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by Stu D. Hoss

Stu D. Hoss is a recently retired Air Force officer and 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 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 pursuing options for a second career.



In his 1972 ballad, "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" the late John Lennon wrote:

If you had the luck of the Irish
You'd be sorry and wish you were dead
You should have the luck of the Irish
And you'd wish you was English instead

One has to wonder if that is how Fitzgerald’s mascot Mr. O’Lucky feels now that he and his pot o’ gold have been replaced by a large letter D on a red backdrop at the casino entrance at 301 Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas. The old Fitzgeralds with its "luck of the Irish" theme, has new ownership and a new name, "the D Las Vegas," or simply "the D."

The property was purchased in October, 2011, by Derek Stevens and his brother, Greg Stevens, majority owners of the Golden Gate Hotel, 1 Fremont Street. Derek reportedly took a 78% ownership share and Greg the remaining 22% share. The new owners announced a $15 million renovation to be completed later this year. The plan is to give the property a more modern look and vibe, except for the second-floor casino, which will have a "vintage Vegas" theme with retro games such as Sigma Derby, coin-drop video poker, and maybe even some coin-drop slot machines. Renovations and changes to the 34-story, 638-room hotel and its 42,000 square foot casino are ongoing and the property has remained open throughout. In case you’re wondering, "the D" name comes from the downtown location, the name of the new owner, Derek Stevens, and the Stevens' hometown, Detroit.

I visited the D twice in May, early in the month to scout, take notes, and play some blackjack, conditions permitting. The second time was to confirm my general impressions, which were mixed, and to check out the crowd on a busy Saturday night during Memorial Day weekend after Vince Neil, lead singer of the rock band Motley Crue, kicked off this year’s Summer concert series on Fremont Street with a rousing performance of 1980s metal and hard rock that in 80s parlance simply "kicked ass."

Upon entering the D, the first thing I noticed was the music and the energy. It’s loud, almost too loud, and there is a general party atmosphere coming from the gaming pit area, which dominates the downstairs portion of the casino. The joint was hopping both nights I visited and the crowd was a good cross-section of 30-somethings, 40-somethings, 50+ year olds, right on up to little old ladies with walkers.

The D has 29 table games divided into three pit areas, all paralleling one another. Like at the Golden Gate, many of the blackjack dealers are of the dancer/dealer variety and wear similar attire - black bras, with white fringe overlays, short black skirts with more white fringe, plus tall black boots. They take turns dealing and rotate dancing atop elevated stages behind the gaming tables. Dancers, dealers, and players alike all seemed to be tapping their feet and snapping their fingers to the musical selections. The young dancers, older crowd, and musical selections made for a strange brew, but people appeared to be having fun - in an MTV meets Matlock sort of way!

The first pit of table-games closest to the entrance from Fremont Street has eight blackjack tables and a Texas Hold ‘Em Poker table. All of the blackjack games being dealt were six decks ... three from shoes and the others from continuous shufflers. The second gaming pit is primarily poker-based games. The six poker- variety tables have staples such as Three-Card Poker and Pai Gow Poker. There is also two craps tables and two blackjack games in this pit – one dealt from a continuous shuffler, the other was a hand-dealt two-deck game played on an "i Table" (more on this below). The final table gaming pit is composed of two roulette wheels and eight blackjack tables: six six-deck blackjack games dealt from continuous shufflers, one six-deck game dealt from a shoe, and one double-deck game.

Blackjack rules at the D were the same on all the six-deck tables. Blackjacks pay 3:2 and dealers hit soft 17s (H17). Players may double down on any two first cards (DOA) and after splits (DAS). Aces may be split only once and surrender is not offered.

I managed to find an empty third-base seat on a shoe-dealt game and played through almost three shuffles – leaving up two units, with a full table and a true count of about minus four. After never really getting on a good run and players coming and going regularly, it seemed like a good time to punch out. Penetration seemed surprisingly respectable at a solid four decks. Table minimum bets ranged from $5, $10, and $15 to a maximum of $1,000, except for one double-deck game in pit number three, which offered limits of $25-$2,000. Note: DAS is not allowed on the double-deck games (i-Table included); however, mid-round entry is allowed at the table minimum on those games.

I mentioned the i-Table earlier. This is an electronic, interactive table from the folks at Shuffle Master, Inc. It appears to be geared to those players who like to play games on their personal computers or mobile devices. When a player buys into the game, the dealer credits an available seat with the amount of your buy in. You don’t receive chips; instead, you get electronic credits on a touch-screen at your betting position. To place a bet, the player touches the desired chip denomination or drags the chips to the desired betting circle (there are side bets such as Royal Match 21 and Bet the Set "21" with betting circles in front of the player’s normal betting circle). After all bets are made, the dealer deals the cards in the traditional manner. Once all players have received their first two cards, buttons showing your decision options appear on your touch-screen (split, surrender, double down, stand, and hit). A Help screen offers playing instructions and additional side-bet information. Once each round is complete, all payouts are resolved electronically. The player’s credits or bank amount will increase or decrease depending if they won or lost. There were three people playing the i-Table game and I did not stick around long enough to view the "cash out" process.

Here’s my opinion of the i-Table...

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