Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Style vs. Value in Downtown's Renaissance

I've always enjoyed downtown Las Vegas, which is essentially the REAL Las Vegas, Las Vegas proper so to speak.

If you are on the strip chances are you are gambling in Paradise not Las Vegas. Now that doesn't sound bad, but be aware that you are more than likely outside of Sin City's limits.

A very brief history of modern Las Vegas would go something like this -- in 1905 at the corner of Main and Fremont Street a town is born. Liquor, gambling, and prostitution as well as a rail line fuel the growth. As the vices are outlawed a boomtown is stunted, but bides its time. Hallelujah! in 1931 gambling and booze are legal again and Fremont Street sizzles with excitement. In 1941 El Rancho Vegas, the first strip resort opens on the outskirts in the desert, the Last Frontier, and the Flamingo soon follow and the Strip (now capitalized and capitalizing) never look back. Downtown Las Vegas through the years begins to lose its lustre and is eventually outshined by the Strip.

For the past ten years of so, or since the erection of the "Fremont Street Experience" Las Vegas has struggled to thrive and re-invent itself.

One thing Las Vegas proper has always been known for is its value, i.e. if you don't mind walking around homeless people, drug addicts, and general down-and-outers, you might enjoy a cheap hotel, meal, beer, and just slightly better odds on your slot play.

And then there is the classic neon. Vegas Vic and his flirtatious cohort Vegas Vicky still greet you under the canopy of the "experience." The Neon museum has refurbished the Hacienda Vaquero and his gleaming Palomino, as well as many smaller classic neon signs and they are there to dazzle you with their vintage appeal.

Mayor Oscar Goodman's has unabashedly been Downtown's biggest supporter, and has ignored all criticism as he boldly forges ahead to make Las Vegas' rebirth as a great international city come to fruition.

To all the critics, I have to side with martini swilling Oscar and say "It's working."

There are definite signs of progress. The new Fremont Street East project, chock full of new vintage styled neon and pedestrian friendly sidewalks so far looks like a success. Businesses are started to pop up in the shadow of gleaming condominium towers. Dives such as the Gold Spike, and the Travel Inn have been sold and will be transformed into boutique hotels. Oscar's pet project the "Mob Museum" is hummin right along.

There is even hope for the albatross that is "Neonopolis" a spectacular failure by all accounts. Word is Telemundo might move its local studios and offices there.

The empty "Lady Luck" has also sold, and here is where the controversy of style vs. value in Downtown Las Vegas will really draw an audience.

I never stayed at the Lady Luck, and can't even remember crossing its threshold - mostly due to its location on third street, down a dark scary street beyond the canopy of safety. Even a couple of jr. executive types who worked there called it "a dive" when I asked them about it mid-beer one evening. But the Lady Luck had its supporters, and online it really didn't look half bad. In 2006 it shut down for renovations that never happened, and Oscar has famously referred to it as "that carcass outside my door," referring to his post across the street in city hall.

That is all about to change, as the new owners are rushing to draw up new plans for the aging lady, and even looking at buying up neighboring properties. The land rush in Downtown appears to be in full swing.

But what will the Lady Luck look like, and will Downtown's new urbanization destroy the blue-collar bastion that it has become?

The subject was covered today in the Review Journal. I will some it up with the best quote of the story -
"All of us exist because of the casinos," said Nitura, whose daughter operates the beef-jerky store that also sells Hawaiian delicacies. "The faster we learn that, the better. Downtown should be honky-tonk. "The electricians, the carpenters, those are the kind of guys we want to have downtown. The other guys can go up to the Strip," he added.

As the construction continues, plenty of workers will be downtown. If they keep coming after their work is done to rub shoulders with doctors and lawyers, and hipsters will remain to be seen.

The RJ who has delighted in its Oscar attacks are going to have to eat at least some of their words. The plan is working, literally.

They say a rising tide lifts all boats, from the sleek yachts to the dingy dinghies.

As long as Binion's (recently sold to Terry Caudhill who owns the Four Queens) continues to send me free play, and hang on to at least some of its fabled frontier charm, I think the Honky Tonk will be alive and well in downtown.

The Shelf Life of a Themed Slot Machine

Themed video reel slot machines seem to be appearing and disappearing at an alarming rate.

Just Sunday I spied the new "Dukes of Hazzard" machines by WMS at Binions. As the much touted "Super Money Grab Monopoly" is a bust, and "Super Grand Hotel" is already boring, I was happy to sit down with Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke.

It is most similiar to "Green Acres" in the configuration of its line pays and "bonus zone" -- a center line that activates different bonuses when characters appear or line up. You do get 40 lines for 25 credits on this penny machine, so that is okay by me.

I am a "casual (as opposed to crazed)" Dukes of Hazzard fan, and even received a phone call from none other than Waylon Jennings once, so in general I enjoyed the theme. But a theme of course is no good without a chance to win.

I was playing on Binion's money* -- the generous (note to Stations and Rampart) $15 per week of free play they allotted me in September -- so the pressure was off in terms of win or loss.

That said, I did okay, hitting the "Rev-Up" bonus box on top and getting the max pay of 1500 credits (multiplied by bet per line, I've previously made it clear I usually play one per line.)

I returned last night and sat down next to a middle aged asian woman who didn't seem particularly thrilled with her play. I believe she was playing 2 or 3 times on her max lines. She hit the "Boss Hogg" wild bonus for a 1000 credit pay, and I commented "That was pretty good." She replied "I don't like this game." I wanted to reply "Well, you don't HAVE to play it." but wisely kept my mouth shut. I only know too well, that often players get sucked into games they don't like -- it happens to me all the time.*

From her mouth to whoever makes the decisions at WMS' ears -- although I rather enjoyed the Dukes of Hazzard game -- I'm afraid it is doomed to a short shelf life.

Other comments from other players included "It makes alot of noise for a little bit of money" referring to Boss Hogg's rather exuberant -- "How much money did they get?!" when his wild bonus is won. His bonus can pay nothing or very little to quite a bit, but it is annoying to hear him mouth off when very little is paid.

I read the pay table quite a few times when I was trying to save money waiting for my drink to arrive. There is a weird progressive tied into the whole thing. A $2,000 and something in the range of $65 is awarded when 5 or 6 (I can't remember) progressive symbols scatter across the board. You have to be playing max to hit the progressive (8x for a $2.00 bet), but you do get some sort of payout if you are not.

The downside is that the Dukes of Hazzard logos rarely if never line up (they pay the most) and I saw someone hit the Bo, Luke, and Daisy bonus but it never happened to me.

The upside is that just writing about this machine makes me want to play it, and I'll be back next week to ride with Bo and Luke.

* Binion's free play is only available on IGT machines, so I played "Coyote Moon," a game I don't particularly like, but luckily got enough ahead to cash out and take my ticket over to the Dukes machines.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Tiring Week of Tireless Slot Promotions

Yep, the freebies just keep on coming, but boy, will they cost ya! Adding up my free slot play promotions from Red Rock, Rampart and Binion's I figure I have over $150 in free slot play for the month of September with a few free buffets thrown in as well.

And lest I forget, Red Rock (and all the other Stations Casinos) is giving away all sorts of useful/ useless crap such as Lint Brushes, condiment sets, and the infamous "as seen on TV" Magic Choppers. Oh man, I'm gonna clean up this month!

If you detect a hint of sarcasm, you are a perceptive reader. I have barely cracked the surface of my complimentary riches, and already I've lost in the range of $300 - $400 dollars this month. But, I'm not one to quit while I'm behind -- I'm fixin' to lose my ass -- and you might as well join me for the slow descent into comp hell.

Last Thursday I took the bait, and answered Station's invitation to $40 in free play on their new "Guaranteed Play" poker machines. They are pushing these machines hard, and after their invite I understand why. You lose your money (or in this case their money) plain and simple.

My group of invited guests met in Red Rock's Cherry nightclub for refreshments (Pepsi products, water, and chocolate chip cookies) and an informative video. I was interested in checking out Cherry, and was surprised by how small and unimpressive it was. I'm not one to cruise the Vegas "Ultralounges" and Night Clubs, so I can't really tell you how Cherry stacks up. The coolest part of it is the entrance, a vagina-like tunnel, and oh crap! I forget to check out the restrooms -- I hear the Ultralounges tend to get extra creative in there. The main (only) room is round and dark with private booths along the wall and a bar in the middle and a dance floor, like I said, pretty standard and boring from my vantage point. I've noticed that Red Rock is stationing minidress clad young ladies near the Grand Cafe to hand out free passes to good looking people on the weekends. So dress up and get into Cherry for free, if that's your thing. I'm certain you'll pay dearly for the drinks, but you might save money in the long run, considering you won't be gambling.

The video was pretty funny, as the two hosts were quite a pair -- a cheery Asian young lady, and a goofy as hell guy, I mean really goofy and overacting -- took us through the paces.

It's simple really, you buy bulk hands at max play -- I think I got something like 100 quarter max plays of "Jacks or Better" for $20. Sounds like a pretty good deal, huh? Well, read on . . . You start out even with your hand counter, but not to worry as you descend into negative numbers, as those don't count -- sort of -- because to walk away with any money, you will have to crawl out of your hole into the black. If you end in the red, you still walk away, and you don't owe the house your negative figures. If you walk away with games left, those are forfeited.

Makes perfect sense, huh? Yeah, I really didn't get it either, except for the analogy that it's like buying your poker hands at Costco.

But now for the object lesson! We all get to go play the machines. The Red Rock folks actually put real twenty dollar bills into the machines for us, we chose our games and the race was on! Because I'm not a video poker player, and I chose the most hands (Jacks or Better) I was there for quite a while. I never really got far into the black, and my play was slow compared to the other folks who zipped through their twenties, and were presented with another twenty. I finally got through my first twenty while the Red Rock employees stood around rather annoyed with us slow-pokes, and got my second twenty to play with. I chose less hands and different games this time, although I can't remember what it was. Bottom line is I didn't win, and I didn't see anyone else win either.

But wait there's more -- we all got free "Station Casino Guaranteed Play" T-shirts for our trouble. All in all, a really lame way to introduce these machines . . . noone seemed very happy with the experience.

Of course, the whole silly event did get me in the casino, and I proceeded to lose over $100. In that sense for Stations it was "mission accomplished."

More free play that cost me dearly.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What Slot Players' Really Want

It's obvious -- we want to win. If we can't win, breaking even is fine. We enjoy playing slots, and we are even willing to pay for the privilege. What we can't stand is countless crazy promotions that get us into the casino, and then being robbed blind, not even given a chance to hang on to some of our gambling money.

Case in Point - Stations Casinos. Specifically their newest jewel Red Rock Casino. It is mighty purty. It's big, and the modern resort type decor works well with the theme. The round and square and cascading crystal chandeliers are a design marvel. Open since Mid 2006, it doesn't yet smell like a casino. The pool is cool and hip, and the restaurants aren't half bad (though most a little pricey for this slot jockey). They have a food court, a pretty good buffet, bingo, movies, bowling, a spacious sports book, and I hear the rooms are nice.

The problem is, I can't win there to save my life, and lord knows I try, nearly every day.

Last night, I got down immediately, and could not get up. It really sucked. I stuck around to try to figure out the "Guaranteed Play" thing they were pushing and to see if I won in the drawing for poker hands they were having to promote the "Guaranteed Play." No such luck. I lost and kept losing. I had a decent run on one of my favorite machines WMS' "Love Boat" but when you are down $100 bucks winning $10 doesn't seem like much consolation.

I was sitting next to a woman who was betting the max ($2.00) on one of those Fishing machines (I don't play them - I think it is Bass Big Bucks) and doing fairly well. She did say "You have to bet the max." The first time I've heard a max better defend their practice. Well, if I had bet the max I would have made more on my Love Boat game but I also would have been down say, oh, about a thousand dollars.

Stations' Casino slot club has been consistently voted the best by Review Journal readers, and it does have many perks. But if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, bells and whistles don't mean a thing when you can't win.

These casinos weren't built by our winnings, they were built by our losses, so if you enjoy the luxury of Red Rock, you can thank me.