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Walking with a Vegas Ghost - Part 5

“When are we gonna get together to do that one-craps-hand-per-casino thing again?

They keep me on the Strip, and I wanna know when you’re gonna sign my Immigration and Parole papers so I can play Downtown?” implored Mel.  It had been several weeks since we finished our nostalgic trip down the Strip to re-visit some old casino memories, as well as take home some new-found casino profit.

Picture 1


Mel’s next day off from the challenges, comforts, and curses of his job as a casino-executive was two days away, and he was in the mood to put some serious playing time in at the tables.  “I’m shakin’ it kind of rough, I need to get on the other side of the table, man. 
If assholes could fly, this resort where I work would be the world’s busiest airport,” he added.  I was currently staying at the Golden Nugget, and I thought that was just about as good of a place as any to start.  He had another idea.  “Let’s meet at Gaughan’s Plaza, then we can make one big circuit of Downtown, without having to back-track,” he said, and I readily agreed.


Gaughan’s PLAZA Hotel
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Being the polite sort of person that I am, I asked how his wife was when we met up later that week.  “Oh, I’m in beaucoup trouble, my friend!  I’m sitting quietly reading the LV Review-Journal three nights ago, when she walks up behind me and whacks me on the head with the rest of the paper that she’s rolled up like a big fly-swatter. "What was that for?" I asked, and she says, "That was for the piece of paper in your pants pocket with the name MaryLou written on it.”  I say, “What are you talking about, MaryLou was the name of a horse that I bet on the other day.”  "Oh honey”, she says, “I'm sorry, I should have known there was a good explanation."

Mel continues, “So last night I’m watching the ballgame on TV when she walks up and hits me on the head again.  This time she thumps me real good with three or four closed-fist whacks.  When I shake it off, I ask, "What the hell was that for?"  So she says
"Your F#%&-ing horse called for you this afternoon!" Mel shook his head, and added, “She’s a fiery one alright, and jealous as hell, even though I’m more than twice her age.”  I just looked down at the menu in the Plaza Diner.  Even though I already knew what I was ordering, I didn’t want to make eye contact with Mel in case I said something that he’d regret later.

The “Pound’o’Pig” is a long-time special at this restaurant-designers low-budget idea of a poodle-skirt and bobby-socks ’50’s-style Malt Shop.  A thick slab of ham, hash-browns, eggs, toast, juice and coffee for the year 2000 price of $2.99 was a decent deal, and I consumed it happily.

I asked Mel how Jackie Gaughan got started in the gaming business.  “Well with some of his army pay after the war, and with the backing and blessing of his uncle, he bought a tiny interest in the Old Boulder Club.  It was a sawdust joint that stood where Binion’s Horseshoe is today.  Every place was a saw-dust joint in those days.  He was a bit of a business-man’s gambler.  He grew up as a runner for his uncle’s bookie business back in Omaha.

By the time he was eight, he was sprinting from bar to bar with the betting sheets for sports, and then scurrying back to make the pick-ups for the horse races.  He understood gambling from a very early age, and he was probably one of the best line-makers by the time he was fifteen years old.  Those boys knew that he had a special talent that was custom-made for this town.  By that I mean that he liked the risk-taking, but he was always seeing it from a business-calculation point of view.  It was easy for him when he put a dollar sign at the end of a question, instead of a question mark!  So he’s takes that little share of the Boulder Club, and he leverages it to buy a stake in the Flamingo.

Now remember,
Ben Siegel didn’t build this town, he just showed them how to install carpet and valet parking!  So Gaughan gets a small piece of the only carpet-joint in town, then the sports and race book side of the business immediately booms.  This guy understood sports betting and he understood food, and how to give good food value and good play value.  It doesn’t matter if you go to Roberta’s at the El Cortez, or the Center Stage restaurant under the dome upstairs, you get GOOD value.  And now one of his sons, Micheal, is carrying on the legacy with his Coast Resorts with places like Barbary and Gold Coast and Orleans and Suncoast and even the McCarran airport slot concession.  He’s as talented as his old man.”

Picture 3


I asked how the Flamingo investment turned out for Gaughan.  “Oh, it took him about ten years to get all of his profit out of the Flamingo, but when he did, he went on a buying and building binge.  All the properties in “Glitter Gulch” as it was called at the time, were going for rock-bottom prices.  So he teams up with Mel Exber, who was a fairly decent ball player back in the ‘50’s, and they build the Las Vegas Club together.

From there he buys the Cortez and the Western, then in ’71, he gets together with Sam Boyd and builds this place, the Union Plaza.  Now you gotta remember that both Jackie and Sam can’t get any bank financing, so they get an open-payment, no-interest loan from Union Pacific Railway to build the thing.  They had nothing to lose but their reputations, and for those two guys, that meant more than any piece of paper.”

We headed for the dice pit, after I left a healthy tip for a decidedly unhealthy meal.  I said, “I think Jackie has a cholesterol-machine in the basement where he manufactures the stuff.”  Mel nodded his head in agreement, as I could feel the plaque building up in my arteries already.

The casino shift-manager “Big John” had kindly supplied the breakfast comp the previous day when I told him who I was bringing by.  John said to make sure to stop by and say hello, because Mel was the one who gave him his first job at the Sahara, back when it was called Club Bingo.  The reunion of John and Mel had been made all the sweeter because we were the only two people playing on the craps table that morning.

They reminisced and traded jokes, while I put together a superb hand.  It was one of the very few times that I didn’t count my actual rolls.  I was so wrapped up with the stories, that I was just mechanically tossing the dice, collecting on bets, and trying to hear every detail of their past exploits.  By the end of the hand, we both had grown our initial $500 dollar “
slices-of-bread” meager buy-in, into two full and hearty “loaves-of-bread” that filled two complete double-rail sections on the table.  Nothing says, “Good Morning” to the Mad Professor, better than a $2740 win.

When I started writing this article, I asked Mel if I could repeat some of those stories. He said it was okay with him, if it was okay with “Big John”.  Unfortunately when I called, John felt that nearly every story could compromise his current job, as well as his sheriff’s card for casino licensing purposes.  I have consented not to publish that particular material.

Mel was in a good mood, and I was pleased that our bankroll got off to such a good start.  As I waited for the traffic-light, I thought about all the talk about “muscle-memory” where you put your “throw” on auto-pilot just like a professional golfer puts his swing on auto-pilot for consistency.  Almost all of my tosses at the Plaza had been done that way, as if by rote, as I listened to Mel and John talk.  I made, collected and increased my bets and threw the dice, all as if time was somehow passing in slow-motion.  It was an interesting experience.


Mel was in a good mood, and I was pleased that our bankroll got off to such a good start.  As I waited for the traffic-light, I thought about all the talk about “muscle-memory” where you put your “throw” on auto-pilot just like a professional golfer puts his swing on auto-pilot for consistency.  Almost all of my tosses at the Plaza had been done that way, as if by rote, as I listened to Mel and John talk.  I made, collected and increased my bets and threw the dice, all as if time was somehow passing in slow-motion.  It was an interesting experience.

Usually I can get into an almost trance-like zen-style state where I can block everything out.  In this case, I was taking EVERYTHING in!  I was letting my sub-conscious rule my throws as I listened to the conversation.  Interesting stuff that I knew I would give further consideration to later on, as we stepped into the:

GOLDEN GATE CASINO
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Picture 5

If you’ve read my articles, you are aware that I loathe this place for shooting craps.  Their land-barge-sized tables are the biggest that I’ve ever seen, and Precision-Shooting is nearly impossible, at least for me.

Mel wanted to say hello to another friend who works the dice-pit here.  Since I wasn’t planning to shoot, much less play, I told Mel that the empty table was ALL his.  He gave one of those deep-from-the belly “Hmmrrrphs”, and picked up the dice, set them and gave them a dismissive toss.  They only made it just past the stickman’s position.  A short-roll Point of 9 was established, and Mel turned to me and said, “These tables are L-O-N-G !!”  I said, “Gee, do you REALLY think so Mel?”

He changed shooting positions, and sidled up beside the stickman.  To no one in particular he asked, “Are you sure this wasn’t a bowling alley before you turned it into a craps table?  A few tosses later, he repeated his Point then turned to me and whispered, “Get in on this game kid, I think it’s gonna have some legs.”  Mel established a new Point of 10, as I reluctantly and cautiously put up $30 Place bets on the 6 & 8, with the intention of regressing them down to $12 each after one hit.  But Mel came right back with a 6, and I collected but didn’t regress, in the hopes that he actually knew what he was talking about.

Two throws later, he hit the 6 again, and followed it up with three more “payers” in a row, so my Pressing of the 6 & 8 became quite aggressive. 
I may not have ever been able to string together anything resembling a good hand here, but Mel sure seemed to know how to do it.  I watched his rolls.  They sure SEEMED random enough for me.  Although he was hitting the outer edge of the Pass Line with the dice consistently on every throw, they still had more than two feet to tumble before they hit the wall.  Whether it was random or precision didn’t seem to matter to Mel, and for the moment it didn’t really matter to me, either.

By this time, his Asian Pit Manager friend had joined us at the table.  He and Mel were kibitzing so much, that Mel was only tossing the dice about once every three or four minutes.  With just he and I as players, the pace was v-e-r-y slow, but still enjoyable.  It took the better part of an hour to get in another seventeen tosses.  Mel never made his second Point of 10, but we both reached the $300 table maximum on our 6 & 8 Place bets about halfway through.  Mel also asked if I would bet for the dealers, because he considered it bad-luck for himself to bet for them when he was throwing. 
He promised to reveal the basis for that “fact, NOT superstition”, (his words) later on, and I made a mental note to remind him.

I considered Mel’s hand a happy, but rare anomaly.  I intentionally did not include the revenue made from this session into my “Master of All…Well, Slave to Some” article, because it wasn’t generated during one of my own hands.  In that article, I chronicle what my own tossing has produced on some of the most difficult tables, including these, which I have encountered in ten or so years of Precision-Shooting.

When we were going to color out, his Pit friend asked me if I was going to shoot.  I said I never had any “luck” at their tables.  He offered to buy us breakfast, but still being full from mass quantities of saturated-fat at the Plaza, we settled for a coffee at their snack bar called the Bay City Diner.  We first cashed out at the cage, which is precisely three feet and four inches from the craps table.

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Over coffee, we discussed how one set of tables can frustrate and confound one shooter (ME), and yield to someone else’s luck or skill (MEL).  Mel talked about the history of this casino and the Sal Sagev (“Las Vegas” backwards), and how the entire neighborhood was once a bunch of casinos, bordellos, whiskey joints, and run-down hotels.  “So you see, some things DO remain the same!” smiled Mel.

I added that I got a real sense of nostalgia when I walked through the GG, and I could picture how it was during the early 1900’s.  Of course the old sepia-brown framed photos on the wall assisted my brain in harking back to that era.  We nodded our appreciation to Mel’s friend as we exited there, and headed across the way to the:


LAS VEGAS CLUB

Picture 8


I said, “Okay you’ve had your fun, now it’s time for me to get a little somethin’ somethin’ of my own going.”  If you’ve read my
Making Adjustments in Craps…and in Life article, then you know that the thickly-padded green-felt comfort of these tables is something that attracts me here time and time again.

My target area for these specific tables is completely different than almost any other craps table anywhere in the world.  Believe me, it took a substantial investment to find that particular spot.  Fortunately, most of my experimentation was carried out during the weekday graveyard-shift when the limits were 25 cents to $25. 
Still a $1700 investment/loss on a quarter game with 2x odds is a LOT of experimenting!

Was the investment worth it?  Yes, absolutely.  There have been so many times that I maxed out the $500 table-limit during regular hours since then, that I never regretted the time or initial cost that I put into it.

During this session, Mel and I collected about $300 every time it was my turn to shoot.  In between hands, I’d go for a walk to look at the baseball memorabilia that they have on display around the place.  I wandered into the back expansion area where they once tried to operate the dice pit.  Their “handle” dropped by over 90%, so that experiment was VERY short-lived.

After another subsequent hand, I made my way upstairs to where the Upper Deck restaurant was closed, but the view onto Main Street was un-obscured.  I followed that up with one more decent hand, and started looking to cash-out before I had worn out my welcome AGAIN!  My rolling at the LVC is such that the hands aren’t very long, but they show an incredible degree of consistency.  My roll-average here is actually LOWER than normal, but nearly every hand contains exactly the same numbers on an eerily consistent basis.  With that in mind, I bet EXACTLY the same way on each hand here, and I am rarely disappointed.  I don’t use this aggressive method of “anticipated pay-off” betting at many places, because other than my consistent production of 6 & 8’s, my usual hands take on a distinctly different character each time.

Walking down the Freemont Street Experience under the shade of the canopy on a 110 degree day was actually refreshing.  We made our way past the old:

PIONEER CLUB
Picture 9


“This place has sat in purgatory since (Steve) Wynn bought it back in the ‘80’s.  Since the City wouldn’t let him take down Vegas Vic so that he could expand the Golden Nugget, he sulked and sat on it until he sold it.  There’s been a lot of talk about several development schemes, but nothings ever come of it.  I think if the re-development of the railways lands behind and beside the Plaza goes ahead, you may see some resurgence Downtown, but not before,” stated Mel.

I asked him if the T-shirt and souvenir shops that replaced the Pioneer Club detracted from the ambiance.  “Well, you do have eleven or so other casinos in this small area, and it’s easy enough to have a go at any other place, but yeah, it still is a little tacky.  Not tacky in the same way that the Paris Hotel is tacky in trying to put on phony French airs, but tacky in a “just-another-tourist-trap” sort of way.  Hey, but ya know what?  The Pioneer Club used to have more sports-book action than almost all the other casinos on the Strip combined.  In fact, Leroy got his big break here.”  I knew that he was talking about Leroy’s Sportsbook, who has taken over the sports and race betting operations at a lot of the smaller and medium-sized casinos throughout Las Vegas and beyond.  In most cases, casino management find that it’s more cost-effective to rent out their books rather than run it themselves.  For a piece of the action, the casino gets a reduced vig, without risking it’s own bankroll.  It’s a good arrangement that has really come into it’s own in the last ten to fifteen years.

We then entered the cool, comfortably-sophisticated creamy-marble world of:


GOLDEN NUGGET
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“No other casino in the world generates money like this puppy right here,” said Mel.  “Oh there’s bigger and grander and huger producers, but on a per-square-footage basis, this place is the undisputed all-time reigning world-champion.  From less than 35,000 square feet, this casino produces as much profit as others in the 100,000 to 140,000 square foot range.  It confounds the experts that a place can be SO busy, generate SO much money, and be SO profitable without volcanoes, pirates, lions, tigers, birds, sorcerers, gondolas, roller-coasters, art collections, lasers, wave-pools and beaches, or 200 million-dollar stage extravaganzas.  It kind of goes against current wisdom doesn’t it?” asked Mel.

We played one short session with Mel pocketing $14, while I scored with $26. The tables were crowded and I was getting hungry again. I knew where to find a decent buffet lunch that I could charge to my suite, and have Steve Wynn’s Mom’s famous Bread-Pudding for dessert.

Picture 11


Over a hearty lunch, we talked about Wynn’s background as a liquor-salesman, then as a distributor, and about his father’s chronic gambling problem.  We talked about Benny Binion giving Wynn his initial stake when he wanted to purchase the GN.  We talked about how he stripped away all the chintzy neon, and replaced it with the clean and elegant brass and marble finishes that this place is now famous for.  We talked about how Wynn was the first one to install truly comfortable slot chairs instead of cheap stools, and how he had the slot machine casings done in brass instead of cheaper looking painted cabinets.

We talked about Wynn’s ongoing battle with glaucoma and his $10-Million bounty for anyone who comes up with a cure.  We talked about the kidnapping of his daughter back in the late ‘80’s and how he had managed that event as a shrewd business-man, and not just as a father.  We talked about how both his daughter, and his wife, Elaine, had learned about and become involved in the casino-management and theme-conceptualization side of the business.

We talked about how it was Wynn who first came up with the idea of transforming downtown into a desert Venice with canals and gondolas and foot-bridges to replace Freemont Street.  Thinking his plans were too ambitious, the City and the downtown casino-owners association settled for a $75 Million canopy over an outdoor mall instead.

Mel and I just shook our heads when we thought of the possibilities of having a Venetian-type mega-resort with ten to fourteen casinos under one huge roof, instead of Shelly Adelson’s Venetian in it’s current location on the Strip.  Mel said, “You can sure tell that they had a committee approving this project, instead of just one man pursuing a dream that they thought couldn’t be done. So half-a-dozen years later, Shelly builds the Venetian, and downtown is still just plain old DOWN! That’s why Downtown is still struggling, and places like Bellagio, Mirage, the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, and even Treasure Island are doing a land-office business!

It takes vision and leadership, and a certain flair for pushing the envelope.  They talk about “thinking outside of the box,” hell, Wynn can’t even SEE the box, and that mostly explains WHY he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the lemmings when it comes to putting cash into the register EVERY time!  Never bet against him, no matter how crazy his ideas sound.”

I wanted to go upstairs to my Spa Tower suite, and brush my teeth after a too-big helping of that Bread Pudding.  Knowing that I had enjoyed it without the eight-million calorie vanilla sauce, made me feel less guilty.

Picture 12


After freshening-up, we headed out the door and aimed for the part of Binion’s that was formerly:

THE MINT
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“Del Webb first made his money as a contractor.  When his company was called in to finish off the Flamingo, it “made him”, as far as cash-in-pocket was concerned.  He made his reputation from that hotel, and built on it from there.  His Webb Construction Company was involved in almost every major resort that was built on the Strip from 1949 through to the 80’s.  If he wasn’t the general contractor, then he had one or more of the sub-projects tied up.  He poured so much concrete, and erected so much steel in his day, that he was doing more work on the casinos than all the other general contractors COMBINED!  He originally was a house-builder, and his company still is.  They have a good management team running that company, and they are doing a beautiful job in carrying on his legacy.”

“He eventually wanted to get into the places he was building, but as an operator, not as a contractor.  The Mint was already here, but he added the tower and expanded it.  He’d trade markers and liens and “paper” and other stuff, cause he was dealin’ with guys that didn’t always have enough cash on hand to pay for their grandiose dreams, and of course, some of them were poor business managers too.  Do you know how he got into the casino-operating business: SIDEWAYS!” smiled Mel.

“The best downtown gourmet room at the time was the Skye Room on top of the main tower.  The view was clear across the whole valley, and EVERY night was a clear night back then,” added Mel.


“When Benny (Binion) took over The Mint, he actually considered keeping the name and operating it as two distinct casinos, but his kids talked him out of it.  So he made the place into one big:

BINION’S HORSESHOEPicture 15


The history of this edifice to the true gambler is very well known so I won’t bore you with all the stories about the legendary Benny Binion. However, I’ll sum up the situation with Mel’s words about its’ current management team.

“Sometimes when you have an entrepreneurial father like Benny, things come too easily if you’re one of his kids.  You don’t have to be tough, and savvy and street-smart, you just assume that there’s always going to be a lot of money in the vault.  When that happens, you don’t learn as much or as quickly, and you don’t appreciate all the things that are given to you.  Everything was hard-fought over and hard-won by the old-man, and the kids just assumed his mantle as though it was their God-given right to have it all.  When you don’t have the scars of experience, you usually have an ego that’s larger than your actual abilities, ‘cause you simply don’t know any better.  When that happens, BIG mistakes occur and you can become a victim of your own ineptitude and arrogance.  Seagrams whiskey-baron Sam Bronfman used to say from “shirt-sleeves-to business suits-back to shirt-sleeves in three generations,” and I think that’s what they run the risk of here.  Sometimes intelligence skips a generation,” said Mel.

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We decided to play two sessions at the ‘Shoe.  The first was in the old Mint Hotel section.  The five tables were moderately crowded, but we got onto the one that looked most promising.  Mel jumped right into the action, and made a few dollars on his “Iron Cross with Gold Streaks” method, which can be found in the A Peek Inside The Mad Professor's Playbook article.  I used the Captain’s 5-Count before I bet my “$220 Inside Regression” which is explained in the same article as above.  The very next roll was a very unhappy 7-Out.

We walked through to the old Boulder Club section where the original Horseshoe is located.  There’s a slight change in floor elevation between the two casinos, right near a wall-mounted glass display cabinet with some of Benny’s favorite guns, rifles, shotguns, and horse tack in it.

The seven tables near the legendary “Long Bar” were also crowded.  Again we scoped out the action, and decided on one where we could both get in.  Again Mel jumped right in and made a small profit, while I waited for the shooter to “qualify” himself as being worthy of being bet on.  No sooner had I got my $220 down on the table, and set up on the Place numbers, when the 7-Out call was made.

Two quick losses for me mean a break in the action.  I told Mel that I was going to sit out a couple of hands, and he said that he was going to continue to play for a while.  I thought of using one of several other methods that I would usually employ in this situation, but I had second thoughts about that too.  I got a glass of cranberry juice from the bar, and watched all the nearby tables for some indication of promise.  None appeared on the positive side of the dice.  Of the six tables that I was tracking; not one of them went past six rolls before a 7-Out showed itself.

I went over to Mel, and told him I was going to bet my “No-4 Progression” Method if he wanted to get in on the action, but he declined. I headed for the coldest table, and immediately bet $50 against the 4.  One roll later, I collected off of that bet, and without delay moved on to the next table where I did exactly the same thing.  Three rolls later I rang the bell and collected from another random-rollers 7-out.

I then turned to the next nearest table, and proceeded to make my way around the six open tables several more times.  When I ended up on Mel’s table, and the look on his face told me everything I needed to know about the trend at that particular juncture in the cycle.  It took two rolls before I collected from the misfortune of yet another random-roller.  I changed tables a total of twenty-one times during that session, and made back my previous $440 loss on the two earlier quick-out hands, plus I had a happy profit of $64 to show for it.

That $64 session-profit was as gratifying as times when I’ve made one-hundred times as much.  Why?  Because I didn’t stick to one method that obviously wasn’t working.  Upon seeing an opportunity, I seized it and utilized another method that I have found to be effective for that set of circumstances.  That’s one of the advantages of having a Playbook.  You can pick and choose different methods to suit a particular opportunity.  The No-4 Progression cannot be used all the time.  In fact, it should be rarely used, but in the right circumstances, it’s a stone-cold money-maker.  Remember, as a professional player you are there to win MONEY, and like I’ve said before, if you need to make another friend, BUY A DOG!

The Walk shall be continued…

Good Luck and Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.


Mad Professor

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 17, 2007 9:19 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Ask the Mad Professor - Part 17.

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