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

Fiesta Rancho Casino Hotel, 2400 N. Rancho Drive, N. Las Vegas

Texas Station Gambling Hall and Hotel, 2101 Texas Star Lane, N. Las Vegas

After last month's foray to a couple of "well-heeled" joints on the once fabulous Las Vegas Strip, I turned my attention north this month to a much less heralded "strip," namely the Rancho Strip. Many of the readers may not be familiar with this segment of the "Big Valley;" it's not really on sight-seeing maps or known for its tourist attractions. In fact, the Rancho Strip is actually a state highway, Nevada State Route 599 (SR 599). Much of SR 599 was previously designated as U.S. Route 95 (US 95) prior to completion of the Las Vegas Expressway. The route follows Rancho Drive, a major piece of pavement connecting downtown Las Vegas to the northwest corner of the Las Vegas Valley. It passes the North Las Vegas Air Terminal and covers approximately nine miles. The immediate area is primarily, if not exclusively, commercial and is even dubbed U.S. Route 95 Business (US 95 Bus) on many maps.

Both of this month's featured properties are part of the Station Casinos "empire." Technically they are part of Red Rock Resorts now, but that change seems to have been transparent in referring to any of the former/current Station properties. As of late April, some of you may recall that Station Casinos LLC and its assets are now a publicly traded company called Red Rock Resorts (RRR: NASDAQ). (In an attempt to avoid confusion with Red Rocks Casino and the parent company, I'll refer to them as Station Casinos for the purpose of this article.) Both of these locals' properties have traditionally been good gambling houses. I hoped the Wall Street sirens hadn't changed that and I wouldn't find any surprises to the contrary as I pulled into the Fiesta Rancho's parking garage on a recent Saturday evening.

Fiesta Rancho Casino Hotel, 2400 N. Rancho Drive, N. Las Vegas

Fiesta Rancho is located about five miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas and approximately ten minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, approximately a half-mile south of the North Las Vegas Air Terminal. Fiesta Rancho sits on roughly 25 acres directly across the street from Texas Station at the intersection of North Rancho Drive and West Lake Mead Boulevard. As its names suggests, the property is decorated in a Mexican party theme. The hotel-casino opened as the Fiesta in December, 1994 when it was owned and operated by the Maloof Family. The former Station Casinos acquired it in 2001 and renamed the property Fiesta Rancho. The name change was in large part to differentiate it from its sister property, the Fiesta Henderson in the opposite corner of the Las Vegas Valley.

Like most Station properties, the Fiesta Rancho has a lot of options for its guests besides gambling. The property has 100 hotel rooms, an outdoor pool, restaurants, live entertainment, and meeting space. It's also home to an NHL regulation-sized ice rink, the SoBe Ice Arena. The 31,000 square-foot ice rink is home to several youth and adult hockey leagues, public skating, and lessons - year round. Nothing like lacing up the skates and hitting the ice when the temperature outside is 105F in August! The entrance is inside the casino, not far from the garage and next to Subway.

For a smaller casino property, Fiesta Rancho offers a good line-up of dining options. Garduno's of Mexico has been voted "Best Mexican Restaurant" more than a dozen times by the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. I finally got around to trying this place and I'm glad I did. I've brought out-of-town guests here for the nachos a few times and no one has left hungry or disappointed! Next to Garduno's, the Blue Agave Cantina serves bar fare with a Mexican flare, plus north of the border favorites like burgers and pizza. There's also a 24-hour Denny's diner, a buffet (not spectacular, but not bad for the price either - try the stir fry), and Panda Express, Subway and relative newcomer, Big Erns's BBQ.

Fiesta Rancho features about 70,000 square feet of gaming space. The property has one table game section located next to the casino's front entrance in the center of the casino across from the cashier's cage. The 14 table games include two full-size craps tables, a roulette table, two tables of Emperor's Challenge Pai Gow Poker, and nine blackjack tables. These are primarily double-deck games, but there is an unplayable single-deck game paying 6:5 on player blackjacks. There's also a six-deck game dealt from a continuous shuffler (CS) with low minimums and maximums set at $3-$200. A table of Free Bet Blackjack rounds out the lineup.

In case you aren't familiar, in Free Bet Blackjack the dealer pays...

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