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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 pursuing options for a second career.

Note: The observations of casino conditions were made in June 2015. The casinos visited in Summerlin and Las Vegas this month were:

Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, 11011 West Charleston

Arizona Charlie's Decatur, 740 South Decatur Boulevard

This month's casino review looks like a compare and contrast essay question at first glance. Actually, it pretty much looks that way after a second and third glance as well. The first property is tucked against the Spring Mountains in the 22,500-acre master planned community of Summerlin. The second is in the west-central portion of the Las Vegas Valley, not far from downtown and the Rancho Strip. Both properties reviewed this month are very different versions of the local casino genre. I found surprises at each. Let's begin.

Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, 11011 West Charleston

Red Rock Casino Resort Spa could easily be considered one of the crown jewels of the Station Casinos "empire," which consists of 18 casinos, including the Wildfire Gaming brand. Station Casinos is a dominant player in the Las Vegas locals' casino market and its properties are designed primarily to attract residents of the surrounding area. Along with the other higher-end Station property, Green Valley Ranch, which I profiled in the May 2015 issue of Blackjack Insider, Red Rock is comparable to many of the properties on the Las Vegas Strip. Red Rock has a stunning fire and water entrance, exquisite architecture, luxurious rooms and suites, not to mention a host of dining, entertainment, and nightlife options. The property's casino, amenities, and price structure combine to make it a popular destination for locals, as well as vacationers, and some business and convention traffic. In fact, Red Rock Casino Resort Spa was nominated for the "best U.S. casino" in USA Today's "10 Best Readers' Choice Travel Award Contest." I'd never accuse USA Today of being a scholarly source on all things "casino," but their publication tends to have minimal grammar, punctuation, and typos, unlike at least one major casino-industry publication.

The USA Today Readers' Choice balloting results were not available at the time of this writing, but I'm thinking that's a nice feather in the cap for the Red Rock's team to even garner consideration. I couldn't vote for a property that deals 6:5 blackjack games in their casino, but despite that, it is one of my favorite Las Vegas properties, along with the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, to visit and take out-of-town friends, especially in the summer. I don't set foot in Red Rock on a regular basis, but it's a function of other gaming options and my personal geography, not the property itself.

Red Rock's voluminous 87,000 square-foot casino features over 50 table games in the main casino as well as an additional 10 in the high-limit room. The table games wrap around the Lucky Bar and its attractive waitresses decked out in their alluring "uniforms" located in the center of the casino. One pit section includes a buffet of "carnival games" that include, Crazy 4 Poker, Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Mississippi Stud, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, and High Card Flush. Others include Fortune Pai Gow Progressive, more Three Card Poker, a few baccarat tables, four craps tables, and four roulette tables. There's also a small keno lounge and a 610-seat bingo hall with eight daily sessions.

The blackjack offerings at Red Rock run the gamut from downright lousy to decent. There have been some changes that I'll get to below since I last played there earlier this year. Red Rock has a few unplayable single-deck games paying 6:5 for player blackjacks, several six-deck shoe games, and a fair amount of hand-dealt double-deck games. I also saw a double-deck game dealt from a mini-shoe; that was a first at this property for me. In addition, I discovered a game I'd never seen called 40x Double Down Blackjack. Needless to say, it's a bit different; and after a brief explanation of playing rules from the pit supervisor, I quickly passed. As with any of these "novelty" blackjack games, do your homework on how to play. Study the variations from basic strategy that you'll need to give you the best chance of losing less, then do the math and realize you should probably stick with good ole-fashioned blackjack with good rules, if you can find it.

Speaking of good rules, Red Rock used to offer some of the best in town, except for the single-deck games previously mentioned. Current house rules are that player blackjacks pay 3:2. Players are allowed to double down after any first two cards (DOA) and after splitting (DAS). Aces may be split only once to form a total of two hands on the double-deck and six-deck games. This is a change and a negative move that diminishes the expected return for the players by 0.05%. Re-splitting of Aces is allowed in the high-limit area, six-deck games only. Red Rock dealers hit soft 17 and surrender is available on the six-deck games, but not the double-deck games. Playing rules are the same on the double-deck and six-deck games except for the surrender difference. Table minimums vary from $5, $10, $15, and $25 on the main casino floor. Maximums ranged from $1,000 to $2,000. Mid-deck entry is allowed, but bet size is limited. During my visit, while playing the third-base position of a $10 double-deck game with two other players, a new player wanted to come in on the second hand of the current shuffle and make a $1,000 wager. The dealer called the pit boss over, and after some deliberation, the new player was allowed to bet a maximum of $100 per hand until the new shuffle. They lost a couple of those $100 wagers before the next shuffle, then didn't make it through the next one before leaving down more than half their stack.

Red Rock has a high-limit salon that features 10 table games. They consist of double-deck and six-deck blackjack, as well as, baccarat and roulette. Blackjack limits generally begin at $100, but on this evening, there were some $50 minimums. Maximum wagers allowed varied from $2,500 to $5,000. Two double-deck and two six-deck tables were open. Blackjack house rules in the high-limit area are the same as on the main casino floor with one notable, previously mentioned exception; players are allowed to split and re-split Aces to form up to four hands on the six-deck offerings in the high-limit room.

Before we move on, it's important to remind the reader, or to mention for any new readers, that Red Rock blackjack dealers...

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