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

Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, One Fremont Street

D Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, 301 Fremont Street

This month I continue with leg two of the "savage journey." If you read last month's Blackjack Insider you may recall that I struck out in my quest for good blackjack at Main Street Station and the CAL, a pair of downtown properties owned by Boyd Gaming (ticker symbol BYD; NYSE). This month I ventured onto Fremont Street to a pair of properties owned by two brothers from Detroit, Derek and Greg Stevens. There have been some changes to both properties since last time I spent any appreciable time at either. Read on to find out what I found at the Golden Gate and D Las Vegas.

Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, One Fremont Street

The Golden Gate is the oldest and smallest hotel on the Fremont Street Experience. It's located on the corner of Main Street and Fremont Street; directly across from the Plaza (Main Street) and the now shuttered Las Vegas Club (also owned by the Stevens). There's often a DJ or live band playing on the nearby Main Street Stage, and there are bikini-clad female bartenders that take turns dancing on top of the outdoor bar outside the property. A friend and I caught a set from a band called Spandex Nation here on St. Patrick's Day. As you might guess by their name, they were cranking out some serious Eighties rock n' roll and hair-metal and are well worth a listen. The combination of music, an outdoor bar, and dancing girls tends to draw a crowd, so look for the bevy of onlookers and let the party begin!

I've always had a soft spot for the Golden Gate. Maybe it's the property's history or was it the 99-cent shrimp cocktails? Some of you are probably familiar with the Golden Gate's rich history. In case you're not, let me provide a quick overview.

Historical overview.

The Golden Gate opened in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada. In 1907 it was assigned the city's first telephone with the number 1. You can view that telephone in the lobby near hotel registration along with some vintage slot machines and a few other collectables. In 1931, when gambling was re-legalized in Nevada, the property was expanded and renamed Sal Sagev (Las Vegas spelled backwards.) The hotel gained its current name in 1955 when a group of Italian-Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area started the Golden Gate Casino. The then 106-room, four-story hotel was renovated in 2005, but changes were minimal. A major overhaul was launched in 2012 after the new majority ownership took possession of the property.

I've stayed at the Golden Gate's hotel a few times now. The first was a few years ago before the latest refurb. Quaint and small are two words that come to mind. There was no elevator and the bathroom wasn't much larger than a postage stamp, but it wasn't bad for the price (comped). There is now an elevator up to the rooms, but the Golden Gate is still "quaint" and the guestroom bathrooms are still about the size of a postage stamp. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's cozy and actually works for the single gambler or even as a "date place" if you're seeing the right girl. I'm not at the moment, but if I were, I'd make sure to coordinate bathroom usage with her!

For those of you that remember the old Golden Gate, the piano bar area and vintage hotel lobby were gutted in favor of a more open and modern look. The $12 million renovation included a 35,000-square-foot, five-story hotel tower with 14 new suites and two penthouses bringing the room total to 122. A new porte cochere was added, along with new hotel check-in and slot club areas at the back of the property. The casino floor was expanded and a high-limit gaming area was added, while the casino-floor restrooms were relocated.

Progress often comes with a price and in the case of the Golden Gate the deli near the old piano bar is nothing more than a distant memory. That was home to Las Vegas' Original Shrimp Cocktail. For many, many years, the Golden Gate was best known for that shrimp cocktail. When Golden Gate partner Italo Ghelfi introduced shrimp cocktails to the casino scene in 1959, he started a Las Vegas tradition. The shrimp cocktail regularly harvested "Best of Las Vegas" awards from the Las Vegas Review Journal's annual poll. The Golden Gate reportedly sold more than 40 million of those gems. The latest version sold for $3.99, a long cry from the 99-cent version that was so popular with me and so many others over the years. It was still served at Du-Par's Restaurant and Bakery until the restaurant closed in February. Yes, you read that correctly; Du-Par's is now closed! At the time of this writing there aren't any dining options at the Golden Gate. However, a Du-Par's location opened last year in the Suncoast Casino.

The Golden Gate has re-invented itself into a bit of a party joint and the casino floor was crowded during a recent hotel stay. When you enter the property at night, you're greeted by loud music and scantily-clad dancing dealers on stages in the middle of the table-games pit. The music is a variety of pop, rock, and electronic dance music. The "dealertainers" are generally friendly and aren't shy when putting their dance moves and assets on display. They take turns dealing and rotate dancing atop the pit's three elevated stages. The dancer/dealers wear black bras, with black fringe overlays, black skirts and round it out with tall black boots. An evening at the Golden Gate is a far cry from the scene at the Hard Rock when the AEE/AVN show is in town, but there is a surprising (to me) amount of scenery, people drinking, and even gambling! A few short years ago, there was no "scene" worth mentioning at the Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate's table games pit features 19 table games and runs pretty much the length of the casino floor. The lineup includes two craps tables, a pair of roulette tables, a few carnival games, and a couple of Free Bet Blackjack games (a blackjack variant with a separate strategy in which dealer 22s result in pushes). The ten traditional blackjack games were all of the eight-deck variety. This move to eight-decks is a recent change. During past walk-throughs and my last "official" visit, the blackjack games were six decks dealt from continuous shufflers (CS). Minimum and maximum limits on the main casino floor were $5 and $10 up to $2,500. The high-limit room, located just above and off the main casino floor, housed two eight-deck games and one double-deck game dealt from a mini-shoe. Table limits here began at $25 on a weeknight. I was told they generally start at $50 on weekends, but don't be afraid to ask the pit boss for a $25 minimum if business is slow.

Blackjack house rules at the Golden Gate are...

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