It was a veritable Western themed shootout to see who could wrangle the rights for the RANCH.

Griffith was injured, when the El Rancho Vegas opened first, but he wasn't dead yet. He opened "The Last Frontier" the next year in 1942, and did his darndest to out-dude ranch his neighbor.

"The Old West in Modern Splendor" became the slogan for the Last Frontier, and the marriage of the past and the present suited the outskirts of Las Vegas just fine.

Jump ahead 65 years, and it seems the more things change, the more things stay the same. An old chapter closes in Las Vegas, and new one opens -- or it will anyway, but first things first -- there is a building to implode!

I cruised on down to the strip, heading east on Charleston. Las Vegas in the wee small hours is fairly easy to navigate, the traffic is light, and the lights are dazzling. I made a right on Las Vegas Blvd. and made it as far as the Riviera where police were diverting traffic.

I figured the top of the Riviera parking lot was as good a place as any to view the event as any, and joined a small crowd that had already gathered. It was T-30, a brisk Vegas November night, and the few beers I had consumed earlier had wore off my brain, but not my bladder. I headed into the Riviera for a bathroom break.

I next decided to head out onto the street and got swept up in the crowd headed south down the boulevard. You should never miss the opportunity to walk in the middle of a normally busy avenue, even if it is blocked off and perfectly safe to do so.

Unfortunately, I had left my video camera in the car, but there was not enough time to return, and the prospect of better viewing and the chill in the air kept me walking toward the intended target. I found a good spot at around T-10, and waited, my ears enjoying the banter of the crowd, and my eyes planted on the darkened Frontier.

A spectacular fireworks display soon began, with pyrotechnics dancing off the doomed hotel tower and bursting in air. Frankly, It was one of the best displays I had ever seen and I loved every minute. What I didn't know was that the real show was one the west side of the tower, out of my view.

I would learn the next day that a fiery countdown and intonation plunger was employed as part of the extravaganza on the other side of the tower, as a wonderful prelude to destruction.

Still, what we didn't know did not dampen our spirits, as we waited with baited breath for the money shot.

The dynamite went boom, boom, boom (and maybe more) and the building went down with grace and gusto. It was a beautiful and terrible thing.

My favorite comment from a reveler was "That is what you get for taking all my money!!!"

And it is all about money, after all.