Wherein the Boys Expand Their Gambling Budgets Using the American Casino Guide Coupons

Part 4
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The lovely Hooter's.
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Jerry had to leave early Friday, some nonsense about being back in time to donate a liver. He was with us so briefly that he didn't get to fully exploit his American Casino Guide coupons. He handed over his room keys to Robert and Jeff. They had used the grungy Binion's room the night before.

Somehow, Burt had wrangled a room at Hooter's for himself from for a buck. When he booked it online, it said the cost would be minus one dollar, but when he checked in, they didn't give him any money. Instead, they took the dollar, plus nine cents tax. Because Jerry and I went to Frankie's, I have no idea how Burt got to Hooter's from way out in Henderson. I hope he had to walk.

Friday morning, Mike, Steve and I stopped by to pick him up for breakfast. The parking garage at Hooter's was exactly how you would expect one to look at a property in financial distress: filthy. There was graffiti and scuffed paint, broken signs and overflowing trash cans. It reminded me of the structure behind the old Vegas World, which always seemed like a good place for a gangland-style killing.

Burt's one-dollar "Bungalow" room was nicer than the garage, but considerably less spacious. You could not park a Yukon in it. The term bungalow is a euphemism at Hooter's. It means old motel room at the back of the property. The bedspread looked as though Jimmy Buffett had vomited polyester. One wall was painted brick while another was pine paneling. The armoire and TV were outdated and the bathroom was cramped. Overall, it was about as good as our Four Queens rooms, and $2.65 cheaper per night.

We again started our day with the $1.49 breakfast at the Wild Wild West's Gambler's Grill. Late risers Jeff and Robert joined us mid-scarfing. I don't remember who it was, but someone asked for and got sourdough toast with their eggs, bacon and hash browns. I had requested wheat, assuming I could either have that or white. I had no idea you could have such an exotic break choice for a buck-and-a-half. As my friends and I tend to do when we think someone's getting more than us, we whined. In response, our charming waitress brought out a huge plate of buttered sourdough for the entire table. It impressed me how well this little joint treated those of us who just wanted cheap eats. Needless to say, the tip we left was quite large. More than our grandmother's give us for Christmas.

Friday was the day we planned to beat our ACG coupon books like red-headed step children. While we had all used them a bit and scored some free cash, this was the day that our winnings and savings would become our gambling budgets for the night. The plan was to work and update our info on off-Strip joints while coupon running.

The Hard Rock Poker Room.
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The Hard Rock was first. The hotel and casino are undergoing massive renovations. Most of the changes are incomplete, but a new poker room is open. It's amazing. Easily one of the nicest rooms in town, even if it is sadly underutilized by the annoying frat jackasses who haunt the Hard Rock. The room is secluded, away from the casino floor. Its dÈcor is dark browns and blue-grays. There are high-backed leather chairs, nice art on the wall and some loungy areas for when you want to take a break.

The ACG has Hard Rock coupons for $10 matchplay and $10 free slot play for slot club members. I used my matchplay on odd at the roulette wheel and won twenty bucks. Burt, Jeff and Steve also won $20 apiece, while Mike and Robert lost $10. With my slot play, I found a good quarter VP Deuces Wild and won $17.50. The other five turned theirs into $65.25. Having bled the Hard Rock and seen its sights, we moved on.

Nearby on Paradise is Terrible's, a world far removed from the forced hipster atmosphere of the Rock. Terrible's has no pretensions. Several years ago, the Terrible Herbst gas station folks sunk money into the shuttered old Continental and reopened it. They have done nothing to update the look or some of the furniture since then. The restaurants are the same, the sports book chairs haven't changed and the tables are exactly where they were at the beginning. The interior combines a faded Mediterranean motif with photos of old gas stations. Primarily, the ambience is no-frills gambling for Las Vegas' working class. And they apparently all come here on Fridays to cash their paychecks. The place was packed to the rafters.

The ACG $5 has a free slot play coupon for new slot club members. And signing up netted us free hats or T-shirts, decks of cards and a funbook with a $10 matchplay. Steve and I schemed to insure each other's matchplay bets. He took red and I took black on roulette and agreed to split the profit of the winner. We each made $5. I turned my slot play into $12.50 with a little luck on a Jacks or Better machine. The rest of the crew netted $80 with matchplays and a measly $8 from the slots.

Cashing out was the hard part. The line of paycheck cashers snaked through the casino, and we missed the sign for a window with no line just for people redeeming chips. Rather than us all wait, we gave Burt our chips and then wandered around looking at old gas pumps.

Mike and Steve loading up on free cocktails.
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Next stop, Ellis Island behind Bally's and walking distance from the Strip. This place is tiny and notorious for its sour pit boss with terrible taste in sweaters. The man loves clashing stripes, hates coupons and does what he can to make you feel ashamed for using them. Which, of course, only makes me prouder. The ACG had two good coupons here: a $10 matchplay and four free cocktails. Mike, Steve, Burt and I all lost, while being berated by the pit boss.

"Where'd you come from, using your Hard Rock coupons?" he asked.

"Actually we just hit Terrible's," I replied.

"I really don't care," he grumbled.

Robert and Jeff stopped by it a bit later and made $20 apiece, while being berated by the pit boss.

The downside of the coupon for four free cocktails is that you get all four at once. Being early afternoon and having a lot of couponing still to do, I didn't think a quartet of highballs was such a great idea. I ordered two homemade root beers from their brewery and two bottles of water I could stick in my backpack for later. The others did similar, except for Burt, who lives in the now. He bought two root beers and two merlots and then proceeded to mix them together and gargle. I have to admit, it looked pretty sophisticated. If you were in a group, one could use his coupon to buy drinks for all of you. Then, a little later, the next person could use a coupon to buy the next round. And so on. We didn't have the time to do that, though.

The uninteresting Eastside Cannery.
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From Ellis Island, we went East to Boulder Highway and the newly opened Eastside Cannery, built on the hallowed and probably still smoky-smelling grounds of the Nevada Palace. The Palace had built up character over years through poor maintenance and no air filtration. The new Cannery is like its namesake way up north: an uninspired casino with the bizarre theme of a mid-century canning factory. What is fantastical or fun about that? Is it the thumbs that get severed in the machinery, or the filth and mice scurrying about?

Eastside Cannery's casino floor is a huge open space full of tables and machines. A failed waitress-served buffet took up a side room, alongside a food court and a Mexican restaurant. A steakhouse sits on the top floor of the short tower, overlooking the residential and industrial suburbs. The ACG had coupons for a $10 matchplay and free hat or T-shirt with slot club sign-up. You could decline the hat or T-shirt and get $10 dollars in slot play instead. I chose the play. I lost the matchplay and won $11 on the slots, for a net of one buck. The rest of the crew netted $40 in matchplay and $13 in slots. Steve opted to decline the free slot play and took the free T-shirt since it had a retail value of $10.69, which he could add to his evening's gambling budget.

Since we aren't locals with gambling addictions, there was little reason to stay at the Cannery outpost. Across the street is a sad little casino called the Longhorn with a Super 8 attached. The casino is small, cramped, mirrored and as smoky as a reunion of the Marlboro men. The clientele is grungy, sometimes toothless and a little bit surly. The ACG had a $10 matchplay, so we stopped in. In order to use it, we had to sign up for the slot club, which was a small window in a tight hallway across from the snack and cigarette machines.

Grandma's fantastic cookies!
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It was almost five o'clock by now and I hadn't eaten since our late breakfast at the Wild Wild West. The process to get our slot cards was slow. I felt my blood-sugar level dropping and feared I would either pass out or punch Burt in the face. Accidentally, of course. Luckily, though, when you join the Longhorn's slot club they comp you a packet of Grandma's cookies. I ate Oatmeal raisin like it was my death-row last supper. And as though I liked Grandma's cookies. And I had requested them as my last meal, instead of the sloppy joe's and chitlins I've been planning for years.

After the cookies, all six of us dropped our Longhorn matchplays on a $2 blackjack table at the same time. The dealer promptly busted and we netted $20 apiece, $120 as a group.

Robert and Jeff still had some research work to do on Boulder Highway, so Mike, Steve, Burt and I left them behind as we ventured into the uncharted northern territories. After crossing Fremont Street, Las Vegas Boulevard keeps going for miles. The street is mostly populated by small local businesses, but there is a smattering of small casinos up there. Because we had dinner plans in about an hour, we had to choose from among the ACG's matchplay coupons: $10 at Silver Nugget, $5 at Jerry's Nugget, $5 at the Lucky Club and $10 at the Poker Palace. We chose the Palace and Nugget since they had bigger coupons.

Try your luck at the Silver Nugget or Poker Palace.
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Rain started to fall, and the smell of dust kicked up by raindrops filled the air. Our first stop was the Silver Nugget. I had been here before. Last time it had the look and feel of the Western: a spooky dive with surly customers who wondered how the hell a clean-cut dork had wandered in. Then, its entrance had a huge ball of foil overhead. Supposedly, it was the eponymous Silver Nugget, but it really just looked like a giant baked potato. Now, the casino is cleaned up. It still has the look and feel of a homemade casino but it's not nearly as creepy. The four of us ducked in, joined the slot club and dropped our coupons on an empty table. Burt and I won $20 apiece, while Steve and Mike lost $10 each.

With our dinner appointment looming, we hightailed it south toward downtown on Las Vegas Boulevard. Our only stop was to try our luck at the Poker Palace. While the Silver Nugget has cleaned up, it's hard to imagine the Palace has ever been dingier or smokier. The casino is small and tattered. About half of it is occupied by worn poker tables dealing very low-stakes games. For a small, joint, the Palace has a lot of blackjack tables that were all either $1 or $2 minimums. We dropped our ACG on a dollar variety. The padding on the table was wet and a bucket sat underneath. The light desert rain dripped down through the ceiling. We all lost our hands and some self-respect at the Poker Palace, for a net negative of $40.

The dinner bell rang. It was time to stuff our guts with okay pasta and really crappy house wine at the California's Pasta Pirate. While the food is passable, there's something cool about the pirate dÈcor, wood paneling, small size and classic soundtrack that I really like. Plus, the waiters have been here forever. Mike, Steve, Burt and I planned meet up with Robert and Jeff, and be joined by our online friends Donkeydode and Cyberhog.

Mr. Dode and Mr. Hog were already there when we arrived and we checked in at the restaurant to see how long the wait would be. Ninety minutes. At home that doesn't seem like much. I can take that long just putting on my socks. But in Vegas, an hour-and-a-half is a lifetime. It's long enough to mean we could miss when a crap table gets hot, or someone else would hit the jackpot meant for us on a Deuces Wild machine. So, we chose to walk slightly west to the Triple George Grill, a clubby restaurant in front of the shuttered Lady Luck.

Donkeydode and Cyberhog.
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It says something about downtown business that the Triple George could easily accommodate our large party at seven p.m. on a Friday night. Heck, they could have fit in a dozen of our groups. The menu was American, featuring meatloaf, steak, fish and a lot of cocktails. I ordered a chicken-fried steak thinking this was one of those joints where they sass up traditional dishes until they're something new and exciting. Nope, it was just a chicken-fried steak like you get at coffee shops in Montana. The food was good, nothing spectacular. But the conversation was awesome.

Cyberhog, Steve and Burt discussed the Cubs chances to win the World Series in 2009. All three are fans and believe this may be the year the franchise has spent enough money to buy a championship. I hope not. Cubs fans are a big enough whiny pain in the ass already. Donkeydode told us about the insanely rapid fall in the Las Vegas real estate market, and of houses that were selling for 30% of what they would have cost two years before.

Mr. Dode is a native to Las Vegas, and a bit of a historian. He's tracked the demise of a lot of great landmarks and seen the town go from family-owned businesses, like the Farm Basket restaurant and Bob Stupak's Vegas World, to its current corporate climate. Even better, he has a fine sense of the tasteless. He's a fan of Larry's Villa, turned me on to "Deep Throat" energy drink and even brought me a can from its birthplace, the Talk of the Town strip club. I asked him about a place called Showgirl Video. I heard it still has coin-operated booths where one can watch a girl dancing behind glass. Mr. Dode knew the place and regaled the table with tales of libido-shriveling horror. Unattractive girls, strange clientele and being able to see what the perverts in the booths opposite you are doing.

The new Gold Spike.
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From the Triple George we made the short walk to the Gold Spike. We poked around, looking behind curtains and taking pictures until a large, well-dressed black man approached us and growled that we couldn't do that. Someone gave him a song and dance, and he became friendly. His name was Mark and he was the head of security. He took us on a tour of the property, showing us what work still needed to be done and the extent of the renovations. While it doesn't show in the casino, virtually all of the plumbing and wiring in the joint had to be ripped out and replaced. The kitchen area of the old Gold Spike Diner had been completely gutted and remodeled. I can imagine workers hauling buckets of grease out of the old kitchen for weeks. Out back, Mark showed us where the casino would take out the current parking lot and expand to double its size. A hallway would join it to the Traveler Inn next door, whose parking lot would become a swimming pool and bungalows.

Mark told us that the new owners had hired models and were putting them through dealer school. They would handle the three-table pit while wearing scanty clothes. Not an original idea, but pretty girls who are paid to be nice to me are always welcome. I suggested to Mark that they hire Adis, my favorite Ethiopian dealer from the Western.

The Gold Spike new table pit.
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Mark froze and narrowed his eyes. "What did you say?"

"You should hire this girl from the Western named Adis. She's got a really nice--"

"That's my ex-fiancee." The Gold Spike's head of security stared at me and I thought I was about to be 86ed and broken in two. My heart stopped for a moment. Our group got very quiet. I'm not sure if my friends were as nervous as me, or if they were just being silent so they could enjoy hearing every bone of mine snap in the beat down I was about the get.

Mark nodded thoughtfully and said, "Yeah, she does have a nice--"

The tension lifted, Mark and I laughed over our shared admiration of Adis' physique. The tour continued and before we left, Mark said, "You're right, we should hire her."

On to the Thrilling Conclusion


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