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by Stu D. Hoss

Stu D. Hoss is a 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 January 2013. The casinos visited in Las Vegas were:

Stratosphere, 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Palace Station, 2411 W. Sahara Avenue

For this month’s edition of Blackjack Insider, I visited two properties – one on the Las Vegas Strip and another off-Strip. Despite very different addresses, these two properties have one thing in common, namely, they aren’t catering to or looking for "whales" or high-rollers. They offer economically priced rooms, gaming, and amenities at a fraction of the cost you’ll find further south on Las Vegas Boulevard. One offers significantly better gaming opportunities, while the other has a few more nifty "bells and whistles." Let’s get started.

Stratosphere, 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South

The Stratosphere is one of the most recognizable Las Vegas Strip hotels in the world thanks to its iconic tower. Jutting 1,149 feet into the Vegas skyline, the Stratosphere Tower is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States. You can see this beacon to the north end of the Strip from miles away throughout the Las Vegas Valley. The tower is home to restaurants, nightlife, and thrill rides.

The Stratosphere’s 80,000 square-foot casino features lots of open floor space and the main casino area is rather dimly lit. It features two long table game pit areas – both composed of 15 tables. Each has a variety of games to include Fortune Pai Gow Progressive, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, Let It Ride Bonus, and Three Card Poker. The two pits also have a combined five Roulette wheels. There are four craps tables near the pit area closest to the casino cage.

Despite the large selection of table games mentioned above, the Stratosphere still has a decent number of blackjack tables. The Stratosphere offers shoe and hand-dealt blackjack options. However, there isn’t much to get excited about from a playing perspective. Several of the six-deck shoe games pay 3:2 for player blackjacks; Aces can be re-split to form up to four hands; and doubling down on any first two cards (DOA) and after splits (DAS) is permitted. Dealers hit soft 17 and surrender is not available. Mid-round entry is allowed on the shoe-dealt games, but the maximum bet is limited to $200 for those players until the shuffle. Table limits were $10-$1,000 on these games.

Unfortunately, this casino also has several...

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