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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 over 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 March 2013. The casinos visited in Henderson were:

Fiesta Henderson, 777 West Lake Mead Parkway

Green Valley Ranch, 2300 Paseo Verde Parkway

The M Resort Spa Casino, 12300 Las Vegas Boulevard South

"Beware the Ides of March," a soothsayer did say unto Caesar in William Shakespeare’s famous play (Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, 15-19). With the soothsayer’s warning in mind and a bit of trepidation in my soul, this month’s adventures lead me into primarily unfamiliar territory. On Saint Patrick’s Day, instead of pondering the plight of post-modern civilization over Guinness or Irish whisky, listening to U2 cover bands in a bar filled with auburn-haired lovelies in short green skirts, I instead found myself deep in the Southern end of the Las Vegas Valley. Like a scout for Caesar’s legions, I went in pursuit of a pot o’ gold somewhere on the green felt of Henderson’s blackjack tables. The following is my report.

Fiesta Henderson, 777 West Lake Mead Parkway

Located in the southeastern corner of the Las Vegas Valley, about ten miles from the south end of the Strip and practically at the intersection of Boulder Highway and I-215; the Fiesta once called itself "the Royal Flush Capital of the World." Those days appear to be long gone, but I did notice one reference to that moniker on a placard inside the casino. Thanks to its location, I’d never set foot in the Fiesta in all my visits to Las Vegas and since I live almost 30 miles away, certainly not since I moved here. The property is part of the Station Casinos chain and caters primarily to locals in the Henderson market.

Most locals’ casinos in the Las Vegas market have some good qualities. Just as the Palace Station (another Station Casinos property) profiled in the February issue of Blackjack Insider, the Fiesta Henderson has some decent blackjack, video poker, and affordable dining options.

The Fiesta has two table game pits. The larger has ten tables that include a roulette wheel, craps table, Texas Hold ‘Em, baccarat, Fortune Pai Gow, and five blackjack tables. The other six-table pit was closed, but appeared to offer three blackjack tables, roulette, Three Card Poker, and Pai Gow.

Of the four blackjack games being dealt during my visit, three were double-deck; the other was a six-deck game dealt from a continuous shuffler (CS). To the players’ credit, the three double-deck games (with five player spots) were full, but there wasn’t a player in sight at the CS table. Since I couldn’t get on a game, I talked to the idle CS dealer and watched the two games being dealt behind her. The Fiesta offers good playing rules and they are the same for double-deck and CS games. Blackjacks at the Fiesta pay 3:2. Players are allowed to double-down on any first two cards (DOA) and double-down after splits (DAS). Aces may be split, and re-split, to form up to four hands. Dealers hit soft 17 (H17) and surrender is not available. Table limits were $5 to $500.

Fiesta offers a wide variety of video poker selections. Most are of the short-pay variety, but there are some 100%+ return choices with perfect play. These include Full-Pay Deuces Wild (100.76%), 10/7 Double Bonus (100.17%), Loose Deuces Wild (100.15%), and 10/6 Double Double Bonus (100.07) up to the quarter level. These games require $4 in coin-in (CI) to earn one player’s club point. On slots and other video poker games, $1 CI equals one point. For those that prefer less volatility, there are a few 9/6 Jacks or Better machines in quarters near the bottom of the escalator.

The race and sports book looked serviceable and there is a large bar nearby for those times when college kids can’t make free throws! If it gets too stressful in the sports book or on the casino floor, the 12-screen Regal Cinemas offers first-run movies; on Tuesdays, admission is only $6. There’s also a bingo room upstairs near the buffet.

The Fiesta’s wide selection of dining choices includes Fuego Steakhouse, Amigo’s for Mexican fare, and the Fiesta Buffet. The lunch buffet is $6.99 and the dinner buffet is only $7.99 with a Boarding Pass (players’ card). Café Fiesta was set to open March 18 with 24-hour dining and a menu that features nothing over $10. There’s also a food court.

Green Valley Ranch, 2300 Paseo Verde Parkway

About five miles west of the Fiesta Henderson is Green Valley Ranch (GVR). Just hop on I-215W and take the Green Valley exit. The casino is to the right just past the upscale shopping area known as The District. GVR is also a Station Casinos property, but the upscale Mediterranean-style luxury resort rivals anything found on the Las Vegas Strip.

GVR features 55 table games located in the central portion of the casino near Drop Bar or in the high-limit salon. One section includes what has become the standard offering of "carnival games" to include Three Card Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, Let It Ride, and Fortune Pai Gow Progressive. Other games include roulette, craps, Pai Gow Poker, mini-baccarat, craps, and of course, blackjack.

The blackjack offerings at GVR run...

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