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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 2014. The casino visited in Las Vegas was:

Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, 3000 Paradise Road

The Legend Reborn didnít last long. After only two-and-a-half years as the LVH, thereís a new owner of the iconic property just off the Las Vegas Strip on Paradise Road, behind the Riviera Hotel and Casino. Westgate Resorts purchased the former Las Vegas Hilton from Goldman Sachs and its partners June 30 and changes are already underway. This month I punched a ticket to paradise and ambled in to take a look to see what the new self-professed sheriff, David Siegel (founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts), and his deputies had in store.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, 3000 Paradise Road

Before we venture in to my visit, a little background and perspective is necessary. When it opened in 1969, this property was known as The International Hotel. At the time it was the largest hotel in the world. Barbara Streisand performed opening night and on July 31, 1969, immediately after Streisand's engagement, Elvis Pressley performed for 58 consecutive sold out shows. Over 130,000 people saw the King over the period of one month, breaking all Las Vegas attendance records. Pressley went on to break his own attendance record in February 1970, and again in August 1970, and August 1972. When playing Las Vegas, he lived in the penthouse suite (room 3000), located on the 30th floor, until his last performance there in December 1976. A statue of Elvis currently stands in the lobby between hotel check-in and the players club. The statue has had many homes in my visits to this property dating back some 20 years. At one time it was even outside, so its current location is progress in my opinion.

The International Hotel was sold to Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1970, and in 1971 was renamed the Las Vegas Hilton. Liberace headlined in the showroom during the 1970s, drawing sold-out crowds twice per night. When he signed his contract at the Hilton in 1972 he earned $300,000 per week, a record amount for individual entertainers in Las Vegas. In addition to famous entertainers known the world over, the old Las Vegas Hilton hosted championship boxing fights, big-money (million-dollar) blackjack tournaments whose players were a literal "whoís who" in the professional blackjack world, and carved out a niche with convention and trade show attendees thanks to its location next to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In the mid-to-late 90ís and early 2000ís, the Las Vegas Hilton was one of my central headquarters for Vegas visits for several years. Beginning in the late 1990s, a series of mergers and acquisitions subjected the property to numerous ownership changes. Eventually things went downhill from my perspective and I havenít played there regularly in many years. The primary reason was the casino had become unplayable for me, and the players club perks werenít much. Hereís hoping the casino conditions will eventually improve under the new ownership, but I am at best guardedly optimistic.

When I visited on a recent Saturday night, I noticed a few changes are already underway...

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