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

Max Casino at the Westin Las Vegas, 160 East Flamingo Road

Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, 3000 Paradise Road

When I was a kid I watched and listened to a lot of Major League Baseball broadcasts in the summer. First pitch for most of the games was at night, but every once in a while there would be an early, by even daytime standards, start time for a mid-week game. These games often began at 11 a.m. (CST) and were referred to as "businessman specials." I remember seeing the often well-dressed crowd (this was when men actually knew how to tuck in a shirt) in the stands and thinking, "That's a great excuse to get out of the office." In this age of laptops, cell phones, and other mobile devices, more work activities than ever get completed outside the traditional office space. Therefore, this month, in an ode to the businessman's special, I visited a couple of properties that rely on business travelers for much of their business. One of the properties has a historic place in Las Vegas lore; the other sits on the sight of some serious action, but currently is nothing more than an afterthought in the post-modern casino landscape. Let's begin because we don't want to keep the boss waiting.

Max Casino at the Westin Las Vegas, 160 East Flamingo Road

The Max Casino is a small casino located inside the Westin Las Vegas hotel about three miles from McCarren International Airport. The property is approximately two blocks east of the once fabulous Las Vegas Strip on Flamingo Road. It's within walking distance of The Strip and nearby off-Strip properties, such as Ellis Isle, Silver Sevens, and Tuscany. The hotel features over 800 hotel rooms, and is part of the Westin chain of properties owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

The Westin Las Vegas is strong on amenities for the business or vacation traveler. It features a 24-hour workout facility and is home to the Hibiscus Spa. The 10,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art spa facility includes a full menu of service options and 15 treatment rooms. As one might expect, there's a steam room, sauna, and locker room. The property also has an outdoor heated pool.

For the history buffs out there (like me), the Max sits on the sight of the former Maxim Hotel and Casino. The Maxim opened in the summer of 1977 and was reportedly home to some great blackjack. Many of you "old heads" might have played there back in the good ole days. I've read about the single-deck blackjack games being dealt down to the final card in the Maxim's heyday and people lining up for a seat at the tables. I managed to play at the Maxim a couple of times back in the late 1990s, the last in 1998 when my squadron was participating in a Flag exercise at nearby Nellis Air Force Base. Details are sketchy, but as I recall my two comrades and I each managed a small profit. The pit boss even comped us dinner at the buffet; nothing to write home about, but in the aircrew world "free food" was "good food."

On a non-gaming footnote, the Maxim was also the site of the shooting death of rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996. Shakur was a passenger in an automobile in front of the casino. As the story goes, another vehicle pulled up and a man opened fire, seriously wounding Shakur. He died several days later from the injuries suffered during the attack.

I had not set foot inside the Westin in over five years since meeting an old flight attendant friend (from another life) there during her layover. It had been much, much longer since I visited the casino space. I was guardedly optimistic as I found my way to The Max Casino floor. The space is small, maybe 20,000 square feet at best. It is neat and clean with a smattering of slot and video poker machines. The video poker is all of the short-pay variety in all denominations with everything I noticed below 99% expected return.

The Max's table games are open daily beginning at 4 p.m. Weekday closing time varies between midnight at 2 a.m. based on "the crowd." At least one blackjack table is available around the clock starting Friday afternoon until the wee hours Monday morning. The Max has one table-games pit with seven tables. There is a craps table, a roulette table, and five blackjack tables, all of the six-deck shoe variety. I was shocked to discover that all paid 6:5 on player blackjacks. I guess this shouldn't surprise me, but in a small boutique casino like the Max, dealing a good game could do wonders and really increase foot traffic. I'd like to play there, but with 6:5 payouts on player blackjacks, it won't happen and I can't recommend the place to anyone else either. For the record, the Max's house rules allow players to double-down on any first two cards (DOA) and after splitting (DAS). Aces can be split and re-split to form four total hands. Dealers hit soft 17 and surrender is available. Minimum bets were $5. I didn't see any shuffles and there were no other players when I visited, so I can't comment on deck penetration.

The Max is currently offering a side bet game called...

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