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

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Aria Resort and Casino Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and ... politics! That seemed to be the theme as July turned up the heat around the nation in more ways than one. The month brought sweltering heat to the nation and, at times, to the Las Vegas Valley. The later should come as no surprise; after all, isn't always hot in the desert in July?

In my version of the Big Valley, whenever I left the house, the Power Station's 1985 rock/pop hit "Some Like It Hot" seemed to be constantly banging like a gong on the turntable in my head. Remember the late, great English singer-songwriter Robert Palmer coolly belting out, "Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on/Some feel the heat and decide that they can't go on" while the Taylor boys provided sizzling guitar riffs and a steady bass beat? All while the late Tony Thompson pounded the drums like they owed him money!

To beat the July nighttime heat I made a rare foray to the once fabulous Las Vegas Strip and stopped in at one of the reputedly coolest (or hottest?) joints in town, the Cosmopolitan, and its "high cotton" neighbor, Aria. Robert Palmer, the musician, would've liked these joints. "Some like it hot, but you can't tell how hot 'til you try/Some like it hot, so let's turn up the heat 'til we fry." If Palmer were a smart blackjack player, well, you can decide for yourself after reading this month's article.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South

The Cosmopolitan, often referred to as "The Cosmo," is located next to the Bellagio, just south of the Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road intersection. If you are driving, the primary parking garage entrance is off Harmon Avenue, just south of the property. A secondary entrance is directly off Las Vegas Boulevard. The luxury resort, hotel, and casino opened on December 15, 2010. Its twin high-rise towers, dark with sporadic blue lighting, stand out among the other behemoth properties that comprise the central Strip skyline.

The Cosmopolitan is a modern-day casino resort. It's expensive, big, modern, and has lots of amenities for its guests. The property cost approximately $3.9 billion to build and features 2,995 rooms; nearly 100,000 square-feet of casino space; a 3,200-seat concert theater (Chelsea); 150,000 square feet of convention and meeting space; 300,000 square feet of dining and retail space; and a 40,000 square-foot spa and fitness facility. There are multiple swimming pools, numerous bars and nightlife choices. In 2015, the resort was named to the Condé Nast Traveler's Gold List as one of the "Top Hotels in the World." The Cosmo also received similar accolades from travel site in 2014, calling it "the best hotel in the world."

I began my visit in the relocated, new-look race and sports book. Cosmo's race and sports book is now on level one near the eastside entrance and Starbucks. It's still operated by Cantor, err, CG Technology (a subsidiary of Cantor Fitzgerald). There is comfortable lounge-style seating, numerous high-definition viewing monitors, and a rectangular-shaped bar anchors the area. To their credit there was a good variety of baseball games showing, unlike a previous visit in January, when only one NBA game and two college basketball games doted the screens. The area also has a pool table and two shuffle board tables. See the bar staff for assistance if you want to play. CG operates numerous sports books in Las Vegas, so the betting lines are the same across their outlets. Last time I checked, they didn't comp drinks for bettors. It's a good place to watch baseball I found (if you already have a beverage with you.) During football season, CG is notorious for adjusting the line from the basic -110 on point-spread listings. Like many of the larger NV outlets, CG has a mobile application that allows betting from your mobile device.

Immediately adjacent to the race and sports book is a sports-themed table games area which features high-definition televisions and views of the main LED walls. This pit is one of many table-game pit areas at the Cosmo. Like many casinos owned by large corporate entities, in this case Blackstone Group (which purchased the property from Deutsche Bank), the casino space and its offering are often an afterthought. In the Cosmo's case, the blackjack games have improved from what I remember under previous ownership.

There are seven or eight pit areas on the main casino floor at the Cosmo. They house between 55-60 table games. I noticed six full-size craps tables, at least a half-dozen roulette tables, with one or two in most of the pits. Two of the table game areas are "carnival game" pits with Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em. There's also Baccarat, Pai Gow Poker, and at least three Free Bet Blackjack tables. In case you aren't familiar, in Free Bet Blackjack the dealer pays for non-10 count splits and re-splits, as well as, player double-downs on 9, 10, and 11 - even after splits. This means the player doesn't have to risk his/her money to make these plays. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. This "great deal" comes at an expensive price, namely, if the dealer gets a 22, all standing player hands result in a push. The Cosmo even has a table of Casino War. Yes, people were playing War; good grief!

There's plenty of blackjack at the Cosmopolitan. There's double-deck, six-deck, and eight-deck games, but the house rules are all over the place. Literally every pit and even some of the games within each pit have their own rules. Most are marked, but not always obvious. I found double-deck games dealt from a shoe where players were allowed to...

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