Keep Your Volcano and Pass the Dice
Of the frequent, Which casino do you like best e-mails that I receive, most of it centers around Downtown Las Vegas more than any other place.
Nowhere else on earth can you find such a mass concentration of casinos. Known colloquially as Glitter Gulch or Casino Center, the four blocks that constitute this area is served by no less than fourteen full-scale casinos (twelve of them offer craps). This intensity of gaming-opportunities is a true paradise for skilled Precision-Shooters, and the forty craps tables (yes, 40!) provide a wide range of shooting conditions that offers a variety of challenges for improving dicesetters.
With that in mind, I thought Id share a few of my own insights and observations into the playing conditions and general amenities that you can expect to find during your downtown LV excursions.
The best place to start is usually at the top of the food-chain, and in downtown Las Vegas, the GN is definitely at the top of the food-chain pecking order. Although I have profiled this place in several previous articles, it is worthy of an update because a few things have changed in the ever-evolving corporate landscape, and I am also happy to report that the profit opportunities on their excellent tables has also improved to some extent.
Im sure that most of you are aware by now that the Golden Nugget Casino-Hotels in Las Vegas and Laughlin have been sold from MGM-Mirage to Poster Financial Group (a private investment firm established by the founding members of Internet travel-seller Travelscape.com).
This augurs well for Precision-Shooters.
New owners, (Timothy Poster and Thomas Breitling), have indicated their goal is to bring back some of that Old Vegas feel to the homogenized, pasteurized, plain vanilla sameness that was the unfortunate hallmark of corporate ownership under MGM-Mirage. In their words "We want to revive that bygone Vegas feel and make the Golden Nugget properties the first choice of visitors who long for that traditional Las Vegas experience."
What it means for us is that the 57-year-old Golden Nuggets 1,907 guest rooms (and their outstanding not-too-difficult-to-get-comped two-level duplex suites); 38,000 square foot casino, and excellent restaurants, will continue to be maintained in the top-drawer manner that we have become accustomed to. In addition, we can expect some freshening updates, which will attract a somewhat younger, slightly more moneyed clientele.
A fresh stream of new customers bodes well for Downtown, which is currently in a state of flux.
With Harrahs taking over Binions Horseshoe (at least for now), and several new ownership groups in control of Four Queens, Lady Luck, Gaughans Plaza, El Cortez and Fitzgeralds; Downtown LV is far from down-for-the-count, and the future looks quite promising. With that in mind, I think that PFGs involvement will breathe new life and a sophisticated retro-cool vibrancy into the smoke-filled lungs of Glitter Gulch.
For Precision-Shooters, the first indication of the new regimes influence is the increase in allowable Odds to 6x/8x/10x. This not only increases the perceived value which fits nicely into the re-positioning and re-freshening of the property, but it gives the talented dicesetter quite a bit more flexibility in his betting-options. For example, as the shooter, you could start with low 1x or 2x-Odds, and as you dial-in the table and your hand progresses, you can pump up your PL-Odds without having to cap (add to) your low-level Pass-Line flat-bet in order to increase the maximum value of your Odds beyond the usual 3x/4x/5x level. In fact, it gives you twice the amount of Odds flexibility with the same base-bet. Thats a tangible improvement that can easily be exploited by skilled players.
Concurrent with that change was the repositioning of one of their craps tables to a (sometimes) roped-off area where new episodes of the upcoming reality-series TV show The Casino is being shot. While well be able to follow the on-screen trials and tribulations of the new owners as they settle into their new management roles, well also get to see some of their comp-invited players try their hand at various games including the sequestered craps layout. This series may have the same gotta-play-there-cause-its-Soooo-hip effect on the GN that another reality-based series (MTVs, The Real World) had on The Palms Hotel-Casino.
Speaking of their craps tables; you will find some of the best layouts anywhere as far as always-fresh table felt; smooth non-bouncy decks, neutral dice characteristics, professional dealers, plus some of the most appealing rolling-lanes and sweet-spots known to man or beast.
Yes, the often-heralded "candy store" table (nearest to Claudes Long Bar) at the GN is one sweet layout, but don't worry if you can't get a spot at it, or it isnt open. Their other tables are ALMOST as good, and arent always nearly as crowded with so many aspiring dicesetters who flock here seeking the holiest of holies, the Holy Grail of perfect tosses. While the table is GREAT, Ill sternly remind you AGAIN that it is CRITICAL that ALL of your Precision-Shooting skills and discipline are firing on ALL cylinders before you ever consider betting the farm, or even your prize-winning cow.
As an alternative to the candy store, especially if you cant get into your most comfortable shooting position at it; the table in front of the sportsbook stairs (beside the support column) is almost equally as GREAT, if not BETTER, as is the table nearest the railing-entrance to the Baccarat Pit. The felt on all of their layouts is fresh, clean and very nappy, so you may have to tailor your throw to match that particular characteristic.
I also want to add that a good number of people actually encounter SIGNIFICANT difficulty in adapting their throw to suit the GNs table characteristics. While they flock here, expecting to find perfect tables; they are often disheartened to find that they cant dial them is as easily as they had anticipated. In most cases, you have to reduce the power (force) of your throw a little bit, and increase your trajectory. You may be surprised at how much energy and bounce that the tables will actually absorb; so the further out you go (from the backwall of the table), the more backspin and trajectory that they can handle.
If you can't find your groove quickly on one table, then you have to be willing to try it at another, instead of trying to force one table to yield to your power. On the other hand, if you find one that works perfectly, and your Precision-Shooting profit is flowing fast and furious; then by all means, BET YOUR FACE OFF!!
Over-throwing is overkill on the GN tables, and over-betting before you have a profit locked up is sheer insanity on these very same tables.
They are not only favorably short, but the lower your throw-trajectory, the more forward-speed that they carry. So while a Low, Slow & Easy toss (see my Mad Professor's Shooting Bible Part III and Part IV ) will work quite well from SL-1/2 or SR-1/2 positions, you really have to modulate the force of your throw as you bear down to precisely target the dice. Loosen your grip, relax your focus, and toss the damn dice, THEN re-adjust, and do it all over again. Just dont over-tighten your grip and over-throw your toss. Over-throwing on these tables makes about as much sense as using Botox on a Shar-pei.
Personally, I do not chain myself to one table and camp out there waiting endlessly for the dice to cycle back around to my spot. Instead, this dice pit is perfect for moving from table to table. Youll see the ebb and flow of players coming and going all the time, so fresh spots open up quickly, but also fill in just as fast. If it looks like a good spot is available at another table, and the dice are headed that way, Ill abandon my current location, and take up my new position there.
To my mind, I KNOW I can make more money with the dice in my hand than in almost anyone elses. It just makes common sense for me to shoot as much as possible. The pit-dwelling table-game supervisors usually keep my Rating Card open regardless of the table that Im at. When I start play, and I see a TGS who doesnt already know me, Ill simply tell him that I move around a lot from table to table, and that Ill notify him when I am actually leaving, instead of requiring him to continually move my card as I shuttle around. I add with a smile that, Ill be asking for a comp before I leave, so you can be sure youll know when I really am finished playing.
In any event, if you prefer a classier atmosphere, at prices still considerably below the Strip, the Golden Nugget is the way to go. Its tasteful and sophisticated, but still Downtown all the way.
At the other end of the, they-even-have-free-soap-in-the-washrooms spectrum, is the somewhat notorious El Cortez. Although its only a short walk from Golden Nugget, its a LONG walk back in gaming history.
If you have been fully immunized against any and all communicable and contagious diseases, and the idea of playing beside someone who has more open wounds and oozing sores than he has fingers and toes, and the mere thought of that doesnt upset your concentration or your stomach; then the ElCo is perfect for you.
They have two cheap ($1 or $2), large (18-players), hard-surfaced, worn-felt craps tables. The dice make a distinctive knock/click sound when they land, and the rebound is unlike many others that you are likely to encounter. Although the felt doesnt feel sticky to the touch; if you slowly rub the dice over the surface, youll notice that there is a high degree of friction. This embedded grime, grease and grittiness acts to absorb much of the descent and rollout energy after impact. Of course, all of this presumes that you send the dice down to the other end of the table with a MINIMUM of force.
These two tables can handle a fair bit of backspin, but higher-trajectories tend to scatter the dice haphazardly (unless you land them AT or VERY NEAR the base of the wall, in which case, a Dead Cat Bounce is likely to occur). For a detailed discussion about the DCB method of getting the dice to land and stop immediately on impact, I would invite you to read Mad Professor's Shooting Bible Part IV article.
The newbie (break-in) dealers tend to make MANY mistakes in your favor (and a few against you if you aren't paying attention). We took a detailed look at this particular benefit/risk, and how its occurrence and frequency will likely spread and increase dramatically in the future in my Match-Play Coupon Circuit Part VIII article.
In fact, there is now a STRONG undercurrent of belief amongst a growing number of senior casino executives (including Mel the Vegas Ghost), that as boxmen are eliminated from the table-crew (as a money-saving move), and less TGS supervision is visited upon individual games; the toke-rate (tips) for craps-dealers have shot up way BEYOND what appears to have been actually (legitimately) bet for the dealers by the players in the first place.
In other words, the belief is that the dealers are juicing the players hand-in and after-win tokes by past-posting verbally booked Prop and Hop bets. At certain large Strip casinos, the craps table toke-rates have increased by several-fold far beyond where simple toke-hustling by the dealers can explain the dramatic rise. But thats a whole nuther subject that well cover in much more detail in the very near future. In the meantime, lets sanitize our hands and get back to the El Cortez tables.
Clearly there are better, cleaner, safer and even cheaper places to play at, but if you are going to play in Vegas, then you have to be able to say that you played at El Cortez at least once in your life. Theyve been luring low-rollers here since 1941, and judging from appearances of the carpeting, the tables, the wall paneling and even the cocktail waitresses; they have ALL been here since the day they first opened sixty-three years ago.
In any case, the ElCo harkens back to a more melancholy, grittier time in this citys history. Its ambiance pre-dates the Rat Pack days, and is more representative of what old time gambling joints used to look like long before volcanoes, baby-strollers, pirates and roller-coasters hit the scene.
El Cortez is seedy and it makes absolutely no apologies for it.
Its where gamblers are hardcore; where criminals are only outnumbered by the throng of mental patients; and where the cheap tables supply plenty of profit opportunities. Although most tourists prefer to lose their nut (bankroll) in much nicer surroundings on the Strip, this gambling-house provides something much more memorable than any over-priced souvenir ever could.
If you want a slightly different perspective on one of Las Vegas oldest hotels, I would invite you to retrace my steps in the Cheap Craps Guide Part I, or my Master of ALL Well Slave to SOME! articles.
Craps veterans either LOVE the Plaza Hotel or they HATE it.
You can put me in the "love it" category.
Sure it has a unique smell that faintly resembles a tantalizing mélange of urine (human, bovine and feline), institutional-strength Lysol and the exotic Tunisian bazaar tang of toasted nutmeg, cloves and sweet coriander. However, I like to think of that smell as the after-scent of dice-ghosts gone by, whose spirit still lingers, and whose apparitions still play at the Plaza tables when mere mortals like you and I are soundly sleeping.
The felt on these layouts get the most daily wear and tear of ANY tables in Las Vegas, bar none. This place, and their craps tables are like a worn-out pair of shoes. They may be a little frayed and tattered, but they sure are comfortable and easy to put on.
This is NOT Bellagio and will never be mistaken as such, but give me the dice at the table closest to the stairs leading into their Showroom, and I can pretty much guarantee that we'll be locking up a decent profit nearly EVERY SINGLE TIME the dice come around to me. Besides, where else can you witness the dealers, boxmen, floor supervisors and Pit Managers getting into all out, knock-down, drag-out fights on a regular basis? I like to think of this as the place where they play FULL CONTACT craps a sort of World Wrestling Federation (WWE) version of the dice game that we all know and love.
Most of the brawling takes place on the late-evening swing-shift, while most of the solo-shooting opportunities are found on the graveyard-shift after 4:00 a.m. Heat is RARELY detected during ANY shift, but the crowds show up in the early afternoon, and they keep this place jumping until the late night hours.
Dining options are somewhat limited, but passable enough as long as its not your final meal here on earth enough. For some not-quite-good-enough-to-be-called-gourmet-dining, the Plazas Center Stage restaurant (with their excellent Cornish Game Hens) deserves a shot, especially if its by way of a well-deserved comp.
As a Precision-Shooter, the Plazas craps tables also deserve a shot. Each one of their 10x-Odds tables has a fantastic sweet-spot about the size of a large loaf of bread. It is centered about four inches from the backwall, and runs parallel with the Pass-Line graphics in the straight-out position.
This is one of the very few casinos in the entire world where I can say that my shooting is steadily consistent from nearly every single player-position at each of their tables. Sure, I have my favorite spots just like everyone else, but I have found that at these tables, I am able to adjust my throw with a higher level of dependability from nearly ANY of the SR, SL or straight-out positions. I cant make that statement for very many other casinos ANYWHERE, so yeah you can mark me down in the LOVE IT category for this place.
This Hotel-Casino is a bit problematic. The new owners WANT to attract new players to their barely attended tables, but they are pretty tough to win on.
First of all, they are 18-footers.
Second, as Heavy and I have mentioned previously, their dice stay in action until they look like well-chewed Jolly Rancher candies. Instead of changing them out at the end or beginning of each shift, they stay in play until the missing chunks, visible cracks and broken corners convince them to break open a new stick. Unfortunately, they rarely replace all dice at the same time. Rather, theyll take out the worst looking cubes, and replace them with a fresh one or two. The rest of the still-got-plenty-of-rolls-left-in-them dice stay in the game until their pips are practically falling off. So its not unusual for several cubes to stay in play for periods approaching several weeks, and to see various colors, dice sizes and even different "A" and "B" pip-arrangement dice in the same dice-bowl on the table. Under those conditions, even the best shooters in the world can have a hard time putting together consistent rolls.
However, its not ALL bad news.
If you happen upon the game when some of the dice are relatively new and somewhat matched, youll also likely have the table to yourself, or the number of tablemates will be low. Although the table-minimum has been creeping up of late ($2, $3 and sometimes $5); if you give yourself some time to acclimate yourself to the table dimensions and to the dice, then your patience can be rewarded with some decent rolling. In fact, many people who have trouble with short, neutral tables, find the extra length of these puppies actually helps to dissipate excess throwing energy, and their on-axis percentage rises dramatically.
How can that be?
Many shooters find that with the extra table-length, the dice run out of energy as they reach the backwall; and their shooting-consistency actually improves as the unspent momentum is quickly exhausted (instead of getting the excess rollback and random popping and hopping they usually encounter on shorter tables).
In many cases, aspiring Precision-Shooters seek the SR-1 or SL-1 spots on ANY table that they play at. They do this because it puts them closest to the backwall (less real-estate to cover), and a shorter duration (flight time) over which they need to control the dice. This of course makes sense for most people, however some players just throw the dice too damn hard from that spot, and they cant seem to get their toss dialed-in no matter how much they try to control it.
For them, a somewhat longer throwing distance is sometimes the answer. So, when they get into the SR-1 or SL-1 position on the longer tables, they actually are able to exert MORE on-axis control over the dice simply because the excess throwing-energy has been bled off by the time the dice reach the backwall. Less rollback and less popping, hopping, skipping and jumping, means MORE on-axis primary-face results.
Yes, shorter distances work for MOST players, but sometimes the bigger, more aggressive guys (either bigger/more aggressive, physically AND/OR mentally) need more room to work your magic. Its not blasphemy from the Mad Professor (again); its just common sense.
The mini-suites at Lady Luck are an easy comp. Theyre a bit crowded with as much furniture (and a Jacuzzi) that can be legally stuffed into a habitable area, but the comp-threshold to get one of them is about 1/20th of what it is at the huge mega-toilet, mega-resorts on the Strip.
The quality of their restaurants range from fair at the LL Buffet, to good at the newly renamed Third Street Grill, all the way to fanfreakingtastic at the Erté-inspired Burgundy Room.
Since I mentioned the Burgundy Room, let me expand a bit on why I count this among the undiscovered jewels of Downtown Vegas. Its small space belies the big flavors, excellent quality and superb Old Vegas service. I have several passions in life that were explored in my Wine, Women, Song and Craps article; so suffice it to say that food is one of them. Starting with flambéed tableside classics like Steak Diane and finishing with Goldslager-fueled cherries jubilee, the Burgundy Room goes a long way in satisfying that spirited hunger.
Admittedly, my hunger for Precision-Shooting revenue is sometimes frustrated on their tables because of the worn-out dice. However, it nonetheless does get satisfied whenever I can successfully pick out a relatively-new, relatively-matched pair of cubes.
The Downtown Mindset
Downtown Las Vegas is, what it is. It doesnt put on pretentious airs. Its simple, uncomplicated, familiar and comfortable; its something that serious players seem to like. The Golden Nugget, The Plaza, Lady Luck and El Cortez, each represent a distinctly different gaming experience, yet all of them offer abundant Precision-Shooting opportunities, and I certainly like it that way too.
I hope youll join me next time when we take a look at a few more of my favorite Glitter Gulch hangouts. Until then,
Good Luck & Good Skill at those tables and in Life.
The Mad Professor