Posted by smoothgrh
Oct 03, 2021

1991 Vegas trip photos

I found some photos from my first Las Vegas visit in 1991.

I remember standing in front to the hotel sign for several minutes waiting for the messages to cycle so I could get a shot of "Las Vegas Collegiate Invitational" — the bowling tournament that was the reason I was visiting Vegas.

The Excalibur, only 18 months old, looked quite shiny and pristine.

Posted by smoothgrh
Sep 11, 2021

1997 receipt

I probably won't blog about my 1997 Las Vegas visit until next year, but I found one of my receipts from that trip.

It's from the Smith's across the street from the Ethel M Chocolate Factory in Henderson. I'm guessing I completed my film roll, then went to their one-hour photo.

I wonder if I got "double prints."

Posted by smoothgrh
Jul 21, 2021

July 1996: Third Vegas Visit

I had so much fun in Las Vegas with my college friends that I decided I had to take my parents. They fostered my love for casinos by taking me on summer vacation trips to Reno-Tahoe. And they probably hadn't visited Vegas since the early 1960s — after their first visit on their 1954 honeymoon.

We stayed in July 1996 at the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino, which was less than a month old. My parents were always frugal, and we always stayed at motels or budget hotels, so to them (and me) the lavishly decorated lobby upon entering seemed like luxury. Of course, the Monte Carlo was always a mid-priced resort — but to us, it was so new and elegant.

At the time, the hype about the Monte Carlo was its European-style single-zero roulette wheel, but we weren't roulette players.

I took them to most of the same spots that I had visited a few months earlier: the new Chinatown, Ethel M Chocolate Factory, and the downtown Gambler's General Store.

I figured they'd love the Backstage Tour for the Tropicana's Folies Bergere show — they did, and they also loved the actual show that we saw afterward. My mom once told me that she and my dad went with his parents in the late '50s to see the shows that featured topless showgirls. She had sort of a side-eye tone describing it, but I do think she enjoyed it as well.

We also visited the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Movie Museum. My mom knew all about the drama with Ms. Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor back in the day. We examined the memorabilia and artifacts, but for this visit, I also got tickets to see Ms. Reynolds' show. We all loved it. It was a cabaret-style show with songs from the Great American Songbook, Singin' in the Rain, Tammy, and other movies. It was the kind of show where they make it seem like it's the first time she and the band had done it, but they've of course rehearsed and performed it hundreds of times. Afterwards, she posed for pictures with audience members and signed autographs. What a class act and an amazing experience for her fans!

We walked around Downtown and wandered into the Horseshoe Casino. My dad and I had taught ourselves how to play craps, and we were amazed at how many craps tables we saw. There must have been a dozen! The most we had ever seen in a casino was three, maybe four. So we played, of course. I remember sweating my double-odds on a 10 point, but it hit! We all took a picture with the famous $1,000,000 in $10,000 bills.

Our other craps story is that we found ourselves at one of the Stations casinos (I can't remember which one). They still were using 25-cent denomination chips for craps, which surprised me. So we had to play! Though it seemed like we were playing for small potatoes, I loved the novelty of it. I wish I had kept some of those chips.

The Stratosphere Casino had opened less than 2 months before our visit, so it was one of our stops. I remember walking up a long incline ramp to get to the elevators. I have not returned after all these years! We took lots of pictures, including some great views of all the Las Vegas Strip construction. It was an exciting period for Vegas, and we would return three times in the next four years.


harveywalters Jul 23, 2021

Very atmospheric article and photo, I love trips to Vegas

odiousgambit Jul 24, 2021

I see something was paid for with a traveler's check, definitely a blast from the past

smoothgrh Jul 24, 2021

Oh yeah, I also noticed that I paid with a traveler's check. I'm not sure why I had those. I guess I had a AAA membership, which included service for travelers checks, so I thought it was the "grown up" thing to have. I hadn't traveled much by plane at that point.

I'm curious about whether the cost of casino supplies have gone up. How much does it cost for a cut card these days? According to, they're still 25 cents each!

Posted by smoothgrh
Apr 06, 2021

1981 Oakland A's

The Oakland Athletics' 0-6 start to the 2021 season is the opposite of 40 years ago, the most exciting time for me as an A's fan, when the team had a then-MLB record 11-0 start.

Having started following baseball and my hometown A's around 1978 and 1979, I was disappointed that "my" team was so terrible, posting records of 69-93 and 54-108 respectively. Especially after seeing my brother's programs and scorecards from their 1972-1973-1974 World Series championship years. But 1980 was different: Billy Martin, the Yankees legend and local hero, came in to manage and create "BillyBall" — an exciting brand of baseball featuring plenty of double-steals, hit-and-runs, hidden-ball tricks, suicide squeezes, and even steals of home! Future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson, in his first full season, stole a phenomenal 100 bases.

Matt Keough, who recently passed away, went from being a 2-17 pitcher to posting a 16-13 record and earning a Comeback Player of the Year award. Brian Kingman counterintuitively was good enough to lose 20 games for a winning team. But the biggest pitching accomplishment was the 5-man rotation of Mike Norris, Rick Langford, Keough, Steve McCatty, and Kingman combining for 94 complete games. 94 complete games in a 162-game season!

Despite the resurgence, the A's finished the 1980 season with a 83-79 record, merely good enough for 2nd place in the AL West.

So the 1981 season started with great optimism, especially with that 11-0 record. We'll never know how that rotation would have fared over another full season because that was the infamous strike year that created two halves and a division playoff. Though the A's swept the Kansas City Royals 3-0, they were then swept by the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

The A's wouldn't generate the same kind of excitement again until 1986, when Jose Canseco won Rookie of the Year, followed by Mark McGwire also winning the award — and an eventual 1989 World Series title.


billryan Apr 07, 2021

What a strange season. The Yankees won the first half of their season and seemed to sleepwalk thru the second.

The A's had the best young outfield in baseball, although it didn't quite pan out for them.

I'm sorry to hear Matt Keough passed away, he was one of my favorite non-Yankees of that era.

If I recall correctly, the Reds finished with the best record in baseball but didn't qualify for the expanded playoffs. Some owners loved the two halves format but luckily not enough to make it a regular thing.

smoothgrh Apr 08, 2021

I seem to recall some team got screwed because of that playoff format — didn't remember that it was the Reds.

The owners eventually did get an expanded format with the Wild Card. Seems quaint now that there was once a time when you just had to have the best league record to get into the World Series.

The Wild Card format is better than two halves. I always wondered: what would have happened had the A's won both halves?

Posted by smoothgrh
Mar 27, 2021

March 1996: Second Vegas Visit

In March 1996, I visited Las Vegas for the second time, but this trip was really my first time experiencing all that Vegas had to offer after being there mainly for bowling. It was a boom time for Vegas. Within the past three years, new casinos to open included Luxor, Treasure Island, and the newly remodeled MGM Grand. The Stratosphere and Monte Carlo would open within months. Later that summer, the Chevy Chase Vegas Vacation movie was filmed throughout the area and Clark Griswold would extoll Las Vegas as a “family friendly” destination.

My college friends and I converged for somewhat of a 5-year reunion. I was eager not only to see them again, but because I now had a full-time job and entertainment money, I also wanted to enjoy all the Vegas excitement. I did lots of research on a new thing called the “World Wide Web.”

I planned my trip so that I’d be the first to arrive and last to leave. My planning must have been bad, because after flying in to McCarran, I took a bus up Maryland Parkway to get to the AAA office on W Charleston, when it was located near Valley View Blvd. I got a car rental coupon, and somehow rented a car somewhere.

We stayed at the Flamingo, but I remember very little about the hotel aside from a long hallway with vendor kiosks and several stands for brightly colored parrots.

One friend and I were both fans of the movie “Singin’ in the Rain,” and so I suggested we visit the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Casino, which opened in 1993, with her movie museum opening in 1995. For classic movie buffs like us, the lobby filled with artifacts was a delight. The quiet casino floor music was an amazing mix of instrumental swing music that I’d never heard before — they were swingin’ but not American songbook standards.

I tried my luck at some slot machines, maybe $10 or $20, but no winning. We visited the gift shop and talked to the employees. Ms. Reynolds would be happy to sign autographs for us when she came in, we were told, so we both bought paperback copies of her autobiography and gave the staff our names.

The next morning when we returned, all the slot machines were gone! Leasing the slot machines was costing the hotel thousands of dollars each day, we were told. The Las Vegas Sun later reported that their removal was due to a contract dispute. I bought a deck of canceled playing cards without really thinking that the hotel also had live blackjack at one point. Ms. Reynolds hadn’t stopped in to sign the books we bought, so we left our addresses and the books would be mailed to us. We never received them. Less than two years later, the hotel filed for bankruptcy.

Our group saw plenty of Las Vegas sights. We ate lunch at Chinatown, which had opened just a year earlier. We visited the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Garden in Henderson. At the Tropicana, we got the Folies Bergere “backstage” tour and had so much fun — hearing a performer’s stories and posing for pictures wearing showgirl hats — we bought tickets to the show. (I’m pretty sure now that the room with costumes and hats was designated specifically for the tour.)

At night, we wandered through the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and waited a long time to get dinner at Planet Hollywood Restaurant, back when it was just a restaurant chain.

The only other gambling that I remember is when our group took over a roulette table. Because I had always favored blackjack, I recall feeling that roulette wasn’t a good bet. But never had I been with a group that made a table our own private game. I think only one of us actually finished a winner, but the camaraderie and memory were (possibly?) worth the price of entertainment.

We spent most of the second day at the MGM Grand. Back then, it had the infamous “lion’s mouth” entrance, the Land of Oz-themed casino, a lion habitat, and the Grand Adventures Theme Park. The gift shop was huge, and we took pictures of each other wearing Wizard of Oz-themed hats. The shopping arcade had one of those photo studios where you get your picture superimposed on a magazine cover.

We finally made it to the theme park, and recently watching YouTube videos of it reminded me that it was decently sized to spend half a day. Coming from California, I misremembered the park as being really small. I particularly thought the main roller coaster was a very short ride. At one point, we saw a trio of ragtime musicians performing, and I requested they play “Hold That Tiger” (actually titled “Tiger Rag”), which they obliged! I don’t remember watching the pirate stunt show, so my photos and the YouTube video jogged my memory. Also from my photos, I now remember they did a pretty good job with certain themes, like New York City. Less than a year later, the New York New York Hotel & Casino would open across the street.

For dinner, because of my research, we visited the Rio and had dinner at the Carnival World Buffet. At the time, it was amazing and unique because of its quality food and different cuisine stations. Over the years, other buffets adopted similar setups and, based on reviews, the Rio’s food quality went downhill.

My friends left Vegas on Saturday morning before checkout time, but I was taking the last flight home. So with my rental car, I went all over. First, I had my most extravagant lunch ever — possibly still to this day, based on inflation: a $45 sushi lunch at Hamada of Japan at the Flamingo. As the only person sitting at the sushi bar, I noticed that when I ordered sake and more sushi, the chef’s demeanor toward me changed from neutral to positive. So I got the feeling of what being a big spender was like!

I went downtown to the Gambler’s General Store and bought a craps stick. Back home, I would teach my dad how to play craps, as he was eager to learn. I think he knew the basic game, but was happy to learn about all the seemingly confusing bets in the middle. I taught them that they’re bad bets, though. We would put our craps skills to use on our next visit together.

Finally, I went to Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas Stars minor league baseball team. It was Big League Weekend, and MLB teams were in town for their final spring training games. Fun minor-league atmosphere! I bought a tee-shirt with a $100 bill and asked the vendor if that was OK. She replied that they’re used to seeing those all the time.

I loved everything about Las Vegas, and 3 days and 2 nights weren't enough. The time between my next visit would be only four months…


RyanPerry Sep 18, 2021

It grows and changes for the better, along with it, the love for this place grows.