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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 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 2014. The casinos visited in downtown Las Vegas were:

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

D Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, 301 Fremont Street

This month I received an invite to play in a tournament in downtown Las Vegas. So with the holiday season just around the corner, I made my way to Fremont Street to try my luck. I wasnít lucky, but while I was there I did manage to visit a couple of properties I had not visited in quite some time. One had not changed much at all, while the other had made some rather significant changes. Read on if youíd like to learn more about the Downtown Grand and the D Las Vegas.

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

Itís been over a year since the Downtown Grand (DTG) held its formal grand opening on November 12, 2013. I chronicled the opening of the new property on the site of the former Lady Luck in the December 2013 issue of Blackjack Insider. I was semi-optimistic then about the DTG and found some positives and some possibilities. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the gambling conditions. One of my takeaways when the property opened was that the casino appeared to be a mere afterthought. At the time, I felt that the DTG had an opportunity to step in and fill a void being created by the high-end properties on the Las Vegas Strip as they continued to chase away players and casino guests with their pricing structure, tight games, diminishing comps, and pursuit of high-end players from the Far East.

Not much has changed at the DTG since my first visit and I suppose the above is too much to ask in the current business climate. However, there have been some subtle changes that are worth mentioning. The primary focus of the DTG still appears to be drinking, eating, and other amenities. The Downtown Grand casino is very retro and the décor is plenty hip. The property includes over 600 hotel rooms and suites, plus 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, post-industrial flair to it. During the summer months, concerts and party events were held on the third floor rooftop pool area known as PICNIC. The DTG is certainly worth a walk-through if you are in the area.

Speaking of the area, 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. Itís a short walk.

CIM Group, a West-Coast based real estate development company, owns the DTG. However, Fifth Street Gaming operates the 25,000-foot casino and gaming space. The DTG features one primary 16-table game pit which features Fortune Pai Gow Poker and Three Card Poker; two roulette wheels; two craps tables; a Big 6 wheel; and a mix of blackjack games. These are primarily six-deck shoes, with a couple of double-decks games, and an unplayable single-deck game paying only 6:5 on player blackjacks. Located just off the main casino floor, the Grand High Limit room has two blackjack and two baccarat tables.

Except for the single-deck game mentioned above, player blackjacks pay 3:2 at the DTG. 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 17s (H17) on both the six-deck and double-deck games. Posted table minimum and maximum bets varied from $5-$2,000 and $15-$2,000 on the six-deck games and $25-$2,000 on the double-deck game. Cut penetration is about four decks on the six-deck games and a little over half on the double-decks. Mid-deck entry is not allowed on the double-deck games and there is a max bet of $200 for mid-deck entry on the six-deck games. This is a change and something I havenít seen very often on six-deck games. Also of note, all the blackjack tables have five playersí circles Ė often youíll see six or even seven. This can create a "crowded" table or pit even on nights when it doesnít appear to be that busy at first glance.

The high limit room is open Friday and Saturday nights. Other times are available by request. Minimums range from $25-$100, with maximums up to $3,000. If you need more, coordinate before you play. There are no rule differences in the high limit area and the main casino floor.

Walking over to the DTG I noticed a banner proclaiming...

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