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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 December 2014. The casinos visited in Las Vegas were:

Palace Station Hotel Casino, 2411 W. Sahara Avenue

Stratosphere, 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas in December is very different than in the other eleven months of the year. During the first half of the month, Las Vegas hosts the National Finals Rodeo and the whole town seems to grab its cowboy hats, boots, and belt buckles. Country Western music fills the air and the casinos are flush with out-of-towners. Mix in some Christmas music, Christmas trees, decorations, and a college football bowl game (Utah whipped Colorado State in this yearís Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl) and you have a very different Las Vegas experience. I used to enjoy Las Vegas visits in December. The pace is slower, but things begin to pick up after Christmas as folks from all over the world descend on the city to celebrate the coming of the New Year ... Sin City style! After that the Consumer Electronics Show rolls into town and the bedlam begins for another year.

This month I saddled up and visited two casinos in the North Strip area. Despite very different addresses, these two properties have one thing in common, namely, they arenít catering to or looking for high-rollers. They offer budget-friendly rooms, gaming, and amenities at a fraction of the cost youíll find further south on Las Vegas Boulevard. One offers significantly better gaming opportunities, while the other has a few more nifty "bells and whistles." Letís get started. Giddy up.

Palace Station Hotel Casino, 2411 W. Sahara Avenue

Palace Station is just west of the Las Vegas Strip. If you are driving, take the Sahara exit west from Interstate-15; or Sahara Avenue west if you are on Las Vegas Boulevard. Once youíre on Sahara Avenue, Palace Station is on the left. You canít miss the large marquee sign; itís visible from the freeway and cross-streets in pretty much any direction in that part of Las Vegas.

Palace Station primarily caters to Las Vegas locals. I never managed to stay here when I visited, but I did gamble and eat the late-night diner specials at Palace Station occasionally over the years. I find myself stopping in and playing blackjack and video poker here a couple times per month, based largely on its location and good gaming opportunities, which weíll discuss below.

Palace Stationís casino is large, more than 100,000 square feet of gaming space. There are approximately 40 table games spread over two long pits in the center of the casino. One of these gaming pits is devoted primarily to Asian table games such as Fortune Pai Gow, Baccarat, and Mini-Baccarat. Recently four blackjack tables were added on this side, on the end closest to the sports book entrance. The other pit is primarily blackjack with a smattering of Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold ĎEm, and other carnival games. Palace Station also has multiple roulette wheels and full-size craps tables (of the 12- to 14-foot variety). The blackjack offerings include double-deck, six-deck, and unplayable single-deck games. At times, especially during the day, it can be difficult to find an open spot because only a handful of tables are open. The single-deck games only pay 6:5 for player blackjacks and, open spot or not, should be avoided.

Palace Stationís double-deck game is...

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