Apr 18
by Don

I still owe you all more from our March Madness trip, but 44 was kind enough to drop a top ten list on us and who am I to refuse such a gift. So without further ado…

1. This year our approach was better (and more profitable) because we got some outside help. We bought a pick pack from an expert on VegasInsider.com and we also religiously read Chad Millman’s blog on ESPN which is full of sharp money tidbits. We combined their opinions with our own and the mix worked really well. When I got back I totaled up all my bets for the trip and realized I ended up $1500! That mainly happened thanks to a big 3-0 run late on Sunday, the last day of the trip, when I had several parlays in play (thanks Cornell, Xavier and Duke for all covering!). Unfortunately I blew most of my winnings at blackjack, but what can you do.

2. I like money line bets on the underdogs, particularly with the lower seeds in round two. This year the money line paid off very nicely on many second round underdogs, such as Northern Iowa, Cornell, Washington, etc.

3. Conversely, in doing some reading after the fact, I also like the concept of parlaying the money line on a few heavy favorites in the second round. I didn’t place a bet on that this year, and I’m lucky I didn’t, because most people bet Kentucky-Kansas on a money line parlay in the second round and lost a bundle when Kansas was upset. But, in most years, that bet would have worked really well. I will definitely be looking at the odds next year and will strongly consider a second round money line parlay on 2, 3 or 4 of the number one seeds to win outright.

4. This year’s trip was the best we have ever had, because we kept the group small and we all had the same mindset of focusing on the games and our handicapping. Most March Madness (MM) trips get derailed by day two or three, because there are too many late night distractions – night clubs, strip clubs, all night blackjack marathons – and the focus on good handicapping goes away. You can see this easily by going to the sportsbooks before the first game tips off each morning of MM and looking at the crowd. On the first day of MM, the books are packed and everyone is focused on the games. By day three, the books are very quiet before the first games, and the crowd shows up around the start of the second set of games, looking crazy hung over and with no clue who is even playing, much less who to bet on. We fell into that trap in years past, but not this year. Our focus this year helped us come out on top.

5. The Mezz at Planet Hollywood was a nice place to watch the games, but I was really jealous of those who got a secured seat an Emril’s Stadium in the Palazzo. That place is MM heaven. I hope we’ll be there next year. We’ll see.

6. Thanks to Don for tricking the staff at Paris into putting a rollaway bed in our room. 44 and Hollywood appreciated not having to sleep in the same bed this year.

7. All time classic MM moment, one I will never forget: Northern Iowa’s Farokhmanesh taking that three point shot to kill Kansas late in the game when up by only one point and with 30 seconds still left on the shot clock. The Mezz went crazy. Everyone literally freaked out when he took the shot. It was an incredible sportsbook moment. Especially for those of us who had Northern Iowa on the money line!

8. Every year I am tempted to suggest we bring the girls along. I know if Don and I brought Lori and Goldie, it would get us out of some trouble when we got back home. Leaving the girls home alone for 5 days isn’t a popular decision. But frankly, as reinforced this year, it is a necessity. We did the trip “right” this year, because we really focused on the games and we used our dinners and free time each night to handicap the next day’s games. There is no way bringing the girls along would be compatible with this type of trip. Sorry Goldie.

9. There is something about the first and second half lines that make them seem more exploitable than the full game line. I think this is partially due to the fact that very little attention is paid to those lines, so I get the impression they can be beat. I didn’t have a particularly good record betting first halves this year (although Hollywood did), but I want to continue to explore that angle as a possible way to beat the books.

10. Based on my observations of the MM games this year, I am working up a special formula called the “Explosiveness Quotient” that may factor into my handicapping next year. Stay tuned….

Overall, it was simply an amazing trip. There is nothing like MM in Vegas. I can’t wait for next year. I guess the only question at this point is whether there will be 64 teams or 96 teams to bet on!

Jan 15
by Rolka Nation

First things first.  I’m sure you were all on the edge of your desk chairs wondering if I would take up the Venetian on its free suite offer.  Well alas, I have decided to pass.  Too many factors were going against on this particular one including funds and too short of notice to find a travel mate.  I was still pondering going solo, but no dice this time.  You win this round, sensible head!

Ok; on to the good stuff.  You may recall a few months back that I wrote a piece on maximizing your Vegas fun for as little bread as possible.  If you’re new to the site or want a refresher, click here.  The pointers outlined in that post were of the general variety and can come in handy for any Vegas trip.  But let’s get more specific shall we?  Countless hours of hardcore Pittsburgh Gil-style research has resulted in these gems for your perusing pleasure:

– Deuces Wild!  Now through 3/1, enjoy $22 nights, $2 Blackjack, $2 beer, $2 tequila, and $2 hot dogs and nachos at The Plaza and Vegas Club downtown.  You must have a 2 night minimum stay and most Sun-Thurs nights are available.  I have not been to The Plaza but apparently the Rat Pack show there is great fun.  I have been to the Vegas Club casino and enjoyed the layout and decor.  This is an outstanding deal.

– $1 Blackjack on The Strip!  Hard to believe these days; but true.  The Sahara is currently dealin’ out $1 BJ along with dollar beers, shots, and hot dogs near the NASCAR Cafe area of the casino. I’ve also read reports (although unconfirmed) that they open additional $1 tables on the main floor during the week.  While there, see if you can finish the Cafe’s 6 pound burrito and score it for free along with unlimited lifetime rollercoaster rides.  Don’t stay here though.

Rubbin' is racin' sound bite

– Free Grub!  As you all know, Ellis Island is my favorite off-the-beaten-path spot in Vegas.  Part of the reason why is because they always have great promotions.  Currently, play an hour at the tables and get a free entree in the great restaurant.  Play 2 hours, get 2 entrees!  Tables are limited here but usually include 1-2 $5 single deck BJ games.  Excellent promo.

– Free Booze Center Strip!  Planet Hollywood is offering a cool promo that runs through May.  Book a room for as low as $69 (many, but not all Sun-Thurs nights) and pick out your very own free bottle of wine, champagne, or liquor delivered right to your room.  That definitely meets my approval, especially considering the quality of resort at that price.

– Gambling AND Chicken Wings!  Not just a cheesy chain eatery, but also a cheesy Vegas hotel.  The Hooters casino resort is currently offering a sweet package that runs all the way to August.  Rates as low as $20 a night during the week and just $49 on the weekend can score you an upgraded room, $100 of slot promo play (which is pretty lame actually), 2 tickets to their comedy show (which is also probably lame, but can’t say for sure), and 2-for-1 breakfast.  I normally would not recommend a deal at a kitschy off-strip joint (and here is yet another reason why you shouldn’t actually stay at Hooters), but I actually kind of like the casino here for novelty’s sake and its easy walking distance to MGM, NYNY, Excalibur, etc.

– Half Price Hugo’s!  I never knew this service existed until recently.  You’ve probably all heard of or seen the Tix4Tonight booths spread over town where you can pick up vastly discounted same night show tickets.  Well, they have the same concept for restaurants now also.  Visit any of the Tix4Tonight locations, make a reservation for that night through them, pay $2 for a buffet or $3 for a nicer place, and get a voucher for half off your entree!  At the high-end joints, that can equate to $20-30 saved.  At least 30 restaurants and buffets are offered including some at Harrah’s, Mandalay, Caesar’s, and Bally’s.  And the crown jewel that is Hugo’s Cellar is also available here.  Go there and get an amazing meal, like I outlined here , for a mere $18 with this offer.  Note:  I have read that the half-price vouchers are for the entree ONLY so if it’s a steakhouse or similar, you’re on your own for the sides.

Oct 11
by Rolka Nation

I recently recounted the gang’s Ellis Island visit on our most recent trip, so let’s move on to another evening shall we?  One of the many reasons to celebrate on this trip was that it happened to be during Kanuck’s 30th birthday!  Naturally, being the golden-hearted people that we are, we wanted to do something a little special to commemorate this momentous day that brought us our favorite fun-loving, foul-mouthed, airplane-dippin’ Canadian friend. 

A few weeks before the trip, the idea popped into my head to get a limo for a night out unbeknownst to Kanuck.  I shopped around and settled on Presidential Limo.  Their prices are reasonable and they come highly recommended in cyber-land.  I easily found their website at http://www.presidentiallimolv.com/ and booked us a stretch limo for a couple of hours.  The rate came down to $55 an hour, but we split this 3 ways..  With a fairly generious driver tip, it only came out to about $45 per person.  Not too bad, especially if you’re going to be hitting several venues.  If you have a group of 6 or 7, this is the way to go!  On top of all that, each ride comes with a bottle of champagne, plenty of bottled water, and roses for all the ladies in the party.  You’re also welcomed to bring along beer or other libations as you see fit. 

Kanuck knew not of the limo, simply that we were going out and to be down in front of the Hilton at 6pm.  Lady Kanuck did a good job selling him on this and that we’d simply roll up in a cab to pick them up.  Not this time!  Frankly, the surprise plan was executed flawlessly by all involved.  Good thing Matthew Broderick wasn’t with us, he would’ve blown it for sure.  Idiot. 

Popping some bubbly!Our driver, Kyle (I think), picked Don, Lori, Steff, and myself up promptly at Harrah’s and we headed over to the Hilton to get the Kanucks.  We pulled up as they were sitting on a bench out front and rolled right within 5 feet of them thanks to the lack of a sidewalk.  I opened the door and the evening of fun began.  You should’ve seen the look on that green-blazered birthday boy’s face. 

We popped the champagne and kicked things off right.  I should also note that the limo comfortably seated us 6, but you could easily fit 8 in there as well.  It also had nice long-stemmed champagne glasses, a tub of ice, and a good-sized TV complete with DVD player.  

At this point, Kanuckwaspresented with a choice for pre-dinner beverages.  All that was told to him was that he had to pick between “the sky”, “the dive”, and “the international”.  I had 3 places in mind, none of which I had ever been to, but all of which I’ve heard great things about.  “The sky” represented Voodoo Lounge on the roof of The Rio, “the dive” was the Double Down Saloon off-strip near Hard Rock, and “the international” was the Russian-themed vodka bar Red Square in Mandalay Bay.  Kanuck pondered for just a second and went with “the dive”!  This pleased me immensely.  I have seen the Double Down Saloon on two separate TV shows so I was jonesin’ to check it out.  I rolled down the partition and told Carl the driver (or was it Dale?), “to the Double Down Saloon good sir” and off we went. 

It's Bacon, It's Booze, It's Heaven!This place was fantastic and the complete contradiction of glitzy Vegas stereotype.  The Double Down was literally a dark, dingy, smokey punk rock bar.  Graffiti littered all 4 walls, the juke box was full of nothing but the likes of Black Flag, The Queers, and The Sex Pistols, and there we were dressed to the nines and rolling up in a limo.  The juxtaposition of the whole situation amused me greatly. 

We spent a good hour here boozin’ it up.  The place was practically empty (it was roughly 6:30pm) so we had free range.  I had a very well-crafted vodka & tonic followed by a beer.  Kanuck was in for a treat though.  From the aforementioned TV shows that I had seen about the joint, I knew that their specialty was a bacon martini.  So of course we made Kanuck have one.  The bartended poured it and he took an apprehensive sip.  What followed was a pleasantly suprised expression followed by another sip.  I tried it and it indeed was not bad and truly did have a distinct bacon flavor to it.  We asked the bartender how they make it and he pulled out a large vodka bottle with 3 giant strips of raw bacon soaking in it.  Sounds revolting, but don’t knock it ’til ya try it! 

The other house specialty is a little drink by the name of Ass Juice!  A homemade shot concoction consisting of God knows what, I downed one before leaving and it was on-point as well.  I then grabbed Kanuck and I two road-beers, called Rick the driver to let him know we were heading out, and off we went to our next stop. 

Now to the dinner portion of the evening.  Of course, with Kanuck being a true man’s man, a good steakhouse was certainly in order for this celebratory night.  As I’m sure you know, any highly-rated steakhouse on The Strip will certainly be pricey.  But I had heard tales of a great, vintage-style Vegas steakhouse downtown that wouldn’t cost one an arm and a leg and this was the one we settled on.  I’m talking, of course, of Hugo’s Cellar at The Four Queens.  Jason the driver pulled up and we parted ways for the evening.  Ted was a great driver and Presidential was a wonderful limo service.  Highly recommended. 

Satisfied Grins All Around... None of us had ever been to Hugo’s Cellar but, again, the online reviews were impeccable.  And let me tell you…the online reviews are 100% accurate.  This place rocked.  Down below ground level, Hugo’s does indeed have that old Vegas charm and was apparently a Rat Pack hangout in its day.  Dark mahogany tables, plush red booths, waiters in full tuxes, this place was straight out of 1958 and that much better for it.  

The food was outstanding.  Firstly, this is unlike most Strip steakhouses in that you get a full meal with your cut of meat…not that a la carte crap where you pay $45 for a steak PLUS extra for sides, salads, and desserts.  I picked out a nice ribeye with a bleucheese crust with a shrimp scampi add-on for about $36 and the others made their choices as well.  First up was the salad.  However my friends, this was no normal salad.  Our waiter brought a cart up to our table and he each made us our own individual salad customized to our liking.  The ingredients were choice and this was frankly one of the best salads I’ve ever had.  The main reason…the bleu cheese.  My. God.  I never knew bleu cheese could be so good.  It nearly reduced me to tears and a fetal-like position.  That might have been the alcohol though.  

Next up came my huge ribeye complete with more of this bleucheese goodness on top.  It was top-shelf as well.  The shrimp were also huge and absolutely fantastic.  The mashed potatoes and asparagus capped a picture-perfect meal at a very reasonable price.  After the main course, out came a big platter of chocolate dipped strawberries and apricots with fresh homemade whipped cream for dipping purposes.  Again…brilliant. 

Highly engorged and satiated, we headed back to Harrah’s for a little gaming action and called it a night.  

Parting Thoughts:Big Kanuck and Lady Kanuck at the Double Down, how cute...

– A limo is definitely a great idea for a group of people to split the cost between.  It’s affordable, safe, and luxurious.  Why not?

– Kanuck is a true wardrobe maverick

– The Double Down Saloon is badass

– Hugo’s Cellar might very well be a must on every future trip

– Everyone had a great time for Kanuck’s big 30th birthday evening

– Despite him telling me at least twice, I have no idea what the driver’s name was

Sep 17
by Rolka Nation

Oh Ellis Island.  My heart feels with warmth every time I think about it.  My soul recharges every time I walk thru its doors.  You may have read my brief musings on this wondrous little casino in a previous post, but it’s certainly deserving of a full review.  Read it, learn from it, go next time in town if you have not had the pleasure yet. 

On our recent visit, I had sold the gang on firmly committing a visit to Ellis Island Casino & Brewery before we even left Atlanta.  It didn’t take too much on my part; I’ve been singing its praises for a long time now.  So on our first full day in Vegas; Don, Lori, Kanuck, Lady Kanuck, and I all made way to the best unknown casino in town.

outside-ellis-island (2)First…some pertinents.  Ellis Island Casino & Brewery is on the grounds of a Super 8 Motel on Koval Lane.  It’s small and you certainly would never notice it unless you were looking for it.  Yes, it’s off-strip.  But, any cabbie will know it and you can actually walk to it.  It sits roughly 2 full blocks directly behind Bally’s.  If walking north on the Strip, turn right at the first street past Bally’s, pass the Westin on your left, and then hang your next right and you’ll see it beckoning for you.  If you get lost, simply follow your heart. 

Now I know what most of you snobs out there are thinking.  “A Super 8??  Hell no, I’m not going there!”  I urge you to get over that Matthew Broderick-esque way of thinking and take the plunge.  As I also mentioned in a previous post, I don’t like to splurge too much on essentials period, including in Vegas.  I’d rather not blow a ton of money on food and drink when I can better use that money for gambling and shows.  This is what fueled my original journey to Ellis Island. 

Simply put, the food at EI is incredible.  Not only is it extremely cheap for what you get, it’s also insanely tasty and hugely portioned.  The joint actually has 2 separate restaurants.  First…you have the normal, more traditional casino-style restaurant that is straight and to the left as you enter.  This place has a ton of good values such as a giant prime rib dinner for $10.99 and a steak & shrimp platter for just $8.99.  However, the best value here isn’t even on the menu.  

Just ask for the ol’ Steak Special when you order and you’re in for a treat my friends.  The Steak Special consists of a nice sized top sirloin, your choice of potato, the veggie of the day, a salad, AND a pint of one of EI’s homemade brews including root beer!  The price…$6.99.  In my opinion, maybe the single best dinner value in all of Las Vegas.  The steak is choice, the sides are solid, and throw in a freshly brewed beer to boot. 

Complete Insanity!The second restaurant truly shines as well and this is where us 5 dined on our recent visit.  The smaller patio restaurant to the right after entering caters solely to BBQ.  And people, this is some serious BBQ that would fit in perfectly in Texas, Georgia, Memphis, North Carolina, where ever.  You only have a couple of choices here, but go for the combo.  Half a rack of babybacks, half of a full chicken, baked beans, potato salad, slaw, Texas toast, and all the rich, thick sauce you want.  The platter is simply huge and can definitely be split between two if you want to go the wuss route.  Price…$8.99.  All in our party that night can attest to the sheer greatness of this meal. 

What can make all of this even better?  You can easily obtain a BOGO entree coupon (or 2 like we had) in the pages of the American Casino Guide or by hunting around online to essentially cut the price in half.  Can you imagine that meal for $4.50?!  Believe it. 

The only drawback to this is that the BBQ and Steak Special spots are completely separate even though mere feet apart.  Therefore, you cannot get the Steak Special at the BBQ restaurant and vice versa.  This can create quite the tough decision.  Being a BBQ connoisseur, that has won out for me the past few visits.  Don’t get me wrong, the Steak Special is outstanding as well so it’s your call.  I usually have a steak another night in Vegas, so I roll with the BBQ! 

I’m also an avid beer lover and this is where EI hooks me even further.  They make all of their beer onsite and have 5 different styles to choose from on tap.  A great Amber, a Light Lager, a dark Stout, a Hefeweizen, and usually a seasonal.  They also make a mean root beer as well.  The price, $1.50 a pint.  OR, free if playing.  Did I mention this place rules?  You can also get one of the best Vegas coupons as well through the same sources I mentioned earlier…4 Free Drinks.  Yep, no catch.  With the coupon, you get 4 free drinks including liqour.  Don, Lori, and I were pleasantly surprised and thrilled when we cashed one of these bad boys in for 2 beers for me and 2 Johnny Walker Black and Coke’s for them.  Stellar. 

On top of all this, EI’s casino is a fun little place to play as well.  They have a decent slot selection, a serviceable sports book, and a fun table game pit that always has $5 blackjack.  On this particular night, we all participated in our first ever Blackjack tournament.  A $25 buy-in gave you a chance at over $300.  None of us won, but we rode that $25 out for about 40 minutes and had a pretty unique gaming experience.  AND…Don got to sit next to what appeared to be a homeless, drunken construction worker with hair that would’ve made Don King jealous! 

The casino also runs great promotions as well and caters heavily to locals and off-duty employees of other casinos.  On a previous trip with Kanuck last year, I won a chance to spin a giant wheel in the pit that netted me 2,000 points on my player’s card.  That equaled $20 worth of comps in the restaurants.  We also got a T-shirt just for doing the aforementioned Blackjack tourney.  

Ellis Island is an outstanding off the beaten path casino with ridiculously good food and great prices.  I always consider it an essential 3 hour of so stop on each and every one of my Vegas trips.  The restaurant can have a wait during peak dinner times, so get there around 5ish, play a little bit, grab one of the great beers or another libation, and come hungry.  Check it out, you won’t be sorry.  And tell ’em Pittsburgh Gil sent ya!

Sep 9
by Don

Just getting back from Vegas over the holiday weekend and we have a ton to talk about. There will be reviews, observations, stories and the like, but I had to start with what I can only describe as, “The Run”. If you have been reading our blog for any length of time you know that I am a big believer of Hedge Economics. I have talked about the basic principles here, how they help you get rated and free stuff from casinos here, and have even given some real world examples of some outcomes to give you an idea of what to expect here. All of that is well and good, but when it goes right it’s a sight to behold. Well Lori had one of those runs that exemplify the pure beauty of the theory. When applied properly, under the right circumstances, and with the fortitude to remain true to the escalating betting patterns, the outcome can really be nice. 

So to set the scene it’s around 9:30 am on Saturday and we are up and ready to roll. Destination; the main pit at Caesar’s. We love this place because of the chill atmosphere, older dealers, and great player payouts in that you can split A’s up to 4 times, BJ pays 3 to 2, and you can surrender as well. But really, we mainly love this place because we win, and Lori normally wins big. There was nothing really spectacular happening. Lori survived a couple of shoes with little to write home for, but the third shoe was the magical one. About half way through that 3rd shoe (one that Lori cut, which is crazy because that normally isn’t a good thing) Lori starts her run. She wins the first 4 hands and now has her bet up to $125. So that’s a nice start, but nothing out of the ordinary. At this point she ups her hedge amount to $50 per hand. This is nice as she wins the next 5 hands and her bet is now up to $350. Excellent. Especially since the next hand is a BJ! Yes!

Even Julius is pointing the way for Lori's seige at Ceasar'sLori continues to hedge and now is up the $400 and gets a double down opportunity. Now it’s not your normal 11 versus dealer 6. That could be something that is easy to pull the trigger on. However it’s a soft Ace (A4 vs.4) and this was something that Lori would not have done in the past, but this trip we talked about playing all of angles. This means you are playing it by the book, the whole book and that includes doubling on the right soft Aces, splitting small pairs versus dealer 2-6 (or 7), and just believing in doing the right thing. So there is a moment where the dealer pauses before he pulls out the cards, but eventually he busts and boom, winner $800. Now what’s great about that is that she pulls back $1200 and then puts another $50 up on her bet and wins the next hand as well. She wins two more hands and I am just praying for the shoe to end.

Well it finally came to the end after 13 straight wins. She played out the remainder of the shoe, which was only another 2 hands left, and then takes an inventory of the rampage and decides to go to the cage. Lori bought into the table with $300 and left with $2775. I would say that qualifies as “The Run”.

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