Posted by smoothgrh
Jan 10, 2023

Free Bird Show circa 2004

I found a souvenir that I likely collected from one of my Las Vegas trips in the 2000s.

I thought the birds were at the Flamingo, not at the Tropicana. But I'm probably misremembering. I remember a long hall that had parrot stands and also kiosks with people selling various items, kind of like at the mall. Anyone remember that?

And I noticed a Twitter post from 2019 that mentioned how someone shared this ad with animal trainer Tiana Carroll and she enjoyed it:


100xOdds Jan 11, 2023

I remember it.

Used to go there every time i went to Vegas (2001-2010).

The next time i was in Vegas was 2015 and i dont think the show was there.

Yes, Tropicana.

Also, remember walking across the street to the Monte Carlos every time for the free aerial show.

It was neat when they added a cocktail waitress (?) to the act in the later years.

smoothgrh Jan 11, 2023

Thanks for jogging my memory! I stayed at the Tropicana in 2004 and 2007, so I probably picked up this card on those trips, which would explain why it wasn't with my 1990s souvenirs. (I updated the blog title!)

A free bird show — seems like a simpler time in Vegas. Though the Flamingo does still have its free flamingo habitat and keeper talk. Unfortunately, the avian flu that was going on meant the flamingos were relocated from the site when I visited in November 2022.

Posted by smoothgrh
Dec 25, 2022

July 1997: Fifth Vegas Visit

I visited Vegas only once in 1997. Then, I was deeply interested in pinball, having bought my first machine, Eight Ball Deluxe, for $1,000. I was taking trips to play pinball, including a few arcades in Los Angeles that had games not in my area. I visited an L.A. shop that sold vintage pinball machines and arcade games called Fabulous Fantasies, owned by Herb Silvers. I was excited to learn about his upcoming pinball show in Las Vegas: Pinball Fantasy '97. Though Herb was the organizer, I heard a rumor that most of the machines were owned by Tim Arnold, who is the founder of the current Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame — it certainly seemed truthy, especially with all his 1960s-70s machines.

I brought my parents down again, but this time we drove, leaving the S.F. Bay Area at 6 a.m. and arriving in Vegas around 3 p.m. One great thing about the drive was that I brought a tape recorder and asked my dad about his younger days, including his time in the military. He regaled me on how he flew around in Piper Cubs while he was a Berkeley High School student, so when he enlisted, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps. He was based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and his best friend was based in Maryland, so one of his great memories was both of them taking the train and meeting in Atlanta for a weekend of leave. He had never told me these stories!

In Vegas, we stayed at the Riviera. Aside from the pinball, I don’t remember much about this trip. I did see the “Crazy Girls” show and I remember thinking, even in my mid-20s, that the show was really cheesy. The singing and dancing by the Crazy Girls were not impressive, and the comedians were only mildly amusing. I was probably jaded from having seen “Folies Bergere” the year before, and being accustomed to Steven Wright-quality humor.

As far as the pinball, I had an amazing moment. On a very old game, called a “wood rail” machine, I pressed the start button, then was confused when the ball didn’t pop out. Was it broken? I looked around at the front of the machine and realized that under the ball plunger, there was a rod to MANUALLY press the eject lever and put the next ball into play. The sensation of this action took me back in time at least 20 years, when I was about 5 years old, to a South Lake Tahoe casino in which I had to be checked in to a childcare center by my parents. That was the last time I had put my hands on this kind of pinball machine.

How weird it was to have a memory emerge that was lost for 20+ years. And shifting back to 2022, how weird is it now that I’m remembering this moment from 25 years ago? Where does the time go??

Anyway, I took a lot of pictures of pinball machines and really nothing else on this trip. To take your own trip back in time, I suggest you visit the Pinball Hall of Fame!

Posted by smoothgrh
Jul 29, 2022

Dealt straight flush!

I'm sure most members of this website think a video poker straight flush is a ho-hum occurrence, but I've never gotten one on a single-hand game — and certainly never a dealt straight flush!

Though I have a video poker machine, I play only about 10 minutes each session when I have the time, usually with morning coffee or a wind-down drink before bedtime. So it was an exciting moment last night when I decided to switch over from Face Up Blackjack to video poker and saw this flash before me. I feel the need to share my excitement with someone, anyone! I'm still waiting for a royal flush — either at home or in the casino — and hope it'll arrive during my Vegas trip next month (probably won't).


ChumpChange Jul 30, 2022

I just played for an hour and a half on my Roku game and hit quads 2's with an Ace kicker for 800 coins (play money quarters). So I was down to my last $10 on a 3rd $100 session and won back $200 on my first quads, so now I'm still down $100.

I'm going to be getting $40 free plays next month, so I'll add $10 of my own money and make it a $50 buy-in and play regular 5 coin (quarters) Jacks or Better until I either hit quads or I'm back at or over 200 coins after playing through the session points necessary to finish off my free play. I feel getting ripped-off that 5 credits on the 2 pair is bringing me down too fast without a quads to catch up (on Dbl Dbl Bonus VP).

smoothgrh Jul 31, 2022

I still get excited when I get quads. That's pretty rare for me too. I've gotten that only twice in real casinos. I don't think I even got quads when I played on my Palm Pilot!

The solution would be simply to play more!

BillHasRetired Aug 02, 2022

I was playing a bar machine at Harrahs AC when I got dealt a hand of garbage, which I threw back, and got dealt a straight flush. It was a dollar machine, so no hand-pay, but it was nice getting the cash from the TITO machine.

Posted by smoothgrh
Apr 26, 2022

Black Oak Casino 2010

I was going through my earliest sent emails and came across this one to my friend on June 25, 2010. Apparently, I was getting ready to write trip reports for, and practiced by writing one for my friend. Thankfully, I tend to write them more concisely now, because this is even more information than I care to remember (some personal info is altered):

My family's latest Casino Adventures took us into the heart of California's Gold Country on a visit to Black Oak Casino. (By the way, it took me 3 sessions to write this!)

It's an easy, less-than-3-hour drive from the South Bay to Tuolumne City that takes you through towns such as Manteca (home of the drive-thru Panda Express), Escalon, and Oakdale. Once you're there, you're less than 15 minutes away from other High Sierra vacation towns, such as Sonora and Twain Harte. You're also close to attractions such as the Railtown 1897 state park in Jamestown, and the Gold Rush boomtown in Columbia.

It's easy going from the main road into the parking garage. On Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, we were able to find spaces close to the "Skywalk" entrance.

Smoke-free casino
The entrance to the casino from the garage is the smoke-free "Skywalk" casino, though a faint smell of cigarette smoke is apparent upon entrance. The casino claims to have the largest smoke-free casino area in California, and while it's larger than Red Hawk Casino's smoke-free area, it's still a relatively small casino space.

An IGT Triple Towers Virtual Horse Racing machine (a high-tech version of the old Sigma Derby horse racing game) is here. There's a bank of 4 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade machines, and 4 Star Wars machines (2 Duel at Mustafar machines, and 2 Jabba's Palace machines).

The Poker Room used to be located in this area, but the poker tables have been moved to the main floor and replaced by regular slots.

There are no table games in the smoke-free area, but there is an espresso bar and sandwich shop.

Floor space
Overall, this casino is relatively small. It has about 1,050 gaming machines, which makes it comparable to River Rock Casino (with 1,300). It's slightly smaller than Tachi Palace. The machines are spaced out enough so that it doesn't feel crowded when walking through the aisles. The casino is all on one main level (the second floor).

Family center
Downstairs, on the first floor, is the 24-lane bowling center, arcade, Kingpins "fast food" restaurant, and The Mill, which is a sports bar restaurant. Everything is very clean and new.

The bowling center has electronic scoring, lockers, and a pro shop. The lanes are PBA-certified, but are very oily, which would be expected of a kid-friendly place. They have automatic gutter rails that raise and lower based on bowler preferences. While we were bowling, a server came by to check if we would like to order food. Bowling costs $2.50/game during the daytime on weekdays. Shoe rental is $2.50 for adults, $1 for kids. I actually bought a nice pair of Etonic bowling shoes for $31 at the pro shop to replace my worn-out ones. There is no sales tax. The pro shop guy says the pro shop and bowling center is owned by the casino, and he also says the center is the only one in the area, now that the other family-run center closed recently after operating for 50 years. He says it closed due to "mismanagement."

The arcade is relatively small, with half video games and half redemption games that operate on tokens. There are no "bonus" tokens when you buy-in using larger denominations of bills. However, Fridays are "double ticket" days, so whatever number of tickets you win on a Friday are doubled (you must use the tickets the same day you win them). The "popcorn" redemption game spits out noticeably fewer ping pong balls than the one at Harrah's South Lake Tahoe.
There is a Deal or No Deal game, which can either be 4 tokens (for a maximum win of 200 tickets), or 8 tokens (max 400 tickets). The kid hit the "Deal" button (against our wishes) when we were offered 38 tickets with 3 cases left, and we had the 200-ticket case!

I noticed some games seem to give different amounts of tickets than what's posted. The "popcorn" game gave out 2 tickets when it was supposed to only give 1, which is good because it was really difficult to catch enough ping pong balls to make it to the next ticket tier. Also, in the "drop a ball" game, we were lucky enough to have the ball land in the 50-ticket hole, but the machine gave us 100 tickets!

The arcade has older games, including House of the Dead, Star Wars Trilogy, Big Game Hunter, etc. The newest game was Fast and the Furious. There was a couple basketball-shooting games, and a football-throwing game. There were no "classic" video games, and there were no pinball machines.

I didn't go into the Kingpins restaurant, but they apparently have burger/hot dog/pizza items on the menu. The Mill is a very nice-looking restaurant and bar, but appeared empty on Friday afternoon. The Mrs. said there was a pork chop entree for about $8.

There are bathrooms on both ends of the floor, one near the arcade, and one on the far end of the bowling center. There is a changing table in the men's room, and the Mrs. reports the women's bathroom includes a nursing room.


The Mrs. reports the blackjack having a $10 minimum on Friday that pays 3-2 on blackjacks, with tables using a continuous shuffler machine. She won $105 in only 5 minutes on Friday, but gave back $20 on Sunday.

There's a mix of newer and older slots. Indiana Jones costs 40 cents minimum to play, with 40-cent increments up to 200. Star Wars costs 75 cents to play, with 50-cent increments. I played eBay slots (50 cents minimum, with 50-cent increments), alternating between 50 cents and $1. I put in $20, and was down nearly to $10 when the "community bonus" hit. Unfortunately, I had played only 50 cents, and the bonus was 1200 credits ($12), otherwise I would have won $24 had I played $1 when the bonus hit. I finished up $2.35.

Video poker
I looked at a couple video poker machines in the smoke-free area: they accepted 25 cents, 50 cents or $1 per credit, and paid "8-5" on 25-cent Jacks or Better games, which has 97.2% payback. Better than most Indian Casinos, which offer pathetic "7-5" pay tables, but also not close to "9-6" pay tables at bigger Reno casinos. Remember, you have to play 5 credits to get full payment on a royal flush.

The casino does not offer live dealers in their poker games, but rather electronic Poker Pro tables, which are common now on cruise ships and at the Excalibur in Las Vegas. On Thursdays and Sundays, they offer a $10 tournament (that's right, $10!) with unlimited re-buys in the first hour. When I was there on Sunday, there were about 16 players. The poker host said they usually offer no-limit hold'em games with either $1/$1 blinds or $1/$2 blinds, which seems unusual, but I suppose it's partly due to the fast nature of the electronically dealt game. The rake is relatively good: $1/hand for 4 players; $2 for 5-6 players; and $3 for 7 or more players when a flop is dealt. But again, hands are dealt more frequently.

The coffee shop (open 24 hours only on weekends) and the buffet are in the same restaurant space (just like River Rock Casino). There was no waiting for Sunday Champagne Brunch ($14.99) on Father's Day. Because I had a huge breakfast, I opted not to get the buffet, but the Mrs. did.

I ordered a chile relleno chicken sandwich ($6.77) from their special $7.77 or less menu. The sandwich was very disappointing when I ate the first half. I was out on the casino floor for about 15-20 minutes, and when I returned to the table, the sandwich still hadn't arrived. It took some time after I returned before it was brought to my table. I'm wondering if the waitress decided not to bring it to the table until I returned, and then just didn't see me until about 5-10 minutes after I returned.

Anyway, I had read a Yelp review that described the food as "tasteless," and that very well described my sandwich. It seemed loaded with ingredients, but did not taste a mix of flavors. I even pulled out a piece of bacon, and did not taste much bacon flavor individually! Part of the problem was probably that the sandwich was sitting, and had gotten cold. (Which led me to my waitress-waiting-for-me-to-return hypothesis.) I even thought there was no chile relleno in it, just diced chiles.

It turned out, when I got home and microwaved the second half of the sandwich, it was immensely better. I could taste the flavor of everything! The chicken tasted grilled again, I could taste the salty bacon flavor, and I could taste the cheese and chile relleno complementing each other. Yes, the chile relleno was there all along! The flavor of the rustic artisan bread also came through when warmed up and moistened. One thing that did not work on the sandwich was the alfalfa sprouts. I picked them out. Avocado would have worked much better.

I sampled some of her buffet food. The prime rib was satisfactory: moist, though not particularly flavorful. The orange chicken nuggets were pretty good. I finished her mimosa, and that was very tasty. She loved the two desserts she picked: yellow cake with strawberry filling, and a chocolate marble cake. I like the yellow cake more (fresh cream, sweet but not overly sweet filling), but thought the chocolate marble was a little on the dry side.

The meal did not have sales tax, and you pay at the front. Earlier, two waitresses (one of whom was Asian) walked by and stopped to gush at the baby. My guess is they don't see too many Asian babies there. The clientele seems to be 90% caucasian.

Players Club
There's the obligatory Players Club, but I wasn't planning on wagering for a long time, so I didn't sign up. The line was huge on Sunday morning, for some reason.

It's a fun little casino, though I probably wouldn't spend too much time here gambling aside from the cheap poker tournament (the likes of which I love). It's a great place to bring the kids for a few hours. The atmosphere is nice, and I'm willing to give the other restaurants a try. I would definitely come back if I'm sightseeing in the area. The area is beautiful - very woodsy - and there are lot of fun places, including Pinecrest Lake, about 30-40 minutes north of here.

Next stop: Twin Pine Casino near Middletown. (I just hope a DeLorean doesn't run over one of the pines back in the 1950s.)

Posted by smoothgrh
Dec 09, 2021

Nov 1996: Fourth Vegas Visit

I was enjoying Las Vegas so much in 1996 that I went a third time — my last visit of the year was during Thanksgiving week.

This trip was unusual because my memory of it has a lot of gaps. I don’t even remember where I stayed!

I do remember some key details, though. The Thanksgiving timeframe was very specific because I met my parents at their Hacienda Resort hotel room at one point. Somehow, they booked their trip for the same timeframe as me, but I didn’t know about their plans — we took different flights.

I went to the hotel and was aghast at how trashy and outdated (and not in a good way) it looked. It was also overrun by high school-age basketball players. I distinctly remember thinking it must have been a tournament week. I put two-and-two together and realized the room rates must have been extremely cheap for traveling kids and my parents to decide to stay there. I later learned the hotel closed on December 1, so my parents were there literally on the resort’s final week. The Hacienda was imploded on Dec. 31, 1996 and replaced by the Mandalay Bay.

Another detail was that I was Vegas with my high school friend and her husband. However, we weren’t constantly together like when I was with my college friends. One thing we did together was see a dinner show at the Rio Casino. I knew about the San Francisco Chinatown dinner shows in the 1950s, and had always wanted to experience that. This show was what I expected — lots of singing and dancing, including performers dressed like forks and spoons who sang, danced, and brought out my salad. It was like a real-life “Be Our Guest” number from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

I don’t have any memorabilia from this trip (that I can find), but thanks to an eBay search result, the show was called “¡Conga! A Dining Show Adventure” — maybe I’ll buy the postcard being sold. My friend says she also doesn’t remember anything from the trip except the dinner show. I do remember leaving Vegas before them, and telling them that renting a car was extremely cheap, like $30/day, and they confirmed afterward that I was correct.

I’m not sure if my friends stayed at Excalibur, but I do remember being near the hotel elevators and seeing a Sigma Derby machine with the playfield depicting jousting horses instead of a traditional horse race.

One other thing that I don’t remember from 1996 is playing video poker. Now that I’m in the video poker/video slots collectors’ community, I’m trying to find any information about machines from this era. I really didn’t pay any attention to video poker back then, but now I find this period of machines (going from coin-droppers to bill acceptors) fascinating.

A lot has changed in my life in the 25 years since I made these glorious trips to Las Vegas. They represented being a young, single, working adult who could decide what to do for fun. And now, my wife and kids call me “old man.”


odiousgambit Dec 13, 2021

1996 ..... Vegas was 'it' back then

my only visit to Vegas was 2003 ... a glimpse of what 1996 was like

smoothgrh Dec 14, 2021

Funny…2003 was one of the few years that I did NOT visit Vegas!

That was the start of the poker boom, and I certainly was visiting other casinos learning (and losing at) poker.