w 4 Days 40 Dollars, Part Four - The Big Empire

Sunday - We move up in the world

Sunday morning, we walked right on by the continental breakfast at the Ho without even looking. I did sneak a peek at the slot club booth, though, but Miss Clairol was nowhere to be seen. Our skills as professional networkers had earned us an invitation for complimentary breakfast at Mortoni's, the swank restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel. Jean Scott, a close, personal friend of ours and the author of "The Frugal Gambler," was helping a slot-host build a client list, and Jean had been asked to gather some of her big-time high-rolling friends. She included Matt, Amy and me because her motherly instincts told her we needed a good hearty meal, and certainly not because of our bankrolls. A letter had been sent to our houses inviting us to eat at the Hard Rock, play at the Hard Rock, and sleep at the Hard Rock. Along with the free grub, they had generously offered a free room for the night.

Only invited guests were allowed in to Mortoni's and an envelope awaited each of us. Inside the envelope were a slot card and a personalized thank you from our gracious slot host. The breakfast was served buffet style, except for the fact that all the food was fresh and tasty. No heat lamps had been turned on for this small spread of premium foods like prime rib, fresh croissants, tasty breads and dense cheesecakes. I took some turkey and a bunch of fruit. Matt had bacon, and Amy opted for a made-to-order omelet. She came back to the white-clothed table with enough eggs on her plate to satisfy a wiley fox on a midnight prowl. Friendly waiters brought us coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and water in big, fancy pitchers. The big high-backed leather chairs held our weight in superb comfort, and the room had that trendy Los Angeles look, except for the cool black and white photos of the Rat-Pack on the walls. This was living.

Without looking desperate, Matt and I started fishing around to figure out how to convert our letter of invite into the free room. Not to knock the Westward Ho, which is a fine motel, but the name of the game is sucking up as much free crap as possible, and a room at the Hard Rock was definitely a better freebie than one at the Ho.

Jean worked the room like a Duchess at a European ball, floating from table to table, and assuring us every few minutes that she would sit and chat for a while. She introduced us to some of her friends, all heavy-hitters in the Las Vegas professional gambler's circuit. She took special glee in introducing me as Stinky, and firmly ordered everybody to read our web site. All the while, we continued to stuff our faces and tried to find someone to give us our free room.

When Jean finally sat down, we talked a little business, wherein she imparted her authorly wisdom on us, and helped us figure out how to get the free room. She made us feel like we were smart with her quick observations and whip-crack answers to our stupid questions. When asked who the biggest jerk she had met in professional gambling was, Jean replied immediately. And not with any of that namby-pamby "everyone is great" nonsense. She gave us a name and she had no doubts about it. For the first time, the name was not Matt's or mine.

We followed her leads for the room, but unfortunately, the hotel was booked solid for Sunday night. We told the slot host, who even after seeing our clothes thought we could possibly be high-rollers, that we would be in town a couple more days and would love to hit their machines, she got the hint and signed us up for a room for the next night.

During a break in the work, Mark professes his love for pinball slots. Not by playing them, though.

Once our tummies were full of warm food, and our pockets were full of everything else that wasn't nailed down, we thanked Jean for her kindness and headed out of the Hard Rock. Today was the day that Matt and I graduated from looking at shuttle stops to actually riding the shuttles. We plotted out our schedule for the day. It began with a ride from the Hard Rock to the Fashion Show Mall. While we rode shuttles, Amy would be visiting the South Strip, and she rode the Hard Rock shuttle with us, which she would stay on until reaching the Trop.

Once on the bus, the young driver, a UNLV student who aspired to one day become a cocktail waitress, told us that Pamela Lee was shooting an episode of her new private investigator TV show that weekend at the Hard Rock. We were ready to chalk this information up in the useless category when a guy boarded the bus and overheard Matt and me talking about what we would do to Ms. Lee's obviously fake breasts if we ever got our hands on them. He told us that he was the construction foreman for her show, and informed us that Pamela looks terrible without make-up.

Since we had already fooled a slot host into thinking we had more than forty bucks to spend, Matt decided to get this guy to give us something, like passes onto the set, where we could very possibly end up on TV. Matt told this guy he was a locations scout for Castle Rock. The guy wanted to know for which projects and Matt lied about some pre-production movies titled "Horny Teen High" and "Leaving Las Vegas II - the Ghost Years." Luckily, this guy was a grade-A dope, so he never questioned Matt's shaky story. In fact, he compared per diems and other perqs with Matt.

After a few minutes of conversation, it became all too clear that the construction foreman had little influence over casting decisions on the show, and our hopes of starring as gay Las Vegas magicians somehow mixed up in a murder mystery were quickly dashed. The guy did mention, however, that his brother was a pit boss at the Plaza and could get comps to the Kenny Kerr show. Like a buzzard over a dead possum, Matt homed in, suggesting this guy "party" with us that night. The guy was skeptical, but Matt, using what he assumed to be dude-speak, said, "No way, man, it's going to be wild. We got some girls meeting us that have even bigger and even faker boobs than Pamela. And I've got "Lucky" Ned's roulette system. All you do is show up at the Plaza tonight, score us some Kenny Kerr tickets, let us go off to the rest room, and then when we come back we'll all go party." The guy was intrigued and said he'd do it.

All the while, Amy kept her mouth shut and rolled her eyes. It was like an out of body experience for her to watch Matt weave his web of lies over someone else.

At the Fashion Show Mall, Matt and I parted ways with Amy, who stayed on the bus to the South Strip, where she would spend her time thinking up snarky things to say about casino themes. We promised to meet again in a few hours.

Matt figures out why they call him Stinky.

Meanwhile, Matt and I continued our circuitous route of the city, trying to maximize shuttle connections and minimize walking between Strip properties. I was struck with how efficient the shuttles really are in Las Vegas. I had had a few bad experiences in the past, but for the most part, every shuttle left and arrived on time and none of them crashed into other cars or telephone poles, despite the apparent drunkenness of the Sam's Town driver.

When the appointed hour arrived, we met Amy outside of the San Remo. She greeted us with stories of her visits to no less than five properties. After walking as much as she had, I would have been ready for a new pair of legs to be grafted on me, or at least a nap. Amy is much stronger than me, though, and she never complained.

The three of us caught the free shuttle to Sam's Town again, then downtown, and then on to Texas Station. At Texas Station, it was nearly seven p.m. and our big Hard Rock brunch was wearing off. We had to wait an hour for the shuttle to Palace Station and we thought we'd spend it in the casino's deli. It was a good plan, but one that Texas Station nipped in the bud because the deli closed down. No signs said this, and all the arrows pointed to where it had been, but the space was covered with plastic sheets and dust. Now we were starved and we couldn't even fill the next hour with eating. We looked around for any sort of gambling that might be worth trying, but the Texas Station video poker is too tight to mess with. The table games kept us at arm's length with their five dollar minimums.

Finally, our frugality was overwhelmed by the tummy rumblings. We saw free popcorn at the Cadillac bar and ordered drinks to score some. One measly coke costs $1.50, so you can only imagine what three cost. Grumbling the whole time he paid for the drinks, Matt asked about the popcorn. The bartender grudgingly gave us a bowl after our third request, and Amy, shaking from hunger, promptly spilled most of it on the floor.

With the false feeling of fullness that the stale popcorn gave us, we summoned the strength to ride the shuttle to Palace Station where we spent the few minutes we had before our connection back to the Strip in the pursuit of free money. The Palace Station funbook is the best in town. It contains some fantastic coupons, one of which can be cashed in for $25 in coins for a $20 buy-in. Others include five dollar match plays at blackjack, craps and roulette.

We stood in line for the slot club, nervously watching the minutes on our watches tick away, potentially leaving us stranded for a few hours. Amy was unsure if waiting was such a good idea, and bailed out of the deal to make sure she didn't miss the last shuttle to the Strip, but I wasn't budging. Five bucks is five bucks, even if it meant I would have to pay a ten dollar taxi fare to get home. Matt agreed. Finally, Matt and I reached the counter and signed up, receiving a slot card; a combination tape measure/slot card holder; and the funbook. We raced to the nearest change booth with only enough time to get our five dollars in free coins, then took off for the curb, where he hopped on the big white bus just in the nick of time.

From the Trop we headed downtown for more revelry, another day of soul-satisfying work completed. Now it was time to take off our ties, slip into the white loafers and have ourselves a good-old Las Vegas night.

At the Plaza, we met up with Ted, who had once again gotten a head start in the booze department, but was not dressed nearly as sharply as the first night we had seen him. Ted buzzed with excitement, however, because he had never before met the illustrious "Lucky" Ned, who had promised to prove once and for all the superiority of his roulette system over that of known scam artist Joseph McCall. For the challenge, I had brought along a copy of the alleged McCall system that was taken from a competitor's site, and would play foil to Ned. Matt offered to participate as a control case, using no system other than his exceedingly large brain. The object of the test was to play for one hour, starting with ten dollars each. If, at the end of the hour, Ned's IncrediSystem had generated the most profit, he would be declared the undisputed champion. If McCall's system proved the most profitable, we would stop calling him a scam artist and pay him proper respect. If Matt's non-system control case ended up as the most profitable, then both Ned and McCall would be declared frauds.

While Matt and Ted kept an eye out for Ned, Amy and I adjourned to the Plaza snack bar for a quick bite. I wanted something light and inexpensive, and decided soup would do me right. My choices included homemade chicken, or if I felt in a canned mood, Campbell's chicken or tomato. I elected the homemade variety and wondered aloud if anybody had ever said, "Oh yeah, give me the Campbells, I really don't deserve that fresh stuff." Amy bought a bag of potato chips for her hubby, but found nothing suitable to her own tastes.

"Lucky" Ned blesses our trip with his presence.

We got back to the Omaha Lounge, just as "Lucky" Ned stumbled by, not noticing us. Matt spotted him and called out his name. He turned and came bounding up to us, arms outstretched. As his faithful readers know, "Lucky" Ned has proven his IncrediSystems under all conditions, from sober to drunk. This evening he chose drunk. He grabbed each of us in a big bear hug, and took an immediate shine to Ted, who he said looked like one gutsy son-of-a-bitch Ted appreciated this compliment to no end and brought it up about a million times during the rest of the evening. "Lucky" Ned has that certain something that fills people with joy.

On the way to the Western, where the dime roulette table always provides enough room for scientific inquiry, and systems players are welcomed at least as much as the rest of the bums, we mugged with Ned for the camera. He alternated between telling us stories of nights on which he had taken each of the downtown casinos to the cleaners, and letting me know exactly where I could stick the McCall system I carried in my hand. Aside from being a world-class gambler, Ned has a fantastic imagination for the capabilities of the human anatomy.

At the Western, the regular crowd looked at us with suspicion as we entered. Most of the time, the only people making noise in that joint are those being thrown out for not having any money left, so the regulars' curiosity was aroused when they heard our noisy band approaching. Undeterred, we made our way to the roulette table and each bought in for ten dollars in dime chips. I had studied the supposed McCall system earlier in the day, but kept my copy out for quick reference. It called for waiting until a number in the first dozen (1-12) hit. Then and only then could I lay a bet. Ned and Matt spread their chips all over the table. Matt willy-nilly, and Ned with the confidence of a man who knows just what he's doing. The waitress came along and I asked for a can of Schlitz. She explained that they only sell the Schlitz in six-packs, so I asked for a six-pack. She said no and made me drink Budweiser.

Ted and Amy stood by as official observers, to make sure nobody cheated. They had an easy time watching me, as for the most part, I did nothing, waiting for a hit in the first third. The McCall system only allowed me to place one kind of bet when the first dozen finally did hit. I had to lay my money on the second dozen (13-24) and the third dozen (25-36). His system "ignores the existence of the zero or zeros." So while Ned entertained us all with his hijinks and whoops of joyous laughter and rhyming, I sat around, betting about once every ten minutes. I had never had less fun gambling in my whole life, and rather than doubling my buy-in, I lost a bunch of dough. Ned, on the other hand, said he was making money hand over fist. He was "loyal to 33 until I shake the money tree!" He also stayed true to his conviction that there are more black than red numbers, and he was rewarded handsomely. On many occasions, I wanted to say, "Forget McCall, I'm going with guts!" but Matt, Ted and Amy made sure I did my part for scientific discovery. Apparently we weren't the first crazy gamblers ever to set foot in the Western. While the croupiers were curious about what we were doing, none of them ever tried to dissuade us from thinking we were outsmarting the casino. Ned showed how he keeps his IncrediSystem a well-known secret by barking, howling, kneeling on his chair, cursing and doing everything else in his power to keep other players away. Almost everyone, including me, was scared to death by his manic charm.

Ted wasn't. Perhaps it was the bond of alcohol, or some invisible force, but he and "Lucky" Ned continued to hit it off. Ted and Ned conferred on many of his choices at the wheel. As the control player, Matt suggested that this was unethical until Ned explained that his gut had directed him to Ted.

Ned celebrates his good fortune with the lovely ladies at Sassy Sally's.

At the end of the hour, "Lucky" Ned was the winner by a clear margin. Although the number of chips in front of him looked small, he explained that he had squirreled away chips in his pockets. "Lost?" he hooted at Amy's suggestion. "Lost, my foot! Why, I made more than a thousand dollars right there." Matt, skeptical of Ned's claim, asked to see the chips. Ned thrust out his generous gut and said, "Come and get 'em, then."

Matt wisely chose not to dig into "Lucky" Ned's pockets and took the big guy at his word. Because we needed an impartial judge, we asked Amy to take Ned's figure from his own caluculations, then count Matt's and my chips. The final results found Ned beating McCall at dime roulette by a margin of $1,004.50. He beat Matt's control case by $1,003.30.

Once again, Ned's system was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

After the test, Ned wanted to continue taking money from the Western, but the rest of us were hungry, and the hour of 11 had passed, meaning the stink of cheap steaks would soon waft all over town. My tummy insisted we get in on that action. Ned pulled Ted aside as we walked out of the Western. While Amy, Matt and I stood on the sidewalk, watching cops hassling bums, Ned talked, rubbed his belly, slapped Ted on the back, and burped. Ted just nodded and then handed something small and metal to "Lucky" Ned.

On the way back to the Fremont Street Experience, I asked Ted what had transpired. Ted scratched his head and laughed. "I don't know if I should feel flattered or screwed." He went on to explain that Ned had just been evicted from his apartment through no fault of his own, and needed a place to crash, just for a couple of days. Ted had agreed and given Ned the extra key.

Amy offered to buy Matt and I dinner at the Las Vegas Club, to aid us in sticking to our $10 budget. The Upper Deck restaurant brings us back every time with by far the finest cheap late-night meal around. For a mere $2.75, they serve a big plate of fried chicken, french fries, coleslaw, and coffee or tea. Or, as Amy ordered, hotcakes with bacon or sausage for only $1.50. And if you're a vegetarian like Amy, you can give the meat to Matt, who eats enough bacon to clog the giant arteries of an elephant. During our meal, Ted was strangely quiet, occasionally muttering something about giving his key to "Lucky" Ned. "I hope I don't regret this," he said. "Go with your guts, Ted," we all recommended, feeling bad for his misfortune, but better than we would have if Ned had asked to crash with us.

We finished eating and decided to aid our digestion with a session of high-energy craps at the Plaza's quarter table. Our prediction of a smaller Sunday night crowd turned out to be right on. Matt and Ted each grabbed a spot, while Amy sat down at a nickel slot and I detoured to the bathroom. When I came out, Matt pointed to a spot he had reserved between him and a cute college-age girl. As I stepped up to the table, she leaned over and sniffed me. Since 95% of the time I don't go by the nickname Stinky, this behavior took me quite aback. When she looked over at her friend and told her I really didn't stink, I realized what Matt had been up to.

The cutie and her friend Lolly said they attended Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, and that they were in town for some hardcore craps and to catch Siegfried and Roy. The one standing next to me, whose name I never did get, really did not completely understand how to play craps, so I helped her out when I could. Unfortunately, I don't completely understand craps, so I doubt if I did much good. While I explained to her that the Big Six meant big fun and even bigger losses, she laughed and bumped me suggestively with her shoulder. I knew then and there that Ned wasn't the only one who would get lucky on this particular evening.

The dice were at the other end of the table. Each shooter would roll a point, hit it, roll another point and then crap out. We all started out playing a quarter on the lines with the double odds, but as our stacks slowly grew, and the thrill of such low stakes diminished, we increased our bets. First we graduated to fifty cents, and then Matt and Ted went to a dollar, where we could take advantage of the ten times odds. The dice wound their way around to my nudging honey and she quickly crapped out.

I tried to subtly work into the conversation with the girls that I was an executive vice-president, but any impression they had was quickly undone when the dice reached me and Matt shouted, "Let's go, Stinky! Put the stink on them bones!" For luck, I chucked the dice off the table and onto the carpet a couple of times. Soon Ted and the girls were joining in on the name-calling and I would have just as soon given up the dice right then.

On the way to the Plaza, Mark suddenly realizes what the Palace Station tape measure is good for.

Finally, my wish was fulfilled and I threw the dreaded seven. Matt was next and the girls asked me what his nickname was. Before I could reply to the question, Matt blurted out, "Luscious. They call me Luscious." The girls frowned and agreed that the nickname didn't fit. Matt heaved the dice down the table while telling the girls that one object of the game is to try to knock over stacks of chips. Lolly said, "I know. We'll call you Martha Rae." With the dice back in Matt's hand, he asked why. "You know," Lolly said, "Martha Rae, the big-mouth." The girls, the table crew and Ted all thought this was pretty funny.

Matt didn't and to show his displeasure he immediately sevened-out and the stickman shoved the dice to Lolly.

"Let's go, Paul Bunyon," Matt shouted, but Lolly wouldn't throw the dice until Matt explained that the girls were from NAU, whose mascot was the Lumberjack, and Paul Bunyon was a less offensive nickname than Babe the Blue Ox. Lolly asked if Matt's wife minded him talking like this to women. Matt said she should ask her for herself, and Amy was pulled away from the nickel slots to explain that her husband did what he wanted and she knew he was ultimately harmless, because unlike her, most people don't find his obnoxious behavior funny.

Whatever we called her, Lolly, Babe, Ox, Paul Bunyon, Foxy Oxy, Tree Killer or Wacko Lumberjacko, this girl had the magic touch. She couldn't miss and held the dice for over half an hour, ultimately hitting six straight numbers. She earned us all a heck of a lot of money with her unbelievable dice-throwing ability. When she finally crapped out and the dice moved to Ted, I counted up my winnings - over $18! Blammo!

During the long roll, Matt had hinted to the girls that maybe if they were nice, we would take them to the Gold Spike for some pie with all the money they won for us. Since he is happily married, and his wife was standing right there, I can only assume his gregariousness came from a desire to get me out of the hotel room for the night so he and Amy could each have his or her own bed. "Pie for the Ox," he kept saying as Lolly hit her points. "And pie for the ox's friend, too." Even as Matt bombarded them with inane observations and crude limericks, these two collegiate lovelies did not shy away. Especially the girl next to me, who was constantly touching and playfully punching me. I figured these girls were just as good as pressed up against my lips.

So, when Ted quickly lost, I grabbed my chips and turned to my chippy, who I asked to join me for some pie. She looked at her friend with eyes that pleaded, "Come on, let's go get pie!" but Lolly apparently had some sort of gambling problem, because she said couldn't even pry herself away from a table that had obviously turned cold for the silky flavor of chocolate cream pie. Personally, I would have ditched any friend I ever had for a slice of free pie, but this gal came from a different cloth than me, because she turned me down cold. Perhaps if I had bothered to ask her name she would have been more willing, but that mattered not at this point.

Feeling too dejected to eat anything, even homemade-tasting pie at the Spike, I suggested we take our sorry executive asses back to the Ho. Matt and Amy sensed my pain and agreed, so off we went to a fitful night of tearful sleep.

Part 5

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