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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 December 2013. The casinos visited in Las Vegas include:

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Aria Resort and Casino Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas is a city of contrasts. This is no more apparent than in the month of December. During the first half of December, the city goes country and welcomes the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) to town. Country music fills the air, servers and casino staff sport their best denim, and boots look. Unfortunately, we might have heard the last "giddy up" for a while. After 27 years, the NFR is pulling up stakes in 2014 and leaving Las Vegas. That will present a void, but this is not the forum to discuss that turn of events.

After the rodeo boot scoots to a close, the mood turns seasonal with Christmas music, casino Christmas trees, decorations, and even some outdoor skating rinks on the Strip and Downtown. For sports fans, thereís a college football bowl game (Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl) that featured Fresno State and USC this year, plus multiple college basketball "mini-tournaments." This is in addition to the requisite shows, concerts, gambling, eating, drinking, and partying. All this leads up to the debauchery of New Yearís Eve. Suffice it to say, that for a "slow" month, Las Vegas finished 2013 with a bang. Speaking of finishing the year, I made one more foray to the Las Vegas Strip to check out the blackjack action at two popular high-end properties. Read on to find out what I discovered.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South

The Cosmopolitan is located next to the Bellagio, just south of where Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard intersect. If you are driving, the parking garage is off Harmon Avenue, just south of the property. The luxury resort, hotel, and casino is the newest property on the Las Vegas Strip and opened on December 15, 2010. It consists of two high-rise towers, dark with sporadic blue horizontal lighting, that dominate the skyline of the central Strip. The $3.9 billion project features 2,995 rooms; 150,000 square feet of meeting and convention space; 300,000 square feet of dining and retail space; a 40,000 square-foot spa and fitness facility; and a 75,000 square-foot casino. A new concert venue, The Chelsea, was set to open at the end of December with a concert by Bruno Mars. The intimate 1930s-era theater will reportedly seat up to 3,000. GoGoBot rated the Cosmopolitan hotel "The Best Hotel in the World" earlier this year.

The Cosmopolitan (Cosmo) is popular with convention attendees and has all the bells and whistles one would expect in a world-class property. The casino is almost an afterthought. The highlight for many is the nightlife. Marquee Nightclub and Dayclub is one of the most popular nightlife destinations in town. The Chandelier Bar is a must see (you canít miss it). Other popular, eclectic watering holes include the Vesper Bar, Bond, Queue Bar, Neapolitan, and the Book and Stage. The rooftop swimming pool area has been converted to an ice skating rink for the Christmas Holiday Season. The outdoor space includes heat lamps, pool tables, bar service, and televisions to keep an eye on your favorite sporting event.

The Cosmo is about socializing. Itís a "see and be seen" kind of joint. As you might imagine, mini black-party-dress-clad "eye candy" is not in short supply here. With its artsy, hip meets retro vibe, the Cosmo is the quintessence of cool.

Like many casinos owned by large corporate entities, in this case Deutsche Bank, the Cosmoís gaming...

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