After a great dinner at Paco’s Hideaway, courtesy of the pit-folks at the Sahara, we needed to walk-off the weight of our Mexican feast.
Venturing into the charted, but sometimes hostile territory surrounding the Stratosphere Hotel is not for the faint of heart. It was still early evening with the sun still fully lighting our way. No matter where you are in Vegas, you can always get your bearings based on the Tower that is second only in size to it’s original owners EGO. Bob Stupak envisioned and began the construction of the Strat, based on his previous experience in building and operating:
Mel, my long-time friend and an even longer-term casino executive, carried on an almost non-stop commentary about all things Vegas. He said that Stupak fit “somewhere in the ‘twain between old-time mob-linked casino hustler and modern-day corporate bean-counter”. “Of course”, said Mel, “when you make your fortune as a hard-core gambler/coupon-book promoter/helmetless-motorcycle daredevil/casino builder/coma-survivor, well, sometimes you forget to count the beans, and sometimes you can’t even SEE the beans.”
“Stupak got a stake from some Australian businesses that he was involved in, then used it to open the Million-Dollar Historic Gambling Museum & Casino. I think it was open about a year, then it burned-down so fast that everyone thought it had been struck by “family-lightning”, if you know what I mean. It took him about five years to collect on the insurance from that one, but in ’79 he opened Vegas World. So the thing opens, and son-of-a-bitch if it doesn’t ring the cash-register. He nets about seven “big ones” in one year, and then as a true gambler, parlays all of that into a new hotel tower and he quintuples the size of the casino. Not even a buck in bank financing on that ugly bitch!”
Mel was on a roll as we neared the Strat. “So he comes up with all these crazy “house-games” like Crapless-Craps and Double Exposure 21, and a freakin’ rooster who plays Tic-Tac-Toe against betting gamblers. I mean, you could bet five-grand that you could beat that bloody bird. Needless to say, the bird usually won.”
When we got inside the Stratosphere, I grabbed a bottle of water from a girl who sells draft-beer from a cart at the bottom of the escalator that leads up to the World’s Fair Shops on the second-floor. I had hardly spoken a word in the fifteen-minute walk, but the heat of a 116-degree day was starting to wear me down. Mel was still at full stride and hadn’t broken a sweat as we made our way to an empty table. We chuckled at the sight of the Crapless-Craps table being jammed to capacity, and the regular $5 table being emptier than a Valley-girl’s head.
I said, “Hey, do you think those players know something we don’t know?” We looked at each other, then both said, “NAH!” at the same time. Mel didn’t want to shoot, and I was hot and sticky from walking the “Naked City” path to get here. I used the condensation from the bottle of water to semi-cleanse my hands. I told Mel not to bet on my first couple of rolls. Being a good and true friend, he ignored my advice, and made a small profit by using his “Iron Cross with Golden Streaks” method. I lost $5, and still had the dice if I so choose. And I definitely chose to throw them again. Again, a one-roll 7-Out hand produced a profit for Mel. He said, “Go ahead, keep throwing, your makin’ me money, I don’t care how much YOU have to lose, I’m not gonna shoot ‘em as long as I’m earning from your Pree-Sizz-Yon-Rolllllin’.” I took another long sip of water, to take a small break as much as to quench my thirst.
I started a new hand, and as soon as the dice landed exactly as I wanted them to, I knew where we were going from here. I immediately Placed $300 on the 6 & 8, put Odds behind my Pass Line bet, and proceeded to unleash nine straight 6 and 8’s in a row. I regressed my first hit to $120 on the two Place number to lock in a profit. But from there, on every other hit, I pressed each of the “twins” by $60 each. It’s a little more aggressive than I usually am, but the firmness of my confidence was such that I knew that I had nailed the exact spot for those two Inside numbers. When the 7 showed on the tenth role, I told Mel that since we had already broken the one-hand-per-casino rule, and because I couldn’t make the return walk to Circus Circus just yet, I needed the re-energization that one more good roll would have for me. My next hand was a mirror image of the previous one. I let loose with eleven straight 6 & 8’s in a row before the 7 appeared out of nowhere on the lucky thirteenth roll.
With a $3700 profit in-pocket, the now-cooler 114 degree temperature sure didn’t SEEM any cooler. I told Mel that we’d either have to taxi down to Circus-2 or I’d have to call it a day and head back to Mandalay Bay to pick up my car. He relented much the same way a heartless warden tells a death-row inmate that his execution date has been cancelled and not merely postponed. He said, “You’re just not in the spirit of this whole thing.” To which I retorted, “The only thing keeping me standing is the spirit in my damp underwear.” He shook his head in disgust as he nodded to the first taxi in line. “Ahhh, air-conditioned comfort, just the way God intended it to be.” I said. The short drive was spent in chilled-air heaven, not in the hell-fire of desert-air pyre. We pulled under the porte-cochere of:
I must admit that I don’t play here often. Every session here since ’91 has been a winning one, save for one mild loss, so it’s not like their tables have been a problem. I just get the feeling that the table and pit personnel aren’t terribly happy people, and their attitude seems to reflect that. Maybe it’s all the candy-floss sugar that’s in the air. Maybe it’s the endless hordes of cranky kids, and even crankier parents. Hey, maybe it’s that damn clown...maybe he scares them…I just don’t know…but I DO know that I don’t find myself magnetically drawn to this place very often.
Mel showed me where the entire ceiling was open to the second-floor circus and high-wire acts before they closed it in. He said that the trapeze acts were slowing down the games too much, and a couple of the eastern-European aerial performers were “profuse-sweaters” who dripped all over the patrons below. He said, “There was this Hungarian tight-rope family who sweated more than James Brown at a parole hearing. These guys virtually “rained” sweat all over the craps layout. One night when Jay Sarno, the owner, and Al Dobrich, the manager saw that, they put up the ceiling, which ended the downpour and speeded up the game.”
We stepped up to a table with a few other players. Mel and I both collected a modest profit from the new shooter. I made $26, while he pocketed $14. The exit-trip out of Circus Circus took us as long as it did to walk into CC, go to the washroom, go to the craps pit, bet on that one player, and cash out. I’m pretty sure there was a baby-stroller and Pokemon convention that had just unloaded all of it’s under 4-foot tall sugar-fueled attendees near the front doors. They were so noisy and rambunctious, it reminded me of a “schools-been-cancelled-because–of–the-blizzard” announcement in Buffalo. Once we passed the lillipution-gauntlet, we made our way to:
A short and barely profitable hand put another $14 and $26 into our respective pockets. Mel said, “Yah know what? I’m seriously considering using this method to supplement my income when I retire next year.” I asked if he thought it could be used long-term, and he replied that if you pick your spots, track the tables, and don’t get greedy, “Yeah, it could work most of the time, but when it loses, you’re holding your ass until you’re out of the hole.” I said that it sounded like the ultimate grind, and we proceeded to discuss that particular subject as we headed into:
I personally like the Ho. I stayed there on a junket way back in the early ‘80’s. We had endured a 5-hour plane ride and I was tired on arrival. While resting in my room after unpacking, the Casino Host calls me on the phone to ask where I am. I said, “I’m resting in my room, where did you think you were calling me at?” He says, “Well, we’d really like to see you play. We’ve picked up your room and food and plane-fare, and we expect you to play while you’re here.”
I won’t tell you EXACTLY what I said, but I questioned his parentage, his mothers morals, his father’s sexual preferences, his own masculinity, and I told him an appropriate place he should insert his junket with full force. I immediately checked out of there and into the Riviera across the street. However, I did play there quite a bit during that trip, and left with a bunch of what was formerly THEIR money.
That session with Mel, was again short-lived with another $14 and $26 of “fresh cake in our kick.” I was actually getting my second wind. The temperature seemed to have cooled down to around 102 degrees, which Mel thought was a little chilly for that time of year. For me, it was like someone accidentally left the door to hell open for a few seconds too long. From Westward Ho, we walked into:
We played at the Stardust for another unremarkable hand. The tables were incredibly busy, and as we left, Mel told a story about finding Dean Martin unconscious one night in a pool of his own vomit. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that most of Mel’s stories about the Stardust are unpublishable because of current laws. He said that the movie, “Casino” with Robert DiNiro barely scratched the surface about what was going on in Vegas in general, and at the Stardust in particular during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Respecting his request, I will not publish any of those stories.
As we proceeded southward out of the Stardust we took a short-cut through the Frontier’s side parking lot. This was the old location of the:
Mel’s memories of this place were as fond as the original Castaways where the Mirage now stands. He said that “gambling dealers” liked this place because “you could get in, make some bets, get out, and get back to work before your lunch break was over.” He said the Rat Pack frequented this place to gamble, but not to eat. “Frank liked the Hacienda, the Sahara, the Sands, and occasionally, even the Flamingo for dinner, but he never ate here unless it was breakfast at 9 o’clock at night. On the other hand, he’d come in here in between sets, bet a couple dozen hands then head back for the second or third show.”
Mel recounted the oft-told story about how Howard Hughes acquired the joint in 1968 for $5.4 million. This huge 25-foot long silver slipper sat on a revolving pylon, and Hughes thought that any one could conduct surveillance on him or even take a pot-shot at him from inside the shoe. He had the rotation modified to put his mind at ease. Twenty years later, he sold it to Margaret Elardi who owned the Frontier, and she paid about twelve times what he had originally paid for it. We made our way into the:
To say that the tables here are amongst the VERY BEST to shoot on in Vegas would be an understatement. They are the BEST, however, I should quickly add that if you don’t have ALL the dealers AND the box-man AND the floor supervisors on your side, they will ALL make your Precision-Shooting unbearable.
This was one place where I definitely wanted to shoot the dice, so I puttered around saying hello to other employee-friends and several restaurant staffers who I know, while the dice were at the other end of one of my favorite tables. I eventually made my way over to where Mel had already suffered a major $500 No-4 loss. He said that five straight shooters had gone out quickly. I said, “Hmmm, well you never know…maybe we can make up for it.” Mel was having no part of the dice when they were passed to him, and he motioned them onwards to me. I set the point of 5, and came right back with a buckshot winner-5. I tossed four more straight two-roll winners. On my fifth Come-Out, I rolled a Point of 8, then proceeded to unwrap a string of 6’s that saw my Place bet get worked up to $480, which I hit one more time before the 7 unceremoniously appeared. I cashed out $1670 for that session. Fortunately Mel rode my coattails of success, rebounding from his previous loss, and recording a tidy profit as well.
We made our way to Treasure Island, where the tables were totally full. The long Lawrence of Arabia walk through the valley of molten concrete and asphalt had taken it’s toll on me. I told Mel that I’d gladly pay for the cab back to Mandalay Bay to pick up our cars from where we left them sixteen hours earlier. He readily agreed on one condition. “On my next day off, we’re going to continue this trip, starting right here. I tiredly nodded my head as we stepped into the relaxing Arctic-blast of motorized air-conditioning.
Good Luck and Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.
The Mad Professor