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By Stu D. Hoss

Stu D. Hoss is a recently retired Air Force aviator. He has visited and served in over 40 countries, including flying combat missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa. Most of it was under the guise of keeping the world safe for democracy, better blackjack, and for a few other personal reasons. He has been playing blackjack for almost 20 years and cut his teeth on the tables of South Lake Tahoe during flight training in Northern Califonia. Mr. Hoss uses basic strategy and the Hi Lo counting system to give himself a chance against the house edge. He currently resides in Nevada and is weighing his options for a second career.

The observations of casino conditions were made in May 2011. The casinos visited are located in the Summerlin community in northwest Las Vegas and include:



Red Rock

As I drive along Summerlin Parkway and later West Charleston Avenue in northwest Las Vegas, I canít help thinking that if the late Hunter S. Thompson were writing his classic "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" today, the bookís main character Raoul Duke, and his sidekick Doctor Gonzo, could not have ignored Summerlin in their search for the American Dream.

The community known as Summerlin was developed by The Howard Hughes Corporation on the west side of the Las Vegas metropolitan area of Nevada. It sits in the shadows of the Spring Mountains and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Named for Howard Hughesí grandmother, Jean Amelia Summerlin, this 22,500+ acre community ranked as the countryís best-selling master-planned community for nearly a decade until the housing bubble burst and the nationís current economic downturn began.

Amid the gated communities, golf courses, mountain shadows, and open spaces of Summerlin lies three casinos Ė Suncoast, Rampart, and Red Rock. Itís a beautiful early evening in May as I went in search of a small sliver of the American Dream on the green felt blackjack tables of Summerlin.

Suncoast Hotel and Casino (9090 Alta Drive)

I began the night at the Suncoast casino. I had not eaten dinner and knew I could dine "free" by using earned points that were in my BConnected account (the casinoís player loyalty program). Suncoastís entrance and exterior are somewhat majestic. (South Point Hotel and Casino, located on the south end of the Strip. was allegedly modeled after Suncoast.) The casino itself is easily navigable and offers a wide array of slots and table games, with many restaurants and a showroom off the main casino floor.

Fighting off hunger and with my priorities obviously aligned, I initially headed for the blackjack tables. On this night, there were eight tables open. They featured double-deck games with minimums starting at $5 (2), $10 (4), $25 (1), and $50 (1). There was one unplayable single-deck game offering 6/5 for blackjack.

When I asked the Thai dealer to verify the rules at the double game I was about to play, she seemed surprised. "Itís same. Regular blackjack rules," she said. I smiled and replied, "Itís a shame, but you have to ask now days. That game behind us only pays 6/5 for a blackjack. You canít play that." She responded, "Itís single deck. People like single deck. Its good game. Have to pay less because of card counters you know."

I said, "Iím sure all those legions of card counters are going to put you all out of business on that $5 game." I added, "Besides, no one can really count cards anyway," while trying not to laugh and fighting off flashbacks from the mid-90s, time I spent flying missions out of U-Tapao, Thailand for our Uncle Sam.

After this banter, I bought in and gave my playerís card to the floor supervisor. I verified the rules with him and asked for some details about a couple of blackjack tournament ads I saw posted in the casino (more on those later). The double-deck game paid 3/2 for natural blackjacks, doubling was allowed after any first two cards and after splits. Pairs could be re-split up to four times, except for Aces. Surrender was not available and dealers hit soft 17. A side bet for matching pairs on the players first two dealt cards was also offered. The cut penetration after the shuffle was...

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