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by Ted Salveson

Ted Salveson is an experienced blackjack player and a scratch golfer that enjoys the many options in the Vegas valley. He gets ‘weak’ when his casino host uses the words "Las Vegas" and "golf tournament" in the same sentence. He is a practitioner of dice control and uses Speed Count when playing blackjack.

Casinos visited in September included Luxor, Mandalay Bay, NYNY, Excalibur, and MGM.

I Travel to Vegas four or five times a year. Usually a close friend of mine, Frank, meets me (sans our wives) for the week. This trip included a survey of the five MGM properties that dominate the corner of the Strip and Tropicana Blvd. The highlight of the week occurred right away.

Paul Garcia, the Director of Operations for Luxor, and one of his Shift Bosses took us for golf at Shadow Creek. I have played tournament golf all over the country on some of the finest courses, and this one is easily in the Top 5. The course doesn’t look like anything else in Vegas. They built slopes, elevations, waterfalls, and trees. My, with so many trees, it looks like North Carolina. The course has tees ranging from 6800 yards to 7700. We played right around 7100. That was plenty. Once I started collecting my Social Security checks, I gave up the back tees. We had a gorgeous day on an immaculate layout. I was not unhappy with my 75 score as there was lots of "local knowledge" to be learned. I look forward to playing this course again.


We stayed at Luxor, so we’ll start there with this report. The property is 20 years old and was beginning to show its age. They recently started a $200 million make over, including upgrading all of the rooms, but beginning with the casino. New carpet, new central bar area, new table felt, new paint, brighter lighting, and a whole new vibe. Granted this was a fight week, and Mexican Independence weekend, but I haven’t seen action crowded at the tables like this in a long time.

My birthday was Friday the 13th. We had dinner at Tender, the excellent steakhouse in the Luxor. We were joined by Paul Garcia and David Casey, the GM of Tender. After dinner, they had arranged for a personalized birthday cake fort me and three waiters to sing, "Happy Birthday". They asked if I was embarrassed, because if not, they could do it again.

With the blackjack games in this report I want to clarify definition and differentiate between Continuous Shuffle Machines and what I call Automatic (elevator) Shufflers. The CSMs are those that are constantly reshuffling the cards that are fed back into the machine after every hand or two. They are designed to make card counting irrelevant, and they succeeded. Automatic Shufflers only sort cards, like eight decks of red, while the shoe is played down through eight decks of blue. You still get a "true shoe" and the count is still viable. The only advantage to the house is more hands are played as it eliminates the time spent with the dealer hand shuffling after every shoe.

A few months back Harrah’s (now Caesars Entertainment Group) initiated a policy whereby they changed a very large segment of their blackjack games to 6:5 payouts, regardless of type of game or the minimums on the table. And they brought in the CSMs at every table they could. Regrettably most of the other Strip properties followed suit. However, after initially overreacting, the MGM casinos have recently begun to modify that stance. The 6:5 payouts are mostly in the single-deck or low-stakes games.

Luxor has four pits of table games and one with craps. Not all of the pits are open early to mid-week, but when they are all operating they have 29 blackjack tables. Most (too many) of the games are low stakes and pay 6:5, including the ubiquitous "Party Pit." They have 12 CSMs, and eight are in the Party Pit. But they have earmarked Pit 4 for what Paul Garcia calls "real blackjack." There are 11 tables, all paying 3:2, with minimums of $10, $15 and $25 and no Continuous Shufflers. There are two double-deck face-up games with the rest being shoe games with eight decks. All are H17, DAS, no RSA, and no surrender. They have a notch in the shoe that makes each end cut fairly uniform, set to cut out 70 cards. (On a closed table, a Shift Boss friend demonstrated a cut and then counted the cards. 70 exactly.) The High Limit area offers two shoe games with S17, DAS, and surrender. They also have a double-deck game with about 70% penetration. No mid entry on the DD and betting starts at $100. My standard unit is $25, with my initial bet point at two units. Depending on the count, I will spread my bet from one unit to eight ($200). When the High Limit pit is dead, they are not opposed to lowering the minimum upon request to play this game.

I had one playing story of note. I was sitting at third base one afternoon in a shoe game with a dealer, who is an old friend. There were three other players, a young fellow and a young couple, all playing $10. It was a very friendly, social game. At one point with a positive Speed Count (i.e., over 31)...

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