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

Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Bally's Las Vegas, 3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South

After completing my personal version of Homer's The Odyssey in the form of exploring blackjack conditions and the general "action" on Fremont Street and its immediate environs the past five months, it was time to head uptown; or simply south. South to the once fabulous Las Vegas Strip that is! This month I hit the Strip to check out a couple of properties that are owned by Caesars Entertainment Corporation (CZR on the NASDAQ), aka, "the Evil Empire." As you might guess, my expectations were low. Perhaps I would be pleasantly surprised? Read on to find out what I found.

Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South

This version of Paris is located practically in the center of the Las Vegas Strip, just south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. The Paris opened in September, 1999 and is linked via a promenade to its sister property, Bally's. As the name suggests, the city of Paris, France is the theme. One of the better architecturally themed properties in Las Vegas, the property includes a half scale, 541-foot tall replica of the Eiffel Tower; a two-thirds size Arc de Triomphe; a sign in the shape of the Montgolfier Balloon; a replica of La Fontaine des Mers; and a 1,200-seat theatre called Le Théâtre des Arts. The front of the hotel resembles the Paris Opera House and the Louvre.

I don't get to Paris very often these days. It's a property I liked a great deal at one time before the current ownership acquired it. I was curious as I pulled into the parking garage. In fact, this was the first time I had visited a CZT property since they announced they would begin charging for parking. If you are a Nevada resident, you can still park free by scanning your Nevada-issued driver's license as you drive in. I'm not a fan of this, but even less a fan of paying to park. Nothing like starting out behind before you even get inside the casino. Anyway, the Nevada driver's license worked without issue both inbound and exiting, so file that away if you are a Las Vegas local.

Paris is a large property. I managed to stay there once many, many years ago and enjoyed the stay. The hotel has 2,916 guest rooms and suites. If you are interested in booking one of them, realize the posted rates don't include the egregious resort fee. The published resort fee is $35 per night as I write this. That doesn't include the nearly 14% tacked on in the form of hotel taxes. The resort fee does include internet access for two devices, fitness-center access for two people, pool access, and local and toll-free calls. What a bargain, huh?!

As a Caesars' owned property, I expected Paris would offer mediocre to outright poor blackjack playing conditions on the main floor of the 85,000 square-foot casino, so to prolong the anticipated "pain" of that discovery, I began my tour in the high-limit room; Le Salon Des Tables. This area is housed in a glass-walled enclave just off the main casino floor and has three blackjack tables which include two six-deck shoes and a double-deck game. There were also several baccarat tables in the room. Blackjack table limits ranged from $100-$5,000. I was told the maximum bet limits are sometimes increased to $10,000. The house rules in the Le Salon Des Tables differ between the six-deck and double-deck games. On the six-deck shoes, player blackjacks pay 3:2 and dealers stand on soft 17. Aces may be split and re-split to form up to four hands. Players are allowed to double down after any first two cards (DOA) and after splits (DAS). Surrender is not available. A basic strategy player is up against a house edge of 0.40% with perfect play on their six-deck shoe games. That's not bad at all in the Las Vegas market if you are a high-limit player with an adequate bankroll to support that action. However, the rules differences on the double-deck table are significant. Aces may be split only once to form two total hands; dealers hit soft 17; and DAS is NOT allowed. These not so subtle changes increase the house edge against a basic strategy player to 0.55%. There were no players in this room the night I visited.

Paris' table games are spread out, but still centrally located and easy to locate. Most of the table game areas have French names except for the party pit. Maybe it does too and I just missed it. How do you say "party" in French? Anyway, there are scantily-clad pole dancers on stage in this area and a dozen tables that you probably don't want to play. The blackjack here is dealt from eight-deck shoes and only pays 6:5 on player blackjack. Dealers hit soft 17, but surrender is available. DOA and DAS are allowed. Aces may be split and re-split to form up to four hands. Deck penetration is between 5 and 6 decks. Table bet limits were $15, $25 up to $5,000. There was also a Blackjack Switch game in this area dealt from a continuous shuffler (CS). The 6:5 blackjack pay-outs are a show-stopper and the eight-deck shoes don't help. The only highlight in the Paris party pit is the on-stage pole dancers at night.

The bulk of Paris' blackjack games are in two pit areas: Rivoli and Etoile. Combined there are over 35 tables in these two areas with lots of eight-deck shoe games, some blackjack derivative games like Blackjack Switch, and a few carnival games. House rules on the eight-deck games are blackjacks pay 3:2, dealers hit soft 17s, and surrender is not allowed. DOA and DAS are allowed, but Aces may be re-split only once to form two hands. Penetration is close to six-decks. Table limits range from $15, and $25 up to $2,000.

The MorMarte area offers several craps tables, roulette tables, Three-Card Poker with a six-card bonus, and a double-deck blackjack game. More table games are located in the 15-table Concorde area just outside the high-limit room. It is primarily Pai Gow Poker with another double-deck blackjack game (I was told there were three on the property, so this seemed to check). Like in the high-limit room, DAS is not allowed on the double-deck games; Aces can be split only once; dealers hit soft 17s; and surrender is not available. Blackjacks pay 3:2 and DOA is allowed. There were no double-deck players and minimums on these games were $25.

I was told by a high-limit room table games supervisor that no one likes...

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