Thursday, March 21, 2019

Las Vegas: Dear Ceasars and MGM, it's not me, it's you.

For a while now, on this blog and other places, I've been bemoaning the continual decline of a majority of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Particularly I've been going on quite a bit about MGM and Caesars properties.

MGM properties are nice enough, pretty things to look at and they have tons of dining and entertainment options that are good, their rooms are of good quality but their gambling is just this side of horrific.

Caesars lost me a while back.  Once they eighty-sixed TAG Sports Bar from the LINQ my relationship with them fizzled. As a matter of fact, I haven't played but just a little in any Caesars property in the last year. I haven't stayed as their guest in just over two years.  Their rooms are thread-bare, and worn around the edges, their gambling is just the other side of horrific and you REALLY get the sense that they would turn you upside down to shake out any loose change that might be in your pockets prior to you leaving if they could get away with it.

Yesterday, on the Twitters, screen-shots were shared showing that they will now charge you $75 for the sin of placing a personal item in their in-room mini-bar.  Of course, they offer no other refrigerator for your use, so it's warm water for you then.

Then, I got home from work and, lo and behold, an unexpected tiny offer arrived in my Inbox from Treasure Island.  Nothing big, two free nights Mon-Thurs with $45 in free play, a typical offer for someone who has "dropped in" on occasion and blown a couple of hundred dollars in their casino.

But, you know what? It's better than the offer I got from MLife which was based on approximately $25K coin-in average over the last few stays and it reminded me that staying at an MGM or Caesars property is probably not the best choice for someone who gives a shite about their gambling budget etc.

I LIKE TI. I have a soft sport in my heart for the old girl because it was the first casino that the wife and I visited on our first trip to Vegas together. Back then I thought it was the biggest place in the world and the nicest "hotel" I had ever been in.

Long story short, I'm changing my reservation. 

I've decided that it's stupid to continue to do business with companies who don't value your business, but who only view you as someone to extract as much money from as possible without providing anything of value in return.

It's for much the same reason that I've boycotted all Stronach Group-owned horse racing tracks, a decision that will make me a spectator in this year's 144th Preakness Stakes.

So MGM and Caesars are out, done, Finito Santiago. I've cancelled a planned stay at the Luxor and am spending those days at TI.  I'll head over to Venetian and Palazzo, spend some time at the Strat and SLS, drink too much at the Cosmo.

Sure, I'll still walk through Bellagio and look at the conservatory, and I'll still watch the fountains, until MGM starts charging for those somehow, but I'll neither gamble or stay at an MGM or Caesars property until such time that they understand the value of customer service and stop making business decisions that hurt the customer and (to be honest) their workers.

Monday, March 18, 2019

2019: A Year of Responsible Gaming (Part VIII: The Best Laid Plans)

There are comp offers, and then there are comped offers.  The difference between the two is pretty important for you to understand.  To help explain this, I'm going to outline my reservations for a Las Vegas trip later in the year...

I'll leave the dates out because, as you can understand, I have no desire to publicly broadcast when I'll be out of town.

The Trip: 5 Nights in Las Vegas, arriving Sunday, leaving on Friday.

I have started booking this way to avoid the weekend for two reasons:

1. The rates are slightly cheaper and it's easier to get comped nights.
2. Vegas is less crowded during the week than it is the weekends.

Found a Business/First deal on United, from IAH to LAS for only around $750 per person. First win. I booked a flight that gets us into Vegas at around 3:30 PM, so I don't have to pay for early arrival.

Now, for the "comped" offer.

I received my deals from MLife and one of them was what is my current favorite: Up to 4 nights "comped" (resort fee only) in the recently renovated Tower at Luxor, with a $50 resort credit and $50 free play. We also reserved a cabana for the pool on Monday for $150.  I booked Sunday and Monday night on this offer, with the cabana scheduled for Monday.  All-in this is going to run me around $300 for room and entertainment, I will use the resort credit at the pool.  I will then speak to a host at the property at the end of my stay to determine whether or not I lost enough money gambling to get the remainder of  the pool spend taken care of.

This is a "comped" deal. I know going in that my base-room rate, and $50 of my F & B expenses have been taken care of on the front end.  If you're a gamble of sufficient rate, you can probably get the resort fees waived, as well as enough F & B comps to take care of the whole pool charge. I, am not at that level so I'll take the deal and see what I can see.

The remaining 3 nights will be spent as a guest of the Four Queens downtown.  Money goes further there and rooms are cheap as well.  At the Four Queens I can get a Royal Suite for $139/night regular rate. That's a 620 sq foot room with a King bed, premium linens, a multi-head shower, in-room fridge and a 55 inch TV.  On the Strip the same room would go for twice the price, at least.

Now, and this is the thing, I can attach my Player's card to the room and, through fairly aggressive gaming, expect to at least get one or two nights comped, possibly all three if fortune smiles, but if not I know that's the max that I'll be out because Four Queens is one of the last hold-outs in Vegas with no resort fee.

These places should be rewarded for this customer friendly policy, and I plan to do so more often in the future.

The thing about "comp" deals is that you cannot be afraid to ask at the end of your stay for a review of your play to receive comps on the back-end. As a matter of fact, if you've played at any significant level at all, you should even ask for that on the back end of your "comped" trips. Provided you charged your food/drink to the room, you'll be surprised what you can get.

In a Las Vegas environment where all casinos, not just the Strip ones, are doing their level best to remove low house-edge games from the playing floor, the comp game is fading, but it's not dead quite yet.

You just have to ask.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Kentucky Derby: Some Long Shot ideas for The Weekend Preps

Yes.  I know, the Santa Anita news is sucking up most of the horse racing oxygen.  But there are still three pretty important prep races this weekend that deserve your betting attention NOT named the San Felipe.

1. Grade II $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Tampa Bay Downs Race 11. 1 1/16th Miles. Dirt.

Points on offer: 50-20-10-5

Favorite: Well Defined (7/2) Kathleen O'Connell/Pablo Morales. - The winner of the "other" early Tampa Bay Prep Race, the Grade III Sam F. Davis returns to the site of his biggest victory trying for the back-to-back, and probably enough points to qualify outright should he win.  He's the only returning starter from that race however and faces a field of 11 new shooters.

The "sharp" favorite: Dream Maker (4/1) Mark Casse/Florent Giroux. - Took some time off after hoof injury in the Grade I Breeder's Futurity, but won his return race by 8 1/2. Has a good post draw (4) and almost everyone is expecting him to replicate his form here.

My 'favorites':

In races like this I like to try for a price. The 3 YO field is still defining itself as we sneak closer and closer to the major prep races and these are the ones where we usually have a better chance of finding an upset.

Tacitus (12/1) Bill Mott/Jose Ortiz - Why do I like Tacitus?  Because of his breeding for one (Tapit/Close Hatches) which makes him the half-brother of Justify. I also like the connections with Mott Training and Jose Ortiz in the irons. Yes, this is his first real test against Graded Stakes competition but you have to play angles like that in races such as this if you want to find a price.

Admire (12/1) Dale Romans/Robby Alvarado - Similar to Tacitus, this horse will need to improve greatly to win here but he does have a 2019 race under his belt and he has proven that he can make the distance. He's been around two turns before, which many of these horses haven't.  That said I really like him at longer distances (read: The Belmont) but I'll be taking a stab here.

2. Grade III $300,000 Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, 1 Mile. Dirt.

Points on offer: 50-20-10-5

Favorite (Both Square and sharp): Instagrand (4/5) Jerry Hollendorfer/Jose Castellano - He's won two sprints, by a lot, and he seems to be bred to make a mile. It's telling to me that Hollendorfer has decided to keep him around one turn. I'm not yet sold that he's a horse that can stretch out, and I've a feeling that he's going to have his best career as a sprinter because he can be tail-on-fire fast.

The Head-scratcher: Much Better (5/1) Bob Baffert/Mike Smith - Where in the world does Much Better fit? Is he a turf horse? (His Breeder's Cup Turf result would say no) or a dirt Classic horse? We're going to find out a little bit in this race but I think his best situation might be in dirt miles going forward, which is why I might use him here if the odds are right.

My 'Favorites'

Much Better (see above)

Haikal (10/1) Kieran McLaughlin/Rajiv Maragh - A pure closer in a race where the pace is expected to be hot. He's ran down the fields in shorter races and a lot of his chances will be determined by Maragh's ride.  But. IF he gets a blistering pace in front of him I could see a scenario where he comes like a freight train down the stretch and mops up many tired pieces for a long upset. Will this be my "Derby Horse"? No, because I dislike pure closers in 20 horse fields, but he might be the right horse running against 11 more here.

3. Grad III $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks, Turfway Park, 1 1/8th miles. Synthetic

Points on offer: 20-8-4-2

Favorite: Somelikeithotbrown (8/5) Mike Maker/Tyler Gaffalione - This son of Big Brown is coming off a win in the Mike Battaglia stakes, and has never finished off the board in his career. There's a lot to like here but I'm just not sure he's a Derby horse. At the odds he's likely to approach the post with if he beats me, he beats me.

"Sharp" Favorite: Skywire (3/1) Mark Casse/Gary Boulanger - He's undefeated, has synthetic experience, and has only been racing for about three months. Plus he's trained by Mark Casse, which is a sharps fave-rave right now. I could see him running away with this, but I could also see him collapsing under a hot pace.

My "Favorites"

Five Star General (6/1) Arnaud Delacour/Declan Cannon - While he has never ran on synthetic the connections seem dead set on getting him on there, or at least on turf (which runs more similarly to synthetic than does dirt). We know he's not a fan of dirt, so he's hardly a Derby Horse, but he might just have enough due to breeding and talent to pull the upset here.

Baytown Jimbo (15/1) Paul McEntee/Alexis Achard - Another race where I'm taking a dead closer against type because I see a scenario where this race breaks all the way down and Baytown Jimbo sweeps in and picks off tired horses. Plus, he's done it before on synthetics. Sure to be a HUGE price walking into the gate so it's at least worth a shot.

The "other" race that I would have handicapped this weekend was the San Felipe, but Santa Anita is currently working through some stuff so we might have to review those horses next week in a Split Rebel Stakes.  Were it me, I'd call one the Rebel and the other race the Union.  Just sayin'.

Good luck however you bet.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Las Vegas: Are comped drinks going the way of the Dodo?

Could be. On the Strip at least.

If you're not familiar with Vital Vegas, he's a Las Vegas resident, and employee of the Fremont Street Experience, who has a knack for getting inside information and scooping many major media outlets on Vegas news.

The program he's referring to (MGM 2020) has been in the media a LOT lately because it's led to early retirement for many top MGM execs. Under the radar however it's also leading to staffing cuts, specifically with the cocktail staff. (There's a reason the unions dug-in on automation in the last stand-off).

The idea is that "drink kiosks" will soon replace on-floor cocktail servers to a large degree and that the age of getting a "comped" (not free) drink while you're gambling will soon be a thing of the past. Not for your larger players, obviously, but for the rank-and-file penny slot player, also known as the most profitable players for casinos.

This is just another one of a thousand cuts that the average Las Vegas Strip casino patron is being asked to endure. From ever-increasing resort fees to paid parking to CNF fees (which add nothing of value) to the worst odds in the country, to sub-par customer service, to deteriorating properties and every price everywhere increasing hand over fist, the Las Vegas Strip is losing any advantage that it had over local, even tribal, casinos.

It's very clear that the public is already noticing.  Even during good economic times visitation in Las Vegas was down in 2018, for the 2nd consecutive year. Major trade groups are asking their convention operators to find different venues, the Rugby 7's, traditionally held in Las Vegas, may have played their last tournament there. The fact is that Las Vegas is becoming too expensive, and too greedy, to support tourism from the very people they are targeting.

While it's true that "comped" drinks were never free, the fact is relatively cheap food and drinks are what put Las Vegas on the map. The rush to faux luxury has been as foolhardy as has the introduction of 6:5 Blackjack or 3-zero Roulette. It's a travesty that doesn't play in the rest of the country, and it's destroying Las Vegas reputation as the Gambling capitol of the world.

The biggest risk is from California, whose residents now have access to Las Vegas style casino resorts just minutes from their homes. The draw in Vegas has always been comped rooms, drinks and food that differentiate it from the locals. Take that away and there's little reason for California residents to sit in heat and traffic for a weekend. Just visit your local and be done with it.

Another irony: Nevada gambling "handle" is rising, the Las Vegas Strip is seeing huge declines. People are starting to notice. They will certainly start to notice if MGM and Caesars (who is in the process of laying off 13% of it's cocktail staff) go after the comped drinks.

The loss of free parking was a kick in the gut to the locals, the loss of comped drinks is a kick in the gut to all patrons. I don't know about you but I'm getting tired of having MGM and CET shove two big middle-fingers in my face and then ask for my continued loyalty.  As much as I enjoy the Luxor pool in the Summer, it's getting close to the point that I look the lion in the eye and tell him to Eff off.

Fremont Street anyone?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Kentucky Derby: Looking at the Futures Pool (v 3.0) and the Oaks

Churchill Downs Released the latest futures pool for the Derby, and their first for to Oaks today

This might be your best chance to get decent odds on some horses who are likely to go off at short prices in the Derby, and maybe your best chance to cash a big winning ticket on your horse of choice.

Granted, it's risky, several of the horses on this list won't even MAKE the races in question, but some will.  Here's my thoughts on some key contenders.

Kentucky Derby

1. War of Will (10-1) - This horse already likely has points in hand to qualify, and has looked exactly like I want a Derby horse to look in his prep races so far. He breaks well, gets up into the front part of the race and has a vicious closing kick. Unless he falls apart he's my Derby Choice at this point.

2. Instagrand (10-1) - Possibly the best chance for a Classic winner in the storied career of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. We'll find out a LOT about this horse in the upcoming Gotham.

3. Game Winner (5-1) - The horse that everyone is enamored with, and the Baffert runner that most experts are picking as the next big thing. I still need to see some more from him, especially how he matures coming into the bigger prep races.

4. Improbable (8-1) - Baffert's "other" horse, that MIGHT be his primary horse if he and Game Winner actually face off in the upcoming San Felipe. I've still got doubts that they do and wouldn't be surprised to see Improbable withdraw last minute to point to the Rebel one week later.

5. Hidden Scroll (12-1) - Yes, he faded in last weekend's Fountain of Youth but his Beyer was a blistering 120. He ran the first 3/4 of the race like his tail was on fire.  Did he just get caught up in a speed duel?  I'm passing, but I wouldn't blame you if shots were fired here.

Note: Field (4-1) - As is usual, at this point in the proceedings we're still in a place where there's a lot we don't know. including which former "curse of Apollo" horses might make an appearance, and there's ALWAYS at least one of the major preps where an upset runner shocks us.

Kentucky Oaks

1. Bellafina (5-1) - After the recent stumble by Jaywalk (more on that later) a bit of a consensus is starting to form around this filly who has won two straight G2 races at Santa Anita after finishing 4th in the Juvenile Filly in the Breeder's Cup last year. I still need to see more however.

2. Chasing Yesterday (8-1) - Since running a head-scratching 7th in the G1 Spinaway at Saratoga last September this sister of American Pharoah has done nothing wrong. She's been working great, is much matured, and should be looking to her next opportunity at the G3 Santa Ysabel where she might get a real test against the Doug O'Neil trained Enaya Alrabb.

3. Enaya Alrabb (15-1) - Doug O'Neil should find out a lot about this Filly in the aforementioned Santa Ysabel. In two stakes races she's hit the board and appears to be improving.  But she also could find herself up against a monster in Chasing Yesterday. If you want to take a flyer on a longshot this could be the place to land, but my feeling is that we don't see her on the First Friday in May.

4. Jaywalk (8-1) - Her stock took a hit in last week's G2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream where she finished an uninspiring 4th against just an OK field. It could be a horse for course situation or one where the race didn't set up well for her (my theory) which poses a big problem. I'm not a fan of horses that need a particular trip to shine. Jaywalk strikes me as that type of filly. That said, it was her first race of 2019 so it's possible that she needed one to get the engines running. Time will tell.

5. Jeltrin (15-1) - The winner of the G2 Davona Dale is sitting mid-pack at 15-1. That tells you a little bit about what observers thought about the race in question. Despite her win I still think she's a notch or two about the bigger racers in this potential field. She might make the Oaks, but I'm unsure if she can win it.

Note: Field (8-1) - Unlike in the Derby, by this time it's usual for us to have a pretty good idea about the potential runners in the Oaks. For whatever reason, it's less likely for their to be an out-of-nowhere late bloomer to appear in the Distaff division.

My Pool Wagers:

1. $100 - War of Will (10-1)
2. $100 - Chasing Yesterday (8-1)

I think this might be your best opportunity to grab odds on these horses that are THIS good. I'm taking advantage of it.

Good luck however you play.

Monday, March 4, 2019

2019: A Year of Responsible Gaming. (Part VII - When it's not going as planned)

As stated earlier my gambling for 2019 is planned to fall under the "Responsible Gaming" theme.  But what does this really mean?

I think that's pretty easy, I'm only going to gamble the money that I've budgeted for the year and I'm going to make smart decisions whether I'm winning or losing.  For many reasons, I am declining to share my actual gambling budget here. For one, I'm not willing to put that type of personal data out on the Internets and for another, How much (or how little) I'm playing with is not central to the conversation.

What IS important is the understanding that the wife and I maintain a "fun" account. Extra money, outside of our annual budget, this is money for traveling, gaming. etc. It's "Mad Money" that we've saved up over the years.  AFTER our savings, retirement and monthly spend is accounted for we add a portion of what's left over to this account, so that we can do the things we want to do.  You should try this. If you put just $100 into a savings account every month by the end of the year you'll find yourself with a fairly formidable gambling fund for the next year.  Especially if you're only planning on making one gambling trip.  Obviously, depending on your level of risk and financial position you can increase or decrease that as needed.

Here's the key:  Once you establish this account you are ONLY allowed to gamble using the funds within.  When it's dry, you're gambling is dry. Failure to follow this principle is a deal-killer, can lead to gambling addiction and is how some people find themselves at the end of  the month with more bills than dollars. Don't gamble your rent money folks.

But what if the gambling trip isn't working?  What if the slots are unkind, the blackjack shoes are unfriendly and the four-of-a-kinds in video poker have ran and hid in a corner?  What then? This is when you're going to find yourself tested, when keeping with the envelope system, and your financial constraints becomes difficult, it's also when you're program becomes most important.

For all of their bluster about "When the fun stops" the truth is that the casino companies could care less whether or not you gamble away your last dollar, lose your home, and force your children to dumpster dive for their dinner. They will let you sit at a machine or table and gamble yourself down to the felt, or to zero, Every. Single. Time. They will claim, rightly, that they do not know the financial position of anyone who chooses to gamble at their establishments and they cannot be responsible for a player's poor choices.

This is true. In fact, the ONLY person responsible for your gambling habits is you.  Does this mean that, on a good run, that you're not going to go full degenerate and play back all of your winnings?  Of course not. It happens to everyone.  On my last Las Vegas trip I started slightly ahead and ended up down. Eventually the house edge catches up to us all.  Prior to that Las Vegas trip however I had two profitable trips, which I've recorded on my gambling spreadsheet for tax purposes, so what I lost was actually a portion of the wins from those.  At the end of the day I've still got my gambling budget intact for the year, despite being 3 trips in.

But you are going to have more losing sessions than winning ones. This is gambling. All of the games are designed to ultimately leave you with less money then you started with, it's math. Casinos believe strongly in it and, especially on the Las Vegas Strip, they're increasing their mathematical advantage to even greater percentages. (To the point that they're starting to see diminishing returns, but that's a post for another day)

So far this year I've had two fairly horrid video poker runs.

First, on my first gambling trip at L'Auberge in Lake Charles. I got some four-of-a-kinds, but none of them were premium and kickers went the way of the Dodo.  My salvation there, amazingly, was slots, where I had several winning sessions.

So, that's tip one:  Quit trying to get blood from a stone. Sometimes the games on which you win are not the games that are winning right now. Don't be afraid to change it up. To take a break even. Go get a shave, haircut or a massage. Take a break and find a bar that doesn't have video poker machines and enjoy a cocktail or three. You're here to have fun.  Go have some.

My second dry spell was, believe it or not, on the Las Vegas Strip.  Specifically, at Luxor, where video poker ran cold and I feel victim to what might currently be the tightest slots in the country, well, those and the slots at Caesar's properties.

My latest Strip misadventure was a blood-bath.  Bill after bill went into the machines, and nothing came back out. I'm not even sure that I was able to churn enough dollars through the machines to get good comps on the back-side.  It was THAT bad.

But, and this is important, only one day of the 4 that I was there did I make the walk-of-shame back to the room with no money in my wallet.  On most days I put in a stop-loss at 50% of my bank-roll.  After the first night, the night I came back with nothing, I recognized that things were going South and decided that I was only going to be willing to risk 50% of what I planned to gamble.

MGM has their Profit Growth Plan, I have mine. 

And you should have yours as well.  There's nothing that says you have to gamble everything in your budget. Sometimes stopping is a better play than hitting a win. If the casinos are going to try and goose the odds to more quickly drain my funds I'm going to take steps to not reward them for it.

The truth is I played about 50% less at MGM owned casinos this trip than I have historically. I'm not sure if I'll ever return to the levels of play that I once provided them, I prefer to patronize casinos who respect the customer and the underlying math of the games.

Just because your casino trip is going South, doesn't mean that you have to leave with a total loss.  Sometimes hedging losses can be just as satisfying as a win. Granted, not in the moment (You're typically not in the best of moods when things are going poorly) but in hindsight.

Good luck however you play.

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