After a six-month hiatus, I headed back to town spending three nights at my old, favorite haunt before Wynn opened: THEhotel. My thoughts on the property, some gambling highlights, and general observations follow after the jump.
Both my parents� birthdays fall towards the end of December. For the last three years, the easiest gift for them has been an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas and this year was no exception. Sounds glamorous, huh? It�s actually no big deal since their tastes are so modest. I�d been promising my grandmother that I�d take her along for the ride one of these days too so she went ahead and tagged along as well.
Yes, I know�all the foreshadowings of an �ber-lame and ultra-boring report, right? Well when they went to bed, I�d hit the town hard which made for some great memories and stories to tell. I�m a little burned out on reports and frankly, can�t recall a play by play anyway so I�m just going to throw out some highlights and thoughts. Feel free to skip around to sections that interest you.
We did three nights at THEhotel. My typical stand-by of Wynn Tower Suites was sold out and Resort side was charging more than I�m willing to pay. THEhotel was booked through American Express Platinum which is pretty much how I do all my travel booking now. Here�s what�s included:
� $40 per day, per room in breakfast credit at the caf�.
� $100 spa credit per room.
� Room upgrade when available (not available during our stay).
� Around 10% off the hotel�s own rates.
� 4pm check-out.
Everything at THEhotel was pretty much �bleh�. Service, food, etc. was good, but nothing stellar or thoughtful. They just don�t �get it�. If you�re polishing the floors at 3am when there�s hardly any foot traffic, you�re supposed to stop and turn off the machine when a guest is about to cross your path. God forbid that you might actually smile and say �hi� too. Bellagio and Wynn do it. It�s easily trained into employees, but makes a world of difference in how welcome the guests feel. Another example: if I�m dining at the caf�, I don�t want you mopping the floors around me just inches away from my chair. And if it�s 3pm and busy, I won�t mind if there�s no greeter to open the taxi door when I arrive, but when it�s 4:30am and there are no less than three greeters sitting around doing nothing, then you have to start questioning employee morale. But alas, you walk into THEhotel�s standard suites and all is forgiven. They�re still the nicest around. I�d even expect Encore to have a tough time taking the cake with their standard rooms.
I met up with several people this trip including Hunter, my cousin from Vancouver, BC, and my friend Dave along with their significant others. It�s so good to see some of my favorite people together in my favorite city. Dave had some serious friends in high places. Foundation Room entry was comped for five of us on a member�s only night and the drinks were completely free. We took good care of the bartender, of course. I love this place on member�s only nights�no crowds, big and comfy seats, good music but you can still talk over it, and of course, the view; there still isn�t a better view in Vegas and I don�t think there will be for a while.
We had the same kind of hook-ups downstairs at 40 Deuce. I enjoyed the �burlesque� show they do there every few hours, though I say burlesque in quotes because it was hardly the old school, speakeasy kind of dancing I was expecting�lots of nearly-nude choreography to classic rock songs. The gas masks coupled with Pink Floyd�s �Another Brick in the Wall� didn�t exactly scream �sexy� to me, though. Maybe I�m just weird. Still entertaining nevertheless.
We finished the night at LAX inside Luxor. What a gorgeous space. Lots of deep hues of reds with rich fabrics and strong, gothic influences. The bouncers there actually cared that you have a good time rather than most the oafs around town who only like to flex their power. As much as I feel I�m slowly outgrowing the club scene, I�d like to get bottle service at LAX one of these days.
MIX was a good time as always. I noticed someone dropped a $100 bill on their way up and so I grabbed it and ran after him to give it back. When we reached the top, I looked like the late James Brown stepping out of that elevator as I slipped and slid on fresh puke just as we entered the club. Ugh. The guy who dropped the money offered to buy me a drink which I graciously refused, but what�s funny is that we discovered we live about two blocks from each other. Small world.
The next night, my cousin, his girlfriend, and I bought a $10 bottle of wine at Wynn�s gift shop for $38. I�ll save you guys the �I�m on vacation and want to splurge� spiel. We took my cousin�s rental car to The Mirage to enjoy his Tower Suite. I keep forgetting just how nice these suites are after all these years. Dated, yes, but still impressive. While in the suite, we forgot some stuff in the car, so with glasses of wine in hand, we headed towards the self-park garage which got some hilarious stares. Not only did it look like we were about to partake in drinking and driving, but also drinking while driving.
Pai Gow Poker:
I think I�ll be playing less and less pai gow poker. I�ve had one too many sessions that have basically been excruciatingly slow donations to the casino without a single glimmer of hope that I might actually walk away with more than what I sat down with. $500 was lost at Mandalay�s pai gow poker tables my first night in town. Again, not once was I up or making a recovery. The play at The Mirage the next day was a lot more fun. I went way down to my last bet and then fought my way back up tooth and nail to almost even for the session until my $500 buy-in was eventually lost.
I tried �mini� pai gow at the Golden Nugget. It moves slightly faster, there�s no commission, but since there�s only one low card instead of a pair, there are a lot more copies (exact ties) and thus a strong advantage for the house. And no, you can�t bank. It was $400 lost pretty quickly. My recommendation: avoid at all costs.
I would have loved to have tried pai gow tiles this trip, but not once could I find an empty table and the players playing were just way too quick and intimidating; the last thing they�d want is a guy like me fumbling over the dominoes.
Lots and Lots of Baccarat:
Baccarat was a blast this trip. I�ve got a lot of highlights to share so feel free to skip if you�re not crazy about the game. Superstition played a big part this time around. On the recommendation of several people, I didn�t once carry or touch a $50 bill. Also, I followed several Chinese superstitions: sat down on the number eight spot of each table, wore red underwear, etc. It seemed like each time I went against the table�and as most baccarat players know that can sometimes cause tension among players�I won. In fact, I won enough to win people over and have them bet with me after a while. One particular streak at The Mirage had me at eight bankers in a row while I was dealing from the shoe. The guy sitting next to me bet against me every time. It looked like scared money too as each time he�d lose, he�d bet more and was noticeably nervous as his shaky hand turned each player card. In one instance, he threw down a natural nine with a cocky smirk on his face until I showed him the natural nine on banker for the tie. He was literally speechless and was fuming at that point.
One of my guilty pleasures in Vegas is eating a light snack at the coffee shops at 4am or so before heading to bed, but if I�m finishing the night at the baccarat tables, I just head for the hors d'�uvres in the back of the high limit rooms. At Mandalay Bay�s set-up, a tuxedo-clad gentleman walked by and asked if I�d like water and I said yes. He came around with a bottle of Fiji, but wasn�t expecting the $5 tip. Next thing I knew, he brought several plates full of his favorite selections to me and took the time to describe each. One thing I�m not particularly proud of among baccarat players is that if you consider the stakes being played, the tips aren�t exactly the most generous. Clearly, a little bit went a long way in this case.
Another interesting story: a frail Asian gentleman walked into Mandalay�s baccarat lounge one night and the eyes of everyone working at the time lit up with ear to ear smiles on their faces. The dealers who weren�t dealing, the pit bosses, etc. all came around to give this guy hugs. People can complain about how impersonal Vegas has become, but this player�s company was genuinely more appreciated than his credit line.
As most of you know, I love Wynn but I haven�t stayed there in nearly nine months. After a walk-through this time around, I�ve decided the place may have simply become too rich for my blood. I�d try it again, but I hope that what I saw there the other night hasn�t become the norm for the place. I�m not exaggerating the numbers here:
� Lowest blackjack minimum: $200
� Pai gow poker and tiles: $500
� Mini baccarat: $1000
� Midi baccarat in the baccarat salon: $2000-$3000
� Baccarat on the big table: $5000
These are minimums we�re talking about and the seats were packed! Put it this way: any baccarat player with less than a $50,000 credit line was basically priced out that night. Insane. All the while, The Mirage down the street had $100 tables going with only half the seats taken. I do think Wynn is the best hotel on the strip, but not by that much. The Asian marketing department is obviously doing something right, but I�m hoping it was some kind of special tournament or event that brought those kinds of numbers. Otherwise, while I can afford to stay there, I can�t afford to have fun there.
UFC was in full force and THEhotel did a lot of the hosting for fans, amateur, and professional fighters. I wish some of these guys would stop thinking like they�re in training mode, walking around with a determination and intimidating glint in their eyes making their way into their suites like it�s the octagon and ready to kick the housekeepers ass for forgetting the shampoo. Get the stick out of your ass and act like a normal tourist, tough guy. And no, sweats are not acceptable attire for any public space other than the gym.
Chuck Liddell was at the bathhouse spa while my dad and I were there. If it weren�t so awkward for naked guys to talk to each other, he would have had a lot more people bothering him.
Do yourself a favor and don�t ever visit Red Rock Resort on a Saturday night. It�s literally Circus Circus with crystal chandeliers. The kids outnumbered the adults, but with bowling lanes and movie theaters, that was poor planning on my part and should have been expected. All in all, I still like the place.
I was definitely way over-comped this trip. $126 per hand at five hours per day was what the guy at the Player�s Club desk told me. What?! $75% percent of my play was at the pai gow poker tables averaging maybe $50 per hand. All the food was taken care of. In combination with the freebies from American Express, all I paid for was room, tips, and taxes. Score!
Downtown is friendly� a bit too friendly. I spent most of an entire day downtown playing pai gow poker at the Nugget and also at the Four Queens. In both places, people couldn�t help but ask your name, what you do, where you�re staying, why my arms are so hairy (yes, I was asked that at the Four Queens), etc., and that�s only by your third hand. And then once everyone knows each others� life story, there�s this superficial camaraderie of �it�s us versus the casino and we need to take them down!� What the hell are we supposed to be, Power Rangers of the gambling world or something? Relax dudes. You�re playing $5 pai gow. And while I truly want to be your friend, I don�t want you leaning over my shoulder and telling me how to set my hands before you�ve got your own set because as you put it, �We�re in this together, man!�
It�s funny how my parents� attitudes about Vegas have changed so much. I�ll share a really embarrassing story with you guys: when I was just six-years-old, I went with my parents to Vegas for the first time. And there, blown away by the $5 price of the Circus Circus dinner buffet, we actually stood in that line for over an hour starving. As a child, I was famished and scarfed down my food so quickly that I puked it out shortly after. And now, 19 years later when I�ve got a dinner comp for four to Cravings at The Mirage and we completely bypass the line, my dad has the nerve to wonder why it took the hostess more than a few minutes to find us a table. I kindly reminded him of his frugal roots and the Circus Circus story. We all shared a good laugh.
What�s been happening at The Mirage is exactly what�s happening currently at Mandalay Bay, but the Bay�s been quieter about it and there�s no debate on whether or not it�s a good move�I think it�s a great move. I�m talking about the current renovations and move towards contemporary design at both properties. While some could argue that The Mirage �lost its vibe� and the new look isn�t working, there�s no doubt it�s working well at Mandalay Bay. Maybe in about three or four years, I predict the entire property will look more like THEhotel than anything else. Case in point: their new guest room renovations, the new Eyecandy Sound Lounge, the new wedding chapel, and the elevator corridors are all THEhotelesque. I can�t wait to see what the property will look like in the near future.
All in all, a blast of a trip! It always seems that the ones where I don�t set my expectations high tend be the most fun. Despite some great runs at the tables, I was still down $470, but I lasted all three nights and got a lot of stuff comped off so I feel like a winner. The next trip is during the last weekend of March where I�ve got Wynn Tower Suites booked. I might have to cancel that reservation though as there�s no question the big players will be in town and Wynn�s minimums will be out of reach for me. That�s okay though because I�ve fallen head over heels back in love with The Mirage.
Hope you enjoyed it and feel free to throw out any questions you�ve got.