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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 March 2017. The casinos visited in Las Vegas this month were:

California Hotel & Casino, 12 East Ogden Avenue

Main Street Station Casino Brewery Hotel, 200 North Main Street


It's been brought to my attention that a review of the downtown Las Vegas joints is in order. With much respect and thanks to the late Hunter S. Thompson, what you are about to read is my first steps in what I've dubbed "a savage journey to the heart of the downtown Las Vegas version of the American Dream." What better time to delve into the madness than March, no? With Saint Patrick's Day weekend and the opening two rounds of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament on the weekend calendar, I made my initial foray into what will be a continuing saga in coming months. If you're going to log some time in downtown Las Vegas, the spring and summer months are as good a time as any.

California Hotel and Casino, 12 East Ogden Avenue

The California Hotel and Casino, also known as the CAL, is located a block from the popular Freemont Street Experience and that street's bevy of casino properties. Both of the properties reviewed this month are easily reached via Interstate-15; just take the Washington Avenue exit. Also, it's just a few blocks west of Las Vegas Boulevard if you are driving from the Strip and prefer the "scenic" route. The CAL has been a Boyd Gaming entity since it was built by Sam Boyd. The property opened in 1975 with 325 rooms and a casino, at a reported cost of $10 million. The current version features 781 rooms and approximately 85,000 square-feet of casino space located on two floors. Extensive renovations were performed on the casino floor at the end of 2016. This was my first visit since the remodeling was completed.

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth reiterating for its place in Las Vegas history, one of Sam Boyd's many accomplishments in gambling is his aggressive pursuit of the Hawaiian market. After initially getting off to a slow start, the CAL began focusing its marketing efforts toward the Hawaiian Islands. Over several decades, the property has built and maintained a loyal following among Hawaiian visitors. It's estimated that over 80 percent of Hawaiian visitors to Las Vegas stay at a Boyd-owned property, most of them downtown. Boyd's Hawaiian marketing, which extended to Main Street Station and other properties with the company's later acquisitions, is credited with helping to build a large Hawaiian community in Las Vegas. In some circles, Las Vegas is even referred to as the "the Ninth Island." The CAL is assuredly its "capitol."

I've never had a relationship with the CAL and rarely set foot in the property except to get out of the elements if I'm making my way to or from Main Street Station. I've never heard anything negative, but the gaming has never drawn my interest. There were always better games at other places. For those of you that are familiar with the property, the small upstairs sports book has been closed and a new, larger one is now located on the ground floor. The new race and sports book setup is nice with about 20 large viewing screens, approximately 40 seats several tables, and a couple of couches. There's also a long bar in the middle of it with a "slushy machine." However, I don't think those were slushies the bartender was doling out! Needless to say, with "March Madness" in full swing, there were plenty of patrons. It looks to me like the new race and sports book will be money well spent and is long overdue. The CAL's new book could potentially be a good anchor against the wave of William Hill sports books that dominate the downtown sports betting market.

The bulk of the CAL's nearly 30 table games are located in a long row in the center of the casino's first floor. The table games inventory includes 18 blackjack games (a large selection by downtown standards) and a roulette table. There's also a pair each of Progressive Pai Gow Poker and Three Card Poker tables, plus single tables of Let It Ride and Texas Hold ‘Em Bonus. The blackjack games are predominantly of the double-deck variety. There was two six-deck shoes being dealt and one single-deck game paying 6:5 on player blackjacks. No mid-deck entry was allowed on the single-deck game. Why would you want too? One of the shoe games in play during my visit also paid 6:5 on player blackjacks. The table minimums and maximums were $3-$200 on this game.

House rules at the CAL are...

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