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

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

El Cortez Hotel and Casino, 600 E. Fremont Street

Mermaids, 32 E. Fremont Street

La Bayou, 15 E. Fremont St

To say that Las Vegas in December is unlike Las Vegas the rest of the year is an understatement. Each December the National Finals Rodeo rides in and the town puts on its cowboy hats and boots while country western music fills the air. Imagine the Fort Worth Stockyards area, except with gambling and lots of skimpy costumes! This year the "Holy War" resumed as the University of Utah jumped out to a big lead and held on to beat rival BYU 35-28 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. The Miss Universe Pageant brought drama and a bizarre plot twist as the first runner-up and the winner were announced (thanks, Steve Harvey). I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the "Chairman of the Board." If he were still alive, legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra would have celebrated his 100th birthday. That's a lot of stuff, even by Las Vegas standards. By the way, the rest of the "normal" stuff like conventions, night life, eating, drinking, shows, and oh yes, gambling, kept right on truckin'. Collectively, there's never really a dull moment here-for good or ill.

In my tiny slice of the Las Vegas drama, I wrapped up my Fremont Street version of The Odyssey this month with a visit to a downtown legend. I also stopped by a couple of more obscure places probably not on the list of must-visit places for most Blackjack Insider readers. With a Christmas-themed show overhead on the Viva Vision, and the giant downtown Christmas tree as a backdrop, I asked Santa Claus for winning double-downs and my fair share of blackjacks. What could it hurt? Everybody has to believe in something right? That's what Dean Martin said long ago and I believe him.

El Cortez Hotel and Casino, 600 E. Fremont Street

The El Cortez opened in 1941 and sits in the heart of Las Vegas' Downtown Fremont East District and a block from the Fremont Street Experience. Steeped in history, the property is the longest continuously operated downtown hotel-casino in Las Vegas and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 22, 2013. The El Cortez has undergone several renovations during its historic tenure; the latest a multi-million dollar effort in 2006. The 64-room Cabana Suites were completed in the former Ogden House in 2009 bringing the total room count to its current 364. The casino is a six-time "Best of Las Vegas" award winner in the Best Blackjack category; with the latest being in 2013. The property also has a large keno area (think Las Vegas Vacation with Chevy Chase). It's also received several "Best of" awards for its keno. The race and sports book is operated by Station Casinos and offers the same numbers and prices as their many sports books across the Las Vegas Valley.

During my recent visit, the Museum of Gaming History had several items on display near the players club honoring Jackie Gaughan. You may recall that Gaughan purchased the El Cortez in 1963. He eventually sold it in 2009, but continued to live at the casino and was a regular player in the poker room until his death on March 12, 2014. Alleged mobsters Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Gus Greenbaum, and Moe Sedway were part of an ownership group that purchased the El Cortez in 1945. The black and white photo collection of various properties and celebrities from yesteryear on display throughout the El Cortez is practically a must-see if you are interested in Las Vegas history. I've never stayed at the hotel, but have played in the casino many times over many years.

The last time I checked, the El Cortez is one of only three casinos in Las Vegas that deals...

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