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Walking with a Vegas Ghost
Part One

Sometimes it's nice to reminisce.  It might be my way of ensuring that dementia or Alzheimer's Disease hasn't set in.  Some people think it should be called CRAFT's Disease (for Can't Remember A Frigging Thing).   I don't think that I've got it, at least I can't remember if I've got it.  Where was I…um, let me think…oh yeah…I remember now. 

A while back I took a walk down Las Vegas Boulevard South; otherwise known as "the Strip" with an old, but still employed senior Casino Executive that I befriended back in the early '80's.  I'll call him "Mel" because that's not his real name and he certainly doesn't want his current employer, a major resort operator, to know about ALL of his past exploits, especially those on the player's side of the table.  Mel is a bit of a gambler, the same way that Tiger Woods is a bit of a golfer.

We had a great breakfast at Mandalay Bay's Bayside Buffet.  He had just got off of work and wanted to take a walk up the Strip while stopping in at each casino to make one series of bets at the craps tables before moving on to the next house in line.  Great idea I thought.  He said that we'd have to avoid his employers' joints along the way.  Fair enough, we started right there at Mandalay.

I had resolved to use my $220 Inside Regression method at each place, unless we found an empty table to play at.  In which case, I would have reverted to my normal betting method that's used when it's my turn to shoot.   That bet looks like this:

$220 Inside Regression

Put $50 each on 5 & 9, and $60 each on the 6 & 8

After any of these numbers hit, regress each bet down to $10 & $12 respectively ($44 Inside)

You now have a locked in profit of $26, no matter what else happens.

With every other subsequent hit, press that number and it's twin (5 with 9: and 6 with 8).

Mel wanted to use a technique that has kept him in the game over the years.  His method for this hit-and-run adventure is:

Iron Cross w/ Gold Streaks

Bet $50 on the Field and Place the 5 for $50. 

Place $60 each on the 6 & 8. 

Lay the 4 for $500 + $11 vig.  If the 7 shows, he has a profit of  $19.

As each number hits, he reduces the Field, 5, 6 & 8 bets to $10 & $12 respectively, with $44 in action.   He then reduces the No-4 to $100.  If two more numbers hit, he takes the Lay bet down completely, and collects on the subsequent Place & Field bets.

So started our odyssey with an immediate profit from Mandalay in pocket for the both of us.  Mel said that to truly relish the experience, we would WALK the entire trip and not enjoy the use of monorails, taxis, buses or trolleys.  It was hot out.   Not just “whew, it’s a hot day out today.”  I’m talking about spontaneous human combustion-type HOT!  We started our walk to Luxor while Mel reflected upon the fact that Mandalay Bay now sat on the land that had been previously occupied by the former:

Hacienda Hotel & Casino
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Mel explained that Las Vegas was in trouble in the 1950's after the failing of the Royal Nevada Casino Hotel, and there were desperate attempts to keep the Dunes and Riviera afloat.   In 1954, a new project that was to be called The Lady Luck was being planned for this property by a guy from Sacramento who was in the burger business.  "Doc" Bayley who owned the Fresno and Bakersfield Hacienda Hotels was tapped to run this 256 room place, so he changed the name to The Hacienda.

The Gaming and Control Board initially denied the gambling license because one part-owner who had a previous license at the New Frontier and Golden Nugget was deemed to have an unsuitable link to "unsavory" characters.  Apparently his paltry income couldn't justify the source of his substantial "investment" money.

The Hacienda was nicknamed "Hayseed Heaven", and began a new trend by appealing to the family market with several pools, a miniature golf course, and a go-cart track.  This trend would be re-visited by the major casino corporations again in the 1980's.  It didn't completely work either time as they saw in the early '60's, and as we saw in the '90's.

In 1970, for $5 you could get a large air-conditioned room, $10 in free casino chips, two gourmet buffet brunches, green fees for their golf course, a free champagne party daily from 5 to 6:00pm, and free miniature golf.   "That was a great deal" said Mel, "they served more champagne than all the other Strip joints combined."

"There was a neat stage in the Jewel Box Lounge where I used to watch The Ink Spots after work.  We'd all get together and have a huge steak in their gourmet Charcoal Room.  Sometimes Sinatra would come in with his crew.  He favored this place and the old House of Lords at the Sahara.  That guy loved steak, and his crew ate like kings.  A lot of times he'd pick up the tab for the entire room, especially if he recognized a "lucky" dealer among us.  We'd sometimes go out to the ranch with maybe twenty or thirty people, saddle the horses and just ride for a couple of hours.  A mob-front outfit named Argent Corporation bought the Hacienda in 1972, but they were forced to sell it after a big "skimming" operation was discovered.”

“The Fiesta Room showcased America's only nude ice revue.  That show later moved to downtown's Union Plaza Hotel, calling it "Nudes on Ice."  The female skaters would get so cold that you could dial a telephone with their nipples.  You got a Prime Rib Dinner and the Naked show for six bucks including unlimited booze.  Around 1980 they added 300 rooms to their 10 buildings, then expanded to 1,140 rooms all built around a Spanish-Mission style theme."

Mel's on-going commentary was making the walk to Luxor seem shorter.  He mentioned that Redd Foxx, a well-known comedian and star of the hit TV show Sanford & Son played the Hacienda for quite a few years along with Lance Burton who had come over from doing a 10-minute segment in the Folies Bergere show at the Tropicana. 
In 1995, Circus Circus Enterprises purchased the hotel for $80 million and on New Years Eve '96, they imploded it.

We proceeded to make one series of bets at Luxor, Excalibur and Tropicana. 

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Surprisingly, each series produced a fairly decent profit.  As one concession, Mel allowed the use of the overhead walkways and escalators to cross the "new Four Corners". 

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I was very grateful to this one concession to modern convenience.   Mel may be twenty years older that me, but he thrives in sauna-temperature heat.  He said that it’s from all those  years hanging around with “the boys”.  Since Mel isn’t gay, it can only mean one thing.  After having a very short, but still profitable hand at the Tropicana, we exited and he pointed out the portion of the MGM Grand that was:

The Marina Hotel and Casino
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Mel said that he and a lot of other casino personnel enjoyed a large number of "cold ones" in Shipwreck Kelly's Lounge on a VERY regular basis.  Apparently a few of his "wise-guy" friends really liked the Port of Call Restaurant because they served the freshest seafood and fantastic veal for about $9.00.

He said that there were many current casino executives around town that either started out or moved up the casino ladder because of their posts at the Marina.  Apparently the management was known for grooming top-notch executive material.  This was one place where most dealers felt pretty comfortable playing at, after their shifts were over. 

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Kirk Kerkorian proceeded to buy the Marina in 1989, and promptly changed it to the MGM Marina. He decided not to destroy the resort that he closed in 1990, but to build around it, making the Marina a part of his dream.  The entire front hotel tower section that forms a part of the complex was the original Marina Hotel.   The original 100 acre Tropicana Country Club was located where the current parking garage and Adventure Park is.

By the time he had finished telling me of his exploits on the Tropicana golf course as well as those on the Desert Inn course, we were nearing the:

 Aladdin Hotel & Casino
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I had stayed at this place on my first visit to Las Vegas in the mid-'70's so I knew the ambiance of the old place.  Mel talked about his favorite subject other than women which is entertainment, and said the Bagdad Theatre showcased Little Richard and Blood, Sweat & Tears for $2.25 per person with all you could drink on a regular basis. 

There was more alleged mob involvement with the ownership of this place too, when Mae George purchased 24% of the resort. Her business adviser was placed in Nevada's infamous Black Book of individuals banned from even entering the property of a gaming establishment. Four mobsters who ran the resort on behalf of Detroit and St. Louis mob interests had also bilked another $250,000 and received prison terms for a job well done. It was then sold for $5 million, and a new 19-story tower and 7,500 seat Performing Arts Center replaced the Aladdin golf course. Mel thought that it was important to note that $5 million is what it currently costs MGM to build ONE luxury super-suite in their Mansion project.

Mel was there when Neil Diamond did two shows followed by a boxing-card with the Larry Quarry and another one with Ernie Shavers where all seats were $10. It was the same price for Alice Cooper, Paul Anka, the Moody Blues and Gladys Knight & The Pips, plus there were 1-drink minimum shows by Cheech & Chong.

In 1979, the Nevada Gaming Commission closed the hotel for continued mob-linked activity, but Judge Harry Claiborne opened it three hours later saying he had "special powers". The lawyer for the hotel was subsequently indicted in connection with a $1 million kickback scheme.  I’m sure there was no link between the two, and the criminal conviction was just an unhappy coincidence.  Right?!

By 1980 there was a price war as to who would own the Aladdin. Singer Wayne Newton and Ed Torres had bought the property for $85 million, over Johnny Carson's bids. Newton and Torres had personality conflicts over the resort's entertainment. Torres bought out Newton in 1982, but found himself fighting off the Teamsters Union Pension Fund as creditors, forcing a foreclosure. "Those Teamster's are great guys, but they aren't the kind of people I would want to owe money to." smiled Mel.

More charges of mob infiltration closed the Aladdin again for over a year. Ginji Yasuda, a Japanese mystery-businessman bought the property in early 1987 for $54 million.  Mel worked for him and said "…this guy had no idea how to run a casino…he couldn't even organize a trip to the bathroom let alone manage 800 employees and run an 1100 room hotel.  He used the corporation's $25 million jet to fly his wife to New York on afternoon shopping excursions while we were losing millions, so Yasuda went out and borrowed $6 million from Japanese gangsters to keep the Aladdin afloat.  The only good thing was that the Asian mob-guys liked pop music, so we brought in Billy Ocean and Rod Stewart and stars like that."

I recounted one of my own visits.  Ginji liked to watch all the casino and hotel action from the confines of his penthouse suite on a bank of closed-circuit TV monitors.  He had seen our group of high-rollers at check-in and came down in his private elevator wearing pajamas and a bathrobe.  He welcomed us all personally, then after finding out we were hungry from a delayed flight, he led us to Wellington's Steakhouse where he unlocked the door, seated us and proceeded to the kitchen where he cooked thick slabs of Black Angus steaks.  He joined us as we ate our steaks and drank some Kirin beer out of his stash that he had flown in directly from the brewery.  He said it was fresher that way. 

There was a very unusual TV-screen quarter-horse racing machine near the elevator.  It was pre-loaded with videos of dash-type races and you could bet different numbered horses at different odds.  It was a lot different that those carnival-type racing games that you see in some of the cheesy casinos today.  Ginji had the North American rights to those machines, but I have never seen them at any other casinos since then.

In 1989, Yasuda refused to reveal the true source of his loans, which cost him his license.

What was once one of the largest casinos in the state was now an old relic compared to the then new Mirage and Excalibur.  "But" quickly added Mel "we still brought in some interesting name entertainment like Bon Jovi, Jefferson Starship, Heart, Stone Temple Pilots, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Tears for Fears, Alanis Morissette, Pearl Jam, Brooks & Dunn, and Steve Miller.   Even today, there isn't a single casino that has that kind of back-to-back-to-back entertainment seven days a week.  We did that for nearly a year-and-a-half, plus we brought in an Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganza and a Brazilian-spectacular production, just to "flesh-out" the schedule."

In 1994, New York real estate developer Jack Sommer took over the resort for $80 million and imploded it in 1998 and started construction of the current Aladdin.  We hit the new disjointed, terribly laid-out casino for our one series of bets and made out like "thieves from 1,001 Arabian Nights", then beat a hasty exit.

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Mel and I then made our way through Paris, Bally's, Barbary Coast, Imperial Palace, Casino Royale, and Harrah's.  Each casino gave us varying amounts of fun and profit.  Most of those casinos gave us more fun than profit. 

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We both had a bottle of Harrah's own brand of bottled water, and we paused at the foot of the people-mover sidewalk in front of the Venetian.  Ignoring the placard carrying protestors, and the gauntlet of human flesh-peddling magazine-pylons, we both had some fond memories of the predecessor to this property:


9asands.gif (26843 bytes)

Mel had started work here way back when Frank Sinatra sold a small ownership stake for about $400,000. Mel would linger after a shift to watch Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis, Jr., Red Skelton, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Bob Newhart, or The Rowan & Martin Show.

"If you were "connected" in those days, you could get into the steam room known as the Clubhouse of the Clan.  The Sands was bought by Howard Hughes for $14 million in 1967 and added a 17-story cylinderical tower containing 777 rooms.  The real original "Rat Pack" was definitely packing them in." offered Mel.    Now I knew how Mel got acclimated to this scorching gas-oven desert heat.

"For the Copa Room dinner show you could get Pepper Steak, Colorado Rainbow Trout, Roast Turkey, Rock Cornish Hen, Prime Rib, or New York Sirloin Steak for about $12.00 including the show.  So here you are, having a 20-ounce rare slab of Prime Rib, drinking bottles of Cognac and watching Frank Sinatra ham it up with Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Sammy and Dino all for $15.00 including tip.  Can you imagine what that would cost today?  You couldn't get out of the gate for under $500, at least, probably $1,000 for decent seats!" he exclaimed.

9bsands.gif (27671 bytes)

“In 1981, Summa Corporation was forced to sell properties because they thought Hughes was creating a casino monopoly in Vegas.  As he looked at the Bridge of Sighs at the Venetian, Mel stared straight ahead and said "Can you see them saying that today.  Park Place has the Hilton, the Flamingo, Bally's, Paris, Caesar's, etc. and they thought Hughes was a meglo-maniac, man they ain't seen nothin' yet!"  The Pratt Corporation took the Sands over with plans to go after the Mexican and Latin American market, but the Mexican economy "tanked", and the Sands was left holding bad markers and trade dried up to almost nothing.

Kirk Kerkorian purchased the Sands in 1988, making it the MGM Sands before flipping it for a cool $24 million profit in less than six months to the Interface Group who started the whole COMDEX trade show.  "Anyway, they sold out to Shelly Adelson before closing it in June of  ‘96.  I went to a reunion at the Copa Room right before it closed.  Some of the old-timer's were there, but the place had turned into an absolute dump.   It's a shame how some of these corporations have no soul, and definitely no heart.  They don't understand the heritage or respect history.  Of course everyone remembers it being in the movie "ConAir" starring Nicolas Cage.   During the auction of everything in the hotel before demolition, I managed to buy two of the original chandeliers that hung in the Copa Room.  They now grace the main entrance hallway in my house out in Henderson", added a smiling Mel.

We played at the Venetian and each got to shoot because the $10 table was completely empty.   Mel's efforts were terrible, and I said that it was good that he had a great full-time casino career because his prospects of being a Precision-Shooter were definitely limited.  He retorted that it was good that I was a professional craps player, because if I was a casino dealer "you'd start "whacking" the really obnoxious and repulsive customers, and I'm not talking about using a craps stick to do it with either."   I chuckled at his back-handed compliment and I proceeded to experience a very decent hand that he counted as having 32 rolls, with 27 of them paying off on my “Inside Regression” bets.

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Satisfied that we had extracted our "pound of flesh" out of what he called the "most ornate whorehouse outside of Italy", we proceeded to play at the Desert Inn, which was still very open, but not very much alive back then. 

From there we walked past Silver City which was closed.

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We then headed into the Riviera.  We both didn't like the immediate smell that accosted us while walking through the food-court.  The scent reminded me of a casino in Macau where both the Portuguese and Hongkong influence in gaming is great, but the odor that your clothes absorb, leaves you smelling like a Madiera-dipped dry-garlic-rubbed freshly-slaughtered piglet.  Only the Riviera didn't smell quite as appetizing.  The stench seemed like a hotel guest's pet Kamodo Dragon had gotten stuck in the ventilation system and died a horrible death.  Nothing say's "Welcome to the Riviera" quite like the bouquet of decaying flesh. 

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The Riviera tables were kind, but we were uninspired to stay very long when Mel was recognized by one of the pit critters who made a comment to me about hanging out with certain "other" corporations' lowlifes.  Mel retorted "Why do you say that…are your lowlifes any better? And by the way, (name deleted) are you shopping around for a new boyfriend, or is that little blonde 17 year-old still ripe enough for you?"  The entire pit crew and all the players laughed hard, and he started to walk away. 

I said "Hey, have you heard the joke about the blind elephant and the blind snake?"   He stopped, and I continued  "These two animals run into each other and agree to touch each other to figure out what the other one is.  The blind snake feels the elephant's foot and leg and says it's all rough and bumpy and strong and tall so he decides that it must be some kind of talking palm-tree.  The blind elephant then takes a turn touching the snake.   He say "Hmmm, you're slimy and scaly, you've got little beady eyes, you hiss when you are mad, you're low to the ground and you have no balls…you must be a Pit Boss!"  With that, the whole area burst into fits of laughter, and the guy just slithered away.

We chuckled a little further as we cashed out and made our way to the Sahara. 

On our way to the Sahara, we passed the derelict shell of another former strip queen:

The Thunderbird / Silverbird / El Rancho

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For Mel, the one thing that he best remembered was the fact that this place started what today is a Las Vegas legend: THE BUFFET

"It started out as the "Chuck Wagon" that first opened at 11:00 pm.  It was a way to get the coffee-shop really clean without any customers in it." he said.  "Buffet prices were $1.83. In '77, the Dune's owner Major Riddle bought it and changed the name to Silverbird.  They brought in The 5th Dimension for entertainment, and they opened the gourmet Top Brass room, with "the Major steaks his reputation on it!" as it's slogan."

Later in 1981, Ed Torres purchased the Silverbird, added a Spanish-style mission front, and renamed it El Rancho. He added a tower, a 52-lane bowling center and expanded the casino to 90,000 square. Mel indicated that Torres' greatest accomplishment lay in building Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant, where "they had these 30-40 inch long crab legs that must have come off of some hellish mutant crabs.  The nuclear accident had just happened at Three Mile Island up in Pennsylvania.  So as I'm eatin' them, I'm wondering if maybe these things got irradiated and might actually come back to life and squash my head in a vice-like grip, cause I'm tellin' you man, these were gigantic legs.  Some of them were longer than my legs, and the whole deal was six bucks!" he said, still amazed after all these years.

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The El Rancho didn't fare any better than the Thunderbird and Silverbird and it closed in 1992. The New Jersey Horseracing Association subsequently purchased the El Rancho but they couldn't get financing. One plan was to sell it to CMT (Country Music Television); install a TV studio and broadcast live entertainment from the lounge and showroom; theme the casino as Country & Western, and make the hotel tower look like two "gi-normous" back-to-back cowboy boots.  They commenced demolition, but ran out of money and walked away.    Turnberry Associates purchased it for $45 million, and there are plans to co-develop it into a casino site.

Mel and I made our way to the Sahara Hotel, where we got onto their $1 table and proceeded to reap the benefits of a Precision-Shooter that neither of us had seen before.    "No matter" Mel said, "let's see where this guy takes it."  The hand lasted about 65 minutes, but with a crowded table and slow payoffs, we estimated that he had about 40-50 good throws.  That was enough to more than double the profit that we already had in hand.  That being that, we decided to celebrate at Paco's Hideway for dinner.

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The walk is continued here.

Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life

The Mad Professor

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