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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 July 2013. The casinos visited in Las Vegas include:

Bally’s Las Vegas, 3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South

After last month’s adventures on Paradise Road, I headed west a couple of blocks this month to the once fabulous Las Vegas Strip to visit two properties owned by Caesars Entertainment Corporation. What I found reminded me of the chaotic weather experienced in the Las Vegas Valley this month. Mother Nature wreaked havoc with several days of scorching temperatures, reaching 117F early in the month; severe forest fires in the mountains caused millions of dollars in damage; and heavy winds, rain, and flash flooding followed mid-month. The blackjack playing rules and overall gambling conditions I encountered were austere, uncomfortable, and provided unsafe conditions for players’ bankrolls. I didn’t find shelter from the storm in these two properties, but at least the air conditioning worked and the floors were dry when I visited, unlike across the street at Caesars Palace (if you haven’t seen the videos, go to and search for Caesars Palace flooding). If you want to know more about Bally’s Las Vegas and Paris Las Vegas, buckle up and read on.

Bally’s Las Vegas, 3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Located at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, this center- Strip property sits in the literal "belly of the beast" that is the Las Vegas Strip. The iconic property has a rich history and links the present to the past in a way that is rapidly disappearing in Las Vegas. The property has had many owners and seen many changes. In fact, the 40+ acre site was once the home of Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Prior to that, it was first occupied by the Three Coins Motel, which opened in 1963. The Bonanza Hotel and Casino opened on the site in July 1967.

Kerkorian opened the MGM Grand in December, 1973 with 2,084 rooms. (The current edition of Bally's features two 26-story hotel towers, with 2,814 guestrooms and suites.) The property holds its place in Vegas history as one of the city’s first megaresorts and was the largest hotel in the world at its opening and remained so for many years. When the hotel was built, it set a new standard of size and luxury in Las Vegas, and is considered by many to have made the biggest impact on Las Vegas until Steve Wynn’s Mirage opened in 1989.

On November 21, 1980 the MGM Grand suffered a fire that started in a casino restaurant and traveled up into the hotel, killing 85 employees and guests. The impact of the fire led to the development and implementation of new hotel fire safety improvements worldwide. The Grand was rebuilt in only eight months, and remodeling added a tower which opened in 1981.

The hotel was sold in 1985 to Bally Entertainment Corporation and the property's name was changed to Bally's (the MGM Grand name was transferred to the former Marina Hotel, now known as MGM Grand Las Vegas). Bally Entertainment was purchased in 1995 by Hilton Hotels Corporation. Hilton's casino resorts division was subsequently spun off and became Caesars Entertainment in 2003. Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment Corporation) acquired the property with its purchase of Caesars in 2005. For those who take their gambling seriously, it’s been pretty much downhill since.

As with any Caesars property in the Las Vegas market, my expectations were minimal and I had not visited Bally’s in several years. The casino has over 67,000 square feet of gaming space. Its table games area is centrally located in the middle of the casino and offers single-deck, double-deck, and eight-deck blackjack games.

There was an eight-table pit offering seven single-deck games and a Three Card Poker table. All the single deck games at Bally’s pay 6:5 for player blackjacks. Even money for blackjack against a dealer Ace is not allowed, something I don’t recall seeing before. Also, no surrender, 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). Mid-deck entry is allowed up to a bet amount of $500. In general, avoid the single-deck games here.

The bulk of the remaining blackjack games are of the eight-deck variety, but the table rules vary. There is a 12-game (four roulette wheels and eight blackjack tables) pit that offers the only remotely playable blackjack. Seven of these games were dealt from eight-deck shoes. Blackjacks on these games pay 3:2, dealers hit soft 17s, and Aces can be split only once. DOA and DAS are allowed. Surrender is not offered. Table minimums and maximums were $15-$2,000. Deck penetration was about six decks. There was a lone double-deck game in this pit. Table limits were $25-$2,000. Playing rules were the same as for the eight-deck games, except that DAS was not allowed. Deck penetration was about 55 percent.

Bally’s also has some eight-deck games that only pay 6:5 on blackjacks, but allow surrender. Everything else is as mentioned above. There are also games dealt from continuous shufflers in Jarrod’s Party Pit. These are 6:5 games as well. For the record, Jarrod’s idea of a party is a speaker blaring out bad music that dwarfs the generally good sounds coming from the live acts in the Indigo Lounge at the other end of the casino. No dancing girls or themes – just a small speaker system, two lousy blackjack tables, some carnival games, and a sign labeling it Jarrod’s Party Pit. As Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame would say, "Good grief."

The remainder of Bally’s table games is a mix of just about everything under the sun to include the usual suspects like Three-Card Poker, Texas Hold ‘Em, Let It Ride, Pai Gow, and Mississippi Stud. There are some blackjack derivative games like Blackjack Switch, Double Attack Blackjack, and side bets like Bet the Bust. These games were dealt from continuous shufflers and offer some rule variants such as blackjacks pay even money and dealer 22’s are a push. Study the rules and nuances of these games carefully before even considering playing.

In addition to poor blackjack conditions, the video poker offerings also leave much to be desired except for the highest bankrolls. The "best" video poker pay schedules I noticed at Bally’s for most players was 7/5 Bonus Poker (98.01%) in quarters. There is some 9/6 Jacks or Better (99.54%) and 8/5 Bonus Poker (99.17%) in $5, $10, $25, $100 denominations in the high limit salon. The straight flush on the $5 versions of these games pays 239 coins versus the normal 250. This eliminates the necessity of issuing a W2-G should a player connect for a straight flush on these machines.

Despite less than stellar gambling opportunities, Bally’s offers a great...

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