Category Archives: Gambling

Sigma Derby is Done at MGM Grand

A popular, old-timey horse racing slot machine called Sigma Derby has finally been put down for good at MGM Grand.

Sigma Derby has a passionate following, and until recently, there were just two in Las Vegas (and possibly the country).

And then there was one.

An MGM Grand rep confirmed to us Sigma Derby won’t be back. The company said it has “done everything possible to prolong its active lifespan but that’s simply no longer possible.”

Sigma Derby MGM Grand

MGM Grand’s Sigma Derby was in its Level Up lounge for a minute. Guests were less than whelmed. It was moved back to the main casino floor for the remainder of its life.

That leaves just one Sigma Derby standing, the one at downtown’s The D Las Vegas.

Sigma Derby has built a fan base for a number of reasons.

There’s a communal element to the game, because up to 10 players can join in the fun. The cheering at Sigma Derby is about the only sound louder than a dice table in a Las Vegas casino.

Also, the machines only take quarters, so guests can play for an extended period of time (while enjoying free beverages) for relatively little cost.

The game is easy to understand as well. Players wager on two horses in each race. The horses they pick must finish first and second, in any order.

Sigma Derby

One of the great things about Sigma Derby is, no matter how much you drink, it’s hard to screw up too badly.

Noting the popularity of Sigma Derby, a company called Konami attempted to make an updated version of the mechanical horse racing game, Fortune Cup.

It’s fine. But it’s no Sigma Derby.

While fans of Sigma Derby will bemoan its passing at MGM Grand, we have to believe the casino is relieved to have it off the floor once and for all.

The machines break down frequently, and parts are nearly impossible to get, and many of the parts have to be fabricated from scratch.

Sigma Derby

Sigma Derby isn’t so much a slot machine as a cult.

In addition, casinos have moved away from coins to TITO (ticket in, ticket out) systems because of the cost of labor and maintenance involved.

Sigma Derby

You never know what people will grow attached to. Welcome to Sigma Derby.

It’s unknown how long the sole remaining Sigma Derby might last. The D installed Fortune Cup right next to the classic machine, possibly hoping customers would migrate to the new game so the old version could be retired.

That didn’t happen, and now there’s an additional incentive to keep Sigma Derby around. There’s major P.R. value in being the only game in town.

Hard Rock Rolls Out Painless Drink Voucher System

The first time we ever saw a voucher system for free drinks on a video poker machine, we had a minor meltdown.

That was at Mirage, back in 2015.

Then Caesars Entertainment made a splash when it rolled out drink monitoring to all its casino bars.

We still had sort of a meltdown, but we learned some deep breathing exercises and started asking questions.

Let’s just say we’ve done a 180 since 2015, largely due to understanding more about why drink monitoring systems are necessary and how, surprisingly, they help players.

This knowledge came in handy when we learned Hard Rock casino has implemented drink monitoring in all its casino bars. (Thanks to Lisa H. for the tip!)

Here’s a look at the new message guests see when they sit at a video poker machine at Hard Rock.

Hard Rock drink vouchers

What once gave us palpitations now elicits a “La-dee-dah.” Don’t judge. We used to musical theater.

No meltdown. Either we’re mellowing, or we’re starting to get a clue. You decide, because we’re drunk on comped drinks.

See, drink monitoring accomplishes a lot for casinos.

One, it cuts costs. Gone are the days when players would slip a dollar in a video poker machine and try to drink free all night. These systems assure players are actually playing, which is part of the deal to get drinks for “free.”

That’s the way it’s always been in Las Vegas, by the way, the monitoring was just never automated before.

Two, it takes the drink monitoring burden away from bartenders. Their reaction to drink monitoring systems has evolved much as ours has over the last couple of years, by the way. It’s no fun being a gatekeeper.

Three, drink monitoring systems prevent over-serving. The default in Las Vegas now seems to be players can earn about three free drinks per hour with continuous play. That’s how it works at Hard Rock, too.

So, what do these systems do for players?

One of the best benefits is monitoring systems keep freeloaders from taking up seats where you want to play. You know, to gamble. Which is sort of the point of having video poker at casino bars in the first place. They’re for gamblers.

Also, drink monitoring systems like the voucher system at Hard Rock take much of the mystery out of how much you have to play and at what betting level before you’ve earned more free hooch. You know where you stand.

The message on the machine at Hard Rock makes it clear. You put in $20, you get your first free drink. Then, just make $1 (or more) bets continuously, and you’ll get a steady supply.

By the time we were done at Hard Rock, we had more vouchers than we could actually redeem. We also won $60.

It was yet another reminder why Las Vegas is the best place on Earth.

Hard Rock drink vouchers

If you ever let a drink voucher go unredeemed, you’re doing Vegas wrong.

Some other small print at Hard Rock: The drink vouchers are only good for 12 hours, the vouchers aren’t transferable and the “beverage selection is limited.” They’ll have what you want unless you’re a snooty 60-year-old bottle of Macallan Valerio Adami person.

And, no, we don’t actually know what that is, but you get our point.

So, has Vegas changed in recent years? Yes.

Would we prefer to get free booze anytime, anywhere? Sure.

Are drinking monitoring systems coming to all the slots on Las Vegas casino floors? You bet.

But drink monitoring systems like the ones at Hard Rock or Caesars resorts or Westgate don’t even make the top three of our “Most Bothersome Things About Vegas Casinos” list.

That would be, in no particular order: 1) No plastic straws, 2) paid parking and 3) swapping out the liquor brand we order with a knock-off and lying about it.

By the way, parking at Hard Rock (soon to be Virgin Hotel Las Vegas) is free. Plus, they poured our Captain Morgan from a bottle and even included straws without our having to ask.

Man, alive, we love this town.

Total Rewards Reportedly Will Rebrand to Caesars Rewards

In what would be a big shake-up in the casino loyalty club realm, we’re hearing Caesars Entertainment will rebrand its popular Total Rewards program to Caesars Rewards in early 2019.

There’s been no official announcement of the Caesars Rewards roll-out, but when has that ever stopped us from sharing news?

Total Rewards Diamond

Using a loyalty club card is one of the best ways to get your fair share of perks.

The Total Rewards loyalty program began as Total Gold. Later, the program was called Total Rewards II.

Caesars Entertainment’s growth into a casino powerhouse owes a lot to its loyalty club, created in 1998 by the company’s former CEO Gary Loveman, borrowing heavily from similar programs in the airline industry.

How valuable is the Total Rewards program? In the company’s recent bankruptcy, the Total Rewards database was valued at a billion dollars. Yes, with a “b.”

Caesars Entertainment reports Total Rewards has about 55 million members.

Caesars Rewards

Unrelated to anything, don’t miss our alternative ways to use your loyalty club cards, including as ninja throwing stars.

While it’s unknown when the rebrand to Caesars Rewards is expected to occur, insiders suspect it will be Feb. 1, 2019, because higher tier cards in the program expire on Jan. 31.

It’s also unknown what changes to the loyalty club might accompany the rebrand.

Caesars Entertainment is currently trying to make the most of its brand, including licensing the Caesars name for non-gambling resorts in Dubai and Puerto Los Cabos, Mexico (we broke that news, naturally).

In related news, we hear Caesars is also going to experiment with a new rewards center at Linq said to be similar to an Apple store environment. You’ll know more when we do.

Should the rumor pan out, a rebrand from Total Rewards to Caesars Rewards is a bold move given the substantial investment made over a number of years to making Total Rewards one of most-recognized casino loyalty clubs in the world, the other being M Life Rewards from MGM Resorts.

In 2012, Caesars spent tens of millions for a relaunch of its Total Rewards loyalty program. The promotion was called “Escape to Total Rewards” and featured simultaneous concerts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans. No expense was spared, and artists included Mariah Carey, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Maroon 5, Gavin DeGraw, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Wayne and Cee Lo Green.

Full disclosure: We used to work at Caesars Entertainment and did their Total Rewards loyalty club e-newsletter, with about five million subscribers. Yes, that’s less a disclosure thing and more of a humblebrag, but you know how we are.

Golden Gate is Shaking Things Up Again

Golden Gate is back in action again with some dramatic changes and a new casino expansion.

We took a peek behind-the-scenes at what were, until recently, walled off areas of Golden Gate’s casino floor.

The casino’s floor is expanding into the space previously occupied by Du-Par’s restaurant.

Golden Gate expansion

The Du-Par’s kitchen was at left, counter and tables to the right. Yes, we all miss the pancakes. Bright side: Pancakes never gave anyone a jackpot.

Du-Par’s made an abrupt exit from Golden Gate when the restaurant’s owner got into hot water with the I.R.S. for tax evasion. There are no plans to have a restaurant at Golden Gate anytime soon.

The new floor space will accommodate an additional 50-60 slot machines, a significant number for a casino with a very small footprint.

Golden Gate

The door at back leads to Main Street, the one on the right to Fremont.

Here’s one more look at the work-in-progress. The area will be accessible to the public in a few days, and slot machines will be brought in within a week.

Golden Gate

Golden Gate regulars will notice another big change to the casino floor, a move of the casino cage.

It’s moved closer to the hotel’s registration desk and valet entrance. Don’t forget to check out the old-timey slot machines on display nearby.

Golden Gate

Due to strict rules about capturing images of casino cages, we are unable to share this photo, sorry.

Next up at Golden Gate, an expansion of the high limit room.

Currently, high limit is table games only, but with a move into the previous cage space, the high limit room will now include high limit slots.

Golden Gate

More room for high limit slots, or what we commonly refer to as our “retirement plan.”

Here’s a look at the current high limit room.

Our favorite part: The fringe on the walls was inspired by the fringe on the uniforms of the casino’s dancing dealers.

Golden Gate

This is the den we’d have if we were ambitious or even moderately successful.

The high limit room revamp is set to include some intriguing elements inspired (and necessitated) by the building’s original design features.

Here’s a look at the other side of the construction wall. Golden Gate’s original arches will play a part in the design of the new high limit room. Now you know.

Golden Gate arches

There’s a chance these arches were around when Golden Gate opened in 1906, but we aren’t sure. We are a blog, not that guy in the Amish hat on “Pawn Stars.”

The latest changes at Golden Gate follow on the heels of another recent, multi-million dollar expansion that integrated the former La Bayou casino space.

That expansion also included a new entrance, loyalty club desk and beer distribution room. Of course, we got photos. Do you know this blog at all?

Golden Gate has managed to do a lot with a little, and we hear there are still more surprises in the works.

Update (7/11/18): Golden Gate owner Derek Stevens has shared one of the “surprises,” a new sports book. We got a look at the space.

Golden Gate sportsbook

It’s not much to look at now, but give it a minute.

The future sports book space sits behind a temporary wall at the south side of the recent casino expansion into the former La Bayou space.

While we’re providing updates, here’s a look at the most recent casino expansion as slot machines were being installed.

Golden Gate

Not too shabby for a place that’s been around since 1906.

There’s more to come.

Update (7/12/18): We said there was more to come!

Here’s a look at the expanded Golden Gate casino, complete with shiny new slot machines.

Golden Gate expansion

The newest casino space in Las Vegas in the oldest casino in Las Vegas.

Oh, all right, just one more.

Golden Gate casino

Everyone loves that new slot machine smell.

See you at Golden Gate.

Take a Walk Along a Las Vegas Casino Surveillance Catwalk

It’s rare when you see something you’ve never seen before, but gird your loins, you’re about to.

A few years back, before Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall (originally Barbary Coast) was gutted to become the Cromwell, we got to stroll the casino’s old-school, labyrinthine catwalk.

casino security catwalk

Do you have any idea how long we’ve waited to use the word “labyrinthine” in a blog post?

Before the “eye in the sky” came along, casino surveillance guys (they were pretty much universally male) would peer down from above with binoculars to watch for dishonest employees and players trying to cheat the house.

Mostly that first thing, surprisingly.

What was it like? Here’s a never-before-seen glimpse into a bygone era in Las Vegas.

Many of the old security passageways in Las Vegas casinos were closed off years ago, but a few remain.

Given the extensive renovation of Cromwell, it’s unlikely the security catwalk in our video survived.

Casino security has come a long way since the early days of Las Vegas, of course. Now, casinos use sophisticated cameras and video analysis software to protect their assets.

casino security

In older casinos, new technology (dome cameras, left) co-exists with old. Note the one-way mirrors at right.

In recent years, Las Vegas casinos have started using what’s called “non-obvious relationship awareness,” or NORA, software. This software allows security to tell if players and dealers are colluding.

Casinos even employ cryptographers and game theorists to assist with security efforts.

Here’s a fun fact: Casino employee uniforms are designed to deter theft. Sleeves are often kept short to prevent concealing chips, and pockets are either disallowed or covered with aprons.

craps dealer

Short sleeves and no pockets. Now, you know why.

Enjoy another glimpse into the past of Las Vegas.

casino security

Even that red discard tray is a security measure! They help security detect inks, or “daubs,” used to mark cards.

There’s something thrilling, and more than a little creepy, about walking in the footsteps of those early surveillance teams.

Back in the day, casinos often didn’t hand over unscrupulous employees or cheats to the police, preferring to deal with the issues internally. If you get our drift.

While some may pine for the early days of Las Vegas, we tend to prefer our kneecaps unbroken and our eyes unpopped out.

Triple Zero Roulette Debuts at Planet Hollywood and New York-New York and Everything Is Ruined

Triple zero roulette has been introduced at two casinos in Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood and New York-New York.

Venetian got the first triple zero roulette table (two, actually) on The Strip back in Oct. 2016, and it seemed inevitable the much-reviled game would proliferate.

That it has.

Here’s a look at the triple zero roulette table at Planet Hollywood.

Triple zero roulette

On the bright side, one of the “fun facts” about roulette stays the same: The numbers on a roulette table add up to 666.

“What is triple zero roulette?” you ask.

Well, a typical roulette table in U.S. casinos has two zeros.

On a table with two zeros, the house edge is 5.26%. That’s one of the highest house advantages in the casino.

On a triple zero roulette table, the house edge jumps up to 7.69%.

See, that’s what makes a much-reviled game so reviled.

Given the odds are worse on a triple zero table, why would people play it? You ask great questions!

Typically, the minimum bet on a triple zero roulette table is lower than on a double zero table.

Yes, there are some single zero tables in Las Vegas casinos, but they tend to be reserved for big spenders. An exception is the single zero table at Cromwell. There’s a premium to be paid for the better odds, of course. The minimum bet at Cromwell is $25.

Cromwell single zero roulette

The house edge in a single zero roulette game is 2.7%. You go, Cromwell.

How did we know more triple zero games would make their way to Las Vegas casinos? Another excellent question!

We knew because players at Venetian’s triple zero roulette table (see below) didn’t care at all about the less favorable odds.

Venetian roulette

Triple zero roulette tables are often packed when double zero tables are empty.

It was the same at Planet Hollywood during our visit.

Planet Hollywood has eight roulette tables. Seven have a $15 minimum, one has a $10 minimum. The lower table minimum is more than enough to entice recreational gamblers, and casinos couldn’t be happier about it.

Before you start calling triple zero roulette players stupid, consider this: They’re not gambling to make money. They’re playing to have fun.

And here’s a confession: We had fun playing triple zero roulette at Planet Hollywood, too. And we won money to boot.

We even made money on one of the bets you’ll only find at a triple zero roulette table. It’s a bet on any of the zeros, and it pays 11-to-1.

Triple zero roulette

Big thanks to Planet Hollywood for not asking security to Taser us for taking photos.

Oh, and while we’re at it, here’s another counter-intuitive fact about triple zero roulette: It can actually make your money last longer.

It’s true!

Despite disadvantageous odds, the lower table minimum at triple zero roulette means a typical player (assuming they make the minimum bet) will lose less over time than someone betting more at a double zero roulette table.

That’ll teach you to be less judgy.

So, no, not everything is ruined. But that doesn’t mean we have to like triple zero roulette.

Triple zero roulette is a symbol of an evolution taking place in Las Vegas casinos. As gambling revenue declines, casinos have to find new and clever ways of bolstering their bottom lines.

If guests play games with a higher house edge, casinos will continue to find ways to raise them even higher.

Angry showgirl

Just about sums it up.

The irony, of course, is gambling revenue is declining because the perceived value of gambling has declined. Casinos tighten their slots, so players play slots less. Casinos change 3-to-2 blackjack games to 6-to-5, so fewer play the game. It’s a vicious cycle.

Our strategy is to play the games where we have the most fun. That way, we can spend our time being entertained rather than doing math.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you care about the number of zeros on your roulette table?

Thanks to our friends at the You Can Bet on That podcast for alerting us to the triple zero roulette table at Planet Hollywood.

Updated (4/26/18): Park MGM has also introduced triple zero roulette.

Updated (8/4/18): Since this story, a number of Las Vegas casinos have introduced triple zero roulette. Las Vegas casinos with triple zero roulette include:

  • Venetian and Palazzo
  • Planet Hollywood
  • Circus Circus
  • Golden Nugget
  • Park MGM
  • New York-New York
  • Harrah’s Las Vegas
  • Luxor
  • Wynn Las Vegas
  • Linq
  • Binion’s
  • Four Queens