Checking Washington off My Casino List

I travel a decent amount for work and this month had me going all over the U.S.  Every time I have a trip planned I scout out the potential for a casino visit.  I started the month with a slot hall in Alabama, and to end the month I had a trip to Seattle.

This Seattle trip was a little odd since I had to take a red-eye from Seattle to NYC before heading home.  That scheduling oddity set up an opportunity to check Washington state off my personal list of states where I’ve gambled in live casinos.  After my meetings I had several hours to kill before my flight and a free rental car day on my account.

I picked up my car in downtown Seattle and set out for Snoqualmie Casino which is about 30 minutes east of town.  The weather was a typically awful rainy afternoon so I didn’t get to see much on the drive, but I have a feeling it is a beautiful place when the sun comes out.

The casino was about the same as most regional casinos I’ve visited over the years.  Big parking deck, a Pacific Northwest motif, truckloads of slot machines, a bar in the center, and a decent amount of table games.  Since I was only playing for an hour or so I didn’t bother with the high-limit area and picked a seat at an open $15 blackjack table.  The table filled up pretty quickly, and as usually happens at these regional places, most of the players bet nearly as much on the side bets as they do on their hands.  I was basically even for my hour of play until losing a final split/double/double hand sent me to my car down a bit.

Overall, the casino was fine, dealers were friendly, and they only offer 3:2 payouts on blackjack so if I have the opportunity in the future I’ll likely visit again, but really this visit was more about checking off state #13 on my list of casinos: AL, AZ, CA, CT, FL, IA, KS, MD, MS, NC, NJ, NV, and WA.

I’ll keep making the trips, reporting back, and keeping tally until I visit every state that offers casino gambling.

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They Have Casinos in Alabama – Sort of

Another work trip, another trip to a local casino.  This time it was a driving trip to Montgomery, Alabama and a trip to Wind Creek, Wetumpka.  I knew they didn’t have table games in Alabama, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

From the outside it looks like most other regional casinos with a big parking deck and no real design appeal.  Inside it was a mass of glowing and ringing slot machines as far as the eye could see.  The set-up looked like any other small casino with a bar in the middle, slot machines covering every inch of the floor and even a high-limit room.

I’m not a big slot player so I found a bank of $1 Wheel of Fortune machines and put in $100 so I could say I played, and hit the button for about 15 minutes until I won a nice pot to get back to even.  I cashed out and moved across the floor to another bank of WOF and on the first spin I got a Wheel spin for $100 – I kept going and got 2 more Wheel spins which put me up to $300 which I spun back down to $250, cashed out and left.

Most likely I’ll never play in Alabama again until they get table games, but it counts and it  brings my tally of states to 12 with AL, AZ, CA, CT, FL, IA, KS, MD, MS, NC, NJ, and NV.

48 Months and Counting

I was looking back at my gambling history – yes I keep a spreadsheet tracking my play – and realized that I’ve gambled in a casino at least once each month for the past 48 months.  It’s not a bad stat on the surface, but when you add in the fact that the closest casino to my home is a 2-hour drive, I’m pretty impressed with myself.  Many of my visits were simple one-day up and back trips, but there have been plenty of full-blown Vegas vacations thrown in there as well.

Here is a quick look at the past 4 years by the numbers:

  • 60 separate casino trips (LVS includes multiple casinos per trip)
  • 24 Trips to Las Vegas
  • Most visited location: NC (26 visits)
  • Most casino trips (on non-consecutive days) in a month: 4
  • Biggest win in a month: 430 yards
  • Worst loss in a month: 520 yards
  • 17 winning months, 31 losing months (ouch)
  • 11 Different locations
    • LV, SF, L.A., Iowa, NC, UK, Balt, DC, Mia, Wisc, AC

Now that I have a streak going I’m debating on how long I’m going to try and keep it running.  Even though I tend to be a bit of a stat geek and keeping streaks going plays into my personality I don’t think I will keep the streak just to keep it.  I do however find myself wanting to visit a casino every few weeks and so there is a good chance that I’ll have this streak for a while for the simple reason that I enjoy being in a casino playing blackjack.

Hopefully, I’ll see you at the tables during one of my next streak-extending visits!

Vegas blackjack trip: Lessons learned from a WSOP star and a retired hippie

I’ve been on a cold streak in my recent blackjack efforts.  It has been 4 months since I’ve had a significant winning trip to the casino and my frustration level has been rising.  When I go through these rough patches I do my best to evaluate my strategy and find opportunities to improve.  I found new ideas to employ from two unlikely sources during my most recent 4-night Vegas trip.

Night 1: Get your money in good! 

My first change was something I worked on prior to this trip after playing next to a WSOP star in a high-limit room on my last Vegas trip.  I was playing alone in the PH HLR and a guy who looked familiar came in and sat in seat 1.  He sat down, started winning and never stopped winning – turning $2K into $15K in less than 3 shoes while I stayed basically flat.  We chatted for a bit and he confirmed that he was a WSOP pro who I had seen on at least one final table and made his living playing poker with many big cashes.

What I learned from watching him wasn’t something he said, but rather how he played.  He was aggressive in bet sizing, taking advantage of favorable runs, and making the most of his opportunities.  I don’t think he was card-counting, but it is possible.  My takeaway was to press my bets more aggressively than my current strategy, which I was eager to try throughout this trip.  There are some obvious downsides to this including

  1. Math – since I don’t count cards the house still has a slight edge
  2. Risk/Reward – the more you press the more you bet which can quickly add up to some high-priced hands and
  3. The luck of the draw – sometimes when you get it in good, the cards still find a way to crush dreams.

Night 1 was my first opportunity to test this betting strategy out and it was relatively successful.  It was a fairly routine night with a couple of hours in the Bally’s high-limit room and I came away up 10 yards and avoided any major potholes before calling it an early night.

Day 2: Don’t play like a tourist!

I arrived a day early for my conference so I could spend the day playing cards.  Since I don’t live within 2 hours of a casino I try to maximize every visit which can lead to some extended table time.

Before we get to the blackjack I had some World Cup games to watch.  I went down to the Caesars sports book to watch the last games of the opening round including 7am games – Mexico vs Sweden & Germany vs Korea. The book was full at 7am with 90% Mexican fans, 5% Germans, 5% Sweden and 1 Korean guy.  If you recall Mexico got crushed, then amazingly Korea beat Germany and the Mexican fans turned the Korean guy into a hero.  He was there 30 minutes after the game with all the Mexican fans chanting KO-RE-A and taking selfies with him.  If it were a 7pm game they likely would have carried him around to all the bars with them for the night.

After that soccer fun, I headed out to start my blackjack day.  As usual, I began at Bally’s high-limit room where I had to ask them to raise the table minimum from $25 to $50.  I don’t mind playing $25, but really I did it to keep away other players and get as much solo time at the table as possible.  That turned into a bad decision as I quickly gave back my winnings from the night before.  Back to even I took a walk to the Paris HLR and almost as quickly dropped 15 yards into the hole, grr.  I didn’t blame either of these on the new strategy, in both cases, I caught terrible cards with no chance of making money.

After the quick beatdowns, I wanted to slow the pace and headed to Planet Hollywood for the 1pm $80 poker tourney.  Somehow. that went worse than the blackjack.  I made one bad bluff, then had an all-in 9s vs. 10s and poof out in the 3rd level.

After a quick lunch, it was back to Bally’s to try and make something out of a day that seemed to be slipping away.  This session at Bally’s was much better than the earlier trip and I floated between even and up 5-10 yards over the course of several hours.  As it got close to dinner time a very personable guy came to sit at my table.  The dealer knew him and he offered to wait until the next shoe so he started off on the right foot.  Sometimes I’ll leave the table when a new player joins, but this guy seemed like fun so I told him to jump in and away we went.

This guy is the retired hippie mentioned in the title of this post.  He was fun, friendly and made some really good points.  I felt a little like the Dude in Big Lebowski when the old cowboy showed up – I didn’t quite know what to take from the guy, but he seemed like he sat with me for a reason.  He mentioned that he was retired and now comes to the casino every couple of weeks.  About 3 shoes in he had doubled his money and abruptly said good luck, grabbed his drink and headed out.  I stuck around, now up 10-15 yards for the session.  About 45 minutes later he came back with a new beer and bought-in again.  He said he went to the Diamond lounge to get a beer and some food.  Another 15 minutes and he doubled again, cashed out and said goodnight.

I finished the same shoe up 12 yards (3x my buy-in) cashed out and went to grab dinner.  During dinner, I realized that I was playing like a tourist and the hippie was playing smart.  We walked away with roughly the same amount of winnings, however, he did it with smart quick wins, while I rode waves up and down which could have easily left me in the hole if I didn’t get away from the table at the right time.  This gave me the theme for the rest of my week:

DON’T PLAY LIKE A TOURIST!!

It was getting late (for an East Coast guy with meetings at 8am the next morning) so I headed back to Caesars.  That walk takes me through The Cromwell, which is my favorite location on the strip right now.  For once their HLR was open on a Weds night so I had to make a stop.  I was the only one there, as usual, and they were happy to let me play at a table that may or may not have been reserved for someone else.  I played a couple of uneventful shoes and then ran into a rough shoe which had me up 5 yards until a huge 9-yard split-double loss crushed the momentum and sent me home down 10 yards for the trip.

Day 3: Quickie

My 3rd day started with my wallet hurting and meetings all day.  After all day meetings and a team building dinner I was exhausted, but I made the short walk to Cromwell to start my blackjack night.  It turned out that was a good call.  I sat down at the $100 HLR table, ordered a bud light, and within 3 minutes had tripled my buy-in.  I looked at the dealer, pushed my chips across the table to chip-up, then hung out and waited for my beer before walking home.  I had just used both of my new mottos – I pressed my bets quickly, including a $300 hand that went up to $1200 after 2 splits and a double (I won 3 of the 4 hands)  which had me sweating big bets, and also walked away up 24 yards instead of riding my stack down to less of a win.  Now we’re ahead for the trip and I feel good going into the last day.

Day 4: Make or Break

As an introvert, I’m not a fan of Vegas on the weekends since the casinos tend to get very busy and my favorite tables are often crowded.  This Friday wasn’t much different so when my meetings ended around 4pm I waded through the tourists looking for an empty table at one of my favorite high-limit rooms.  As usual, I started my tour at PH and planned to play my way back to my room at Caesars.  Unfortunately, the HLR at PH was busy so I headed to Paris where they had an open $100 table.  I played for an hour or so with small swings up and down until I was down about 5 yards and it was time for some dinner.  When I came back from a quick dinner break, the same table was still open in Paris so I sat down in the same seat and proceeded to win 12 yards (doubled my buy-in).  I applied lesson #2 above, cashed my chips and headed to Bally’s.  At Bally’s, I played at my favorite $50 table in the HLR for about an hour until a couple of drunk guys came to join me – as soon as one of them pulled out their cigarettes I chipped-up and walked away up another 8 yards.  Now, I’m up 15 yards for the trip and have one last stop on my way home.

I walk into my favorite HLR on the strip – Cromwell – and sure enough, it’s empty – game on.  This was the make or break moment for the trip.  I was going to go home a winner, it was just a matter of whether it would be a small margin or something to be excited about.  The first shoe started slow, but then a run got me back to even at the end.  The next few shoes were similar with slight moves up each step along the way.  It was getting late (for a guy with a 7am flight) and I told my dealer that I needed the next shoe to be a winner so I could get some sleep.  The last shoe didn’t disappoint.  The shoe started off good, then got very good, and then I hit the moment of truth..

$250 bet, I get a pair of 2s and the dealer shows a 5 – split and the next card is a 2, next card 8 – pit boss looks over and says ‘You’re in the shit now’ – now I’m in $1,000 for the hand and take the double-down card face down.  Hand #2 gets a 6 then a 10 for 18 and hand #3 gets Queen for a 12.  Dealer turns over a 7 so she’s got 12 – deep breath – next card a 5 for 17.  So now we’re even on the 2 hands I can see and the moment of truth with the $500 hand, dealer flips my down card and YES it’s a King – whew, we’re going home a winner.

The rest of the shoe was uneventful and when the last hand was a blackjack in my favor I pushed my chips to color-up, tipped my dealer and walked away with 3x my buy-in.

Of course, when you win you don’t want the night to end so I played roulette at Caesars on the way to bed and went from $100 to $400 then called it a night at $200.

Overall a good trip – learned a couple of valuable lessons which will hopefully help my blackjack game and bankroll in the long-run and in the short-run came home +43 yards for the trip!

Next Vegas trip is planned for Sept and hopefully, I’ll find my way to my ‘local’ NC casino before then to keep my blackjack run going!

 

Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Bought My Loyalty for $160

Apparently, $160 is the price it takes for me to spend a day playing blackjack.  I get Total Rewards offers in the mail and online on a regular basis since Caesars is my casino company of choice.  Usually, it is free rooms at their hotels or a $20 free play.  This past month Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River upped the ante and in both April and May sent me $100 and $60 free cash offers.  They were valid for specific dates and on one Thursday each month they overlapped.

As I’ve mentioned before Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River is my closest casino at 2 hours from Atlanta.  It isn’t much, just a big open room with slots and tables, no frills, just gambling.  I figured for $160 it was worth the $20 in gas money to make the trip both months.

My April trip was exactly what they wanted – I took the $160 went to the $25 tables. lost 3x the free play and headed home.  Yesterday I tried my luck again, took their $160 went to the $50 table in the high-limit room and won 2x my buy-in.  Overall, the two trips combined I doubled their free cash so the drive was worth the effort and the free money turned out to be a winner.

So there you go casino companies, my price for visiting Vegas is a free room and my price for spending a day playing blackjack near my home is just south of $200.  Speaking of which, next week I’ll be in Vegas at a free room in Paris so hopefully that pays off on my side as well.

Playing Blackjack in London

This week I was in London for a family vacation and as luck would have it we stayed a couple of blocks from the Hippodrome casino near Leicester Square. I have played blackjack in 11 U.S. states and really wanted to add a new country to my list.

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Since it was a family vacation I didn’t exactly have casino time built into the schedule. I managed to carve off 30 minutes while the family was shopping for my 2nd day and drop by for a quick session.

The casino was very nice, not huge by Vegas standards, but 5 stories full of cozy table games, bars, and a poker room. The staff was friendly, the crowd was decent but not hectic, and overall it had a nice vibe.

I found a $25 blackjack table on the main floor and took a seat. Immediately 2 other people joined and we played a couple of shoes. I played my standard style and stayed near even for most of the time and when I had to go meet the family I ended the session up $45.

There were a few similarities and differences I noticed from U.S. games. The game was 6 deck shoe, hand-shuffle, 3:2 blackjack, dealer stays on soft 17 so generally a good game. Some interesting things of note were the amount of side action including 3 different side bets for pairs, high-hands, and 21s. You are also able to play behind other players with designated slots on each position. Also, when the cards are dealt each player gets 2 cards, plays out their hand and the dealer only has one card face-up. Once all the players act the dealer gets her 2nd card. Otherwise, most of the play was what I expected. One other minor item of note was a $10 chip which I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

I enjoyed my session and was able to get back for another hour my last night where I won another $70. So my first European gambling effort was a success with a minor win. Hopefully, I can keep these winning ways going for my U.S. trips which continue again this week in Vegas and one day I hope to get to play in more countries.

24 Hours in Vegas, 2nd Vegas Trip of 2018

Last week I was in L.A. for business so I figured why not stop by for a quick Vegas blackjack day on my way home since I was already on the west coast.  I had a comp room at The Cromwell, which is one of my favorite casinos, and a credit for airfare from a canceled trip last year so my only non-gaming expense would be Uber and food.

I flew LA to Vegas at 7am and it looked nothing like the TV show.  I did get an upgrade to first class for the <1-hour flight, but otherwise, it was fairly uneventful.  When I landed in Vegas both the Uber pick-up and the taxi line were empty in Terminal 3 – btw if you don’t have checked bags I’d always recommend using Terminal 3 for quicker taxi/Uber access – which is the first time I’ve ever seen this.  This was also my worst Vegas Uber ride ever, the guy didn’t speak any English, took the highway at rush hour and then pulled a U-turn on Flamingo to get into the driveway – luckily Uber didn’t charge me a higher rate for the long-haul.

With the travel over I settled into my room for some work calls prior to hitting the casinos.  The Cromwell has cool funky decor in the rooms and is one of my favorite places to play due to its intimate vibe, but I will say that in the future I’ll probably stick with Planet Hollywood or Paris for no other reason than the view.  I usually get a great view of Bellagio fountains and the strip and at Cromwell with the corner lot, I only had a partial view.

On to the casino.  I stopped by and said hi to my favorite host at Cromwell, but they still haven’t listened to me so there was no high-limit table open on a weekday so I headed over to Bally’s.  At Bally’s I sat at my usual $50 table in the high-limit room with one of my regular dealers.  Our first interaction was pretty funny…we shook hands said pleasantries and then the cocktail waitress came over with a Bud Light and said ‘welcome back, here you go!’  My dealer smiles and says ‘you come here too much.’ I say ‘Nah, it’s just about right.’  The first round at Bally’s I doubled my buy-in for 7 yards and then went to get a slice of cheap pizza for lunch.  After lunch, I went and played $25 blackjack with one of the dealers I know in the main pit – there are 3 women who have been dealing there for 20 years and I see them most trips just to say hi even though their games are getting progressively worse with multiple side bets and 8-deck shoes.  Another double-up for 3 yards and I figured I should try to make this trip a big winner so I headed to the Planet Hollywood high-limit room.  I wasn’t really paying attention to my dealer until mid-way through the 2nd show when she started sniffling – ugh – I’m not catching a cold or flu here.  I ride through a fairly bad shoe, which brought me back to just above even for the trip and bail out without trying to rally.

I took a quick trip to the Diamond lounge to get some free dinner before a nighttime blackjack session.  For my last session, I went to one of my regular dealers.  The conversation for this session was more interesting than the blackjack.  It turns out my guy is keeping his eyes open for a new job and started giving me stories about crazy things he’s seen at the casino as well as how much dealers make at the various properties.  I’m not going to share too many details here since a) I don’t have another source to confirm they are accurate and b) I don’t want to get him in trouble, but there were dealers caught trying to steal chips in their shoes and he shared what the average dealer makes at most properties on the strip.  The range is $50-120K for the mid-to-upper mid properties and he said getting a job at the high-end places is almost impossible since people rarely leave those jobs.  Another interesting tidbit was that dealers at one of the high-end strip properties reportedly made $1600 in tips on Super Bowl Sunday.

After that very intriguing conversation, I closed the day up 6 yards and headed off to bed.  As usual, I played my 25 cent Wheel of Fortune machine at the airport and this time took home an extra $20.  Overall the cost of the trip was 5000 SkyMiles, $30 in Uber, and $13 in food.  Overall, it was a fun 24-hours and I’m already looking forward to my next Vegas trip in April as well as a quick local trip on March 2nd for National Blackjack Day 3:2.