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

Four Queens Hotel and Casino, 202 Fremont Street

Binion's Gambling Hall, 128 E. Fremont Street

This month welcomed the Electric Daisy Carnival to Las Vegas and my version of "under the electric sky" continued under the Fremont Street Experience canopy with leg four of the "savage journey" into the downtown Las Vegas casino market. If you read the June issue of Blackjack Insider, you may recall that I encountered marginally better selections than in the previous months' forays. The Fremont offered lots of lower stakes blackjack options, though nothing you should really want to play. Meanwhile, the Golden Nugget had some marginally playable double-deck and six-deck choices that are about par for the course these days and better than many of the downtown games we've encountered up to this point. However, that property is also dealing some very poor games that should be avoided.

So what's an intrepid explorer to do under these circumstances except to hoist the BJ flag and sojourn onward? This month I did just that and checked out the other two members of the "Four Corners" properties that have called Fremont Street home for many, many years. Both of this month's selections are owned by TLC Casino Enterprises, Inc. and have a rich past, filled with nostalgia and Vegas lore. Unfortunately, one of the properties present and future is somewhat in question and its best days are probably well behind it. The other offering is a popular destination and was my downtown headquarters for many years. Both venues have made changes, or are in the process of making changes, since the last time I spent any time at either. Read on for this and more and I'll share what I found at the Four Queens and Binion's Gambling Hall.

Four Queens Hotel and Casino, 202 Fremont Street

The Four Queens is located on the corner of Casino Center Boulevard and Fremont Street directly across from the Fremont Hotel and Casino. If you aren't familiar, Casino Center Boulevard is the only through street that passes under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience. Needless to say, that's pretty much in the center of everything and the Four Queens always seems to have a lively crowd any time I've passed through dating back a number of years.

The Four Queens turned 51 earlier this month and has been a mainstay on the downtown casino scene since the property opened in 1966. The property has undergone many formal renovations and the current version has 690 hotel rooms in two towers, one overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. The property is named after its builder Ben Goffstein's four daughters: Faith, Hope, Benita, and Michele. It originally contained only 120 rooms and a 20,000 square-foot casino. The casino was expanded to 33,000 square feet in 1976. Today the casino occupies the entire block bordered by Fremont Street, Casino Center, Third Street, and Carson Avenue and the casino space has grown to about 50,000 square feet.

I have a long history with the Four Queens and it was my downtown headquarters for many years in the last decade. Like any relationship with a lady, or four, we have had our ups and downs. I've spent many nights in the hotel and played many slot and video poker tournaments at this property over the past decade (even managing to cash in three). I've had many nice wins and many brutal losses at the Four Queens. I've also eaten more than my share of Prime Rib specials at Magnolia's restaurant overlooking the casino table games. A great video poker selection and solid marketing offers kept me coming back for many, many years. Thanks to a sudden dearth of quality marketing offers, no tournament invites, and an increased coin-in requirement to earn points on the video poker games that brought me there so many long nights ago, my relationship status with the home of the four ladies is currently "single and looking." I haven't stayed or had any real reason to play this property in over three years and that continues at the time of this writing. I've said it many times before; but it's worth repeating, in the world of relationships and serious gambling, the only constant seems to be change.

There was a time many years ago when I regularly logged a few hours on the Four Queens' blackjack tables, but those days are long gone, thanks in part to mediocre rules and language issues with dealers. The latter might have changed as I haven't played at this casino regularly in at least seven years. One of the recent changes is that the two table-games pits are now located in one long row. Many of you may remember the two pits centrally located in the heart of the casino. I passed through the Four Queens at the end of May and there was literally a trench dug in the middle of the casino (I could see dirt and took a photo under the guise of "not something you see every day.") and many of the machines (the playable video poker) had been removed. Anyway, the floor has been patched up and the casino remodeled a bit. I don't see any improvement, but what do I know?

The Four Queens has 27 table games, give or take one, which includes two adjacent craps tables that have always seemed quite lively every time I've been on the casino floor. There is also a roulette table, the standard smattering of "carnival games" such as Let It Ride, Mississippi Stud, Three Card Poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold'Em. There's some Pai Gow Poker and a couple tables of Blackjack Switch too. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of lousy blackjack games being dealt.

The Four Queens features more than 15 blackjack tables with a few different rules in play. The rules and payouts used to vary table-to-table, which made for a mix of confusion and mediocre to flat-out poor games. That rules situation has been streamlined a great deal since last time I paid any attention here. Unfortunately, now the majority of the blackjack is of the eight-deck variety and pays 6:5 on player blackjacks. These games allow doubling down after splits (DAS) and on any first two cards (DOA); Aces may be split to form only two hands; dealers hit soft 17; and surrender is not allowed. Table minimums on these games varied from $5 to $10. All the maximums I saw were $500. However, all that should be irrelevant, because the 6:5 blackjack payoffs make these games a no-go. Underpaying blackjacks on an eight-deck monster just adds insult to injury for the players, err "guests." It's an ugly trend that is gaining momentum thanks to unknowledgeable or just plain lazy, players that don't demand a fair shake from the house and fail to "vote" with their feet. C'mon and wake up people!

The 4Q has a double-deck game dealt from a mini-shoe that pays 3:2 on player blackjacks and DOA is allowed; however, DAS and re-splitting of Aces is not. Dealers hit soft 17 and surrender is not allowed. This rules combination gives the house a 0.55% edge over a basic strategy player. On multiple visits in recent weeks, the table minimum on this game was $15.

The only other 3:2 blackjack payout game I saw was...

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