Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A Lifetime of Running Cold. (Part IV) The Early, Wasted Vegas Years.

I don't remember the exact trip that the wife and I fell in love with Las Vegas. Not any of the gambling, or the debauchery, but the city itself. But it happened.  We got bit by the Las Vegas bug, and bit hard.  To the point that we now try and get to the City (From Houston, which is not the easiest thing to do due to distance [and high airline prices]) two or three times per year, preferably three.

It wasn't that first trip, in 2007 for the Mr. Olympia, and it wasn't our next couple of trips either.  Those trips were important, because we learned lessons, but they weren't the trips that made Vegas our home away from home, THE place where we wanted to go above all others.  I remember those trips though because they set the foundation for what we do in Las Vegas today, they put us on the path of loving the city, despite our many mistakes on them.

Don't laugh, but on our 2nd and 3rd trips we stayed at Circus Circus. For one, it was cheap, and 2nd, the wife used to work for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey before we met so Circus chintz appeals to her. It was a novelty and a thing that we did, and now we never go back to that casino. As a matter of fact, we haven't set foot in there for 4 years now.

When we did go however we played slots. Exclusively slots. I would play "Press Your Luck" and "Zeus II", betting the minimum of either $.30 or $.40 depending.  I would get up a small amount, and then the house edge would inevitably take it back from me. At this point I hadn't given up live poker yet so I used to play a little bit in their tiny poker room.

It was horrible. A bunch of old guys folding around the table trying to get enough hours in to qualify for their weekly free-roll tournament.  The one story I told earlier about the guy saying, to his friend, that he had "no idea what I had" happened on our 2nd trip there. Unfortunately,  I couldn't get enough good cards (running cold remember) to really take advantage of this so my wins were smaller than they needed to be, before being flushed back down the black-hole that are slots.

We had fun though, a LOT of fun. Back then we hadn't started seeing shows, so we walked a LOT. In Las Vegas, even today, we average 30K steps per day on our Fit Bits, and on one trip we had the brilliant idea of walking to Fremont Street, from the Strip.  Which is a walk of about 10 miles (probably), and it was July. We made it, but I'm not sure how. It took us over 2 hours and by the time we got to the Fremont Street Experience I was too tired to do anything.  So I found an unused slot machine and just sat down for about 30 minutes drinking my Gatorade.

The point is, we did things. Fun things, stupid things, things that probably weren't all that smart but (and this is important) weren't illegal and didn't really put us in harm's way. Sure, late at night we'd drink too much and do silly stuff, but no one was hurt and at least one of us always was in control of things.

But it was truly awful gambling. Sitting at a penny slot machine trying to keep my money lasting as long as it could before I had to stop at an ATM.  Back then I didn't have a daily gambling budget, all I knew was that I would gamble until the money ran out, and then go withdraw some more until I woke up on the trip and realized I've done enough.

Bankroll management?  Pfft.  What was that?

On our fourth trip to Vegas we stayed at the Luxor, a hotel that everyone hates these days but, back in the day, used to be pretty cool.  We also went and saw Ka at the MGM Grand, and ate at Tom Coliccio's "CraftSteak" for the first time. Ka is (still) the best show I've seen in Vegas and CraftSteak is (still) the best meal I've eaten there. My appetizer was Braised Short-Rib Raviolo in brown butter sauce. If you told me I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life it would be that one.

For Trip 5 we stayed at Mandalay Bay. On the first day I sat down at the big Wheel of Fortune game they used to have and won $500 while waiting for my wife to run up to the room to grab her phone. The next day I won an additional $500 playing Double Double Bonus Poker at a bar where I hit 4 of a kind with the kicker. Needless to say, this was the first trip that I came back home with more money than I left with.

In fact, on Trip 5 I was on fire. I won $75 playing Zeus II (hitting All Zeus squares on a "super respin" but since I only bet the minimum it didn't pay much [lesson learned later in life]) another $100 playing video poker and $400 playing Wheel of Fortune.  To this day this was the most ridiculous winning trip that I ever had, but it wasn't as much as it could be because I was (except for Video Poker) playing the minimum bet.

By what we now call "The Mandalay Trip" I had given up live poker and was looking for a new game to play. Blackjack still had emotional scars from so many early, brutal beat-downs and I wasn't confident enough with my low-rolling style to play craps or roulette with a crowd of people, so video poker seemed like something I could play in addition to slots, and possibly increase my winnings.

Strangely, after the Mandalay Trip we stayed away from Las Vegas for a while. We hit our International travel phase and visited Madrid, Paris (twice), London, Singapore, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, Lisbon and a host of other American cities, including Seattle and Atlantic City.  We would, of course, head back to Vegas but it wouldn't be for a while. Our next visit was AC, to actually see the place before it went away.

Next time I'll tell you about that.

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