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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 weighing his options for a second career.

Note: The observations of casino conditions were made in September 2012. The casinos visited in Las Vegas were:

Harrah’s Las Vegas, 3475 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Golden Nugget, 129 Fremont Street

Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South


Casino Player magazine’s August issue featured their annual Best of Gaming Awards. The magazine’s readers were asked to vote on their favorite casinos, hotels, casino games, and on pretty much any topic you can think of across the country’s vast gaming regions. Naturally, one of the casino categories is Best Blackjack. For this month’s BJI, I took a look at the casinos its readers voted "Best Blackjack Las Vegas."

Before I begin commenting on the winners in the Best Blackjack Las Vegas category, let me preface it by saying that the casinos mentioned here were selected by readers of a specific magazine. Everyone that participated had an equal vote. It doesn’t mean the votes cast were informed, uniformed, or if the voters even knew the difference between blackjack and poker. It’s like the late, great Ernie Johnson Sr., long-time Atlanta Braves announcer, used to say when I was a kid listening to baseball broadcasts on the radio, "Anybody that steps up to the plate with a bat in their hand is dangerous, even the opposing pitcher." So it is with voting – for good or ill.

Harrah’s Las Vegas, 3475 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Harrah’s Las Vegas took home first place in the Best Blackjack category. My mother used to tell me that if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. That’s great advice, but if I followed it, you’d be staring at blank space (Apologies, Mom, but I have to write this article).

Harrah’s Las Vegas is owned by Caesars Entertainment Corporation (ticker symbol CZR on the NASDAQ), formerly Harrah’s Entertainment. They haven’t been blackjack player-friendly in many, many years to the best of my knowledge and personal experience. However, they are very popular with slot players and hold an impressive portfolio of properties. Needless to say when I visited late one Thursday night, my expectations were minimal.

Harrah’s is a large property with over 87,000 square feet of gaming space. Its 80 table games are spread out over several table-game pit areas on the main casino floor, a high limit area, and a party pit. With a nod of contempt to all the joints I’ve seen offering lousy blackjack games in recent years; Harrah’s is probably the worst. The bulk of their games are of the eight-deck variety. Blackjacks on these games pay 6:5, dealers hit soft 17s, and Aces can be split only once. Players are allowed to double-down on any first two cards (doa) and double after splits (das). They do offer surrender, and to their credit, some of these rules are posted on placards or on the table felt, namely the 6:5 payouts on blackjacks. Harrah’s dealers dealt five to five and a half of the eight decks before shuffling. Table limits ranged from $10 to $1,000.

Harrah’s also offers a few double-deck games. These games pay 3:2 for blackjacks. Doa is allowed, but das and surrender are not. Dealers hit the soft 17, and Aces may be split only once. Penetration was about a deck, and table limits ranged from $25 to $3,000.

The games are only slighter better on the high limit area’s nine tables. Dealers stand on all 17s on the double-deck games and blackjacks pay 3:2 on the eight-deck games. The rest of the rules are the same as previously mentioned for the pitch and shoe-dealt games respectively. Limits were $50 to $5,000 with one table posting $100 minimums and max bets of $10,000.

Harrah’s offers a party pit with a country theme tied to entertainer Toby Keith’s bar and grille also located on the property. The female dealers wear denim cut-offs and there are two stages with dancers showing off their best boot scootin’ moves. The party pit has nine table and all the games are of the eight-deck variety with the same rules mentioned earlier. Nothing takes the life out of a party like eight-decker’s paying 6:5 on player blackjacks!

I did discover a game I was unfamiliar with called...

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