The Fiesta Rancho is located at the intersection of Rancho Dr. and Lake Mead Blvd. in North Las Vegas, near the North Las Vegas airport. The property occupies an entire square block, and has plenty of outside and garage parking. There is a small hotel attached to the casino, as well as an ice rink.
The FR started life as the Fiesta, owned by George Maloof. From the get-go, it was structured as a "locals' joint", particularly with its huge array of full-pay video poker. In fact, its motto, as shown by a sign out front that is still there, was that it was "The Royal Flush Capital of the World". Of course, no Royal Flush Parliament or Congress ever met there, and there was never any presiding Royal Flush President, King or Queen, so that claim seems dubious. Anyway, Maloof made the Palms thrive by offering the best paybacks available on machines (slots, as well as video poker, were set to the highest available paybacks), a generous slot club, and a good, inexpensive buffet (you could generally play .25 VP or slots for a few hours and earn enough points for a buffet).
Unfortunately, the Fiesta's success attracted the ravenous eye of Stations, which bought the casino in 2001 and proceeded to "Stationize" it. (Maloof used the proceeds to build his dream baby, the Palms.) Stations had a bit more trouble Stationizing the Fiesta than it did other properties; the locals howled in protest as the video poker inventory was gradually gutted and the slot club was drastically tightened up. In particular, the removal of Las Vegas' only full-pay Deuces Wild progressive bank caused mass suicides, ritual disembowelments, and several players set themselves on fire in front of the slot club. (The Palms now has the only FPDW progressive in town.) The situation at present is that the FR is now (just) another Stations property, which is only sorta kinda a bad thing these days.
It is interesting that when Stations ate the Fiesta and the Reserve in Henderson, they named the latter for the city it was in, but they did not rename the former "Fiesta North Las Vegas". This is because North Las Vegas has about the same cachet as, say, East St. Louis, or maybe Calcutta. It is not a fun place, particularly the area between the FR and downtown Las Vegas. For this reason, and because of its geographical isolation relative to other Vegas Valley attractions, the FR attracts very, very few non-local customers (most visitors don't even know it exists, in fact). This, in turn, is the reason for the very small hotel (it almost seems like an afterthought), and the reason why the rates at that hotel are so low.
FR doesn't have as many video poker games as it used to, but it still has quite a few. However, most of those games are garbage. There are exceptions: there are several banks of "Optimum" or "Fiesta 100%" games scattered around the casino, offering positive games such as full-pay Deuces Wild, 10/7 Double Bonus. 10/6 Double Double Bonus, and 20/7 Joker Wild. These machines earn the player virtually no slot club points, resulting in a comp rate of four cents ($0.04) for every hundred dollars played. Negative expectation VP and slots earn a titanic $0.16 for every $100 played. This means that someone playing .25 full-pay Deuces Wild would have to run $15,000 through the machines in order to earn enough points for a lunch buffet.
I hasten to add that the existence of full-pay video poker in any form puts the FR near the top of the VP list these days. The slot club returns are pathetic, however.
The FR has one small games pit, in the "middle" section (the casino floor is divided up into three segments, arranged in a relatively straight horizontal line). They deal $3 minimum autoshuffler blackjack with downtown Vegas rules (H17), as well as some 6:5 single and double deck horrors. Currently, their primary game is a double-deck, $5 minimum, 3:2 offering. There is one crap table with $3 minimums ($5 on weekends), a $2 minimum roulette table, and a $5 minimum Pai Gow Poker table.
The FR has a smallish bingo parlor attached to the "upstairs" section. The payouts are pretty generous, considering that the games are small. They play every odd hour from 9 A.M. to 11 P.M. (this schedule varies). Buyins are as low as $5, but you can buy as many cards as you want, and daub yourself into a stupor. See my visit narrative below for more details.
The FR has a fairly large and quite nice sports book. They cater to the locals' action here, and offer good odds (dime lines) on baseball and football, as well as some innovative parlay cards. On football weekends, the place is filled with bettors screaming at the various TV screens, as if they could somehow influence games being played 2,000 miles away. It is common to see someone walking around aimlessly, holding a beer, and mumbling about those damn Bears who couldn't even cover a 3-point spread. Bet minimums are as low as $5 on sides and $2 on parlay cards. Drink service is pretty good, which means that for just a few bucks, you, too, can get drunk and scream at little images of football players scampering back and forth on a TV screen.
One interesting feature is the drive-thru window, which is very much like a bank drive-up, with the pneumatic tubes and the little document carriers. It's open on weekends, and also before any major sporting event.
The buffet is your basic downscale buffet, with prices under $10 (sometimes, well under) and a medium-to-good-quality series of offerings. There is the usual selection of Mexican, American, Italian, Asian, etc. with a Mongolian grill station as well. Service is okay-to-good, with waits to get seated sometimes stretching into the interminable, even when there appear to be plenty of empty tables.
There is a Denny's, a McDonald's, a Panda Express, and a Subway. Several restrooms are conveniently located nearby. $6.99 gets you a lotta breakfast at Denny's.
The restaurant really worth mentioning is Garduno's/The Blue Agave Cantina. This is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Vegas, and many people apparently agree with me, since it has won several "Best of Vegas" awards from the Review-Journal over the years. The focus of the cuisine is "New Mexican", as in, from New Mexico. New Mexican is lighter and more green-chile oriented than Texican, Sonoran, or Cal-Mex (the other three regional Mexican "border cuisines"). In fact, this is the only place I've found that will serve up a good "bowl of green" (green chile chicken or beef stew) with sopapillas. They also do things with margaritas that are dangerous to your personal equilibrium, but oh so good...(SLURP!). Also, they serve many premium tequilas (and tequila is one of the most nuanced and varied liquors in the world). Prices are moderate to medium-high, with entrees in the $9-18 range.
I stayed at the FR on December 17-18, 2010. My room rate came to $27/night, inclusive of the $11.99 "hotel services fee" (which meant that the base rate was about $15). For that, I got a smallish but comfortable room, and the fee that I paid gave me ethernet internet access, which meant it was almost worth it. I was thirty paces from the front desk, on the first floor.
The pool had a sign on the gate: "Closed for Season", "season" being, apparently, "the time when nobody in their right mind would want to go swimming". Nevertheless, here is a photo of the closed pool:
The Fiesta Rancho is one of the few casinos with an ice skating rink. I forgot to try it out but the Wizard took this picture when he was there.
I decided to play some of the "Fiesta 100% Return" machines, switching from Deuces Wild to Double Bonus to Double Double Bonus. I got shredded. Five hours of play netted a $400 loss, which was pretty bad, considering I was alternating between .10 and .25 denominations. The machines never seemed to understand the basic concept that when I held the A, Q, J, and 10 of spades and drew one card, I was NOT supposed to receive the 3 of diamonds. They also seemed to think that "four of a kind" meant four clubs and one spade. Anyway, I limped away from the VP machines, nursing my wounds, and went to the blackjack table:
There was only one game that had any players: the $3 shoe game with an autoshuffler. Since it is impossible to beat this game, I bought $40 and sat down, determined to bet the minimum and suck up $400 worth of free drinks to make up for my VP losses. The dealer was very friendly, and the players were a goofy bunch, playing the game about as well as your pet Schnauzer might, but enjoying it more (the guy who kept doubling on hard 12 couldn't figure out why that wasn't working). I, on the other hand, was cutting a swath through the game like a million-strong herd of buffalo rampaging across the prairie. In the space of two hours, I amassed a fortune of $80 in one-dollar chips. This meant that I only had to consume $320 worth of drinks to achieve evenness, but I fell short of that goal. I belched, cashed out, toked the dealer again, and lurched over to the:
BINGO ROOM! (Or, as local dialect went, the BEEEEEEEENGO Room.) A $5 buyin and a free blue book coupon equipped me to do battle with all the flinty-eyed, blue-haired LOLs who eyeballed me suspiciously when I entered the room without the assistance of a walker or an oxygen tank. There were only about 70 or so players in the room--it was only about 1/3 full--but my opponents had come to play. The first game featured an extra prize, but it was obvious after the first few numbers that I had no chance. I took this opportunity to look around the room and observe; everyone other than myself was transfixed in furious concentration, THUMPing their daubers onto the paper with spiteful vigor. Finally, one particularly tiny but leather-lunged LOL hollered "BEEEENGO!", and all the other players mumbled "%^$#@#$^!!!!!!!!!!" (use your imagination). The next few games were regular bingo, and went by pretty quickly--usually it took less than ten numbers to find a winner. The baleful glares the winners received would have vaporized any ordinary human being like a Star Trek phaser beam, but these LOLs were hardened. Finally came the magical Game Seven. I daubed a few numbers, then realized that O-71 was the number I needed for the promised land. A breathless pause, then the caller intoned: "O-71". "BINGO!" I shouted. "BEEEENGO!" shouted a nearby LOL. We whirled around and glared at each other as we each realized that we would have to split the $100 prize. Everyone else glared at us, she stuck her tongue out at me, and I gave her the finger. I failed to win any subsequent games, but marched out, head held high, ducking thrown daubers, $45 to the good.
The Fiesta Henderson is a low-roller property without a showroom, dancing girls, tattoo parlor, spa, or High Limit Lounge with $100 minimum tables. What it is, however, is a place where you could actually go with a $100-200/day budget and have a good time. It's patronized by locals who like the $6.99 buffet, the $3 table minimums, and the friendly nickel slots and VP. It is about as far from the classic glitzy "Vegas experience" that the tourists expect as you can get, but that's kind of the whole point.
The Wizard would like to thank Kevin L. for the review and Lisa Furman for modeling in some of the pictures. Lisa invites you to visit her page at ModelMayhem.com.
Address: 2400 North Rancho Drive, North Las Vegas, NV 89130
Web site: fiestarancholasvegas.com
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