General ambiance and check-in
20 minute ride from SkyHabor Airport. Cab is $45 + tip, limo $60 plus tip. Or overpay on a rent-a-car. The ride shows a flat sprawling valley city, typical of the South West, but with – of all things, Housing communities that were built going UP the side of the local mountains. I guess that makes sense, since the view is important, and the fact that it doesn’t snow in this neck of the woods (or desert). A 4 x 4 wouldn’t save if it did. We (Dan and the Mrs.) elected the cheap 55 minute flight versus the 5-hour/300-mile drive each way. Yes, the flight costs more when you get 35mpg highway, plus cab. Skyharbor airport to Talking Stick:
- Cab: $55 with normal tip, $46 with AP tipping. ;)
- Limo: similar; $65 with tip.
No shortage of bell caps to whisk you in; check in was a breeze, and would have been painless except for the fact that there are no smoking rooms or suites. “We have an outdoor smoking lounge on the casino level across from the Heritage Museum for you
dinosaurssmokers. Okay, I got it. I also got a 20 pack of 4mg Nicorette gum.
Regular rooms are small, but wonderfully appointed; I personally expect at least a studio-sized apartment room at fancy joints, but such is not the case. Little matter, actually, as they were comfortable and classy. I was going to get a single King size bed, but my wife quickly blurts out: “Separate beds, please! - and a NO smoking room!” Boom, she was that quick. (The female registration clerk gives me that quick “tart-tasting pressed lips” smirking glance: “oh REALLY now…I see…the wife is pissed…..”) Surprisingly, many rooms had this configuration, few Honeymooners here. We got room #1111, on the eleventh floor. (Is this binary, or two Yo’s, I wonder….I think It’s gonna be lucky. And it was, for a while…)
Plenty of heavy Rosewood/Mahogany all over the place, Huge flat-screen TV, (and Free Wi-Fi for your laptop so you can check in at WOV!) Redwood wooden window blinds, a bathroom almost the size of main room with separate tub and huge glass shower stall – and OH! - the showerhead gave a WATRFALL-like downstream of perfect temperature and envelopment, like showering in your own personal waterfall. Jerry Seinfeld would have had a field day with this on his show.
They have a full spa (facial, massage, etc.), but that’s for the Mrs., being old school. The shower was plenty spa enough for man, here. Here are some pictures of the Property (Atrium, Casino Level Walkway, etc.)
Big. Surrounded by upscale bars galore. And busy all the time. It is very much like a large, jammed up, and true gambling hall, like the Orleans or the Venetian, I love to see this. Classy, and quiet enough to hold a conversation, but noisy enough to have a sense of energy and activity. No need for blaring disco or rock music, the pit is pure gambling action, and the bars social action. Clientele were middle/upper middle class Americans or Asian-Americans, with a smattering of young frat/jock types occasionally getting out of control, corralled and spoken to by security, with seemingly little AP play. Some may wishfully say, “They were there, but they were so awesome, beautiful, and competent that they were under the radar,” while others may say “the place is discreetly very tight and very strict with them in that department,” – with your particular “camp’s side” braggadocio on this issue making the unverifiable call. In this regard, things are different in an Indian Nation Casino than with a casino on forked tongue American soil. One would rather face a Nevada back-off than face a Chief “I don’t Play Tomahawk” Judge, in case of some incident. I wouldn’t get slick in an American Indian jurisdiction casino. You’re here for play, not work, unless you’re in a uniform or in a suit on the floor. The dealers here “go for their own [tips],” carrying their toke boxes around table to table. Dealers would clearly prefer to deal Three Card poker, where every straight or better won by a player generally gets a throw in and a fist-pump, and where the Pairs Plus and ANTE often have white up for the dealers – with tipping being contagious on a happy and hot three Card Poker table. Straight-up even money games like BJ and Pai Gow Poker games are a little tougher for the crew to make tokes on. I tipped red on Pai Gow Poker, on the main bet, and got fine acknowledgement for it. Dealers appreciate your fine consideration here, and show it. Polite, friendly, engaging, and warm dealers can do very well providing service. Floormen know this business, and are courteous also. Comps are moderate, as it is a busy green-action place with no shortage of business; it is very well run, with correctly dealt games and an absence of overt floor issues or incidents. The jammed-packed Friday and Saturday nights before New Year’s had smooth busy play with no visible incidents or Law enforcement needed, just legions of well-behaved people enjoying the weekend nights. In this regard, TSR is similar to upscale Vegas places like Red Rock, The Venetian, or Green Valley Ranch. The pit has 50 tables or so, including:
Blackjack Shoes and pitch, 3:2, BJ being about 50%-60% of the total tables, with all tables standardizing on Lucky Ladies side bet, and two tables using the SHFL/Bally progressive based on the dealer’s length of hand, (a renamed/variation of Hit-and-Run?) CSM’s were basically not to be seen. (YEAH!!) Lucky Ladies got some action, but the SHFL progressive was silent, essentially frozen at $2,814.86 for the four days I was there. In SHFL’s defense (not that they really deserve a defense….), it is VERY hard to create a good progressive for BJ, and this is proven in the fact that they just can’t seem to really catch on no matter how hard the industry tries. I believe that this is due to fact that:
- On a fast game, the top-heavy pay tables just attrit you all that much quicker, or;
- on a bottom-heavy pay table, the game just gets heavily bogged down with frequent chump-change payouts, and;
- Blackjack Players are there to play BLACKJACK, not side bets all that much, and especially not progressives.
Pai Gow Poker was composed of two tables, both EZ Pai Gow, and both busy as hell. Most times I couldn’t get a seat, or if I did, I was told to put out my cigarette by other players to be allowed to stay. Some PG aspects – and these are the Talking Stick “Internal Control” pit rules, not the EZ Pai Gow rules, but it is the Casino Operator who makes the “IC” pit rules and final configuration of a particular table game:
- The bonus bet was standard Dynasty (same-same as Fortune/Emperor’s Treasure);
- The “negative” side bet was not Pai Gow Protection/Insurance, but the Queen’s Dragon 50:1 on a dealer’s Queen-high. I played it for 15 hands straight, then gave up, only to see the dealer nail a Queen-high Pai Gow next hand, with my full House pushing. I dislike this bet in favor of the Insurance bet, but was asked to create it/provide it at Earle Hall’s request years ago, to be more “EZ Baccarat-like.” Guhrr….No one played that bet, but all played the Dynasty bonus bet.
- Progressive was DEQ’s “two-way” G3, to bet either or both the dealer’s hand and the player’s hand for a monster hand. Bet $1 to $5 each side via a little keypad located by each player’s position. Meter was at $210,000, we were salivating. I bet on the dealer’s hand, and got $75 when he had four 7’s. He SPLIT the 7’s in spite of a King for the top. An OCD-level fine point and trivial Pai Gow poker misplay, as players splitting Jacks and Tens like hands beat the house. Dealers had some problem with the G3 dealer interface when a big hand hit. (“Jesus, What f**king button do I press now? Control-Alternate-F7, or F3 twice? HELP!! FLOOR!!! WTF….Can they [DEQ] spend Five dollars per unit and get a friggin’ touch screen Interface on this thing, or what!!....They did bitch, I have to admit.) We know about this, and DEQ now offers “Light-up Hockey Puck dollar” betting spots in front of the player’s area, in conjunction with the G3 keypad at the player’s area, with 3-press operation on the Dealer’s keypad, reduced from 9 keystrokes, to pay a player. Big help. Still, a Bally Technology type touch screen dealer Interface would make its use a breeze.
- No banking, no dragon hand, though you may play two hands.
- Table min = $15 tables, but $5 on Monday mornings 5AM to 7AM. Not really, but only during graveyard conditions do the limits drop from $15. All tables are like that, this place is wonderfully busy, lovely to see.
- If you’re playing two hands, the second hand is set by dealer to the house way.
- House way splits two pairs 7’s – 10’s even with an Ace available for the top. Good play with Ace-low, bad play with AJ, AQ, or AK for the top.
No Crap Tables here! Damn! They had instead these Automated “Bubble Crap Game Machines,” (Interblock, Aruze type), along with their Automated roulette game counterparts. Small 3” dice cubes instead of the big 6” dice cubes. A disembodied “2001 Space Odyssey” type female voice would eerily announce “Six, Easyway Six, No Field, down behind the Six…” Just Creepy….automated table games are just unAmerican…..In TSR’s defense, It is very hard to find both reliable crap dealers, as well as well-behaved crap players when on a live dice game, so the Bubble Crap Game Machine saves on dealer expenses, and enforces good behavior from the players, as you cannot take shots or argue calls against Miss 2001 Space Odyssey Computer Voice. She might say, if you try to slap the CyberBubble: “Warning to player at position #6….the Robot Police of CyberTron will arrive shortly…shortly…shortly….” Three Card Poker. Okay, now we’re talking. I had a good 2nd session on it, as I played it whenever both EZ Pai Gow tables were full, which was typical. Three Cad Poker was also full, with me usually getting the LAST available east. Had a bad first session, and a good 2nd session on it the following day, where all I got when I won was Straights, pairs, and trip 10’s. I LIKE 3CP as a fun game to play; they had some UNUSUAL Ante bonuses, Paying something 50-1 on a mini Royal, 10-1 on a Straight Flush, 8-1 on trips [not sure in hindsight, lost my notes], with no pay on a plain-Jane straight. This makes big hands really big.
Carnival Games. A politically incorrect term for new game variants. Not many here, but they included at TSR:
- Casino War. Okay, enough said.
- Let it Ride. An Ancient Standard that, like Caribbean Stud, is way long in the tooth.
- The big Poker Game at Talking Stick Resort with two tables was World Poker Tour 3x Hold 'em. An interesting and Gonzo “Chunk or Fold” Casino-banked poker game with a miniscule house edge being typical on swing shift evening hours. A fine Galaxy product that has found a home at this fine place. Having waiting lists for a pit game is a powerful statement.
- No Crazy-4-Poker, Four Card Poker, UTH, or Mississippi Stud offered here. No comment on this, but their Army may soon arrive…. Slots. I am a table games kind of guy, but slot machines were huge on the floor, there are about 700 machines. And let me tell you, there were VERY FEW open-seat gaps to get onto a machine. See TSR slot page for some of their offerings. I have never previously seen 3 out of 4 slot machines on the entire floor filled wall-to-wall in the entire joint. Caught my attention. My wife was playing 25¢ a hand on a cherry machine (some sort of lucky 7’s) and she hit for $1,000, just low enough to avoid a 1099-G. The machine went “Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding…” for 17 minutes. Music to her ears. Some 4,000 to 1 pay off. (If I were playing with what I bet, I would have spent hours at the local IRS office filling out forms…just right as the situation was.) She later that night then announces:
- “Dan, that’s it! This $1,000 is locked up to bring back to Vegas, to pay bills and to go shopping for me, as I won, and for our bills, that kind of stuff, you know, - AND WE’VE GOT TO BE RESPONSIBLE - OF COURSE! - So I will hold it. I don’t want to hear crap from you, if you bust out on the tables! We OF COURSE can’t have an irresponsible gambling husband manage the money when we are supposed to be responsible. You Got that??!!” I just look at my baby and say “Okay.”
- I say, “Show me the machine, the Lucky Sevens.” I push $60 into it, but at $4.25 a hand. When down to $10, I hit for $200, and cash out. I give her the cash-out ticket, and now say, “Great, we’ll take $1,200 up back to Vegas. So Lock it up now, Mrs. Responsible.”
- We eat at the Blue Coyote Restaurant for a second time (the first time was with Roy Ritner, a game inventor, great guy, and an ex-dealer of TSR.) Then we go upstairs, watch a movie, and go to sleep.
- Now….at like 6AM, the Mrs. Wakes up, and comes up with THE BRILLIANT IDEA of INCREASING OUR BANKROLL BY PLAYING MORE, of course, and sneaks out the pit and SHE FEEDS ZE MACHINES BIG TIME.
- She comes back at 11AM, saying, “I sorry Tee-Lak, I try to win more for us, but I lose…” I say, “Not a problem sweetness baby, good thing you’re such an excellent money manager that I stashed cab fare to the airport, and paid for round trip airfare. Steve will pick us up at McCarran and take us home, I called.” This is how gambling errors are handled in my house hold, with love and NO arguing, as we are gamblers, and bills are pre-paid first and foremost, so we don’t have an argument if losing casino winnings after bills are paid. Life money comes first, and so paying bills early is like doing your homework on Friday night, - you have the “weekend” to play, win or lose or break a leg. Of course, if she had hit a big one, she would have been Mrs. Jean Scott over here, the Guru of slots, telling me “I tole you baby, I am the “srot” master!” Adorable. What the hell, I love her dearly. Never a reason to get nasty, just pay off all the important stuff first, and just use fun money, which was winnings, really. I’d be a fool to either worry about it, or let her really control the bank.
- The last day there I spent in the outdoor smoking lounge, finishing the book The Wolf of Wall Street, by Jordan Belfort. Quite a read, reads like a Tom Wolfe novel, really. Jordan Belfort is a total drug, adrenaline and money addict, nice Jewish boy from Bayside, Queens, NYC, and Long Island, who did some serious AP-like Wall Street shit, and lived to tell the tale. My wife’s slot play helps increase my literacy. [BTW, it’s pronounced “LongGiland,” not “Long Island” - one word – in the Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn outer-borough “NYJ” accent that I cannot seem to shake also.] As rich as he was, and as brilliant a salesman he is, the chickens finally came home to Roost, as his father Max repeated warned him. Quite a ride, but the book made me feel SO functional and so timid middle-class, which is fine. He was a Wall Street “AP Player” par excellence, and like many, he sadly got backed off in the end. (Aww….) I did consider the book gambling literature – and it was. I was there for four days to gamble and eat, but I didn’t use their golf course, their tower club nightclubs, or their Spa. Maybe next time, but then, I gambled and dined. All in all, a good trip at a great place.
- Address: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85256
- Phone: (480) 850-7777
- Web site: talkingstickresort.com