An expansion of the oldest casino in Las Vegas, Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, has begun.
The expansion will increase the footprint of the Golden Gate’s “intimate” casino and increase the number of slot machines by nearly 30% (100 additional machines). Golden Gate currently has 361 slots. Yes, exactly.
Construction is expected to be complete by August 2017.
Golden Gate is expanding into the former La Bayou casino space. La Bayou, known for its free beads, daiquiris and unmistakable funk, was part of a purchase of several venues that also included the nearby Mermaids and the Glitter Gulch strip club.
La Bayou, Mermaids and Glitter Gulch closed on June 27, 2016. We should know because this blog ate the very last deep fried Oreo served by Mermaids.
The Golden Gate construction site is like a duck, calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath. Or something.
The addition to Golden Gate is expected to be a two-story building. The casino will be on the first floor, and the second floor will be used primarily to supply liquor to the Golden Gate’s casino.
The demand for liquor at Golden Gate has outpaced the small hotel’s ability to deliver it, and a team of four people carry kegs and boxes of liquor up and down stairs throughout the day due to the lack of storage space. The second floor of the new structure will allow gravity to do the lion’s share of keeping the hooch flowing, and could save the casino $150,000 a year in labor and associated costs.
Granted, we’re using the word “construction” very loosely at the moment.
At the moment, construction crews are doing some things we don’t entirely understand. They’re digging out Mermaid’s old basement and mixing the soil so it has a more uniform density or composition. Look, we are a blog and not a pedologist.
Fun fact: La Bayou was just 25 feet wide.
If you look closely, you can see the steps that went into La Bayou’s basement, a basement we didn’t entirely know existed until we security breached the construction site.
You have your thing, we have a heavy equipment thing. Don’t judge.
We’re also keeping our eye on the project on the other side of Fremont Street, the new resort which will encompass the Las Vegas Club, Glitter Gulch and Mermaids. Our interrogation techniques have proven fruitless with owner Derek Stevens, but we’ll keep at it.
For the longest time, slot machines were the red-headed stepchild of casino gambling. They were the thing casinos had to offer to keep the wives of table games players (“real gamblers”) occupied.
It may sound absurd now, but in the early days of casino slot machines, players stood while they played. Which sucked in a number of ways.
Back in the day, everyone stood at slot machines. Probably because Top Dollar and Wheel of Fortune hadn’t been invented yet.
It’s believed a major turning point in how slot machines are played came about because of our human need to urinate. See, after feeding a slot machine for a period of time, players didn’t want to leave a machine to use the restroom for fear of losing their impending jackpot to another player.
Clever players began stealing chairs from nearby table games and took to leaning them against the slots to save their spot. This is a practice that continues today, despite it being incredibly annoying.
On the Annoyance Scale, this is right up there with resort fees and cigars. Just stop.
It didn’t take long for customers to use the chairs to sit and play, thus changing the culture of slot machine play forever. Today’s slot machine chairs are plush and ergonomic, and many feature sophisticated sound systems and vibration functions to keep players engaged and entertained.
The folks at Binion’s in downtown Las Vegas claim they know the exact moment the practice of sitting at slot machines began.
In 1956, the Birdcage Casino opened at the corner of 1st Street and Fremont. The casino began offering customers a 10-cent keno slot, and the machines started raking it in. In response, Binion’s offered its own bank of 10-cent keno slot machines to compete with its neighbor.
It was inside Binion’s the practice of sitting down at slot machines began.
Today, slot machines account for as much as 85% of a casino’s revenue. One of the biggest measures of a machine’s profitability is known as “Time on Device,” or TOD, or the average time a gambler spends on a given slot machine.
Suffice to say, “Time on Device” has been increased immeasurably by the fact customers sit as they play.
Here’s another fun fact about Binion’s: It was the first downtown casino to get carpeting. How’d that happen? Presumably, a gambler ran up some debt with the casino’s owner at the time, Benny Binion, and repaid his debt by carpeting the joint.
In a refreshing turn of events, Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino, the newest casino on the Las Vegas Strip, put out a news release sharing some changes happening at the resort. Typically, such changes have to be ferreted out by visitors and bloggers, but in this case, Lucky Dragon was the source of the scoop.
Yes, there was a bit of spin involved, but it’s still a rare case of a casino getting ahead of the conversation, so credit where it’s due.
Lucky Dragon is doing some shuffling, and we’re not talking cards here.
We’d heard the resort had closed its Pearl Ocean restaurant, but it’s still humming along. The night we visited, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh was in the house.
Please don’t try to spot Tony Hsieh, you’ll herniate yourself.
The resort has closed its entire first floor Dragon’s Alley food court temporarily and the space will soon get a new Dragon’s Alley noodle bar. Noodle bars are springing up in casinos across the city, so this is probably a smart move.
Dragon’s Alley will soon be home to a noodle house. At nearby SLS Las Vegas, Ku Noodle tanked. Hey, casinos aren’t IKEA furniture, they don’t come with instruction manuals.
Apparently, a portion of Dragon’s Alley will be the new location for Pearl Ocean, and the Pearl Ocean space will be used to expand Lucky Dragon’s VIP Gaming Lounge. That’s sort of the spin part, mainly because it seems unlikely there’s been a huge influx of high rollers to a resort with relatively few amenities high rollers demand, but let’s just go with it.
The Macau-style VIP Gaming Lounge would be even cooler if we knew what Macau-style meant.
Pearl Ocean will stay open while Dragon’s Alley is being renovated.
No date has been set for when Pearl Ocean will close in its current location, or when the new noodle bar will open.
How do you say, “Damn it, now we have to change all the signs!” in Chinese?
All this is pretty much par for the course when a new casino opens. It takes a little time to figure out the right mix of offerings, and changes are made to adjust to demand (or lack thereof). It remains to be seen if Lucky Dragon can thrive despite its awkward location. Lucky Dragon is near the intersection of Sahara Ave. and Las Vegas Blvd., between the Bonanza Gift Shop and Golden Steer Steakhouse.
During our visit (on a Thursday night), the table games area was pretty much empty, but there was a fair amount of slot machine play, and the fast-casual Bao Now restaurant was packed. (The closed Dragon’s Alley was at full capacity with a private event for an Asian tour group, so we expect they stuck around to play.)
While this is all very interesting, following up on this news gave us an excuse to visit Lucky Dragon again, and we have a story to share, so gird your loins.
So, we hit Lucky Dragon’s loyalty club desk to get a replacement card. The attendant, Ellie, informs us we have “eight lucky dollars in free slot play.” This is awesome, of course, because eight is super lucky in Asian cultures, so we say, “Look, that’s lucky, so we’re going to split our jackpot with you.”
Ellie laughs, because it seems she’s heard this kind of thing before.
We say, “All right, not 50-50. But how about 90-10?” She laughs and says “fine.”
We immediately proceed to play Wheel of Fortune, and after a few minutes hit the 2000 quarter jackpot. It’s Vegas, no big deal, five hundred clams, baby.
Remember, a great story is always, always more valuable than a little cash.
So, we head back to the loyalty club desk to find Ellie and give her the “commission” we promised, and she seemed somewhat shocked, very appreciative, but repeatedly declined her well-deserved $50. Eventually, she caved.
She said, “Customers say things like that all the time, but nobody comes back.”
This news made us a little sad. Look, in a Las Vegas casino, it’s all about mojo. Keep your promises, take care of the crew and don’t screw with Lady Luck.
Here’s hoping the changes at Lucky Dragon are just growing pains. It’s a great little resort and “evolution” is preferable to “flounder” any day of the week.
There are big things in the works for the off-Strip Palace Station, and some of those plans are well under way.
We popped in at Palace Station, but won’t be able to share any photos because, according to a security guard, “Photos of the construction site aren’t allowed.”
Suck it, asshats. All due respect.
Seriously? The site is readily viewable by the public, 24/7.
Well, we’re nothing if not respectful of authority, so we’re not going to share more than a dozen or so photos of the site.
Looks like somebody’s getting a fancy new video screen.
Oh, and here’s some video of the construction, mainly because our contempt for overreaching casino security guards is exceeded only by our aversion to casinos that swap out our liquor brand.
Palace Station, owned by Red Rock Resorts (also known as Station Casinos), is currently adding a new porte cochere and bingo hall to its casino, and they’re just getting started.
Improvements will include a new, 27-floor hotel tower, a movie theater, bowling alley and upgraded pool area. It’s believed the hotel’s railroad theme will go away in favor of a more modern design. (Think Red Rock Resort, which is a good thing.)
Time to bid farewell to the choo-choos.
In a future phase of the transformation, Palace Station is expected to also add a new buffet and two additional restaurants, as well as additional convention space.
Thanks to our friends at Eater Vegas for ferreting out all the details of the changes at Palace Station.
Why all the additional space for bingo, you ask? Station Casinos has a long history with bingo, and Palace Station originally opened as Bingo Palace in 1976.
Misguided security guards aside, Palace Station remains a great place to play. Despite being five minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, it tends to appeal to locals, which means better table minimums, better odds and better overall value.
Enjoy a few more photos of the construction happening at Palace Station, which we definitely didn’t take after being informed photography isn’t permitted, because that would be wrong.
Stadium gambling is now a thing in Las Vegas casinos, and we figured it was time to check out Stadium Blackjack at Venetian.
In Stadium Blackjack, up to 44 players compete with one of two live dealers in, wait for it, stadium-style seating.
Oh, all right, it’s nothing like a stadium. Just play along.
As with most games in a casino, Stadium Blackjack accomplishes a couple of key goals for The Man.
Casinos make more money when labor costs are lowered, and when there are more hands dealt. Since casino games have a built-in advantage for the house, more hands means more profit.
Here’s how Stadium Blackjack works at Venetian Las Vegas.
There are 44 seats for players. Each player has their own terminal, and selects which of the two dealers they want to play against, blue or red.
Once a dealer is selected, the player has 30 seconds between hands to place a bet. A big benefit of Stadium Blackjack is the $5 minimum. Most standard games at Venetian have $15 minimums.
Get ready to play blackjack with 43 of your new best friends.
Once bets are made, each screen reads “No More Bets.”
Then, three cards are dealt from a six-deck, continuous “smart shuffle” machine.
Two cards go to the players, one to the dealer. One of the intriguing aspects of Stadium Blackjack is all the players get the same two cards. (That is, all the players who chose the red dealer get the same two cards. All those who chose the blue dealer get different cards.)
Now, each player makes their own decision about what to do next. Players can hit, stand, double down or split.
Here’s where the game veers into new territory. Since everyone has the same two cards, and can make their own decisions about what happens next, additional “Community” cards are needed. Community cards go to players until all the players have chosen to stand (or have been eliminated because they busted). After all the players’ hands are locked, additional community cards go to the dealer until the hand has a result.
The “Community” cards (upper left) are really the only perplexing part, but just let the dealer do their thing.
Say the first cards are dealt and all the players get a queen and a king, the dealer gets a five. That’s 20 for the players, so everyone’s going to stand. (Feel free to split them, though, that’s part of what makes Stadium Blackjack so fun, no peer pressure.) The dealer takes additional cards and busts. Everyone wins, cheering ensues, annoying all the players in the nearby poker room in the best possible way.
Here’s a more complicated example.
Players get a king and six, dealer gets a queen. Some players stand on 16, some hit, right? (You’re supposed to hit.) The players who choose “Hit” on their display get another card (a “Community” card). Again, those who “Stand” don’t get another card. Each player is doing their own thing. Say, that next player card is a two. Everybody stands with 18. But the fun part is you don’t have to! You can “Hit” again. Only after all the players have finished does the dealer then complete their hand and a result is shown.
If Stadium Blackjack isn’t your thing, there’s stadium baccarat nearby. Again, $5 minimums are hard to pass up on The Strip.
A lot of this happens on the dealer’s display. Players just see their own hand and how it’s stacking up against the dealer.
Once the hand is done, all the cards go back into the shuffler and the fun begins again.
So, that’s a long-winded way of saying, “It’s just like regular blackjack.” The fact others have the same two opening cards, or how dealers decide which cards are communal, is rather irrelevant. It’s you against the dealer.
Let’s get into what’s really important about Stadium Blackjack, the pros and cons.
First, the pros. Stadium Blackjack is great for groups and couples! Where else in Las Vegas can you and 43 friends all play blackjack at once? During our visit, the majority of players were couples.
Again, low table minimums. That $5 minimum is tempting and it never gets raised, even if the game is busy.
Also, no glares from other players if you do something stupid. Stadium Blackjack is anonymous, and players make their own decisions.
Another pro for us is the machine adds up your cards. We hate math, so this is a great aspect of the game.
We also like that you can take a break between hands, sitting out then jumping back in at any time.
There are some drawbacks to Stadium Blackjack, but opinions vary about how important these cons are.
The rate of play, if you play every hand, is fast. After you get your cards, you have 10 seconds to decide whether you’d like to hit or stand. That’s a lot of pressure! If you do nothing, the machine automatically stands. It won’t hit or double or split for you, though. More hands means you can lose more quickly, but it also means you’ll win more quickly when you’re on a lucky streak.
It’s interesting to note that while the game is called “Stadium Blackjack” on the player terminals, it’s called “Rapid Blackjack” on the dealer’s screen.
Another potential downside is Stadium Blackjack pays 6-to-5, rather than 3-to-2. Then again, that’s true of the majority of blackjack games on the Las Vegas Strip.
Also, serious blackjack players dislike six deck, continuous shuffling machines. Card counting is impossible with such machines.
Another look at the layout. Make a bet, hit or stand, rake in the big bucks.
That’s about it. Each display has a bunch of other buttons, but probably the most important for first-time players is “Help.” Beyond the two people dealing the cards, there’s another dealer that roams the floor and helps players with questions.
There’s a button for dealer tips, another to call for service, one to “Re-Bet” and others. There’s also a button so players can see the game in Chinese.
There are a couple of side bets as well, Royal Match 21 and Bet the Set 21. Blackjack side bets tend to be sucker bets, but only if they don’t hit!
Side bets are for entertainment value only. Don’t go nuts.
Overall, Stadium Blackjack is a fun new twist on blackjack, and its social component could make it a draw for groups seeking to gamble together.
Our first story about stadium gambling (at Palazzo) was way back in 2013, and we didn’t have the best time. While we didn’t win playing Stadium Blackjack, it wasn’t a bad experience.
Let us know what you think of Stadium Blackjack. Some believe it’s the future of casino gambling. For us, interacting with the dealer is often half the fun of playing, so unless we were with a group of friends, we’d probably bite the bullet and find a traditional, higher limit table.
In the grand scheme of things, Las Vegas hasn’t been around that long. It has managed to cover a lot of ground when it comes to the names of its casinos, though.
Casinos are bought, sold, rebranded, imploded and rebuilt. Along the way, they often change names.
Here, then, are a hastily slapped-together batch of Las Vegas casinos formerly named something else. And in some cases, several something elses.
1. Planet Hollywood Was Tally Ho
That’s right, Planet Hollywood was originally the Tally Ho. After that, the hotel was called King’s Crown, then the more familiar Aladdin Resort & Casino. Are we having fun yet, we asked, rhetorically?
We get the weird feeling we mainly wrote this blog post to show off some of our casino photos.
2. Westgate Was the International
The hotel we now know as Westgate opened in 1969 as the International Hotel. For years, it was known as the Las Vegas Hilton. For a minute, it was LVH, or Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. Hey, naming things is hard.
We were there the day the LVH’s letters came down and the Westgate sign went up.
3. SLS Las Vegas Was Sahara
SLS Las Vegas is a relatively recent development. For nearly 60 years, 1952 to 2011, it was the Sahara Hotel and Casino. You’ll never guess which we like more, “hotel” or “casino.”
Some days we sort of miss the Sahara’s fancy porte-cochere.
4. Harrah’s Was Holiday Casino
Never heard of Holiday Casino? Well, you’re in good company. The Holiday Casino came to be in 1973, thanks to Shelby and Claudine Williams, former owners of a classic Vegas casino, the Silver Slipper. Harrah’s got its name in 1992.
The Holiday casino had a riverboat theme, while Harrah’s has a Mardi Gras theme. Someday, we hope to do a story about themes that were formerly other themes.
5. MGM Grand Was Marina Hotel
What’s now on big-ass hotel, MGM Grand, got its start as the Marina Hotel and Casino. The Marina opened in 1975. Later, the hotel was called the MGM-Marina Hotel. The Marina closed in 1990, but still exists as the west wing of the MGM Grand.
MGM Grand is the largest hotel in the United States. If you slept in all 5,044 of the rooms at MGM Grand, all in one night, you would have both multiple restraining orders and severe chafing.
6. The D Was Sundance Hotel
Lots of folks know downtown’s D Las Vegas was previously a casino called Fitzgerald’s. Before that, though, it was the Sundance Hotel. The Sundance opened in 1980 on land owned by a mobster named Moe Dalitz. Later, Sundance became The Fitz, and eventually it was owned by Don Barden, the first African-American casino owner in Las Vegas.
How weird is it we appear to have never taken a photo of the exterior of Fitzgerald’s, but we somehow have a photo of the carpet?
7. Stratosphere Was Vegas World
Las Vegas eccentric Bob Stupak whipped up the idea of the Stratosphere as an addition to his Vegas World casino. At first, he wanted the Strat to look like the Eiffel Tower, but the site was too narrow. While impressive, the Stratosphere was designed to be much taller. The FAA got their undies in a bunch, so the height was decreased to its current 1,149 feet.
You sort of can’t miss it.
8. Bally’s Was MGM Grand
Stay with us, now. The site where Bally’s sits was, at first, Three Coins Motel. Then, it was the Bonanza Hotel and Casino and later, New Bonanza Hotel and Casino. MGM Grand opened on the site in 1973. The hotel was sold to Bally Manufacturing in 1986, hence the name. It’s now owned by Caesars Entertainment.
Bally’s, back when it had some bling.
9. Cromwell Was Barbary Coast
Caesars Entertainment owns the Cromwell, too. Way back when, a place called Empey’s Desert Villa sat on the land. In 1979, Barbary Coast came to be, it later became Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon. Before the Cromwell name was finalized, the casino was going to be called Gansevoort. That name was tanked when regulators discovered connections between a Gansevoort Hotels investor, Arik Kislin, and the Russian mob. Good times.
Barbary Coast cleaned up real nice.
10. The Linq Hotel & Casino Was Flamingo Capri Motel
That’s right. At its inception, what’s now the Linq was the Flamingo Capri. In time, the resort became the Imperial Palace. It was named The Quad from 2012 to 2014. Funny story, mainly involving the word “oopsie.”
The Linq swallowed the former O’Sheas. O’Sheas was originally called, well, O’Sheas. One less thing to memorize.
11. Golden Gate Was Hotel Nevada
Golden Gate, in downtown Las Vegas, is about as far back as Vegas goes. Its address is One Fremont Street, in fact. In 1906, it opened as Hotel Nevada, then became Sal Sagev Hotel and Casino. That’s Las Vegas spelled backwards. Told you naming things is hard. It got the name Golden Gate in 1955.
Warned you about the showing off thing.
12. Casino Royale Was Nob Hill
Technically, the casino’s current name is Best Western Plus Casino Royale. Say that five times fast. From 1979-1992, the place was called Nob Hill. It closed in 1990, and Casino Royale opened in 1992, becoming a favorite Strip destination for value-seeking low rollers.
Casino Royale isn’t your typical Strip casino. The words “White Castle” spring to mind.
13. Delano Was THEhotel
God, how we despise that affectation, THEhotel. Mandalay Bay’s sister hotel isn’t technically a “casino,” but we sure weren’t going to create a list with just 14 things on it, so there you have it.
It seems like they were screaming the wrong part.
14. Downtown Grand Was Lady Luck
Downtown Grand was, at first, the Lady Luck Hotel & Casino. Against all odds, Downtown Grand opened on Oct. 27, 2013.
We were there as Lady Luck transformed into Downtown Grand. We have clearly been around.
15. Hooters Casino Hotel Was Howard Johnson Hotel
If there were an award for “Casinos Previously Named Something Else,” Hooters would need a bigger mantle. What began as Howard Johnson Hotel eventually became Paradise Hotel, 20th Century, the Treasury, Pacifica and Polynesian. At the end of that run, it was renamed Hotel San Remo, and that one stuck, at least for awhile (1989 to 2006).
The Hooters rewards club is called Rewards Club. Told you naming things is hard.
Sin City’s collection of casinos previously called something else continues to grow. Sometime in 2017, for example, Monte Carlo will be called Park MGM. The now-closed Las Vegas Club will get a new name, too.
Serious fans of Las Vegas have to keep on their toes. Or have access to the Internet. Whichever.