…wait a minute – what happened?
That was a T-shirt I saw on the Strip parodying what is probably the most recognizable marketing phrase in the country today. There’s a graphic of an overturned martini glass and some gambling symbols too. Since I don’t drink much, I’ve no problem remembering what happens when I’m in Vegas… and it doesn‘t stay in Vegas either! You get to read all about it…
On Saturday, July 11, we awoke about 8 a.m. to a crisp but pleasant 65 in Cedar City, Utah. This was the final stop of a week visiting parks in southern Utah. After spending the morning at Cedar Breaks National Monument (a mini-Bryce Canyon), we headed to Vegas about 2 p.m and the temperature was still only around 80.
But after we passed through the spectacular Virgin River gorge, the temperature steadily increased and we had to close our rental car’s sunroof and turn on the AC. By the time we arrived in Mesquite less than an hour later, it was 108. We arrived in Vegas about 4:30 to a cooler 103. 😉
Since our Flamingo deal didn’t begin until Sunday, I used Choice Privileges points for a free night at the Comfort Inn across from Hard Rock Casino / Cafe. They upgraded us to a very nice suite.
We were tired from a long day, so we just crossed the street to the Hard Rock Casino and checked out the Gambler’s Special at Mr. Lucky’s Café. That’s a six-ounce steak, three large grilled shrimp, a baked potato and a large salad. The price is what you’d expect for a place named Mr. Lucky’s – $7.77. Not on the menu, so you need to know about it from Vegas veterans like me.
Outback has a similar meal for $9.95 without the salad. But unlike Outback, the HR’s steak is a thin cut, more suitable for a steak and eggs plate. Both steaks were a bit chewy and so I wasn’t impressed but I may give them another chance.
We checked into Flamingo about 9:30 a.m., and received a 16th floor room overlooking the pool / wildlife habitat area. We returned the rental car to Excalibur so we could get a free ride to the south end of the Strip and walk back. At Excalibur, I noticed they had removed the “electronic” poker tables and brought back live dealers. But, they had not yet received tournament chips, so there would not be any tournaments while I was there. (Excalibur was, and may still be, notorious for having poor, often drunk, players.)
As we walked through various casinos during the week, I noticed “electronic” blackjack and semi-electronic (one croupier instead of three) craps tables at some places. That may be the sorry future as casinos try to cut labor costs. But maybe if folks don’t patronize the “electronic” tables the casinos will have to keep the table crews, just like what happened with Excalibur’s poker room.
At Coca-Cola World, I noticed two new menu items at the upstairs café. A sampler of eight 8-ounce Coke products from around the world for $7 (which many years ago used to be free and featured more than eight flavors) and, for a dollar more, eight 8-ounce floats. We went with the floats and could barely finish the eight between us. (That was four scoops of ice cream and 32 ounces of soda each.)
The gift shop has added many new items, including a clip-style ID badge holder shaped like a Coke bottle top, which I couldn’t resist. Susie picked up a lightweight, red women’s cut T-shirt picturing a Coke bottle, glass of Coke, and a brown bag of popcorn with a smiley face that read “Have a Coke and a Smile.” Just $10 on sale.
By the end of the day, it was obvious to us just how much the economy is squeezing Vegas. Good sales everywhere. As part of our hotel deal, we received a coupon book that had “buy one, get one free” tickets to every show at Flamingo. Plus other freebies we’d not seen before, such as free admission to the Eiffel Tower observation deck, which would have cost $12 each if we paid.
The best deal was tickets to the Nathan Burton comedy/magic show for $19 each, and that included a free Flamingo buffet of our choice anytime within the week. The show’s “retail” price is $34 and the dinner buffet is $22, so that deal was better than 50% off. Although I’m not big on either comedy or magic, it’s a late afternoon show so I figured a 90-minute respite from the heat would be welcome and that buffet was the clincher. At that price, it was no surprise that the show was sold out the day we went.
That turned out to be the only show we saw this trip. I was half-right about finding discounted Jersey Boys tickets. There were discount “day of show” tickets but instead of the usual 50%, it was only 30% and the cheapest tickets were $90 each. I decided to wait it out until we return in January, by which time the show will be a little over a year old and so I may see the 50% discount. I just couldn’t justify paying more for Jersey Boys after snagging third row orchestra Phantom seats for $75 each on a previous visit.
I began the day with a good hike down to Excalibur to catch the tram to Mandalay Bay for their 10 am $40 poker tournament. I finished 11th out of 30 when chip leader “Blondie” exacted some revenge on me by taking all my chips when she called my all-in Aces and Jacks post flop with just a pair of sevens but hit a third seven on the river.
I like to think she knew when she saw my hand after we put our chips in that my win probability was 92% and she scored a very major suck out. (Earlier, I had taken about 1000 chips from her when she went all-in pre-flop with a pair of sixes and I called with a pair of sevens which held up.) I played well, so I wasn’t too upset to miss the final table.
As I walked through New York, New York on my way back to Flamingo, I chatted with a security guard there who told me that the City Centre entertainment / dining / condo complex is scheduled to be completed in early December. If that schedule holds up, there’ll be some new territory to explore when we return in January.
After I met up with Susie around 1, we headed to Orleans. Don Miguel’s Cantina was not offering their appetizers at half-price, as I had hoped. But the Courtyard Café’s appetizers were half-price so we ate there.
Of course, I went straight for the jugular by ordering up the biggest appetizer – a sampler platter of chicken tenders, chicken wings, onion rings and some others I’ve forgotten. If I’d known how huge that platter was, we’d not have ordered anything else because it stuffed us. But we did manage to split a $7 eight-ounce prime rib / baked potato / salad special. That meal had a value of $16, but because we used casino points to pay for it, we received a 40% discount on top of the appetizer discount and so the bottom line was a reasonable $7.
After dining, Susie played some slots while I walked the casino. I noticed how Orleans is economizing: the free Mardi Gras beads have disappeared. But we have a few dozen of them, so we’re OK. When I checked on Susie, she noted that the slots were very tight and so we decided to call it quits since she’d only played about $10.
By the end of the week, she’d lost less than $50 because she cut back on playing after noticing the slots were very tight at all the casinos she played, including Flamingo and Bill’s. Instead, she invested her gaming money into another 5 T-shirts, since the prices were so good.
I played the 9 am $45 tournament at O’Shea’s, a tiny casino next to Flamingo and owned by it. I was crippled early on when I bet top pair post flop and found only one caller. At the turn, I was still top pair and I bet again only to face an all-in. I’d played at O’Shea’s before and there are some wild players there. I figured he was trying to buy the pot and called. He had flopped trip sixes and just smooth called me when I bet rather than raise and reveal his strength. I went out when I again bet top pair post flop and found myself up against pocket aces. By not raising pre-flop, he had concealed his hand strength and suckered me in. (That was the last time I wrote off O’Shea’s tournament players.)
In the early afternoon, we walked around the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace. Where FAO Schwartz used to be is a confectionary cleverly named after it’s predecessor: FAO Schweetz. The giant (two-story) wooden horse is still there.
That afternoon, we took in the Nathan Burton show. The showrooms no longer allow you to bring in “outside’ liquor, even if it’s a drink from that casino. Supposedly, something to do with a law involving “live entertainment” taxes. A drink bought in a showroom incurs a higher tax than one bought at a bar. The state did not want folks skirting the tax by bringing in drinks not subject to the tax. So we had to gulp down some 99-cent margaritas that we had planned to drink at the show.
For dinner, we walked down to Ellis Island, around the corner in back of Bally’s. They have a steak special that’s not on the menu but they are now “advertising” it on their marquee. It’s a 10-ounce “filet cut” sirloin, with baked potato, garlic green beans and a large salad for $7. I complemented that with a pint of root beer from their micro-brewery, which they say has been rated the top one in Nevada and one of the top 10 in the country.
I also joined their player’s club since seniors get $1 every Tuesday and Thursday and $5 for your birthday. These comps can’t be used for that steak special, but they can be used for a monster dessert they have of a brownie under two large scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and sprinkles. Good thing Susie and I split that steak because it was hard to put that dessert away.
In the morning, we checked out the Miracle Mile shops at Aladdin and Hawaiian Village. That afternoon, I played the $50 1 p.m tournament at Hard Rock. I like this one because you receive 5,000 chips instead of just 1,500 or 2,000. That’s a deep enough stack to be able to wait for the premium hands, which is my style of play.
There were some strong players in this tournament and one was at my table. It didn’t take long for him to become the big stack. I pretty much avoided him and he usually played cautiously if I came into a hand since he knew I only played strong hands.
My “Degree moment” came when a woman went all in preflop and I held A-Q suited. That’s a very strong hand but I if I lost I’d be pretty much out of the tournament. I spent a good minute thinking it through and finally called. She had K-10 off suit so I was dominating her. But the flop came out with a 10 and in my mind’s eye I saw “Blondie” from Mandalay Bay and that suck out. But the poker gods made up for what happened at Mandalay Bay by giving me a Queen on the turn and I went on to win the hand.
I did make the final table. But I finished 5th (two away from the money) when I when I called an all in with A-6 against a short stack with A-Q. The probability of there being two Aces out with just 5 players is low, so I felt my weak Ace was good and that I was facing another King just like the earlier hand. That cost me 6,500 chips when the blinds were 1,000 and 2,000 and with just five players those blinds came around fast. I blinded out before getting a playable hand.
It was 4:30 by the time I busted out, so I had played 3 ½ hours. I consoled myself with one of the large cookies (three types) HR has for its poker players.
After a short nap, we headed out to Paris and used our Eiffel Tower observation deck coupons. It was close to 8 PM by the time we got to the deck due to capacity controls. There was a big crowd there wanting to see and photograph the Bellagio fountains show. They cleared out after that and there was still good (indirect) light for some great photos of the Strip from on high.
Since we were at Paris, we decided to use a $10 off coupon from our Harrah’s properties book for their gourmet burger restaurant – Le Burger Brassiere. I had an eight-ounce lamb burger and Susie went with an eight ounce salmon burger. These were served with a large amount of lettuce, tomato, onion and half a Claussen pickle. Since Susie doesn’t eat any of those, I inherited them. We also ordered some seasoned fries. Even with the $10 coupon, the tab was $17, more than I’ve ever paid for a burger meal. (I don’t plan on paying it again, either… we can eat steak and prime rib cheaper than that in Vegas.)
Since we didn’t get to sleep until about 11 Wednesday, we slept in and didn’t get out until about 10 AM. I played an 11 a.m. tournament at O’Shea’s and busted out in about an hour after I went head to head against “Redhead” by raising preflop to 600 with A-J and she was the only one to call. Flop came with a Queen and I probably made a mistake by checking. She put me all in for my last 1,000. I think she expected me to fold but I did not and she wasn’t pleased to see two overcards to her pocket nines. But they held.
I was the second one she busted and from table conversation she had with a dealer it was clear to me she played triple digit buy-ins at big California poker rooms. In retrospect, I should have gone all-in first because with a Queen on the board, she may have respected that show of “strength” since I raised preflop.
At the front of O’Shea’s, I came upon a $1-5 spread Hold ‘Em table with a single $1 blind. Now I normally don’t like these limit cash games because the texture of the game is completely different from no limit tournament play. But it had an interesting twist: anyone who lost with pocket Aces with a pot of at least $20 received $50. And “redhead’s” first victim was there, so I took a seat to his right.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the two of us were the strong players. The others seemed more interested in catching and losing with pocket Aces for that $50. And in the three hours I played there, that happened three times. But not to me, unfortunately.
I was able to use my tournament play experience and style to win $40. Once I won two big hands with a straight and two pair, I was given wide berth when I came out betting. The only player I watched out for was “redhead’s” first victim. He was also given wide berth when he came out betting.
I checked up on the tournament regularly. “Redhead” made it to the final table, final five, final 3 and was the eventual first place winner for $395.
We used our free buffet vouchers for an early 4:30 dinner so the food would be fresh. Although I haven’t had a Vegas buffet in years, I acquitted myself well. I started off with a plate of prime rib, roast lamb, and roast duck along with three olives salad and whole mushrooms in vinagrette. Then two plates heaped with shrimp and pre-split crab legs.
I limited dessert to a fresh fruit torte with strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry and kiwi atop custard and then a very rich chocolate cake inside a chocolate crust shaped about half the size of a softball. Followed by some Swiss cheese and dried fruit (apricots, figs, and papaya). I figured the fiber would be useful in digesting all that food. 😉 (I passed on the made-to-order crepes and Bananas Foster.)
Susie doesn’t eat much, which is why we don’t go to buffets. She had a small piece of prime rib, some fried chicken, maybe a dozen shrimp, three desserts and then called it quits.
A fitting way to end our last night in Vegas. But we’ll be back in January!
Viva Las Vegas!