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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 January 2015. The casinos visited in Las Vegas were:

Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Riviera Hotel Casino, 2901 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Fresh from a year which saw visitation eclipse the 40 million mark for the first time, Las Vegas welcomed 2015 with a busy January. Convention business is booming with events like the Consumer Electronics Show, the SHOT Show, and the Adult Entertainment Expo and Adult Video News Awards bringing people from all over the United States and abroad to Las Vegas. Technology, guns, and sex; what could be more American in the 21st century, right?

For this month's casino reviews, I stepped back in time and visited two properties in the North Strip area that preclude the "convention era" and a lot of other Vegas eras for that matter. These properties have their roots in the early development of the Las Vegas Strip. Both have seen better days, but are rich with Las Vegas history. They are a reminder of a time when Las Vegas was about more than corporate profits and provided fun, excitement, entertainment, with neon lights, and a touch of class. Like the properties I profiled in last month's Blackjack Insider, these two properties aren't catering to, or looking for, high-rollers. They offer budget-friendly rooms, gaming, and amenities at a fraction of the cost you'll find further south on Las Vegas Boulevard. Let's begin.

Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Circus Circus is on the northern end of the Las Vegas Strip, just south of Sahara Ave. If you're on the Strip, you can't miss the landmark clown sign. The pinkish-purple hue of the Adventure Dome can be seen from Interstate 15 in either direction. The property and its giant circus tent shaped main structure, was opened on October 18, 1968 by Jay Sarno, who also opened Caesars Palace. When Circus Circus opened, the $15 million facility only included a casino. Hotel tower additions came later and led to involvement with organized crime and an ownership change in 1974. The Rolling Stones and their party stopped at the casino on their way from Phoenix back to Los Angeles late one night after a concert performance in November, 1969. That concert was part of their US tour which culminated with the infamous events at Altamont Motor Speedway the following month. Part of the Circus Circus legacy is that it was one of the first Las Vegas properties to cater to families with kids and one of the early themed properties. It's currently owned by MGM Resorts International.

I've never stayed at Circus Circus, but used to play a session of blackjack there on most of my Las Vegas visits. The property offered good rules on its double-deck game and players' hands were dealt face up. Unfortunately, that was long ago and things change. I hadn't spent any appreciable time in the casino space in over a decade until this visit. The property is much larger than I realized. The property offers 126,000 square feet of gaming space and 3,773 rooms. There are also 399 RV spots at the property's on-site RV Park.

The property is featured in the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a 1971 classic written by Hunter S. Thompson, arguably the finest American writer of the 20th century. In it Thompson wrote, "The Circus Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos . . . but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space."

Thompson's description isn't wholly inaccurate today. Let's face it; Circus Circus is a strange place. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'll encourage the readers to visit and decide for themselves. The night I visited I had just left the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which was awash with AVN starlets, AEE/AVN attendees, and pretenders. Perhaps my sense of observation was keenly acute.

There are almost 50 table games at Circus Circus spread over two long adjacent pits, and a third a few steps away in the Rockin' Party Pit. I'd say the table games are in the center of the casino, but the whole place is a bit of a maze. They are under the mid-way and if you can find that, you can find them. To their credit, the directional signs are very helpful and I really had no problem finding my way. The offerings include the now seemingly standard collection of Fortune Pai Gow, Pai Gow Poker, Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em. There are several Roulette wheels and three were open and quite busy when I visited. I saw one very large craps table open for play.

I was surprised to find...

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