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!

Jan 5
by Rolka Nation


You son of a bitch! I’m talking to you! Yeah you, Las Vegas! You and your alluring siren call. Why must you do this to me? I’m not Odysseus asail on the Greek seas. I’m merely a simple man. A man who loves Vegas. Just when I think I”m out, Vegas pulls me back in…

Ok, I’ll stop.

As we all know, we’re in a nationwide state of economic instability. That means people have less disposable income. Less disposable income means less spending on non-essentials. Less spending on non-essentials means less traveling and fewer vacations for people across America. As a result, tourism in Vegas is down to its lowest point in years.

Sure, this is bad for the city itself and its inhabitants, but not for us! With less people coming to Vegas, hotels are more and more in need of ways to attract gaming patrons into their glitzy doors. That, coupled with the recent opening of CityCenter and its 5,000 total rooms, makes this the best time in years to cash in on casino comps, especially when it comes to scoring free rooms.

I recently received a flyer in the ol’ mailbox from The Venetian and its Club Grazie program. Grazie is just like Harrah’s and MGM’s player’s clubs but exclusively for The Venetian and its sister property, The Palazzo. The flyer outlined a great offer: 2-4 free nights in a suite at either property!

If you’ve never been to either of these sites, they are a must when in Vegas. The Venetian has somehow taken a dip in notoriety over the last few years, but it is simply a gorgeous resort chock full of great gaming, dining, and amenities. Personally, I prefer it to its upper-echelon competition, Wynn and Bellagio. It has all the same luxury, but is a little less pretentious and offers more options for the middle class visitors and non-whales.

I checked out the offer online by logging in at clubgrazie and was pleasantly pleased to see many available nights to take advantage of this offer between January and March. Never having a free suite offer before, I decided to just book one well knowing that I could cancel it if I could not actually make it out. I expected just Sunday – Thursday nights of availability here, but I even had some weekends! I booked Saturday Jan 23rd to Mon the 25th. A free Saturday at a suite at The Venetian?! This was by far the best room offer I’ve ever had.

I mean look at this room!  Man I love this place.I have had the pleasure of staying at The Venetian once on my very first trip to Vegas in 2005. The rooms are simply stunning. All are suites that are at least 700 square feet, have 2 flatscreens, a fold out sofa in the sunken living room, and remarkable marble bathrooms with separate tub/shower and water closet. Simply put, these are the lap of luxury and typically worth every penny. The fact that I could stay in one of these for free is quite the shock. And here’s why…

The craziest part about this offer is that I even received it in the first place. On my very first visit to The Venetian in ’05, I knew nothing of gambling or casinos yet. Therefore, I did not sign up for Club Grazie at the time. It wasn’t until my last trip out this past September that I did. Once signed up, I played blackjack for maybe 45 minutes at a $10 table and played a penny Sopranos slot for maybe 20 minutes. That’s it.

One visit, slightly over an hour of low-limit play (including on a penny slot!), and a free suite as a result. Hell, I even won during that session. I ended up about $25 on the slot and broke even at the table. This is undoubtedly a product of many empty rooms, but hey, fine by me! Fact is, I didn’t give The Venetian a dime of my money and they are still giving me a free suite. That, my friends, is stellar.

Unfortunately, I should NOT take advantage of this offer. I’m closing on my first house in early February and have my money tied up in that and all the things involved. I also likely can’t find a travel mate for this one on such short notice.

My mind and wallet say “hell no”…..but my heart says “Yes! Do it.”

I’m really having a tough time passing this offer up. I should. I likely will. But we’ll see…

What do our loyal readers think?

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!

Jul 4
by Don

Very Chic, for a burger jointThe BLT in the Mirage is hip, new, and most importantly good. Located where the Sigfreid and Roys’ White tigers used to be (it’s still strange to not see them there) and is directly across from the new RhumBar (which use to be the gift shop).

This is the latest and seemingly last “upgrade” that the Mirage is going to do to complete its transformation from an old stogy casino with an outdated theme, to one that is more urban chic than anything. This is definitely geared toward attracting a younger clientele as PH (formally the Aladdin) has done.

So in keeping with the transformation, BLT is a burger joint that has many different kinds of meat on the menu. You have your choice of a normal USDA burger (several grades), American Kobe beef, Salmon, and even a Veggie burger. Somehow Lori found the chicken finger (kids menu of course) and I ordered a Swiss burger. I have to say, it was choice.Not my beer of course, but the burgers are this good. 

The atmosphere was great and we just sat at the bar, got some JWB and coke and watched the Subway series on one of their multiple flat screen TV’s. It was interesting to watch the kitchen as it was a virtual theater in the round. The grill masters were in the middle while everyone else was around them in a complete 360 degree kitchen. It was all open to see and fairly organized. Very Iron Chef. 

So two thumbs up for the BLT at the Mirage, a great place for a burger and some adult beverages.

Jul 5
by Don

Wolfgang Puck is one chef who Vegas can not get enough of.  He has 6 restaurants on the strip and each has a distinct look and feel.  Lori and I had lunch at Postrio in the Venetian and it was grand.

The atmosphere is modern sophistication with dark woods and rich touches.  There is “outside” dinning, which is to say that you will be out on the patio where you can people gaze over a lighter café style fare.  Of course there is almost always a wait for this section so we just opted to eat inside.

We order some an amazing caprese salad to start our meal, which we have to thank Goldie for introducing us to some 3 years ago.  They have a bevy of bread to choose from and we nibbled until our main courses came.

Lori ordered a roasted chicken dish that took longer than I think it normally does, and sure enough our waiter later apologizes and offers us a free dessert.  We have nothing but time and didn’t mind the wait, but who are we to turn down a free piece of yum-yum?  I had a seafood paella with whole prawns.  The “heads” spooked Lori a bit, but they were delicious.  This was just a great meal with great service to boot.

All in all I would have to recommend Postrio’s as it’s just a very nice experience all the way around.  It’s not inexpensive by any means, but I feel it is well worth it!

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