Card counters, who visit Las Vegas primarily to make money, must base their hotel and motel choices on different factors than other Las Vegas visitors. This Las Vegas hotel and motel room guide for card counters has tips on whether to stay where you play, controlling room expenses, and easy access to good blackjack games.
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A Card Counters' Guide to Las Vegas Hotels

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The Hotel Rooms of Las Vegas

By G.K. Schroeder
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XIV #4, December 1994)
© 1994 Blackjack Forum

I wouldn’t mind trying a two-story suite at Caesars Palace like the one where Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise stayed in the movie Rainman, or even a regular old single-level suite on the ninth floor of the Desert Inn where Howard Hughes lived for a few years, but I can’t afford those places and I don’t bet enough to get those kinds of comps. It is a fact of life for most card counters that a room in Las Vegas is simply a place to sleep and maybe practice the game. It is also a place that most of us want to get in and out of as fast as possible—time is money if you are only in town for a few days.

Some players like to stay at one of the main places they intend to play in order to make it easy to fall out of bed at 3 a.m. and stumble down to the pits for the graveyard prime time. Other people like to stay in nice places with the possibility of a comped room, or just because they enjoy staying in nice places. Some card counters never stay where they play. Some counters double-up with others, some stay in cheap motels and some have been known to sleep in their cars, or even worse, at the Airport Inn (soap the size of a cough drop, see-through towels, and their vacuum cleaner broke in ’88—all for $100 on Saturday night).

When I first started playing blackjack as a card counter, I never stayed where I played. I slipped in and out of the blackjack pits like a man whose picture was hanging in the post office. I thought that my goose was cooked every time a pit boss sneered at me. It took a while before I realized that a sneer was the permanent expression on many pit boss faces. (There is also the permanent scowl, the comatose look, and of course, the bosses who resemble animals—you may have seen the guy on grave shift at Palace Station who looks exactly like a pig.)

Also, in those days, I rarely played for more than 30 minutes in a casino for fear of overexposure. On one memorable two-day trip, I played at 21 different casinos and got in a total of nine hours of blackjack. I hardly slept for all of the walking and driving. I won $9.

Staying at the Hotel Where You Play

Eventually I became more confident and began staying where I played, with the goal of spending one night in every major hotel in Las Vegas. I had also started keeping detailed records of my play and had scheduled myself to never play the same casino shift more than once in three months. If I had a particularly notable session in a casino—had a big win, got comped, or for some other reason might be easily remembered—I would skip the shift for six months. In the larger casinos I would play for an hour or two per shift.

This greatly increased the amount of time that I spent playing quality games and, of course, increased the amount that I won relative to the amount of time I spent in Las Vegas. After a few months of this and 12 different hotels, I was having a couple of problems with this staying where I was playing.

  1. On those occasions when I was only in town for the weekend, getting in and out of major resorts took up an excessively large portion of my time. It can take an hour or more to check in on a Friday night or a Saturday.

    Getting from the room to the car can also take a lot of time. Even if you use the valet parking, you still have to wait for your car and then are often forced to exit out onto the Las Vegas Strip where you may be stuck for an eternity trying to get through a light.

    It also costs a buck for the valet—or two bucks, if you follow the tipping guidelines in the Las Vegas visitors literature. Between “What’s On in Las Vegas” and “Today In Las Vegas,” 22 categories of Las Vegas employees are suggested as being deserving of tips, including security guards, pool attendants and shuttle drivers. These publications are written by the same kind of folks who wrote the version of basic strategy where you never hit 15 or 16. They really want you to leave town broke.

  2. Twice I was trailed by security guards and twice I was followed to the elevators by pit bosses. The security guards were not a problem. I spotted them early on and simply led them around the casino a couple of times and then exited.

    The bosses were not so easy. The first time it happened, I didn’t see the boss until he was in the elevator with me. I nodded at him and then calmly, I think, got off two floors above mine, found the stairway and raced down two flights and then sat down and perspired for ten minutes. This was a hotel, the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas, where once you are in the stairwell the only exit is at the first floor. Would he be waiting for me? He wasn’t.

The second time it happened, at the Golden Nugget in Laughlin, I was able to continue past the elevators and out to the garage exit as if I were on the way to the Gold River next door. The boss trailed along with me for a bit and we chatted about how hot it was. When I looked back into the garage, the guy was standing there smoking a cigarette, watching me.

The reason for this following is that they are trying to identify you—pull your name or your car license up on their computer—presumably to find out what they can about you and to check if your name or picture are in anybody’s book of known or suspected card counters or cheats. They also may want to know who your friends are—are you sharing a room with a known card counter, or do you meet up in the coffee shop with two or three other people that were playing in the pit at the same time you were? As far as they are concerned, it’s just business; as far as I’m concerned, it is something to avoid and something to be particularly careful about when you stay where you play.

The Blackjack Hotels of Las Vegas

If you read my article “Blackjack Routes of Las Vegas” in the September Blackjack Forum, you’ll know that, as a part-time card counter or Las Vegas tripper, I divide the town into sections or routes in order to simplify the driving chores and to maximize my time at blackjack tables with good games. Each route includes at least three main places to play with reliably good games.

If my current trip is during the week when rooms are cheap, I may try to stay at the hotel where I expect to do the most playing, but I am careful about how I get to my room and usually don’t return to the room right after a session in the pits.

Hotels on the strip that presently offer enough good single or double-deck games to make it worthwhile to stay and play would be Circus Circus, Excalibur and the block of double-deck pits around Flamingo Road, including the Imperial Palace, Harrah’s, the Mirage and maybe Treasure Island. The last two are pretty expensive for my budget—they both maintain the same rates throughout the week, $89 at the T.I. and $159 for the Mirage.

Weekday standard rooms (rack rates) at the other places run from $21-$29 at the Circus to $60 at Excalibur. Keep in mind that room rates in Las Vegas may vary even within a week. As an example, I recently checked the rates at the Imperial Palace for the first week in December and found three different standard room rates ($35, $45, and $55) depending on which days I would stay. For the same period, I had a Valued Guest (Valued Sucker) offer from the Imperial Palace that gave me two week nights, two buffet comps, and other goodies for a total cost of twenty bucks, and rooms were available.

Off the strip, both Palace Station on Sahara and the new Boulder Station out on Boulder Highway have enough good double-deck tables for staying and playing. Standard rooms at both places run from $39 to $69 during the week. The tower rooms at Palace Station, $69, are one of the better values in town and, as you probably know, both the food and the blackjack are good.

If you stay at Circus Circus, ask for the Skyrise Tower; the rooms have been recently renovated (but the décor is still hot pink and red). In downtown Las Vegas, the Horseshoe, $40 per week night (and the famous $2.00 steak dinner from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m.) or the Golden Nugget, $58 per night (delicious Chinese food special $3.95 from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.) would be my choices.

A Card Counters' Guide to the Motels of Las Vegas

If you intend to stay in Las Vegas for a week or more, there are motels that offer weekly rates. In the late 60s when I worked at the Stardust, I lived at a motel a block from the strip for $25 per week. It was a new place with small refrigerators in the rooms, daily maid service and a management that was anxious to please. These days you can find rooms for about $150 per week—or less, if you have a high threshold for grime and are not particular about your neighbors. Some will come with refrigerators and some will even have kitchenettes.

The motels on the strip generally don’t offer weekly rates (although there are many that specialize in hourly rates!) Two motels on the strip that do offer weekly rates are the Fun City Motel, $145 per week, and the Sulinda Motel, $185 per week. The best place to look for a good value in weekly rates is east of the strip on Paradise Road near the convention center, and on the Boulder Highway.

Due to the demands of my other job, the one in Southern California that provides an unfluctuating bi-weekly paycheck and insurance benefits, I am often stuck with tripping on weekends. In addition to that, I usually don’t know in advance which weekends I’ll be able to go until Friday comes around and, thus, often hit town without a reservation. After some stressful times searching out beds in overpriced dumps, I discovered a couple of motels on the strip that are perfect for weekend card counters on a budget.

These two places are not chain motels, but they are clean and quiet (cleaner than the Imperial Palace or the old rooms at the Frontier, for instance), and it only takes about 5 minutes to check in. You get to park in front of your room. Best of all, they let me check-in early and stay late.

A typical routine is to drive up from Southern California early Saturday morning and check-in by 7 or 8. That gives me a room for between $30 and $50, depending on how busy the town is, from then until noon or later the next day. When I really need to get in some blackjack hours on a weekend, I’ll drive up late Friday night, arriving about 2 a.m., and play until I’m tired, then crawl in the back of the van and sleep until I can check in at one of my motels.

So, in the end, there are a number of ways to stay in Las Vegas. If you visit only a couple of times per year, I don’t think it makes much difference where you stay—stay at a place that you like that also has a reputation for a good game. If, like me, you go a couple of times a month, and intend to keep on doing it for many years, a little thought and planning is required. Incremental exposure can get to us all if we’re not careful. You will never wear out your welcome if they don’t know that you were there.

Las Vegas Room Reservations

There are 60 or 70 major hotels in the Las Vegas area and over 200 motels, which together offer about 80,000 rooms. However, often on weekends they are all full. The COMDEX convention in mid-November and the International Rodeo Finals in the first week of December each draw more than 100,000 visitors. Reservations are advised unless you have a strong sense of adventure.

If you want to get the best deal, you might consider using one of the reservation services. They don’t cover all of the hotels, but they cover most of them and you can often get a rate less than the hotel’s. ♠

For more information on visiting Las Vegas, see the book Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants by John Curtas (updated annually) and Topless Vegas by Arnold Snyder (e-book updated quarterly) about Las Vegas strip clubs.

For more information on card counting heat and professional gamblers at work, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.

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