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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 Hi-Lo 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 July 2017. The casino visited in downtown Las Vegas this month was:

El Cortez Hotel and Casino, 600 E. Fremont Street

I recently heard a comic on the radio talking about visiting his family in Wisconsin from the West Coast. He said it wasn't the distance that made the trip to Milwaukee difficult, but rather the time change. Seems at his parent's house in Milwaukee, it's always 1975! I have to admit that one made me laugh aloud (that's "LOL" for the younger readers out there).

As my downtown Las Vegas odyssey continued this month, I visited a property that reminded me of that comedian. At this month's entry, it's always 1975; or maybe 1941! One of the underlying themes of my recent articles is that change is not always a good thing when it comes to you, the player. Last month I chronicled the demise of playable blackjack recently at the Four Queens and the barren wasteland of 6:5 blackjack games that now line the casino floor of the once great Binion's Gambling Hall. Both properties have changed and not for the better. Change isn't always bad, but it certainly isn't always good either. This month I checked out a joint that epitomizes "old school" and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, when you're doing it right, why change?

El Cortez Hotel and Casino, 600 E. Fremont Street

The legendary El Cortez sits in the heart of Las Vegas' Downtown Fremont East District and a block from the Fremont Street Experience. The property opened in 1941 and is the longest continuously operated downtown hotel-casino in Las Vegas. There's a 1948 Cadillac on display near the hotel registration; and if that weren't enough to set the nostalgic mood, black and white photos of the Rat Pack, Elvis, and various celebrities from a bygone era adorn the walls of the property. The El Cortez's photo collection also includes some great shots of vintage Las Vegas casinos that are no longer with us or that have changed immensely. These photos are reminders of something special, almost mythical; of a distant time and place that seems far away, yet is right under our feet; one we will never experience again in the "new" Las Vegas. If you appreciate, or are interested in Las Vegas history, these photos alone make the El Cortez a must-see. On November 1, 2016, the property hosted a 75th anniversary ceremony with cake, champagne, live music, and remarks from casino executives and Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who proclaimed it "El Cortez Day."

Speaking of "celebrating" the past, you may recognize the names Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Gus Greenbaum, and Moe Sedway. They were part of an ownership group that purchased the property in 1945. In 1963 the El Cortez was purchased by Jackie Gaughan who built a reputation as a renowned and well-regarded casino owner and operator. Unfortunately, some that have followed closely in his footsteps missed a few lessons over the years. Gaughan retained ownership of the El Cortez until 2009, when he sold it and its properties to Kenny Epstein. Gaughan continued to live at the casino and was a regular player in the poker room until his death on March 12, 2014.

The El Cortez was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 22, 2013. The property has undergone a few renovations over the years. The latest multi-million dollar effort was in 2006. The 64-room Cabana Suites were completed in the former Ogden House in 2009 bringing the total room count to its current 364. The approximately 45,000 square-foot casino has been the recipient of numerous Las Vegas Review-Journal Best of Las Vegas Awards in the Best Blackjack category. It's also received several "Best of" awards for its keno offerings. The keno area is large (think Las Vegas Vacation with Chevy Chase) and reportedly popular with Las Vegas locals and visitors alike.

I have played at the El Cortez on occasion over the years and should probably play there more often. Being required to pay to park there after new parking policies were implemented a few years back was a real deterrent. Parking is $10, but $5 if you show your players club card; however, they don't validate parking I've been told. Anyway, I realize it's not like the El Cortez is charging $10-$20 to park like at some of the Strip joints (not those strip joints; they have more sense than that!); but it's the principal of the thing. It's tough enough to win. I can't justify walking in behind. Free attached garage parking starts with higher players' club tier levels. Sapphire, the second tier, is reached after earning 3,000 base slot points. See the players club for details. They are open from 8 a.m. until midnight. The representative that assisted me during this visit was quite pleasant and helpful! One of these days I'd like to spend a night or two in the hotel, but at the moment that, like so many things of late, has eluded me.

As you may have guessed, it isn't the award-winning keno that gets me into this casino. To the best of my knowledge, the El Cortez is one of three casinos in Las Vegas that deals...

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