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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 April 2013. The casinos visited on the Las Vegas Strip were:

The Quad Resort and Casino, 3535 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Harrah’s Las Vegas, 3475 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Spring is traditionally a time for change; a time for hope; and a time for new beginnings. While much of the Nation continued to suffer under winter storms and heavy rains, the Major League Baseball season got under way this month. On opening day, every team is in first place and there is cause for optimism for players, coaches, and fans alike. Hope springs eternal!

This spring there are currently many changes underway and on the books for the once fabulous Las Vegas Strip. However, much like the current editions of baseball’s Houston Astros or Miami Marlins and their fans, these changes aren’t necessarily a cause for optimism for gamblers. This month I ventured to the Strip to check out progress on the remodeling and rebranding efforts at the Quad and stopped in at its next door neighbor, Harrah’s. Read on to find out what I found.

The Quad Resort and Casino, 3535 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Located center-Strip, just north of the Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard intersection, the Quad Resort and Casino was introduced in December of last year after 33 years as the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace’s days were probably numbered when Caesars Entertainment Corporation (ticker symbol CZR on the NASDAQ), then Harrah’s Entertainment, purchased the property for $370 million in 2005. I never spent much time at the Imperial Palace, but visited a few times in the 1990s. It was a quirky place and was, admittedly, in need of a facelift in recent years. It’s certainly getting that and more.

The property has remained open throughout renovations which began last fall. Currently the front or Strip-side of the property is enclosed and makes for quite the eyesore. A new entrance and sign will be debuted when a new façade is scheduled to be completed near the end of this year. Right now, it merely looks like a construction site.

The "new" Quad is directly tied to another, larger project; namely Caesars’ LINQ Las Vegas. When fully completed, LINQ will span more than 200,000 square-feet and feature high-end retail, dining, and entertainment options. The open-air entertainment district will be anchored by the world's tallest observation wheel, known as the High Roller. Plans call for the "giant wheel" to reach 550 feet into the Las Vegas skyline and measure 520 feet in diameter. The wheel will feature 28 glass-enclosed cabins that will accommodate up to 40 riders. One full revolution of the wheel will take 30 minutes and provide unique views of the Las Vegas Strip. The High Roller is comparable to the London Eye, but larger. If you’re a comic book superhero and movie buff, the London Eye is featured during a scene in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).

I visited on a Saturday night and in its current form the Quad leaves a lot to be desired. The parking garage itself was an experience. It took me 18 minutes upon entering to find a parking space and I never turned around or doubled back. I’d parked in the Imperial Palace garage a couple times during its history and always thought it was poorly designed. Currently the structure remains in place, but in an unusual oddity, it dead ends on the fourth floor near the elevators. I came around a corner and was met by a concreted wall – no signs, notices, or warnings. Fortunately, I was able to turn around easily and found a spot as a couple was leaving. When I departed a couple hours later, there was a wooden barricade placed before the corner – still no markings or advisories. The placing of the barricade merely made backing up and turning around more difficult for anyone that ventured that far. Poor barricade placement, lack of communication, and undo risk of fender benders for guests – not good.

Upon entering from the garage at the rear of the property, the casino area is on the second floor. To get there, patrons meander down and through a series of hallways. These are filled with a few retail outlets, a daiquiri bar, and hotel check-in. There’s a Hash House A Go Go restaurant down a corridor off the main hallway and escalators leading up to the show room, more restaurants, and the race and sports book.

The Quad’s race and sports book is currently only open Friday-Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s a throwback, but looks like an interesting place to catch a game. Plenty of seats and screens are available. Odds are posted in marker on a dry erase board. I’d guess the whole place will be redone at some point. Unfortunately, it’s not a great place to make a bet. Caesars’ Las Vegas properties deal a 15-cent line in baseball, as opposed to the traditional (and more player friendly) 10-cent line. I’ve read and heard that their futures odds are some of the worst in town as well. Take that for what it’s worth and plan accordingly. There are a few slot machines, a long bar, and two beer pong tables in the area as well.

If you’re hungry, adjacent to the race and sports book is the Burger Palace. Genseng 3 (Asian) and Quesadilla (Tex-Mex) are located up another set of escalators to the fifth floor. Other dining options at the Quad are Betty’s Diner, Embers Steakhouse, and the Emperor’s Buffet.

After walking hallways and riding escalators, I finally stumbled into the Quad’s current version of a casino, which is divided into multiple areas by a bar area complete with tables and chairs. The first casino area features an 11-table pit area and a few machines. The games are dealt by "Dealertainers" – you might remember them from the Imperial Palace. The dealers double as celebrity impersonators and periodically perform numbers on a center stage area in the pit. I recognized Prince and Brett Michaels. After that I had to read the table-side placards to identify some of them. Impersonators also included Stevie Nicks, Cher, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, and others.

There are 10 six-deck blackjack games and a Three Card Poker game in the Dealertainer pit. Not surprisingly, all the blackjack games are...

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