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LAS VEGAS BLACKJACK REPORT: FOUR QUEENS HOTEL AND CASINO AND FREMONT HOTEL AND CASINO

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. He's a regular attendee at the Global Gaming Expo each year in Las Vegas.

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

Four Queens Hotel and Casino, 202 Fremont Street

Fremont Hotel and Casino, 200 Fremont Street

Named after American military officer, explorer, and politician, John C. Fremont, Fremont Street looks kind of like Halloween much of the year, but in late October there tends to be a few more costumes and characters than usual. There are decorations, and it seems the musical act "Frank and the Steins" are a fixture on the Third Street Stage each Halloween season. That's a good thing as they are worth checking out. In the spirit of exploration, I continued my version of the "Fremont Street Experience" this month with another visit to a pair of downtown Las Vegas casino properties. I was relatively familiar with both and had low expectations. However, to paraphrase 90's alternative rock band the Gin Blossoms, if you don't expect too much, you might not be let down. On this night, I hoped I might find more treats than tricks in my blackjack basket.

Four Queens Hotel and Casino, 202 Fremont Street

The Four Queens Hotel and Casino has been a mainstay on the downtown casino "strip" since the property opened in 1966. The current iteration houses 690 hotel rooms in two towers, one overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. The property is named after its builder Ben Goffstein's four daughters: Faith, Hope, Benita, and Michele. It originally contained only 120 rooms and a 20,000 square-foot casino. The casino was expanded to 33,000 square feet in 1976. Today the casino occupies the entire block bordered by Fremont St, Casino Center, Third Street, and Carson Avenue.

I have a long history with the Four Queens (4Q) which like any relationship with a lady has had its ups and downs. For many years the 4Q was my downtown headquarters thanks to its video poker selection and solid marketing offers. I've spent many nights in the hotel and played many slot and video poker tournaments at this property over the past decade. I've had many nice wins and many brutal losses here. I've also eaten more than my share of Prime Rib specials at Magnolia's restaurant overlooking the casino table games. Thanks to a sudden dearth of quality marketing offers, no tournament invites, and an increased coin-in requirement to earn points on the video poker games that brought me to the 4Q many long nights ago, my relationship with the home of the four ladies is currently at an impasse (as of this past Spring). I hope she'll come around, but in the world of "relationships" and serious gambling, the only constant seems to be change.

I used to log a few hours on the blackjack tables at the 4Q during my Las Vegas visits years ago, but I find the games no longer worth the effort, thanks to mediocre rules and language issues with dealers. The latter might have changed as I haven't played here regularly in at least five years. The table games area consists of two long pits centrally located in the heart of the casino. There are two adjacent craps tables that seem to be quite lively every time I walk by. There are also two roulette tables, the standard smattering of "carnival games" such as Let It Ride, Mississippi Stud, Three Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold'Em. There's some Pai Gow Poker and even a table of Blackjack Switch, which allows players to play two hands and keep or switch the order of the cards in their dealt hands, but at the expense of being paid only even money on blackjacks and dealer 22's resulting in pushes instead of wins for the players.

The 4Q features more than 15 blackjack tables, but the rules and payouts vary table-to-table which makes for a mix of confusion and mediocre to flat-out poor offerings. This casino offers single-deck, double-deck, and eight-deck blackjack shoe games in its two pits. The 4Q has a few single-deck games. If you have to play blackjack, one (as in one table) of the single-deck games is your best choice here (or least, worse choice). This table offers 3:2 payouts on player blackjacks and doubling-down is allowed on 10 and 11 only. Aces can be split only once and doubling down after splits (DAS) is not allowed. Dealers hit soft 17 and surrender is not available. This rules combination gives the house a 0.45% edge over a basic strategy player. The 4Q's other two single-deck games pay 6:5 for a blackjack. Players are allowed to double-down on any first two cards (DOA), but can split Aces only once; and DAS is not allowed. Forget the house edge and avoid the 6:5 games. The edge is too much and it encourages "bad behavior" on the part of the house (casino operations folks.) Also, the single-deck games at 4Q use a cut card that creates the "cut card effect," which is not good for players.

The 4Q double-deck games pay 3:2 on player blackjacks and DOA is allowed; however, DAS and re-splitting of Aces is not. Dealers hit soft 17 and surrender is not allowed. This rules combination gives the house a 0.55% edge over a basic strategy player. The eight-deck shoe games should be avoided. They pay 6:5 for player blackjacks. However, if you refuse to heed my advice and sit down at these ghoulish games, be aware that DAS is permitted and Aces can be re-split to form up to four hands. The night I visited, all of the hand-dealt or "pitch" games required $15 minimum bets. The shoe-dealt games varied from $5 and $10 minimums. All the maximums I saw were $500. Penetration on the single- and double-decks appeared to be barely 50 percent, while the eight-deck game offered about 5 to 5 decks.

The 4Q has always been a video poker house for me. I've logged countless hours over the years on the 25-cent 10/7 Double Bonus machines (100.17% returns with perfect play) that are located near Magnolia's. A couple of years ago, two of these machines were...

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