True to his word, on his next day off from the rigors of being a highly-placed, highly-paid and highly-respected casino-executive, I got a call from Mel. He’s been a friend of mine since the early ‘80’s. We’ve gambled, drank, gambled and charmed women together.
Well the charming women part is more Mel’s strength than mine. Women are somehow magnetically attracted to him. Me, I’m on the other end of the magnetic pole, I have NO PROBLEM being rejected by them. Did I mention that we gambled together?
Gambling was definitely on Mel’s mind when he called my suite at the Frontier early that morning. Normally, I aim to go to bed at around 11:00am in the morning, or by 1:00pm at the latest, but I had prepared for this day. I went to bed early the night before, and here I was on one of only ten balconies at the New Frontier. They have huge patio-type balconies that overlook the pool area. They’re only available on one floor of all the three-room Player Suites, and I was enjoying a couple of glasses of OJ, chased with a bottle of water in preparation for another moderately-temperate 130-degree LV Valley day.
I’m sitting on a chaise lounge with just my shorts and sunglasses, on listening to an old Go-Go’s CD, and Mel is telling me he’s expecting to meet me at the LV Hilton in ten minutes. I tell him that the only way to do that is to use the Star Trek tele-porter at the Hilton to beam me there, because there’s no way I’m going to rush. If there’s one thing I learned from being around Mel, and that is that I have to pace myself, and that’s exactly what I planned to do. I told him to go get started with Captain Kirk, Spock, the Klingons, Sulu, the Ferengi and whoever else was in that particular universe, because I would be there within the hour, but no sooner. Mel said that was okay because he had a number of bets to make in the Hilton’s Superbook first. I headed off to the shower, and then made my way over to what was formerly the:
It wasn’t hard to find Mel in the Superbook at the Hilton. He has this affinity for “super-suede” jackets, which in itself isn’t out of the ordinary. But he’s got the largest, most hideous collection of colored jackets that even Siegfried AND Roy would reject. They look like something Liberace would have throw out for being TOO flashy! The colors might be from another world, but they all fit Mel perfectly as though they were just made for him by some drug-addled Satanic group of elves that very morning.
We agreed to try to stick to the plan of making only one series of bets at each casino we visited that day. But we acknowledged that if I got another monster hand going like on our last outing, then we’d play until we maxed-it out. I asked Mel about his fondest memories of this place. “Oh, that’s the easiest one of all,” he said. “Elvis was by far one of the best things to happen to this town. I saw him here in Vegas probably for at least 200 performances. Thank God I didn’t have to pay for my tickets, or it would have cost a bundle. Even back then, regular tickets ranged from $6.00 all the way up to $20.00, but the “inside-scalpers” would sell them to the concierges and hosts at the other joints in town, then they’d “off” them for a couple of hundred each against a clients house-account or against the house comp-account. At least that’s how I got half of MINE! The other half came from my being involved with the entertainment end of things at my own joint, but you can only go to the well so often on that excuse.”
I mentioned that I had seen a lot of headliners there over the years and he agreed. “They were booking such good talent, they were making everyone else in town look bad. I mean we had some great names at the Desert Inn and Caesars at the time, but the Hilton put some good ink to paper to bring in the very best. There was a time when the other bosses were looking at the Hilton with a lot of envy. “When (Kirk) Kirkorian built that place in ’69, everybody wondered if it would fly, but when he opened with Striesand and Elvis, and followed it up with all kinds of huge names, he put all their concerns to rest. In fact he sold it (The International) to the Hilton chain less than a year later, and used that cash to build the original MGM Grand (now Bally’s).
Our hand at the Hilton produced a tidy profit, and I told Mel that we WERE NOT GOING TO WALK to the Strip from here. He said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll take your Porsche, you can put the roof down and we’ll oogle chics on the way.” Pulling away from the Hilton, we both looked at the parking lot across the street where once stood:
Mel regaled me with stories about certain shenanigans that went on in the Sky Lounge at the top of the tower. Originally, they had a casino right at the top of it, but the height and windows were too much of a distraction for serious gamblers back in those days, so they made it into a lounge. He said that a lot of entertainers would go there after work at about 4:00 in the morning to relax after their sets finished at the other hotels. “One time, we had Connie Francis, Trini Lopez, Liza Minelli, Don Ho, Elvis, his entire entourage and some of his band, the Jordanaires, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers and Bobby Darren up there, all gathered around the small stage singing each others songs. If you can see Elvis singing “Ring of Fire” and Johnny Cash singing “Where the Boys Are”, you can imagine how much fun we had THAT night! If we had recorded that, we’d have made a fortune!”
I asked him if he missed the place. “Nah, by the time they closed it in ’90, it couldn’t draw enough customers to even pay the power bill. When they blew it up in ’95, it wasn’t like we were losing anything…not like the Aladdin or the Dunes or the Sands. The place never made a dime as far as I know. Hell if the Desert Inn was only profitable for a couple of years out of it’s last thirty-five, how the hell can a place like the Landmark ever be expected to make it. It’s all about location, critical-mass, room volume, foot-traffic, and market-gravitation, and this place didn’t have ANY of that.”
On our way to Treasure Island, we drove by what was the:
EL MOROCCO CASINO-MOTEL
“I never actually played there,” said Mel. “I know that sounds weird, but in all the years it was open, I never once walked in the casino door, but I will tell you, we drank some great lunches in the Copper Pot Restaurant that was part of it.”
I pulled into Treasure Island, where we started play at a table with a very young couple from Michigan. They were from Flint and we both gave our condolences for their plight. They offered to let me shoot the dice after Mel cajoled with them about being on their honeymoon and saving the husband’s strength for other pursuits…like carrying her shopping bags! I started out slow by throwing a number of craps before finally establishing the Point of 9 on the fifth toss. I felt pretty good even though it was my first shot of the day. The outside numbers of 4 and 10 showed up seven times in the first ten rolls after the come-out. I bet on both after the third appearance.
Mel had been collecting since roll #1 with his “Iron Cross with Gold Streaks” method. Luckily, his No-4 had previously been removed because of the Field wins before the Point was established. I tossed another fifteen rolls, and the 4 and 10 showed up a disproportionate eight more times. What surprised me, was that I rarely throw 10’s at all. But when the numbers are rolling, I take full advantage of whatever the dice are indicating are predominant for that particular hand. Mel was encouraging the young married couple all along the way. The newlywed wife was WAY more aggressive than the groom, and Mel was looking at her like a male-dog salivates over a good-looking bitch female-dog “in heat” that he can’t get to because of a chain-link fence. I concentrated on the dice, while Mel was looking to break up a happy home. Well, we all should have hobbies in life.
We left my 911 Carrera there and used the monorail. This is about as low-tech as monorails can get if you ignore the first one used at Expo ’67 in Montreal during the World’s Fair. It rides on automobile tires along a concrete guideway, and was packed with tourists and their children who were expecting some sort of Disney-type ride instead of utilitarian transportation. Mel quipped that if everyone was speaking a foreign language and there were a few goats, pigs or chickens running loose, we could pretend it was like one of those unintentional run-away train thrill-rides in India! Instead of cashing in our chips, Mel wanted to take all of his over to the Mirage, which was now covered by what was formerly the:
Before the lava-spewing volcano. Before the Secret Garden and the dolphins. Before Siegfried, Roy or their white Bengal tigers, there was the Castaways. “This place didn’t have a showroom, it didn’t have any pirate battles or Avenue of Rodeo Drive-type shops, hell it only had about eight tables and maybe 150 slots, but it did have front-door parking!” said Mel. “You could run in, make a bet, grab a beer, make another bet, finish your beer and get back to work before your break was over. The parking lot was like a landing-strip at O’Hare Airport!”
“They had this Japanese sort of temple out back,” he continued. “We’d get all liquored up; now you gotta remember we were young and stupid then, not old and stupid like we are now. Anyway, we get all fried, and then we’d have a pissing contest to see who could spray the highest up the side of this teak-wood tower. That’s the kind of foolish stuff that we did back then. They had this huge aquarium inside behind the bar. Every hour or so, this girl would get naked and swim through the tank. It was about twelve feet long, and it didn’t have any fish in it, if you didn’t count her. Anyway, she’d swim naked, and we’d look real close because she was a bit of a contortionist and she’d try to press BOTH sets of lips against the glass at the same time, if you know what I mean. We’d take bets on whether she’d be able to do it or not. My wife was HAPPY when they tore that place down”
The tables at the Mirage were busy. Mel wanted to show that he was a patient man, so he suggested that we hang back until a spot opened up where I might be able to fit in to have a shot at the dice. We stood around discussing the merits of various shooting positions around certain different table sizes. I’ll have my views on that subject for you in an upcoming article. Two spots finally came open at one table. We got into the game with our Treasure Island chips, but our stay was short-lived. We managed a paltry $14 and $26 profit for our efforts.
On our way out, I pointed to the aquarium behind the check-in desk, and asked if he thought there might be any naked mermaids in there.
Thankfully the moving sidewalk was working at the Mirage. There were about twenty steps between that one and the people-moving motivator at:
When people find out that I play in Vegas so much, they ask if I get bored. I blend lots of other activities with almost nightly entertainment, a wide variety of incredible food and the company of good friends, plus each casino has it’s own personality. Caesars Place has enough personality coming out of every bodily orifice of each one of the twelve Caesars who ruled the Roman Empire. So how could I be bored? Perhaps if I didn’t like what I do, then maybe a certain boredom could set in, but I’ll tell you, when the dice are rolling great, Precision-Shooting is amongst the most fun that you can have with your clothes on! And you can quote the Mad Professor on THAT one!
There’s a certain reverence that I have upon entering CP. Yeah I know it’s just a casino, but because of the history and the role that this house has played in the whole scheme of building Las Vegas’ reputation with sophisticated players, I absorb as much of the ambience as I can. Mel said that he feels the same way, even though he was involved here as an employee several times during his career.
“The Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund figured into the building of this place just like they did with most of the huge houses along the Strip,” said Mel. Jay Sarno came up with the design and the theme and the plans. His dry-run was in designing and running Circus Circus, so he went from one design-theme extreme to the other. I loved everything about this place, like the fountains which we dubbed “the Italian car wash”, to the Noshorium Coffee Shop, where they smoked their own salmon and herring. In fact, when they converted it to Café Roma, they kept the fish-shaped crystal platters to serve the smoked salmon, capers, sour-cream, Bermuda onion, and bagels on.”
We were walking around surveying the action at the tables. It didn’t take Mel long to start talking about the entertainment that graced the stage of Circus Maximus over the years. “Sinatra played here for years after he left the Sands. Everybody was into doing practical jokes on everyone else. Sometimes we’d short-sheet the bed, sometimes we’d give him an old plow-horse when we went out riding, stuff like that. Frank was no angel, and he would do stuff too. Sometimes he would shill at the baccarat or BJ tables, or they’d let him be the stickman at craps. He especially loved that part, cause he’d sing out the dice-calls, or he’d come up with some kind of sing-song rhyme for every call. Or he’d go back into the kitchen to talk with the line-cooks or the chefs, crush some garlic or fry up some peppers or stuff like that. One time he put a live lobster into one guy’s bed.
So the next night, Pat Henry leads this friggin’ lobster on stage during Frank’s performance. Pat has the thing on a leash, and he says, “I have a complaint for management, I found a bed bug when I woke up." Without skipping a beat, Frank says, “Well it must have been a KING-SIZE bed.” Well we all cracked up, and it was just another day of fun and games when Frank was around. When he died and all the casinos on the Strip turned off their lights on May 18, 1998, for five minutes, it was a really eerie feeling! I still get goose-bumps when I think about it now. He was a special guy who helped build the mystique and glamour of this town.”
“Another neat thing about the CP was that it had the distinction of holding the Formula One Grand Prix. They used the area where the Forum Shops and the Mirage is now, for the circuit. It was okay, but Americans didn’t really understand that caliber of racing back then. They thought Indy was the pinnacle of technology when it was actually about a decade behind Formula One. Anyway, the crowds were small, and we lost our franchise for the event,” said Mel.
We finally found a table that we liked. Stepping up with a $1,000 buy-in, we were preparing for an eventful roll. It didn’t turn out to be eventful at all, but then it wasn’t entirely disappointing either. We each made a couple hundred dollars for the fifteen minutes of actual play. I was starting to get hungry, so we went in search of vittles.
Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.
By: The Mad Professor