We flew in the morning of December 17. I wanted to go all over, so I rented a car, and it had been years since I rented one. I wasn’t aware of the “new” shuttle system to the Rental Car Center. I liked not having to wait for a specific company’s shuttle. I rented from Alamo, and used their Check-In Bypass system to select my car from the lot. We almost took a Dodge Dart, but went for a smaller Chevy Cruze because it had a USB port to charge our phones.
Our first destination was Red Rock National Conservation Area, but I stopped by a Terrible Herbst convenience store (likely influenced by the note in the Wizard’s review of Terrible’s Casino) for water and sunscreen. Along Blue Diamond Drive, I marveled about how much housing was still being constructed in the Vegas area. I was also amused by the many signs on Hwy 159 warning of a $500 fine for feeding wild horses and burros—we didn’t see any (not that I expected to). The fee for entering Red Rock was $7, and the Visitor Center is a fine educational experience. You can hike all day—though I can’t imagine being out there in the summer—or just an hour, like we did. After all, there was gambling to do.
Being Chinese-American, I wanted to check out the new Lucky Dragon Casino. My father-in-law had heard about it—I’m guessing from San Francisco-area television. We headed straight to the food court, called Dragon’s Alley, which is supposed to resemble a street market. Though I’ve never been to Asia, I felt like the area was too sterile-looking to really simulate the experience!
When you arrive at Dragon’s Alley, a hostess takes you to your table, but you go around to the different stations and order food. At some stations, like the stir fry/dim sum area, you get your food as soon as you travel along the cafeteria-style queue. Other stations have food like grilled shrimp skewers or made-to-order noodles, where you have to wait a few minutes. Eventually you go to the check-out line to pay. Fortunately, there were no more than two people in front of us at any of the lines. I would hate to wait in line during busy periods.
When you’re back at your table, the service is quite attentive and friendly. If you want refills of tea or extra napkins, there’s staff nearby. Curiously, there was a photo shoot at the back of the seating area, with a food stylist getting the cuisine camera-ready! We ordered a lot of food, most of which was excellent. The weakest food seemed to be the dim sum. The jook and shrimp skewers were the best.
But to the gambling! I first went to the Players Club desk. (While in line, I noticed the side of what looked like a Bitcoin terminal, similar to an ATM. I wanted to see what that really was, but by the time I got my card, I totally forgot about it.) The promotion for new players is that when you stick your card in a slot or video poker machine, you get a “wheel spin” for “lucky money” from $8 to $888 (8 being a lucky number to many Asians). Not surprisingly, I got $8 in free play.
I played 9-5 JoB (98.45%), and being the cheapskate that I am, stopped after I used my $8 and cashed out with—$8! Mrs. smooth had been playing slots, and we rejoined at the table games. The female dealers who have empty tables do something interesting—they make a waving motion with one arm somewhat similar to what the models on The Price is Right do when a door is opened. Mrs. smooth laughed at the sight and gave the dealers compliments at how elegant and inviting the gesture is. The dealers smiled back as if they were in on the fun.
We chose a $10 EZ Pai Gow table. I asked the pit boss about Pai Gow Tiles, and she said she thinks the casino is trying to get it, but they have to apply and audition for it. However, her tone didn’t instill confidence that her information was wholly accurate. Back to EZ Pai Gow—I had never seen so many side bets for one game. There was the Dynasty Bonus bet, the pai gow protection bet, and the Queen’s Dragon bet, which paid 50-1. I usually avoid side bets (despite my gamblin’ mother-in-law once pressuring me to play the Pai Gow Poker side bet, and winning $100 for me on 4 queens), but Mrs. smooth plays them. She already knows that I think they’re a bad bet, so I usually don’t discourage her, but had to remark that if the payout for the Queen’s Dragon is 50-1, then the true odds are probably something like 60-1 (it’s actually 1.7 in 100). Well, sure enough, she hit it! After nearly an hour of flat-betting the minimum, I finished ahead $11.
Overall, the casino is nice, but aside from the food court, it seemed too quiet for a Saturday. There was liveliness at the center bar, and I asked about some of the more exotic-looking Asian liquor—one was $16/shot! The friendly bartender said he couldn’t comp that one, but could comp me a double shot of Dewar’s—even though I was just playing my $8 free play money. Because there weren’t many people, the cocktail waitresses came by often when we were playing EZ Pai Gow. Later, we went to the second floor and checked out the “VIP” rooms—they all were baccarat, so we passed. I wanted to see the hotel lobby, but there was some walkway to get there, so I didn’t bother. Parking was free. There was no gift shop to bring back souvenirs for our parents. If the games you enjoy are offered at Lucky Dragon, I’d definitely recommend playing there. Without exception, every staff person we met seemed sincerely friendly and helpful—I hope they can keep it up!
We drove to Bellagio, and parked in the self-parking lot. Sadly, it was $10/day to park. The check-in area was crowded, but an attendant calls out to people entering the queue area about the available desk person. We asked about upgraded rooms, and were offered various room upgrades—all for a cost. We declined, and got a northwest room that faced the highway.
After a long nap, we went to dinner downstairs at FIX restaurant. It’s more expensive that what I’m used to—the dish I was eyeing was the $43 scallops. We checked in on Yelp, and both got a free sangria. To be economical, we got the scallops and the $60 three-course meal—shrimp cocktail, steak and lobster, and donut dessert—and shared. I feared three courses would not be enough, so I ordered a $12 vegetable side, and that was just the right amount of food for us. Every dish was finely prepared. The scallops were cooked perfectly. All our servers were friendly and seemed sincere that they wanted us to enjoy our meal. Even a manager came by at one point to check on us. Total bill including tax was $124.
We went over to Planet Hollywood and killed time playing $10 Three Card Poker in the Pleasure Pit. I envisioned the mantra—queen, 6, 4—and finished ahead $40. We discovered the venue for Jennifer Lopez isn’t the upstairs showroom where “Peepshow” was, but rather at the Miracle Mile Shop entrance from the casino, in the AXIS Theater. Britney Spears also performs there.
We bought the general admission “standing room only” tickets, and went to the left-side pit. It’s an outstanding place to see the show up close, if you can stand continuously for about 2 hours. You can see the sweat and pieces of costume fly off the performers at times! If you like getting a good view of J.Lo’s booty, I recommend watching from the left side, because she tends to look either front or stage right. However, at times it felt like she was looking directly at me! Also, everyone has their cell phone and is taking photos or video of the show. I got some great video clips at times, but mostly wanted to enjoy the show “in the moment.”
Right around the 9 p.m. showtime, something was going on behind us in the audience, and everyone turned to see Drake and his entourage enter and be seated in the front-and-center VIP area. Everyone yelled “Drake! Drake!” and we later learned from the news that he and J.Lo were an item. At one point he got up and left with his entourage, but returned, and the show started at 9:20 p.m. The tickets cost $249 plus a Tickemaster service fee and tax, which wound up being $599 total. Ticket costs change based on demand, and a weekday show is usually cheaper. We went to the closing show for 2016, and it was a great show—I would say it’s a very Vegas-style show with costumes both elegant and risqué. She performed her hit songs and others, and I remarked later to Mrs. smooth that it didn’t seem like J.Lo was lip-synching. She responded that she just assumed J.Lo was. I figured that if I fell for the illusion of actual singing, then I’m fine with the performance.
Afterward, we played $1-2 no-limit hold’em at separate tables. I bought in for $100, won some small pots, was ahead about $80, but fell back to about $25 ahead when I played probably my most exciting hand ever. In late position, I got a suited ace-9 of hearts and limped. The big blind raised to $12 and got a few callers. The flop came two hearts, no paint. The raiser made a medium-size bet (maybe $25?), and someone in middle position called. I also called. The turn paired the board with two 6s. The raiser bet $60, the player in middle position thought for awhile, then folded. I had about $85 left, so I knew I’d either be all-in eventually or I’d have to fold. I looked at the all the red chips in the pot—about $135. I didn’t think he had a set. I figured he raised on a high pair, and thought I could win if I got an ace or heart on the river. I called. The river came the 4 of hearts. He bet to put me all-in, and I called. He showed pocket 8s for two pair. I showed my nut flush. The guy in middle position exclaimed that he couldn’t believe he got pushed off a higher two pair. I stacked my chips, played another round, and quit ahead $160.
Being married with children, we walked back to Bellagio at 1 a.m. and slept.
We slept late, then walked over to Paris Casino for lunch at Mon Ami Gabi. If the weather is good, I recommend an outdoor table to also enjoy the Bellagio fountains, which we did. The food was excellent—I had the decadent chicken liver pate appetizer—and the servers were very good despite being so busy.
After lunch, we walked a few steps to bet on the Raiders. Mrs. smooth and I had a mix-up: she doesn’t like betting with a point spread—only for the win. I felt that giving 2.5 points on the road at San Diego was a good bet, but bet the money line: $70 to win $50. She later said I should have bet the point spread if I thought it was a good bet. I said it was an extra $15 to not worry about the point spread. Oakland wound up winning by 3 points, courtesy of a Chargers missed extra point!
We walked around Paris and saw a Pai Gow Tiles table with a $25 minimum. Too rich for my blood, I said, but she said we’ll play together and it’ll only be $12.50/bet. Is it any wonder she’s my sweetie? I showed her how to play a few hands, and we finished ahead $47!
We did some shopping at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. The best free thing to do there is take a photo in the “America!” store at its President of United States podium. Then we drove to shop at the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets.
Afterward, we stopped by the nearby Frankie's Tiki Bar. My first visit here was in March, when I won $100 from quads on Bonus Poker Deluxe. For new players, Frankie’s gives $20 in video poker free play after you sign up and earn enough points, but earning points is ridiculously easy. Mrs. smooth was playing one quarter per hand, and still earned her free play quickly. I enjoyed a tiki drink, and Mrs. smooth got comped a Coke. I played 7/5 BP (98.01%) and finished down $3.75. The mediocre paytable didn’t help, but that’s the price of playing at a fun bar.
We went down the street to CVS pharmacy. They had a little video poker room to the side, and I wanted to check out which games they offered. There was one male player, and a woman attendant in her 60s who was reading a book. She was friendly and explained the “wheel” that could be spun when you get the hand of the day. The wheel was actually some kind of video display activated by a button. Weird.
We neared the Palace Station casino, and I wanted to visit because I always reminisce about the time I took my parents to a Stations casino in the ‘90s and played craps with 25-cent denomination chips. Those were the days! Anyway, after we parked and walked toward the casino, we stopped before we crossed the driveway in front of the entrance. A car was moving somewhat aggressively, so we made sure the driver stopped completely before we proceeded. When we neared the doors, we heard a CRUNCH, turned, and saw the car had taken out someone’s bumper in the valet parking section. The driver sped off.
Palace Station turned out to be our favorite place to play. We discovered their $10 Asia Poker game, which Mrs. smooth immediately became infatuated with. We played for quite some time. Many of the dealer’s hands seemed to cause confusion and elicited much discussion. There’s some kind of device the dealer can check that shows how to set the hand when there’s uncertainty about the house way. We wondered how that thing knows where the cards are—do the cards have some kind of embedded chip? I finished ahead $10, then excused myself to play what I couldn’t pass up: Pai Gow Tiles with a $10 minimum in Las Vegas!
I noticed at Palace Station that many of the dealers, pit bosses, and customers were Asian. Mrs. smooth did too, and asked one of the dealers about it. Apparently, a good chunk of the clientele are local Asians, so the casino has hired Asian staff. I guess it makes sense with Chinatown nearby. Oddly, I had never played Pai Gow Tiles with so many non-Asians. That situation was quite fun, however, because everyone including the dealers all chatted and had a lively time. In Reno, when I did play with other players, I was always the Asian guy who didn’t know what he’s doing. There was less pressure here. And I finished ahead $19! When we came out, security personnel milled around the damaged car.
For dinner, we visited Chinatown, which I hadn’t visited since the 99 Ranch market first opened. We chose Pokeman. There were only two college-age employees in the front making food, and though they were working hard, the wait was long. I finally ordered a sushi burrito, and by luck, they said it was the first day octopus was offered on the menu. The food was outstanding. Or maybe I was just really hungry.
Afterward, we went one block over for my first visit to the Golden Tiki. They didn’t seem to have any kind of new player offer, though I was probably so enchanted by the decor that I forgot to ask. It’s definitely a different vibe from Frankie’s—more wide open. Mrs. smooth got her Tito’s vodka tonic ($6) comped. I played single-coin, 10-cent, 3-handed 6/5 BP Spin Poker (96.87%) and almost lost my buy-in, but finished ahead $1.50, thanks to four aces.
We loved Palace Station so much, we went back. I won another $25 at Pai Gow Tiles. Noteworthy, Palace Station has a side bet for Pai Gow Tiles: Gee Joon and Heaven Pairs—299 to 1; Two Pairs—25 to 1; Gee Joon Pair—8 to 1; Mixed Pair—4 to 1; and Identical Pair—3 to 1. I had signed up for the players club, and thanks to a 3X points on Pai Gow Tiles promotion at the video kiosk, I wound up earning $2.71 in comps. I used it to buy a deck of cards at the gift shop.
We returned to Bellagio, where Mrs. smooth wanted to play slots. Earlier I noticed that one slot machine, Hell on Reels, has the ability to play one line at one cent, so I inserted a dollar and amused myself by playing a true penny slot amid the luxury of Bellagio. In the first six spins, I had two wins of 2 cents. Then, 48 consecutive losses. I finished down 50 cents.
This morning we woke up early—7:30 a.m.—to pack in a full day before we flew out. We bought breakfast at Jean Philippe Patisserie and ate at a table near the spa tower. We watched as a florist meticulously placed fresh flowers into a centerpiece.
We walked to Paris to cash in our football bet. Cha-ching! We played some slots, then walked to Bally's. I played “bubble craps” for the first time and 7-out immediately after making my point. A bad first impression—I lost $8! We saw the Real Bodies Exhibit at the 10 a.m. opening ($38 for two tickets bought at that discount ticket booth near Planet Hollywood). The original Bodies exhibition is at the Luxor casino, but the selling point for the Bally’s exhibit is that you can take pictures. It felt like a well-done museum and art exhibition. I had been avoiding it for years, but Mrs. smooth wanted to see it, and I was pleasantly surprised. Very thought-provoking. The human body is indeed an amazing machine.
Mrs. smooth wanted me to visit the Cosmopolitan Casino’s Chandelier Bar and try the Verbena cocktail, where you bite a flower and take a sip. The sensation is a strong, fizzy sensation on the tongue. I think they even comped the $15 cocktail from our video poker play.
We checked out and went back to Chinatown for some dumplings and soup, and shopping. I also wanted to visit the downtown gambling supply stores. One is huge, and has mostly books and recreational gambling items. The other has more historic items like casino chips, tokens, cancelled cards and dice, and casino-quality equipment. In March, I bought a Pai Gow Poker layout ($45), with Olivia Newton-John’s image, that was used at the Flamingo. No such finds this time.
We visited Palace Station casino one more time. No luck this time. Broke even on No Commission Pai Gow Poker, and lost $20 on both Asia Poker and Pai Gow Tiles. I played a 9-2 when I should have played 6-5, if I recall correctly.
Our last stop was the Las Vegas Premium Outlets South, which is not as nice as the North mall. We went to the rental car return center though I forgot to add gas. Total rental car cost for three days: $96.57. We had dinner at a taqueria inside the gate, then flew back home.
We never did make time to play at the Pinball Hall of Fame, but I visited in March and got my fix. My other hope was to visit El Cortez and play some coin-operated video poker (with good paytables), and maybe Sigma Derby at The D, but it was not to be. All in all, though, a great time.
As far as the hand motion that the dealers were making. I have been in Macau for the last four days and every time we walked past an empty table they made that motion without fail. It is very inviting even when the table they are motioning you to is $3000 minimums lol. Glad you and Mrs. Smooth had such an amazing trip and sounds like you had some luck with the gambling too!
I got sticker shock on the Jlo tix. What the hell do they charge for a seat, if you have to spend 500 to stand? Good grief.
Mrs. smooth has been to Macau as well, and thought the wave seemed familiar—but couldn't remember exactly. She did say the table games had $50 USD minimums. Good luck and fun travels in Macau!
Thanks Grinder! I'm happy you enjoyed my Vegas memories. It definitely was my most activity-packed trip!
Mrs. smooth has been to Macau as well, and thought the wave seemed familiar—but couldn't remember exactly. She did say the table games had $50 USD minimums. Good luck and fun travels in Macau!
Yes the minimums are very high. I'm actually in Malaysia now. Whenever I read about someone doing a Vegas trip like yours I get jealous cause mine are usually very business oriented.
Yes, this trip was definitely trip report-worthy! My trip in March 2016 took me to only a few locations—and included only a bit of gambling.
For J.Lo's show, some of the seats in the back are less expensive than the standing room only tickets, but I definitely recommend being in the pit over being in the back! The least expensive tickets for the pit are $189, I believe, but that'll still be more than $200/ticket after fees and tax! After I bought the tickets, I realized that they cost more than our plane tickets!
Is it too late to add images to my post? I finally got an Imgur account, and uploaded some pics. I'm not seeing an "edit" option!
Easiest for.me would be for you to quote yourself into a pm, insert the images where you want them, with the formatting, and I'll do a wholesale copy/paste. But try it yourself first.
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But no problem dropping $600 for J.Lo. That cracked me up. Nice report though.