Starting the Year Off With a Win

Nearly every year I attend CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – in Las Vegas and nearly every year I start off with a big gambling loss.  I’ve written about this before, too many drinks, too many days, too many sessions with co-workers at bad tables, and too many dumb losses.

This year I went into the show with a different mindset.  I decided to spend more time working and not fall into the typical gambling traps that come with playing with cheap co-workers after open bar parties.  Unfortunately, my willpower was tested immediately.  My hometown Georgia Bulldogs were playing for the National Championship and after drinking all game then watching a crushing defeat in OT I stumbled down to the $100 tables at Planet Hollywood.  This was exactly what I wanted to avoid, and sure enough, I ‘hate gambled’ away 16 yards in about an hour.

After this poor start, I regrouped and didn’t drink for the next 48 hours.  The lack of alcohol and focused play at my favorite tables in Bally’s high-limit room over day 2 & 3 got me back slightly ahead going into the final day.

I was feeling much better about my week heading into the final day and had only one meeting before making a last run at profitability.  I started my day at The Cromwell where I played at an 8-deck table (never a good choice) while waiting to say hello to my favorite host.  This cost me several yards, but it is always good to see a friendly face and that fun interaction started my day off on the right path.

After leaving The Cromwell I was drawn back to the Bally’s HLR and their $50 table.  I made a nice run, nothing spectacular, but it did put me solidly in the black for the week.  At this point, I had a choice to make so I grabbed a slice of pizza, walked past the $100 tables at Paris and then u-turned back to Ballys.  I decided to make my last stand at my favorite table.  This turned out to be a good choice.  After a few solid shoes I hit a major hot run and started putting black chips in my pocket while growing my working stack.  Once I hit 4X my buy-in I chipped up and headed to the Diamond lounge for a snack before bed.

As a nice little post-script, I put $100 in the Wheel of Fortune slot at the airport and won $50 before catching my flight.

This was by far my most profitable CES and now that I’m off to a winning start to the year I’m going to focus my efforts on making 2018 my most successful gambling year ever.


4th Annual Blackjack Year In Review (2017)

I feel like the sales guy in your company who didn’t hit their quota, but has to do an annual review and try to spin all the positives of their year that obscure the fact that they didn’t do the one thing that they are paid to do – produce revenue.  To get the big question out of the way first, no it was not a winning year on the blackjack tables.  This is my 3rd losing year in a row – ouch.  I’ve made some peace with the fact that my use of a progressive betting system will produce winning sessions and even streaks, but likely won’t make me a consistent winner in the long-run.  That being said, I still have some work to do on my play that would keep me closer to even or ahead simply by being more disciplined in my play and game management.  Anyway, let’s look at the year in numbers:

  • 17 casino visits – new record
    • 4 trips to Vegas
    • 1 new state – Maryland, 11th state in which I’ve visited a casino
    • 22 straight months with a casino visit and counting
  • Largest loss in one trip -52 yards – brutal Jan trip to start year in huge hole
  • Largest win in one trip +20 yards – summer Vegas trip got me back to nearly even
  • Largest loss on one hand – 8 yards
  • Largest win on one hand + 7.5 yards (1.5 split/double X5)
  • Largest single bet on one hand – 7.5 yards – push
  • Total loss for the year – 56 yards

Some of the other highlights from the year included:

  • National Blackjack Day on 3:2 gained momentum, including a mention on the billboard in front of The D Las Vegas
  • I had some positive impact on The Cromwell and their gaming strategy based on conversations with their host
  • I won a NLH poker tourney over 50 people at Planet Hollywood with an $80 buy-in that paid $1200
  • I kept my Diamond status with Total Rewards which is great mainly for the fact that it avoids the damn resort fees on comp rooms

It was another fun and productive, if not profitable, year for my gambling hobby.  I’m looking forward to much more in 2018 with 3 planned Q1 Vegas trips and promising plans for #BlackjackDay 2018 it should be another great year.  Look forward to playing more, have new experiences, and meeting more great people as part of this adventure.

That Time I Played Arm Chair Casino Marketing Consultant for The Cromwell

My current ‘dream job’ would be working as a casino marketing consultant.  Living the @_Lucky45 life traveling from casino to casino providing insights and recommendations on how they could improve their operations.  I’m not sure it truly is a dream job, but from the outside looking in, it seems like a fun gig.

After a Vegas trip this spring I met a friendly host at The Cromwell and had a great conversation about their gaming strategy.  She encouraged me to provide some feedback so I sent the attached email with my POV.

The premise of the note was summed up here:

Gaming options on the Strip have become mass market and game rules continue sliding to the favor of the house while regional casinos are raking in major hold revenue from higher limit gamers.  This shift creates a gap that an intimate, upscale, player-friendly casino on the Strip would have the ability to exploit.

It was fun to see that this summer The Cromwell implemented some similar concepts to those that I had recommended.  Now, I’m not taking credit for these changes. the host told me that they were considering some changes already, however it was good to see that my ideas had merit.

Maybe I have potential in a casino marketing role – only time and a little luck will tell.

Full-copy of the attached email exchange with the host from the PDF is below…any feedback is appreciated.

 From:   XXXX XXXX <>
 Date:  Sunday, April 30, 2017 10:59 pm
 Subject:  RE: Feedback on The Cromwell
Good evening,

It was a pleasure meeting you as well! Thank you so much for the very thoughtful email, it’s clear that you are passionate about marketing and care about the success of The Cromwell. I went ahead and forwarded your email over so that the right person can hear your feedback and get in touch with you.  Hopefully, you can stay with us during your next trip and see some of our changes implemented and more clearly why Cromwell is truly such a unique and luxurious property unlike anything else on the Las Vegas Strip.

Again, thank you so much for the feedback and I look forwarded to seeing you here on property in the future. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any other questions regarding Cromwell.

Kindest Regards,

XXXX XXXX  |  Vip Hospitality Host

3595 Las Vegas Blvd S. | Las Vegas, NV 89109
| Download our app Play by TR

From: []
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2017 7:12 PM
Subject: Feedback on The Cromwell


It was a pleasure to meet you last week and I appreciate you indulging my questions and comments about the gaming potential at The Cromwell.  I started to write a short follow-up email and my marketing consulting side kicked in so apologies in advance for the long email.  I truly believe that The Cromwell is uniquely positioned to double or triple gaming revenue with a concentrated effort.

My expertise is in strategic digital and brand marketing as I’ve lead both for The XXX Channel, XXX, XXX and now I’m leading marketing for a digital media start-up.  Combine that background with a passion for live casino gaming and particularly blackjack, and the Cromwell gaming business has captured my interest.  I make 5-6 trips to Vegas each year, with about the same number of trips to regional casinos and typically play $50-100 limit blackjack.

As I mentioned, I stopped by to chat since you didn’t have any tables open in the high-limit room when I passed through on 3 different occasions mid-week last week and I enjoyed playing in your HLR on previous trips.  I ended up in the Bally’s HLR for most of the week.  This email is based on your suggestion to provide some tangible feedback to share with casino leadership.

Unique Insight:

Gaming options on the Strip have become mass market and game rules continue sliding to the favor of the house while regional casinos are raking in major hold revenue from higher limit gamers.  This shift creates a gap that an intimate, upscale, player-friendly casino on the Strip would have the ability to exploit.


Players First – not a tagline, a mindset.  I was in Cherokee NC last week and they had 20+ $50-100 limit blackjack tables, 6+ craps tables all above $15 and nearly every spot was full.  This obviously isn’t a direct relation to Vegas, but these players will almost all head to Vegas at some point each year and when they arrive they would appreciate a casino to welcome them like the high-level player they are.

The Brand:

Currently, The Cromwell has what I’d call in consulting terms Brand Dissonance, but in everyday terms the carpet doesn’t match the drapes.  I can stay for free at any Vegas Total Rewards property except The Cromwell and you send me surveys asking what name makes me think of an ultra-lux destination, which makes me believe that The Cromwell is the top of the line Vegas property for Caesars competing with the Cosmo and Aria.  When I arrive and the first thing I see are signs for $5 tables always open and $2 drinks with no high-limit room tables open that makes me think the target market is the drunk dude stumbling between Ballys and Flamingo.  The only way to build a brand is to embrace it at all levels.  I was at the Wynn this trip and a guy came up to the bar at 3pm Tuesday and asked what the specials were – bartender says ‘Sir this is the Wynn, every drink is special.’    A bit douchy, but point made and the guy bought a $12 drink.

Target Customer:

So who is a ‘Player’?  Someone who appreciates great customer service, quality gaming odds and options, loves great food from a high-profile chef and enjoys a world-class day/night club experience.  They don’t all have to be the same person, but they can appreciate people who like each of them.  In terms of gaming, the experience is key.  At Bally’s, Paris and PH I know several of the dealers and pit bosses in each high-limit room and the experience is friendly and fine.  If I venture to other properties I’m lucky to get a ‘good luck’ when the pit boss flings my players card back to me.  I’d be very impressed if I could play somewhere that went an extra step to show me they respect me and my business.


How would we measure success and know that these observations are more than just long-winded musing and if changes were implemented that they are successful?  Since The Cromwell is intimate it won’t compete on gross revenue hold numbers, but there are a few metrics that would show progress including revenue per player, revenue per table, repeat visitors, players who stay at other properties, and other indicators that super-serving players is indeed growing the bottom line.

Tactical Implications:

So what does all this mean?  Honestly, all of this may not match the data and I’m heavily data-driven so would be fun to dig into the numbers to validate.  Anyway, here are a few top-level options that could bring the strategy to life:

–          -Service: Address all players by last name/sir/ma’am, welcome all players at the door and direct them to their destination, personal welcome from casino host to all players staying at hotel (I did receive this last year during my stay), personal email to players staying at hotel prior to their stay, hand-written thank you to each high-limit player after their visit, etc

–          -Gaming: Favorable odds (all blackjack 3:2, strong odds on craps, etc), no tables with limit below $15 on BJ or $10 on craps ever, high-limit room open every day at least after noon (ideally 24/7)

–          -Messaging: No significant mass-marketing efforts, mainly targeted personal messaging to players via email, text, etc, No marketing of the odds or amenities, focus on the vibe and atmosphere that players will expect.  Not looking for the drunks stumbling the strip, or locals trying to get good odds, looking to super-serve players.

–          -Extras: The Abbey as invite only/membership space (this may not be possible, but would be amazing), would like to see a ‘speakeasy’ in the casino which has secret entrance for players who know, maybe a ‘player of the day’ voted by staff, custom ‘Cromwell’ card for select players that gives small extra benefits.

I’ll stop now since I’ve clearly gone way beyond my depth.  I appreciate you humoring me as I dabble in casino marketing consulting for one email.  If any of this is of any interest I’d be happy to have additional conversations and I look forward to playing in The Cromwell in the near future.

Thank you,


Vegas 48-Hour Guys Trip Recap Nov. 2017

Last week was my annual 48-hour guys trip to Vegas.  Usually it happens in the summer, but this year it was postponed due to some scheduling conflicts.  There were two of us staying in a comped room at Paris with another buddy down the street at MGM Grand.  As always, there was little in the way of actual plans, leaving the schedule open to gamble and drink as much as possible.

Day 1: One long losing blackjack session

I landed at 11am on Wednesday, took Uber to Paris.  As a sidebar Uber is absolutely the way to go from the airport to the Strip, $14, easy access from the parking deck and no worries about long-hauls.  I’ve found that cab rides from the airport to the Strip are about $20 and the ride back to the airport is less than $15.  I had a noon call for work which took about 15 minutes then headed straight to my favorite table on the strip.

I walked through the indoor street connecting Paris to Bally’s and found ‘my’ table open.  The table I always look for is the $50 6-deck shoe in the high-limit area at Bally’s.  I know most of the dealers and pit bosses, I can almost always play by myself, and it is a pretty good atmosphere.  I sat down around 12:30, bought in, and promptly got a blackjack.  Unfortunately, that was the only good part of the first shoe, the rest was a downward slog.  2nd shoe, first hand blackjack again and another losing shoe, ugh.  3rd shoe, dealer starts with blackjack and you guessed it, I won a bit.  So I was now settled in, the drink girl knew to bring me a Bud Light when mine was almost gone and it was time to grind away.  I played shoe after shoe and then yada, yada, yada it was after 9pm and I realized hadn’t eaten anything since pretzels on the plane.

I walked to Burger Brasserie next door for a solid burger (way overpriced, but it’s Vegas and I had a $30 food credit) and got a text that my buddy had just landed.  At this point it is 10:30 PT, I’d been up since 6am ET, drinking beer since noon, and it was time to lurch back to my room to pass out.  Overall a fun day, but playing for so long at the same table is never a great strategy and not surprisingly I ended the day down over 25 yards – that makes for some expensive ‘free’ Bud Lights.

Day Two – Don’t call it a comeback

After the losses on day 1 I woke up early and decided to walk the strip before my buddies got out of bed and get off to a positive start to the day.  Coming from the east coast I never sleep past 7am in Vegas so I was up and out the door at 6:30.  Walking the strip early morning is always an interesting experience with a combination of degenerate gamblers continuing their streaks of good or bad luck, club kids coming home in full party gear, golfer guys grabbing coffee, hookers looking for a last trick, convention attendees hurrying to breakfast, exercise buffs crushing a few miles, and the homeless randomly strewn across the sidewalks.  It makes you feel awesome and awful for yourself and for people in general at the exact same time.

After my slow walk down to Venetian and back I got my buddy and headed to Earl of Sandwich at Planet Hollywood for a quick breakfast and to get the comeback started.  After a quick bite I jumped into the $100 table at Planet Hollywood which continued my losing ways with another 10 yard loss, oof.  I also played $100 worth of team slots with Chris from Faces N Aces who was not in Vegas but playing virtually – that was a total bust – playing $1 WOF machine at $5 per spin and it was gone within 5 minutes and only one positive win in the whole play.  My buddy went back to the room to rest for a bit so I walked with him back Paris and stopped by the $100 table at the high-limit room.  This session was bumpy as well with a slight win streak followed by some uneven results that finally trended down until my buddy came to grab me for lunch down another 5 yards, grr.

Poker Tournament

Lunch was another good, but over-priced, burger at Gordon Ramsey’s BRGR at Planet Hollywood which I paid for with points so I couldn’t complain too much.  At lunch our third friend joined us and we discussed the $80 daily poker tournament at PH.  We decided to all play and split any winnings equally between us.  The three of us bought in and were assigned to separate tables as part of the 50 person field.  These small tournaments typically start slow and this was no exception, I played conservative and hovered near even for the first few rounds until we got to break.  Both of my friends were doing better, one was up about 50% and the other was the chip leader after a double knock out.  After the break my table started to loosen up and I made a small run while my buddies were treading water.  A few minutes later one of my guys busted so now we’re down to 2 chances to earn our money back.  Right before the 2nd break I was hurt by a tough river card leaving me towards the bottom while buddy #2 busted out on a semi-bad beat.  Now the team hopes are down to me and I’m about 16th out of the 20 players left at the final 2 tables.  My strategy was to wait until I had a huge hand, go all-in, hope for the best and repeat until I got back into better shape.  Fortunately people were now playing very loose and 3 of our 10 players were gone in just a few rotations.  I picked off a couple of blinds going all in with no callers and then shoved with Queen-9 of diamonds and was called by a guy with similar stack size and a pair of 3’s – terrible call on his part I thought.  Flop was Queen, 9, blank, then river was another Queen to give me a boat.  Now I’m back in the game.  With a decent stack and players donking off chips as we got close to the final table I made a nice move to get back to a respectable position of 6th out of the final 10.  So you’re saying there’s a chance.  Once the final table started the dude in 8th immediately started pushing for a chop.  A couple of people were going to go along, but me and the guy with huge chip lead said no.  2 more busted and guy pushes for chop again, but the two of us say no again.  Next hand I bust out guy right behind me and now I’m 4th out of 7 and choppy keeps going so I said ‘NO, we’re here to play poker…worry about your cards not the chop.’  Chip leader and dealer agree with me and shortly after I bust out #7 to get to 3rd of final 6.  We all put in $20 to pay off whoever lost next which was the bubble.  Now we’re down to 5 and I’m basically in a tie for 2nd, way behind the chip leader who had the rest of us all covered by far.  We get down to final 3 with chip leader at 4x me and other guy who were tied.  I offer chop to other guy for 2nd and he declines then immediately goes all in with Queen Jack and I call with King Queen and now I’m heads-up at about 1/3 of chip leader.  I get cards and play well heads up to get us nearly even.  I then pick up a flush vs his straight and cripple him.  Couple hands later and he’s all in with King 10 spades and I call with King Queen.  Queen comes on the flop and only one spade, fade the next streets and I just won $1400.  Split 3 ways after the $80 buy-in and I’m up ~$400 in poker after getting crushed in blackjack, go figure.

Back to my games

I was hoping to parlay my poker luck into blackjack winning so I went back to the PH HLR and proceeded to play for several hours while my buddies wasted their winnings playing the big wheel.  After an hour my buddy comes in to tell me he is going to get the big wheel girl to hang out with us tonight – riiight.  The only hand of note in this session was pretty fun – a $150 bet saw me get 77 vs dealer 5 – split, then a 7 so now I’m working 3 hands.  4 lands, double (face down), next 7 gets a 10. 3rd 7 gets a 3, double (face down) – Total hand is now 5x$150.  Dealer turns over a 2 for a 7 – crap – next card is an 8 and….10 for the bust!   That was a solid win, but overall session wasn’t great so after another hour I’m ready to roll and he proclaims he got the digits, but she can’t hang out tonight because she has to take her dog to the vet after her shift (which ends at 9pm) – okay, whatever makes you feel good.  I lost a few bucks, but nothing terrible at blackjack and now we’re headed to play some team roulette.

We each pitched in $100 for roulette, got $5 chips, picked a few numbers and played a few of the outside bets.  Team roulette can end in 5 spins or be a lot of fun.  In this case we were drunk enough and we hit a number (that I picked) the 2nd spin.  Now we’re up and 2 spins later we hit another number (friends pick, #34) so we’re rolling and sure enough #34 hit twice in a row.  Now we’re way up, take our 100% profit off the table and keep playing the rest of the money with no further hits until it runs out.

It’s 9pm and dinner time at BLT Steak at Bally’s.  Great steak dinner, used a $100 comp towards the bill so free for me and my buddies were happy to get a discount.  After dinner the guys headed back out to PH to watch girls spin wheels and I decided to call it a night.

Of course, when I say call it a night that means stopping by the Paris HLR before bed – my bankroll was hurting and this was a high-risk move before I got on the plane early in the morning.  I bought in and started off with a decent shoe and then had a great shoe to more than double my buy-in.  At that time another guy came into the room so I decided to cash out.  Now that I was on a roll I wanted to keep playing and headed to Bally’s HLR.  Bally’s was another good run and generated more than a triple-up on my buy-in, but at 1:30am I had to quit and cash in so I couldn’t push my winnings even higher.  With these last-ditch efforts I was back to nearly even for the 48 hours and called it a night at 2am to get up at 6am for my flight home.

At the airport I played Wheel of Fortune slots and ended up doubling my $40 before takeoff.

Another fun, although not ultimately profitable, 48 hour guys trip to Vegas in the books.  Maybe I’ll follow this week’s results up by becoming a poker player first and a blackjack player second – yeah right – blackjack is where my heart is even if it is hurting my bankroll in recent trips.  As Arnold would say…I’ll be back!

I Am Still Going to Vegas

It has taken me nearly a week since the senseless shooting in Las Vegas to write this post.  I don’t have anything newsworthy to add to the chorus of voices around the story, but since Vegas is my favorite destination I feel the need to write if for no other reason than just to clear my head.

I’ve been to Las Vegas at least 40 times, including 20 trips in the past 4 years, and it is always my first choice for conferences and vacation travel.  I have made friends with dealers, hosts and bartenders in my favorite Strip casinos along with a great cast of characters from gambling themed Twitter, podcasts and blogs.

Gambling, specifically playing blackjack in Vegas, is my favorite pastime.  I would be in Vegas right now playing cards at Paris, Bally’s, Cromwell, or Planet Hollywood if I could do anything I wanted to at any moment.

I set all this up to give a little context for my words.  I don’t know of any personal connections who were injured or worse, but I can’t be sure since most of the Vegas contacts I have are not people I speak with when I’m not there.  So in the back of my mind I keep thinking, what if I come back to my favorite Vegas place and find out the bartender was at the concert?

Selfishly, I want Vegas to go back to being Vegas as fast as possible.  I come to escape my normal routine and that usually includes lots of friendly banter, laughs and smiles.  I can only imagine how hard that must be for people who were so close to such a terrible event.  I don’t know what to say to them, I want to ask if they are okay, their families, their friends, and I’m curious about their experience that night and this week.  But, how do you talk about that without sounding like a voyeur and worse I’m sure they don’t want to relive it over and over again with every single customer.  Not to mention it really brings down the mood talking about something so heavy.

I’m guessing I’ll probably try not to mention it unless someone else brings it up when I make my next trip in November.  I want to have fun and I want the people who earn a living trying to make it fun for me to feel as normal as possible.  Until I get there I really just don’t know how it will feel.

On another selfish note I really don’t want to stay at Mandalay – that is where we are booked for a conference in January.  I want to support them and know that nothing bad will happen to me there, but just being in a place that had such a horrible event and trying to enjoy myself seems wrong.  I wonder if MGM will rebrand the property at some point.

Like I said at the top, this post was just a way for me to vent.  I’m the least impacted person by this jackass, I’ll keep coming to Vegas, life will get back to normal quickly for me, I wish that was the case for all those people who were more directly impacted, but I know that realistically isn’t true for many of those who are permanently changed by this one horrible act.

I love you Vegas, I mourn for those who were killed, I wish the best for those who are recovering, I celebrate those who have come to aid others in so many ways, I abhor the man who did this, and I vow that I am still coming to Vegas as often as I can.

Quick stop in Baltimore makes Maryland my 11th live casino gambling state

I had a short work trip to Baltimore last week which gave me the opportunity to add another state to my personal list of live casino gambling visits.  Unfortunately, this trip didn’t go well for my bankroll with a poor performance at the $100 high-limit tables which I’ll attribute to trying to cram in a session when I didn’t have the time to play strategically.  Probably over-justification, but I’ll stick with that story.

This brings my tally of states to 11 with AZ, CA, CT, FL, IA, KS, MS, NC, NJ, NV and now Maryland.

This also extends my personal streak of continuous months visiting a casino to 19, which I like to pat myself on the back for since the closest casino to my hometown is a 2-hour drive.


That One Killer Winning Blackjack Shoe

I’ve played enough blackjack to see shoes* that have contained the good, bad and the ugly in terms of wins and losses.  In most cases the results stay within the realm of reasonable expectations even if that means taking a chunk out of your bankroll.  I’ve had shoes that have gone well before, but this last trip to Vegas was my all-time biggest positive swing on one shoe.

*A shoe in blackjack is the plastic card holder where the dealer places and then pulls cards for play on the table.  A shoe is measured in decks of cards (I play 6-deck hand-shuffled shoes) dealt before the next shuffle.  As a side note I’d recommend never playing more than a 6-deck shoe and avoid continuous-shuffle machines at all costs.

I wrote earlier about my climb back to even money for the year and this is the brief tale of the shoe that got me there.  I was down a decent amount for the trip, it was getting late on my third night in town, I was playing at a $50 limit table in Bally’s, and I was down $500 on this one shoe alone.

The first 1/3 of this last shoe was looking bleak and I was about ready to throw in the towel and accept a losing night.  At that point I started a nice winning streak that got me back to even for the shoe in a few hands with a couple of splits and doubles.  Once I was back to even, things got exciting in a hurry.  I don’t recall exact hands very often and this was the case tonight as well, but one thing I clearly remember from this run was being dealt 4 straight blackjacks!  That streak of easy wins built my bet size up quickly and the wins kept coming after that run with nearly every hand.

I was getting fired up, the dealer was nearly shouting on every hand when it seemed like I couldn’t lose and the chips kept flowing my way including a 2x split with 2 doubles that hit for another big hand win.  The last few hands of the shoe cooled off until the last hand came up as a blackjack to finish off a great run.

When all was said and done I went from $500 down to $2,500 up in the last 2/3 of that one shoe for a $3K swing.  I’ve never had a single shoe with that big of a win and that is a rush I won’t soon forget.

Now I’ve set a very high, and probably unrealistic, bar to judge my future shoes against, but I’ll keep playing to try and match, and then exceed, the rush and win from that one elusive killer shoe on my next Vegas trip!