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LAS VEGAS REPORT: DOWNTOWN GRAND LAS VEGAS

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 November 2013. The casino visited in downtown Las Vegas was:

Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, 206 North Third Street

Thereís a new casino property in downtown Las Vegas. In case you havenít heard, the new Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino opened with minimal fanfare the last week of October. The property held a "formal" grand opening November 12, complete with a ribbon cutting, marching band, showgirls, and Mayors Goodman (both the current and former). Casino mogul Steve Wynn even stopped by to toss the first come out roll of the dice at the craps table. With great expectations, I ventured downtown this month to check out the new property. However, with respect to Charles Dickens, by the time I left, I felt "Scrooged." With Thanksgiving in our rear view mirror and Christmas just around the corner, the holiday season is indeed a time to give thanks and count oneís blessings. Unfortunately, at least for gamblers, the new Downtown Grand Casino isnít one of them.

Before we delve into the details of the Downtown Grand Las Vegas (DTG) and explore the variables that drove me to the above conclusion, some background and history is in order. The DTG is the first property to open in downtown Las Vegas in more than 20 years. Itís located on the site of the former Lady Luck Hotel & Casino at the intersection of Third Street and Ogden Avenue. If you are on Fremont Street, find the Third Street Stage, between the Four Queens and the D Las Vegas, turn around facing away from the stage, and start walking. Youíll see the DTG almost immediately and itís a very short walk.

At the time of this writing, the new property doesnít have a parking garage available. I parked at the Four Queens during my visits. An email inquiry on my part about the parking, or lack thereof, yielded a timely response from an executive assistant to a senior vice-president. In it she told me, "We are currently in the process of opening a parking garage on the corner of Stewart Avenue and Casino Center Drive in the lot adjacent to our hotel. We do have complimentary valet parking which is accessed off of Stewart Avenue at 4th Street."

The former Lady Luck opened in 1964 as a pinball and slot machine parlor called "Honest Johnís." It was renamed in 1968, and later became a popular downtown destination. The early 21st century was not kind to the Lady Luck and the property had various owners from 2000 on, finally closing its doors February 11, 2006 for what was rumored to be a year-long renovation. The financing for that project fell through and the property has been empty ever since. Current owners, the CIM Group June 12, 2007, purchased it for approximately $100 million. I remember the Lady Luck featuring a pretty good double-deck blackjack game back in the 90ís and early 2000ís. I played there many times and even spent a few comped nights at the hotel. It wasnít what I would call a "date place" and I donít recall ever eating a meal at the old Lady Luck, but a good gamble is a good gamble. There was a foot-long hot dog "deal" at one of the bars, a downtown answer to the long departed Westward Ho on the Strip. The Lady Luck was a no frills kind of place. The new version is pretty much the exact opposite.

The Downtown Grand casino is very retro. The property features lots of vintage Las Vegas artwork. The casino has high ceilings; lots of open space; sleek fixtures; and modern, comfortable, leather gaming chairs. The whole floor has an urban warehouse meets speakeasy vibe going Ė not necessarily a bad thing, and it is very well done in this writerís opinion. I was told by one guest and, in a separate conversation, a hotel employee that the 634-hotel rooms are quite luxurious and take aim at the Golden Nugget, generally considered to be the most "Strip-like" of the downtown hotels. A little luxury and some new hotel rooms shouldnít be a bad thing for downtown Las Vegas.

As mentioned earlier, CIM Group, a west-cost based real estate development company, owns the DTG. Fifth Street Gaming operates the gaming space. The 25,000 square foot casino falls into the boutique category and unbelievably, feels much smaller. On my first visit, I actually asked a pit supervisor if there was another table games pit upstairs or tucked away off the main casino floor out of view. The DTG features one primary table games pit which features one each of Fortune Pai Gow Poker, Three Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold ĎEm; two roulette wheels; two craps tables; and five blackjack games, four six-deck shoe games and one double-deck. The 888 Baccarat room has two baccarat tables and a blackjack table. Thereís also a high-limit room with two blackjack tables Ė one double-deck and one six-deck.

House rules at the DTG arenít bad. All player blackjacks pay 3:2. Players are allowed to double down on any first two cards (DOA) and double after splits (DAS). On the six-deck games, Aces may be split and re-split to form up to four hands and surrender is available. Aces may only be split once and surrender is not available on the double-deck games. Dealers hit soft 17ís on both the six-deck and double-deck games. Posted table minimum and maximum bets varied from $5-$2,000 and $5-$3,000 on the six-deck games and $25-$2,000 on the double-deck game. I visited twice (Thursday and Sunday evenings and never saw more than four tables opened). When I inquired about the empty high-limit room, a pit supervisor offered to open it for me, but told me it will only be open Friday and Saturday nights for now. Other times are available by request. Minimums range from $25-$100, with maximums up to $3,000, maybe more, depending on the player and some coordination. Pretty vague, I thought.

The place had been open less than three weeks on my first visit and they definitely seemed to be feeling their way. Did I mention there were no players at the blackjack tables either visit? I was told "about four decks" are dealt on the shoe games and "a little over half" on the double-deck. The pit supervisor and dealer I spoke with were friendly, but I decided to move on when they started asking me too many questions. I was staying at the Golden Nugget and visited a few times a year, allegedly, from "Gawdís Country"Ödown South. I wasnít prepared to have a spotlight on me and wasnít in the mood for heads-up on a six-deck game, which is the better game at the DTG, so I finished my tour, and made my way to the sports book.

Speaking of the race and sports book, like most of downtown, itís another William Hill outpost Ė no variety and the same numbers as the majority of the downtown books. The place isnít large, but itís serviceable. The chairs are comfortable and the television monitors looked good. I sat at a table and jotted down my notes for this article. It was like being at the library!

As you might have guessed by now, the DTG is a...

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