Jan 20
by Rolka Nation

Howdy my dear, degenerate gamblin’ friends.  Your ol’ pal Pittsburgh Gil here had quite the proud moment earlier this month.  As you well know, I call Pittsburgh my tried and true hometown.  Pennsylvania legalized the opening of a minimal amount of state-governed casinos a few years ago and the Pittsburgh entry, The Rivers Casino, opened this past August.  While excited that a casino now exists in downtown Pittsburgh, my interest was not overly high.  I would try to check it out on my next visit home but I wouldn’t go out of my way to and I certainly wouldn’t plan a trip around it.  Why you ask?  Simply put…slots only. 

I do enjoy a limited amount of slot play, but table games are the bee’s knees and I never frequent a slots only casino.  Slots are a good temporary distraction after a couple of hours rollin’ the dice or taking blackjack hits.  In that capacity, they’re fine.  But they’re no main event!  It would be like going to a live WWF event in 1988 with a 2-match card consisting of Leaping Lanny Poffo vs. Mr. Perfect followed by The Killer Bees vs. The Bushwhackers.  Fun?  Sure, to a degree.  But without Hulk, the Macho Man, or the Ultimate Warrior…what’s the point?

Well loyal readers, problem solved!  This past Thursday, January 7th, the PA State House passed Senate Bill 711 and, after Governor Ed Rendell’s signature, table games are now legal in the state of Pennsylvania!

On the surface, the benefits of this are vast.  First and foremost, the legalization of the games and the revenue they’re planned to generate will prevent the Governor from having to layoff about 1,000 state employees in order to balance the state budget.  Secondly, it will of course create jobs.  The Rivers Casino alone is planning approximately 80 tables games which will require the hiring of an additional 300-350 employees.  And finally, interest in the casinos should skyrocket to a new level, especially to the table game enthusiasts such as myself.

The Rivers already has about 3,000 slots and initial reviews have appeared very positive in terms of the facility being a fun, flashy Vegas style environment.  That’s great but many (not all, mind you) customer testimonies have complained about those slots being too tight.  While there may be a shred of truth to this, I”m a believer in that most people who take the time and effort to go online and write a review of an establishment do so because of being stung by a bad experience.  Those people may have valid points, but most people who have pleasant ones tend to not write these reviews.  Therefore, a collection of reviews tends to look overwhelmingly negative at times when, in fact, it’s an inaccurate picture of experiences by all customers.  But hey, even if true, the addition of table games makes this irrelevant anyway.

With its perfectly located downtown spot, I can’t wait to make it back home to check out The Rivers.  I will detail an ideal gambling-oriented Pittsburgh trip in an upcoming post, but we’ll be rollin’ craps, dealing blackjack, spinning the roulette wheel, and buying into poker tourneys in Pittsburgh sometime between July and September when the tables open.  Bring it!

Jan 9
by Rolka Nation

My last post dealt with me receiving a free suite offer at The Venetian as a result of very minimal play.  Love Vegas and I certainly love the Venetian.  But there are others…

For you easterners out there, Biloxi is a great place to get your casino fix that has great offers to take advantage of as well.

Biloxi tends to get very overlooked by Vegas purists.  Granted, the Gulf Coast is definitely not Vegas nor will it ever be.  There are minimal shows, an older overall crowd, and no sports books.  But, there’s also less crowds, cheaper fine dining options, and the beach!  Plus, it’s a hell of a lot closer and you still get free booze when playing.  Those factors, along with the fact that the table game rule are typically much better than in Vegas, make Biloxi a great gaming getaway choice.

Another common misconception of the Biloxi area is that the casino resorts are not up to par with those in Vegas.  While not as huge, this is simply not true.  A few are nothing to write home about, but Biloxi does have 5 or 6 great options.  I can’t speak for each and every one as I have not visited all of them, but I can safely say that the Beau Rivage, Hard Rock, and IP all stack up very nicely to the Vegas mid-tier resorts such as Harrah’s, Flamingo, Tropicana, and Monte Carlo. 

Remember these guys?  You should if you want some free stuff, and you do want some free stuff!For you loyal Player’s Club people out there (such as myself), Biloxi’s got you covered as well.  The Beau is considered the overall nicest property on the Gulf Coast and it’s an MGM spot.  Therefore, that same Player’s Club card that you use to rack up comps at Vegas properties like Mirage, New York New York, MGM Grand, and TI also works the exact same at the Beau.  (Don wrote about player’s cards here)  Those who prefer Harrah’s Total Rewards program, you’re good to go as well at The Grand in Biloxi.  And the IP, while not linked to any major casino chain, has a very generous called My IP Rewards.  On my last trip, I racked up about $30 on my IP card with fairly light slot play.  The best aspect of the IP card is that it continuously builds up a comp balance that you can check in real-time at automated kiosks throughout the casino.  Then, when you want to cash in on a free meal or round of drinks, it works just like a debit card anywhere at the resort.  Very cool!

Biloxi also has great recreation options almost year round.  This is probably one area where Biloxi actually does clearly outshine Vegas.  Plenty of golf courses are abound along with a big stretch of public beach complete with vendors and raft/umbrella rental stands.  I don’t know about you guys, but I love the option of spending a couple of lazy hours sprawled out on the sand after a heavy dose of drunken gambling the night before.  Like to fish?  Biloxi offers plenty of great and affordable charter fishing trips as well, most are dock right next to the Hard Rock at the Small Craft Marina.  That means you likely are no more than a 10 minute cab/car ride to the marina and, BOOM, you’re fishing for out on a boat for hours for probably no more than $45 a person.  The convenience of Biloxi is one of its greatest pluses.  No matter what, you’re 10-15 minutes from anything and cabs are easy to score at the casinos.  The airport is also very small, laid-back, and quick to get in and out of.  Back to the fishing, a group of 5 of us went out with Capt. Jim, who can be found at be-slick.com, and had a good ol’ time!

Pittsburgh Gil surveys the scene @ the Shed, look at that live music venue!Another thing worth noting about Biloxi is the outstanding local bayou cuisine.  I have yet to try them all, but quite possibly the best BBQ I’ve ever had (definitely the MOST) was found at a place 2 exits away from the IP called The Shed.  And that name is certainly no misnomer.  It is literally a rundown wooden shed, but the food is impeccable and the outdoor seating area is top-notch.  If ever in Biloxi, this is an absolute must if you’re even a slight BBQ fan.  Go.

One last thing that I feel worth mentioning about Biloxi is that it really needs the tourism.  Vegas does as well, no doubting that, but Biloxi needs it a little more in my opinion.  Vegas had a bad ’09, sure.  But the city itself will rebound and is firmly entrenched as America’s #1 gambling destination and adult play haven.  That will never change.

Biloxi though did not just have a bad ’09, it’s had a bad 4+ years.  As you know, Katrina leveled the area in August of 2005.  All of these aforementioned casinos were closed for at least 3 months, some over a year, and a couple didn’t survive at all.  The Grand was destroyed and had to move to a temporary home across the street and the Hard Rock’s opening gala was delayed for nearly 2 years because of the massive cleanup.  While Vegas is in no danger of ever going away as a gaming mecca, Biloxi could be.  They really need visitors like us. 

As a result of the shared ordeal that all of the locals experienced, I’ve also found that the dealers and service staffs in general are incredibly warm and friendly.  I’ve had many extremely pleasant table sessions with awesome dealers.  Several shared their stories and tales of Katrina with me and can give great advice on local eateries and activities to check out.  Unlike Vegas where SOME dealers are cool, pretty much all of them in Biloxi are and appear, to me at least, to be happy, genuine, and unjaded.  Good, good people there.

So if you’re in need of a gaming getaway but don’t quite have the time, tolerance, or scratch to get out to Vegas, definitely consider Biloxi if you’re in the eastern half of the country.  It’s also about an hour from New Orleans and all that it has to offer (including a great Harrah’s property to boot). 
Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I’ll outline how to get to Biloxi for cheap!

Aug 22
by Rolka Nation

As you may recall from a previous post, I was lucky enough to recently travel to Italy for a whirlwind 11-day journey.  Traveling all across the country, I certainly saw a lot and it was undoubtedly an amazing experience.  If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italia and haven’t yet…go.  Seriously, just go.  You’ll make more money.  You’re not getting any younger.  The time is now, do it.  Listen to Pittsburgh Gil.  Listen, learn, embrace, and embark. 

The first stop on the trip was in Venezia.  Yes…that’s the same as Venice.  I don’t understand why we have to slightly change foreign city’s names just to make it a little easier to pronounce for us.  That makes no sense to me and just screams ignorance and laziness.  It’s Roma, not Rome.  Firenze, not Florence.  And Venezia.  It’s not hard.  I’m sure these name changes were rooted hundreds of years ago…but why did it happen in the first place?  It’ stupid.  Matthew Broderick’s ancestors probably had something to do with it I’m sure.  So yeah, I will refer to it soley as Venezia. 

Venezia was definitely a highlight of the trip.  It’s a truly unique place in this world which is unfortunately becoming so increasingly rare.  One can’t help but be awe-struck by the tiny streets lined with cafes, the liveliness of a crowded public square as an orchestra plays, the sight of the ceiling of San Marco’s Basilica, peering down a side alley at 5 gondolas in transit, or the fact that the city’s essential bridges are works of art all in themselves.  The city has a charm all its own and should remain that way forever. 

Ok, on to the subject matter of this blog…gambling.  Upon arriving in Venezia, we took an airport bus to the last possible point where automobiles could go.  After getting off the bus and beginning our walk to the hotel, you come across a bustling area where pedestrians can hop on a water taxi or vaporetti, the town’s public bus-like boat system.  It was here that I noticed a boat for Casino di Venezia welcoming guests to whisk them off to the casino’s front doors.  I, naturally, knew that I would patron this casino at some point. 

Turns out, Casino di Venezia sits right on the Grand Canal and was only about a ten minute walk from my hotel.  Once the trip itinerary came into focus, I planned on a visit during my last night in Venezia.  This ended up being an incredibly interesting experience.

An understated entrance to be sure.

A little history of the joint.  It was once a grand palace built for one of the city’s elite, wealthy families.  Venezia was at one time the richest city in all of Europe and was the place to be in the 15-17th centuries.  Colorful, vast palaces lined the Grand Canal and they are all still standing today, although not all are functional.  The casino resides in one of these great structures.  It was built in 1481 and finished in 1509.  Apparently, the original residents of the palace enjoyed their gaming and would have near nightly parties where other Venetian big-wigs would come and blow a lot of money.  Therefore, the casino has been a gambling den in some shape or form for 500 years.  Amazing.

Now on to my actual visit.  I must admit, I was a little intimidated as I was going alone and had no real idea of what to expect.  The building in itself is very impressive and it certainly was not anything close to the style of casino that we know and love here.  There were very few people directly inside, the actual gaming areas were nowhere to be seen, and there were 3 security guards at entry.  But this didn’t stop me.

One’s initial step when going here for the first time is to visit a front desk where you sign up for entry and get your picture taken.  I also had to show my passport and buy my first 10 euros worth of chips or slot money right then and there.  Yep, no loitering in this place.  You gotta play to stay!

Once that was taken care of, I went up the first flight of stairs and found a pretty small slot room.  Slots were typical of ones we have here, but all video reel.  I quickly blasted through about 20 euro with very little to show for it.  Without a drink in my hand, the slots got old pretty fast so I decided to hit up the tables.  The table game area was up another 2 flights of stairs, so I meandered my way up and was met by a suited old man at the door.  I showed my sign-up card and tried to enter but he wasn’t having any of this.  He spoke in Italian to which I had no idea what he was saying.  Once he realized I couldn’t understand him, he called over another guy who then informed me that I must have a jacket on to enter.  WOW!  This was certainly a first for me.  Of course, I did not have one on me but I was directed to the coat check room where I borrowed one for a 50 euro deposit.  This was getting even more intimidating. 

Yeah I needed a jacket as you can see here.

So now, looking dashing in a coat about a size too big with jeans and a polo on, I entered the tables area.  What a room!  High ceilings, well-lit, players in tuxes, women in evening gowns, incredibly works of art on the wall, grand chandeliers, this was definitely not Vegas.  I couldn’t help but feel like Daniel Craig taking on Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. 

The room had several different side areas each containing a different game.  In the main hall, 3 busy roulette tables were in full swing along with a card game that I didn’t even recognize over in the corner that was also in high demand.  Most people were standing at the roulette tables and the layouts were bigger than in the US.  There were also a couple of other betting options that I did not recognize either.  And of course, as is the norm outside of the US, only single zero thus reducing the house edge in half. 

I wanted to play but it didn’t take long for me to realize I was out of my league!  All 3 tables were very busy and a few people were actually playing on two of them simultaneously.  I watched as one older gentleman and one middle-aged woman dropped probably 12-15 FIFY EURO chips on the board with each spin.  If you add that up, we’re talking about $800 a spin!  And they were throwin’ em around like Tic-Tacs.  Simply jaw-dropping.

So yeah, that coupled with the fact that I couldn’t read the board outside of the numbers, and I went looking for some blackjack.  The BJ tables were tucked away in the back and there were about 5 of them.  None of them were busy, maybe 2-3 guys at each and it was a pretty quiet room.  Again…intimidating.  I almost bailed but decided that I would regret it if I didn’t play a table game of some sort in Venezia. 

So I sat down at a table, cashed in 100 euro  (10 euro limit), and started playing with two others.  The chips here were even unique.  They were oval-shaped, not perfectly round, and were translucent and very light weight and soft.  I played about 6 or 7 hands, won about half of them and then the other two gentlemen left.  I was then told by the dealer that there was a 2-square minimum.  So…if I wanted to keep playing I had to play two hands.  Yikes.  Needless to say, I was chipless about 15 minutes later although I did hit a couple of blackjacks in that timeframe.  It did pay 3-2. 

Once I was cashed out, I nodded to the dealer, threw a chip his way, and headed out.  My total visit was about 90 minutes and I blew through 120 euro very quickly.  I was a little bummed because the night was so young.  It was about 11pm and the atmosphere along the streets was in full swing.  Near the hotel, I found my way to a little cafe on the Grand Canal and sat down for a drink.  This place was surprisingly not very crowded, but not anywhere near empty either.  I found a table right on the Canal and ordered up a vodka and tonic.  Every mixed drink I had in Italy was awesome by the way, as is the local beer. 

As I sat there overlooking the water on that sultry, moonlit Venetian night, I suddenly was struck with the fact of what I had just done.  I went into a casino housed in a 500 year old palace, lost a decent amount of money, left, and was now relaxing and enjoying a beverage under the stars. 

It hit me that this was the exact way that many a wealthy Venetian had spent their evenings over the past half-millennium.  That same building, those same games, those same cobble-stone alleyways, those same cafes…since 1509.  I became blissfully lost in this realization and felt a sense of honor wash over me.  At that moment, I was no longer a tourist, but a living part of a vibrant Venetian night.  A local for an evening.  Drenched in history, plunged within timelessness, and adrift on the small waves of the winding canals.

In no other spot on this planet could I have had that same experience except for right there in Venezia.  Many have asked me what my favorite part of the trip was.  While it’s nearly impossible to name just one “part”…I have just told you about my favorite single moment.

Jul 7
by Rolka Nation


And now for a break from our regularly scheduled program, I present to you Pittsburgh Gil! 


Greetings fellow degenerates!  It’s your ol’ pal Pittsburgh Gil here to spread the good word.  You all doing ok?  Fantastic!  So anyway, Donnie Boy and I took a little impromptu trip to the Gulf Coast a couple of weeks back and the world simply must hear our harrowing tale.  And by “the world”, I mean the 12 of you that read this blog. 


Look at the IP in all of it's Majesty...The backstory of this trip was rooted in uncertainty.  But that uncertainty soon turned to triumph.  Your’s truly was admittedly a little on the fence about doing this trip at first due to financial matters.  I have an adventure approaching in Italy which is certainly not as cheap as say…not going to Italy…so I had to conserve.  Throw in the fact that we could not find a room at a casino for under $200…and apprehension set in.  But fear not good readers.  After some deep introspective thought whilst bathing in an 82 degree bubblebath at home two nights before the trip, I had an epiphany.  An epiphany of fun.  I was all-in baby!

Donnie Baseball and I pulled anchor in Atlanta mid-day Friday and started the arduous journey to our 5-star hotel…the Quality Inn on Washington Avenue off exit 97.  This turned out to be our best lodging option because I utilized my 20% off at Choice Hotels ASCAP discount to get the room for just $60 a night.  What is ASCAP you might ask?  The American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers.  I’m a published songwriter.  A brilliant one.  Deal with it. 

After 5 1/2 hours and two bags of peanut M&Ms, we reached our amazing hotel, had a Johnny Walker, and promptly hit the IP for gaming galore.  Our first night can be summed up with 3 words:  City, Of, and Champions.  It was here where I was privileged enough to watch my Penguins upset the Detroit Red Wings on the road to win the Stanley Cup.  All this while enjoying a bucket of 5 beers at a discounted price!  With Pittsburgh officially now being The City of Champions, it was time to celebrate.  Don and I hit the BJ tables hardcore-style.  Several hours, beers, and Maker’s later….we were doing well.  It was nearing 1AM and I was plunging deeper into a drunken stupor so we decided to end the night soon.  But not before hitting some nice hands and ending the evening slightly up.  I’ll take that any night!  Then we stopped so Don could purchase a 3 gallon jug of water.  Then to bed.

Day 2 began ominously.  The Denny’s that we wanted to patron for lunch was closed for remodeling.  We ended up at a Waffle House.  Don ordered every breakfast item known to man and I got a chicken sandwich.  Don made the right choice.

Back to the IP for my first ever real poker tournament!  I’m somewhat new to poker but am learning at a frenetic pace.  I was apprehensive about this as well but I decided to just roll with it.  We bought in for $60 but got like $2500 worth of chips.  I honestly didn’t even know tourneys worked that way.  I ended up getting assigned to the most boring table ever.  Old, quiet, steely-eyed men were on special that day.  And they were all at my table.  Despite liking poker, this is one of my reservations with the game in a casino.  It can be kind of boring and not all that fun depending on who you’re playing with.  Oh well though, I was in this for the learning experience.  Well….I did pretty well.  I won 3 hands, played for about 90 minutes, and outlasted 5 others at my table.  It wasn’t until this tiny, crazy, loud Asian dude bought in that things started to go downhill.  He sat right next to me and talked my ear off…perhaps threw me off my game a little.  He was good though and sounded like Khan on King of the Hill so at least I was thoroughly entertained.


At this point, I bowed out gracefully and headed down to the casino to wait for Don.  He didn’t last too much longer than me and we were soon on another BJ table.  Don took this table by storm and quickly won about a grand.  Hedge economics works, people.  Stellar.


We decided to head out for a bit and cruised the ocean strip and downtown Gulfport.  Downtown Gulfport is about as exciting as my grandmother’s backyard….unfortunately.  Then it was off to a BBQ joint called The Shed that I’ve heard about but never had the chance to visit.  If you’re ever in the area and even remotely like BBQ……GO!  All I have to say, just do it.  And don’t eat anything for 3 days leading up to it.

Back to the IP one last time.  We decide to play some dollar Wheel of Fortune slots and I hit wins of 160, 300, and then a spin for 400 in about a 5 minute spin.  AMAZING!!  I cashed out $775 from my $100 buy-in.  This was my single best session in personal gambling history and I was flying high.  To celebrate, we went for a quick drink at the IP pool bar.  The IP’s pool area is quite nice with a good bar, food, and a giant TV overlooking the pool. Look at that face; absolute insanity ensued immediately afterward.

We then had a couple more decent BJ sessions, was frightened by a redneck in a wife-beater who for some reason stored his pack of Marlboro Reds down his shirt in his wife-beater as opposed to his pocket or simply resting them on the table, and then called it a trip.  

Final Thoughts:


– Don did very well, a true BlackJack ace

– I had my first ever trip where I came home with more money then I went with, including all food, gas, entertainment, etc.

– the drive down to Biloxi is just bearable enough.  Not too long, but an hour longer would be rough.  Very do-able.

– The Shed rules

– the IP has an awesome comp system

– Matthew Broderick was wrong.  There were no “Blues” had by Don and I in Biloxi this weekend!

– F YOU MATTHEW BRODERICK!!  Your wife is weird looking.


Oct 13
by Don

So this has been an absolutely crazy time.  Lori, being a stockbroker, has been completely buried with the Market virtually eating itself every day for the last two weeks.  I actually thought that we would have two “guest” posts from a couple of guys who just went out there, but basically they have “FAIL“ed me (MDF loves this term, and frankly I do too).

On top of all of this, Vegas is hurting.  I am getting calls from casino hosts, emails, mailers; you name it.   At least I know that postal service will not be going under any time soon since I am getting offers every day now from all of the various casinos.  They miss me, and I miss them (Sad Face).

Not to fear though, 44 and his lovely wife are going to sneak away for some well deserved R&R and maybe I can get a guest post from them (cough, cough). 

Thankfully I have had some great College football games to hold me over until Lori and I can make it out to the desert. 

So at least I have some great shots of UF vs. LSU this past weekend.  I have had a perma-grin on my face for the last 72 hours!  Hopefully the UF/GA game will be equally grand (re: big win for the Gators).

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