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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 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 CA. Mr. Hoss uses basic strategy and the HiLo count method to give himself a chance against the house edge. He currently resides in NV and is weighing his options for a second career.


"They’re back." No, we’re not channeling the character of Carol Anne Freeling, played by actress Heather O’Rourke in the 1986 movie sequel Poltergeist II: The Other Side. We’re talking about the anticipated reopening of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. The Plaza’s casino opened the last week of August, and the hotel began accepting guests at the beginning of September.

Located at One Main Street, the Plaza’s 1,037-room hotel closed last November. The property is in the final stages of a planned $35 million renovation. The renovated rooms and remodeled casino floor and lobby include high-end furnishings that were purchased at pennies on the dollar from the bankrupt multibillion-dollar Fontainebleau project that was supposed to be built on the Las Vegas Strip. Work on that project was suspended about two years ago. On a Saturday night in mid-September, curiosity and the desire to seek new economic opportunities got the best of me, so I decided to check out the new Plaza.

I was spending the weekend on a hotel comp at another downtown property and walked down Fremont Street to the Plaza’s Main Street entrance. The exterior appears unchanged. Hotel check-in is located immediately through the front doors. Valet parking is available at this entrance as well. The interior entrance is nicely decorated with stylish chairs, paintings in a predominately-rich red color scheme, but the item that caught my eye was a McDonalds. Not yet open, but visible to the right of check-in, is a food court in the making, which will be anchored on one end by a McDonalds restaurant. A Subway sandwich shop on the other end is already open. Though both are fine franchises and I would love to have a piece of the action on either end at this location, when you are trying to rebrand yourself to compete with the Golden Nugget and other higher end properties nearby, seeing McDonald’s in the first 30 seconds somehow doesn’t convey that message.

Speaking of dining, current options include Hash House A Go Go and Island Sushi & Hawaiian Grill. A sign in front of Zaba’s Mexican Grille says "coming soon," and Oscar’s is scheduled to open in November. By the way, "Oscar’s" is former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman’s latest venture. It will be a combination steakhouse and speakeasy, with a splash of Italian cuisine. It is located on the second floor in the signature dome overlooking Fremont Street. Also, on the second floor is the Tie the Knot Wedding Chapel. Construction is continuing on both the second and third floors. It appears the third floor will include a lounge suitable for live entertainment.

The Plaza’s third floor is also home to the only bingo room in Downtown Las Vegas. The newly renovated room offers six daily sessions at 11 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM, 5 PM, 7 PM, and 9 PM. According to the advertising, players can compete daily to win the Plaza Bingo Room’s $5,000 Bonanza, $10,000 Super Coverall, $10,000 Super Letter X, or the $100,000 Super Bonanza!

There are scattered banks of slot machines throughout the casino floor. These include popular games such as Wheel of Fortune, Tarzan, and Sex & the City. Unlike most properties, there is plenty of walking space between rows of machines. A sign in the remodeled 80,000 square foot casino area read, "VIP slot area coming soon."

The Video Poker selection was poor (especially for dollar players). There were three upright machines near the Swingers Club with 9/6 Jacks-or-Better (JoB) and 8/5 Bonus Poker (BP) in denominations of 10 cents to 50 cents. With perfect play, these games return 99.54% and 99.17% respectively. For $1 players, the pay tables have been downgraded to 9/5 JoB and 7/5 BP. On these schedules, the flush returns only 5 coins versus the traditional 6 coins, and the full house returns 7 coins instead of 8 for each coin bet. In most situations these pay tables should be avoided. These are the predominant schedules on all the machines along with some pseudo Not So Ugly Deuces Wild (pNSUD) and its 98.91% expected return with perfect play. I also found plenty of low return 12/10 Deuces Wild games in all denominations. Apparently, the "improved" Plaza isn’t looking to attract video poker players.

After circling the casino, I made my way to the Players Club. It is open daily from 8 AM until midnight. Two people were at the counter and appeared to be getting players cards. I grabbed a handout detailing the NEW MEMBER BONUS PROGRAM. To participate, a casino patron must be a new Players Club Member of the Plaza or Las Vegas Club and have not had a club account at the Plaza or Las Vegas Club any time in the past to be eligible for the bonuses. Unfortunately, that ruled me out. For those of you that might be interested in the details, new sign-ups have 24 hours to accumulate points for the following rewards:

250 Points: T-shirt or $10 free slot play
500 Points: $15 Omelet House certificate, duffle bag or $20 free slot play
1500 Points: 2 dinner buffets, bathrobe or $50 free slot play
2500 Points: $50 dining certificate, logo jacket or $100 free slot play

For each 500 points earned past 2500 points, you get another $5 in free slot play. The maximum additional free slot play a guest can earn is $100. Players will earn one reward per level and can earn multiple rewards should they reach each corresponding level.

There were three table game pits in the casino. House blackjack rules allow...

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