Editor's note: It occurs to me that I never posted a trip report from the December WPBT visit to Las Vegas. Stupid bird flu. Anyway, here's a snippet.
5:30 a.m. and it's time to gamble. I'm downtown, I'm cheap, and that means it's time to visit the glittering citadel that is the El Cortez.
You won't find the beautiful people at the El Co - if you do, they're undoubtedly lost and you may find yourself the recipient of a tip if you give them directions back to the Golden Nugget. You also won't find a lot of life's winners, blowing off steam and a few bucks. Instead, you find the poor, the thrifty and the weird.
It's a thing of beauty.
I buy in and sit at a $3 table. Single deck, 3 to 2 payout on blackjack, no attitude. Suck on all of that, you strip mega-corporations. This is what I want to play, even if I am playing $5 to $10 per hand, maybe $20 if I'm pressing. Cocktail service is fast, and I put away Captain and Cokes just as quick as they appear, to the financial benefit of the young lady bringing them. She’s not a ten, or even a six for that matter, but she’s fast and smiles occasionally. Beautiful. She earns numerous dollar to two dollar tips for her trouble.
A couple hours into my session, I’m starting to notice a trend (disclaimer – this is not a racial comment, just an odd coincidence) – I can’t seem to win anything unless I have an Asian dealer. I go down, build back up with Ken from China, Manny the Latino puts me almost down to the felt again, I survive and rebound when I get Qiang, and the final knockout punch is ultimately to be applied by one of an endless series of Ethiopian stack assassins.
At least it’s a good time, and I’m hanging around stretching my gambling dollar. I end up playing with three middle-aged women from Michigan, and together we’re crushing the royal match side bet. I may be getting dealt 12, 13 or 14 every hand, but at least it’s sooted! Better call the floor!
Yeah, yeah, negative expected value. Sucker bet. Whatever. When it’s the only thing you have going, you play it. I probably break even on that at least. Which is more than you can say for the blackjack. I bust mid-morning, and that’s enough. Time for a snack.
Snack time means more coffee shop food. I don’t feel like leaving the comfy surrounds of the El Co, so it’s off to Careful Kitty’s Café. I pull up a seat at the counter and get a glass of water from the waitress, who could pass for a cast member of the 70s TV show “Alice” and who immediately doubles her tip by calling me “hon”. For some reason, that amuses the heck out of me. I get a hot pastrami sandwich and fries, both of which are fine, although I find myself wishing I’d gotten the hot turkey instead. Maybe tryptophan would have kept me away from the tables.
Since it’s almost impossible to find a newspaper in Vegas, I have plenty of time to think and people watch while I wait for my food. There’s an actual decent looking female member of the species sitting a couple rows over, having breakfast or at least coffee with a woman whom I first thought could be Howard Stern. They left far too soon, but were quickly surpassed for entertainment value by a guy at the next table. This gentleman had the shakes, and he needed only one thing. Tea, with ice. One iced tea. Followed by another. And another. In the first fifteen minutes I sat there, he drank nine iced teas with lemon and Equal. I don’t think my stomach could take that much Equal. Ow.
Also as I’m sitting there, I’m taking stock of how the trip is going, gambling-wise, and the answer is not well. I have yet to have a winning session at anything.
Not one single win.
I should have known this would happen. You see, I came with a bit of a bad attitude. The trip and the funds to play with were provided by poker. And in the weeks leading up to the trip, my luck at that game had turned as well, and I found myself continually being outdrawn after getting my money in as a big favorite. Short version: I’d been running bad. Very bad. Very, very bad. I am an anti-luckbox.
Time to change that.
As I meditate on how to change my luck, I stare blankly at the big board on the wall. The big board starts flashing numbers.
It’s a sign.
It’s Keno time, bitches.
I have never played Keno, so I have no track record to fight against. I have no idea what I’m doing, but the house advantage in this game is so enormous, they apparently find no need to punish further people who don’t know the game.
I grab a booklet, a pencil, and Captain and Coke number twenty-two and get cracking. Just by sitting myself down in the surprisingly large and busy keno lounge, I figure I dropped the average age by a good fifteen years. I flip through the rules, which are simple enough, and some of the special bets they offer, when at the very back, I find the game.
This may be a common Keno thing, but one of the tickets offered has you pick 20 of the 80 numbers. The house draws the usual 20 numbers and you get paid a varying amount depending on how many numbers hit. This is the perfect game, however, because of the very first payline – if you correctly pick 0 of the 20 house numbers, you win $1,000 on your $5 ticket. 200 to 1.
The sheer force of my anti-luck will allow me to relieve the house of money via this ticket.
I feel it.
I play it. I can taste the sweet tang of being up for the trip.
Except it doesn’t work.
Don’t you know, I get through the first 14 numbers drawn without a single match. The fifteenth one hits, though, and I end up with three or four or something for the minimum $1 payout.
I’m still 0-for-Vegas. Time to move on.