On Thursday morning we thought we’d better learn a bit more about gambling. It goes without saying that this is where Vegas makes its money, but it was somewhat shocking to comprehend just how much this is – the city makes so much money from gambling that it doesn’t need to charge any additional city taxes. This makes it quite an attractive place to retire to. Rooms in the casino hotels are cheap, because they want you in there gambling. Drinks are free while you’re playing, as the drunker you are, the more you lose. The croupiers are all very pleasant and helpful, and make the experience fun. Each morning, there are free lessons on the main table games – roulette, blackjack, and craps. But my moral compass struggled somewhat with the billions being made off what is basically people’s stupidity. The house ALWAYS wins.
We started with roulette, a game I’ve never really played before. The premise is simple – you pick a number that you think the ball will land on. Or you can pick several numbers. Or groups of numbers. Will it be a red number, or a black? Even or odd? Low or high? The lesson gave me enough knowledge to feel confident about what to do, but I still wasn’t drawn to it as there’s no real skill involved on the player’s part.
The next lesson was in Blackjack, and here I really did pay attention. I knew there was a strategy table that advised when to split, double down, etc depending on what card the dealer was showing. Lady Luck still has her bit of fun, for sure, but playing this I felt you weren’t completely at her mercy, and the player can use a bit of maths and logic. To ask the dealer for another card, tap one finger on the table, while a wave of the hands over your cards means you dont want another.
The final lesson was in craps, which is what you see people playing all the time in films (and Friends). The throwing a pair of dice up an enclosed rectangular table looks dramatic, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite understand the maths or the logic involved, so I resolved to keep that one as a “watch only”.
The other game which was very definitely “watch only” was Poker. There are dedicated glass-walled zones in all the casinos for those who’ve been working on their poker-faces, and I was intrigued at the variety of people playing – old, young, black, white, male, female, it clearly had a universal appeal. But I wouldn’t be nearly good enough to participate, and anyway, my face is always a dead giveaway.
I do understand poker hands, though, and on the recommendation of both Kevin our tour guide, and the blackjack croupier, we had a look at Pai Gow Poker, an Asian variation. Each person is dealt seven cards, from which they have to make two hands. The five-card hand should be the higher value one. Each player is only playing against the dealer, not the other players, so there can be lot of consulting and helping each other out, as long as the cards are kept over the table so they can be seen by the cameras in the event of a dispute. To win, BOTH your hands have to beat the dealers, and to lose, BOTH hands have to be worse. More often than not, one hand beats and the other loses, and so there is a “push” to the next round. This is indicated by a knock on the table with the knuckles. Most importantly, your bet stays on the table.
That’s the basic rules of play. There are some added features: the dealer uses 3 dice in a bell to decide the order of dealing the cards, and there is a “fortune” bet beside the main bet. The fortune bet looks at all 7 cards displayed by a player, and pays out on any winning combinations such as full house, run, straight etc. If the player puts above a certain amount as his fortune bet (eg $5), then he qualifies for an “envy” bonus, which means that a winning fortune payout to one player is also paid out to all those holding an envy mark.
After our gambling lesson, we explored the hotel’s pool area, which was pleasant, but not very exciting. The weather wasn’t sunny, but it was dry, so we went back to NYNY so that I could ride the roller coaster. It cost $14, was a fun ride, and don’t forget your ID when you’re paying by credit card! We’d planned to go to Freemont Street that night, and R was saving himself for a heart attack burger, a concept in such bad taste it could only happen in Vegas. Diners have to wear a hospital gown to eat the calorie-mountain, gut-busting, artery-clogging meals, and are spanked by a nurse-attired waitress if they don’t finish it. Those weighting over 350 pounds eat for free. We explored the eateries in the fake New York streets for something light to eat. I had a salmon burger, and he a small Caesar salad which came with very strange textured croutons.
We went back to our hotel aiming to have an afternoon nap, but played the Wheel of Fortune for a while, before deciding to give Pai Gow poker a try. Three hours later we’d had far too many free drinks to be going anywhere else, and I sensibly cashed in my chips and went to bed.