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by JPB

JPB has been playing blackjack and counting cards part-time since 1996. He plays throughout the country but primarily in Missouri. He has been a Green Chip member of for five years and one-time winner of the Post-of-the-Month. JPB is a professional engineer with three engineering degrees and works as a consulting engineer.

Note: H17 = Dealer hits on soft 17; S17 = Dealer stands on soft 17; DAS = Double after split allowed; RSA = Resplit Aces allowed (RSA not allowed unless noted); Penetration = number of undealt decks located behind the shuffle determining card; # of Tables = the number of double deck tables open when I played.

In January I was flying to the west coast on a flight with a stop-over in Las Vegas. I decided to fly out a day earlier and spend the day in Vegas. My scheduled arrival time in Vegas was almost exactly 24 hours before my flight out the next day. Had I experienced a significant airline delay, this trip could have been a disaster. Fortunately, my flight to Vegas was on time; I jumped into my Avis rental car and was able to arrive at my first casino within about an hour of my arrival.

My plan was to focus on three areas of Las Vegas: West Side, Downtown, and the Strip. This left a lot of regions off the table; however, with only 24 hours to play, I had to narrow down the selection. My preference is always double-deck games; the biggest drawback with double deck, compared to six deck (especially in Vegas), is that your bet spread will be scrutinized much closer resulting in a much better chance of getting backed off for exhibiting skillful play. However, on this trip I did not care; my stay was so short, I could spread my time over many casinos, and with no immediate plans to return to Vegas in the next year, any back-offs would be less than memorable by the casinos.

In Part I of the trip report, I cover the West Side and Las Vegas Boulevard casinos. In Part II, I'll cover the downtown casinos I managed to visit between my time on the Strip and West Side.

West Side of Vegas

Boulder Station (4111 Boulder Highway)

To the best of my recollection, I do not believe I have ever been to this part of town. I started at Boulder Station, one of the many Station Casinos that has very good blackjack games. Unfortunately, I have worn my welcome out at Station casinos and could not use a player card. Even though I had never played at Boulder Station, not providing a player's card and betting black chips is a big red flag. Blackjack conditions were: H17, DAS, RSA, no surrender. I believe these are the same at all Vegas Station Casinos. I found an empty DD table with $10 minimum and the maximum was at least $1000. Penetration was excellent at about 70-75%. After spreading from $25-300, I could sense the "pocket starting to crumble" and knew I better get out. I managed to eke out a small win and leave without incident.

Arizona Charlie's (4575 Boulder Highway)

I traveled a few blocks south along Boulder Highway to Arizona Charlie's. I found two empty double-deck tables with friendly dealers and pit bosses. Rules were H17, DAS, and no surrender. Penetration was at about 60%, not as good as Boulder Station. Table minimum was $10 and maximum $500. I barely lasted 10 minutes. Immediately after spreading from $25-200, I was told I was too good for them.

Note to Arizona Chuck: This is bad business; there is no way you could have done a statistically valid evaluation of blackjack playing ability in that short of time. You may be running off good (non-counting) customers!

Las Vegas Strip

Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd.)

I started out then parked at my long-time favorite place for blackjack: Bellagio. My assumption has always been that if you keep your session short and keep the maximum bet under $500, you can stay below the radar. I even wore a suit and tie to look like I belonged there. Blackjack conditions were the same as ever: double deck, s17, das, and no RSA for a slim house advantage of 0.19% (against basic strategy player). Penetration was about 60-65%. Lowest table minimum was $50 and the maximum much higher than I bet.

Paris (3655 Las Vegas Blvd.)

I made a quick stop at Paris. Double deck rules were H17, no DAS, and no RSA for a much less attractive house advantage of about 0.52%. Penetration was about 50% and maybe a little better. Not the place I wanted to spend a lot of time playing, so I quickly moved on.

I worked my way down the Strip and was disappointed to find...

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