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

Fremont Hotel and Casino, 200 Fremont Street

Golden Nugget Las Vegas, 129 E. Fremont Street

This month I continued with leg three of the "savage journey" and probed further into the belly of the beast that is the downtown Las Vegas casino market. If you read last month's Blackjack Insider, you may recall that we encountered more eight-deck monstrosities and subtle, declining rule changes that made the blackjack offerings at the D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate increasingly less desirable. This month I checked out a couple of "Four Corners" staples that have called Fremont Street home for many decades. Like Main Street Station and the Cal, both profiled in the August issue of Blackjack Insider, the Fremont is another Boyd Gaming (ticker symbol BYD; NYSE) entity; while the Golden Nugget is a luxury property owned by Tilman Fertitta's Houston-based Landry's, better known for its restaurant holdings. I didn't find that much had changed since the last time I spent any measureable time at either property. Read on if you want to know more about the Fremont and Golden Nugget.

Fremont Hotel and Casino, 200 Fremont Street

The Fremont is located on the corner of Casino Center Boulevard and Fremont Street directly across from the Four Queens. Casino Center Boulevard is the only through street that passes under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience. This intersection is pretty much the center of the Fremont Street Experience. The Fremont celebrated its 61st birthday this month. When it opened in May of 1956 it was the tallest building in Nevada. At the time of its opening it had 155 rooms and cost $6 million. In 1963 the hotel was expanded to include the 14-story Ogden tower and one of Las Vegas' first vertical parking garages. The current version of the property has almost 450 hotel rooms and suites. Sam Boyd purchased the property in 1983 and it continues to be part of the Boyd Gaming Corporation to this day.

I've never stayed at the Fremont and only played minimal blackjack there during my myriad Vegas adventures of yesteryear. I do remember carving out a small blackjack win and asking the pit boss for a dinner comp. Looking back he seemed happy to oblige and told me to save room for the cherries jubilee. Geez, that's probably been 20 years and a few lifetimes ago. Excuse my bout with nostalgia, but it reminds me that the Fremont is still a "throw-back" property in my mind. It reminds me of old Las Vegas and the many adventures I had downtown during my "formative" gambling years. Speaking of "formative," Mr. Las Vegas, Wayne Newton himself, got his start in Las Vegas at the Fremont's Carnival Lounge in 1959. Mr. Newton and I once shared a moment at the airport waiting on a flight to Dallas, but I'll save that story for another day. In case you haven't heard, he's performing again; most recently at Bally's. For you fans of the silver screen, the Fremont appears periodically in the Disney film, Honey, I Blew Up the Kids (1992). In addition, several scenes from the Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn comedy-drama Swingers (1996) were filmed inside the Fremont, including their blackjack games.

Speaking of the Fremont's blackjack games, they're located along with the rest of the casino's 26 table games, in one long pit in the center of the 32,000 square-foot casino, not far from the Fremont Street entrance. I have to reach pretty far to find anything good to say about the Fremont's table games. The best I can come up with is that there are only a small handful of "carnival games" and the majority of the tables are blackjack. There are also four craps tables, two roulette tabbles, and Super Fun 21.

The Fremont deals a mixed bag of blackjack games that include hand-dealt double-deck, six-deck shoes, six-deck games dealt from continuous shufflers (CS), and a couple of 6:5 single-deck games. One table even posted that bet increments of less than $5 on blackjacks would be paid out at even money. I remember that from the last time I looked closely at the Fremont. I probably shouldn't be surprised that one is still in play. Brutal, but people were playing it. Even for small stakes, the math matters! What the heck, folks? Just stay away from games with payouts like those, even at low stakes. Buying lottery tickets and prize payouts at the county fair probably make more sense! The double-deck games offered minimums and maximums ranging from $5-500; $10-$1,000; and $25-$1,000. Other table limits were as low as $3-$200 on the 6:5 single-deck offering and $5-$200 on the shoe- and CS-dealt games.

The trouble with the Fremont's blackjack offerings is...

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