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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 Jan 2016. The casinos visited in North Las Vegas this month were:

Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa, 7300 Aliante Parkway

Cannery Casino and Hotel, 2121 East Craig Road

Baby New Year 2016 descended upon Las Vegas in grand fashion with a spectacular display of fireworks launched from seven casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Faster than you could split a pair of eights, 2016 morphed into a young adult as the convention season began in earnest and struck the city like a runaway subway train at full throttle. Perhaps I should say "struck the city like a light saber through a charging platoon of storm troopers" since Las Vegas seems to have an aversion to the light rail system she so sorely needs. Be that as it may, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) brought in an estimated 170k+ visitors and was followed by events such as the International Builder's Show; Shooting, Hunting, & Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show); and the Adult Entertainment Expo/Adult Video News Awards Show (AEE/AVN). Those last three events were attended by approximately 55k, 60k, and 25k people respectively. That's a lot of folks, but a drop in the bucket for the number of people that will visit the Las Vegas Valley in 2016. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, more than 42 million people visited Las Vegas last year; another visitation record. Wow!

I mentioned all the above for a couple of reasons. The first is that despite declining gaming conditions, people are visiting Las Vegas in greater numbers than ever before. It's estimated that approximately 20 percent of last year's 42.3 million were international guests. Conventions are driving visitation and putting a great deal of money in the coffers of many of the large, publically traded casino resort companies on the Las Vegas Strip. How many of those 42 million visitors actually gambled, had a pleasant experience, or left feeling that Las Vegas represents a good-value destination is another story. My second point to the above "current events" lesson is that the Strip is more routinely crowed and expensive than ever. Don't get me wrong, it has a lot to offer, but it's not for everybody; especially smart gamblers, unless your bankroll supports the high-limit rooms at certain properties. There is more to the Las Vegas Valley than the Strip or even Fremont Street which I so aptly "pen and inked" about in recent issues of Blackjack Insider. This month my blackjack adventures took me to a pair of properties in North Las Vegas, far removed from the chaos of the Strip or even the hustle and bustle of Fremont Street. Both properties offer some pretty good stuff. Let's deal the cards!

Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa (7300 Aliante Parkway)

I stopped by Aliante Casino late one Thursday night after meeting an out-of-town friend at the Hard Rock Casino (HRC) during the AEE/AVN trade show. After a few hours of listening to great music; people watching; deep discussion of many topics to include blackjack; and half-baked networking amidst the backdrop of porn starlets, actresses, wannabees, working girls, and skanks; the laid-back demeanor of the Aliante seemed almost serene. It's primarily a locals' casino and has received the distinction of being a Four Diamond AAA-rated resort, the only hotel property to receive this award in North Las Vegas. The property was built by, and formerly a part of, the Station Casinos empire. If you've ever visited Red Rock Casino Resort Spa in Summerlin, you'll notice a fair amount of similarities; at least I do in the same way Red Rock Casino reminds me of Green Valley Ranch. Aliante is currently owned and operated by a group of banks and private equity firms to include Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital. (If you are interested in learning more about the Aliante Casino's relatively short history and why the property is no longer part of the Station Casinos' empire, see my article in the January 2013 issue of Blackjack Insider.)

In case you aren't familiar, the Aliante Casino is located on 40 acres in the master-planned community of Aliante, just off the 215-West Beltway in North Las Vegas. It's about a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip. The property contains approximately 125,000 square-feet of gaming space which includes over 30 table games spread over two primary pits and a pair of secondary pits, most of which are located in the center of the casino. In recent months one of the secondary pits was converted to a small poker area which features the new PokerPro-brand table. There are two roulette tables and three craps tables. The approximately 20 blackjack tables provide single-deck, double-deck, and six-deck offerings. There is a smattering of "carnival games" which includes Emperor's Challenge Pai Gow, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, and Three-Card Poker.

I play blackjack at the Aliante Casino on occasion and prefer the double-deck game dealt there. There is a decent selection of double-deck games with good rules, decent penetration, and low limits which makes it a good choice for most players, regardless of bankroll or skill level. (However, it's important to have your fair share of each before sitting down at any table.) Aliante Casino's double-deck and six-deck games offer the same playing rules. Player blackjacks pay 3:2; players may double-down on any first two cards (DOA) and after splits (DAS); Aces may be split and re-split to form up to four hands; dealers hit soft 17; and surrender is not available. Table limits tend to range from $5-$500; $10-$1,000, and $25-$2,000. The single-deck game pays only 6:5 for player blackjacks and should be avoided like the plague.

Penetration on the double-deck blackjack games at Aliante Casino is...

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