Random observations (warning - I can't write as well as the Flusher!): We stayed at the GN December 6th - 10th. It was National Finals Rodeo week, so cowboy hats were everywhere. It's a nice, well-mannered crowd. We were pleased that most of the casinos had Christmas decorations and played Christmas music at times. I'd have guessed they'd lean toward the "secular" to avoid offending their diverse clienteles. Even the airport had a bunch of Christmas trees. That's a no-no at SeaTac (Seattle airport). Buskers and bums - maybe the new rules are helping, but they don't seem to be applied consistently. It appeared that the "performers" only had to be in the circles at night, as during the day they generally weren't. The usuals were all present - old diaper guy, nutsack guy, fat old saggy-boob lady, filthy Sponge Bob, et al. The chilly nights didn't seem to bother them. Beggars were abundant and placed themselves wherever they wished (circle rule apparently doesn't apply to them). My favorite was the "World War II" veteran who appeared to be at most 70 years old. The Plaza - the scent issue has been addressed. The VP machine maintenance and comfort/drink quality still lag. Gambling at the bar while leaning on a duct-tape patch and getting a plastic juice glass well drink just isn't too enticing. The "full pay" floor machines have various hues of screens, few of which are normal or well-focused. On the plus side, the casino crowd seemed bigger than previous visits and they have some $5 table limits most of the time. The Cal - it appears the casino construction work is done. I don't know if they intend to redo the carpet, but the wall and ceiling work by themselves aren't that dramatic of a change considering the effort. It looks a bit classier perhaps - and they haven't worsened their pay tables or table limits to pay for it! The Downtown Grand - a ghost town. At least they've turned down the music. It's still a pleasant environment to play 8/5 Bonus Poker if you like a calm setting and attentive drink service (since you're likely to be one of the few there). The server said they are now unionized. She said she's been there from the beginning and seen all the changes and that the inconsistencies have frustrated many of them. Still, she wasn't excited about the unionization because she didn't think it would help the place's prospects. I like the place and would play for comps if I thought I understood how theirs work and believed they'd be around long enough to use them. Four Queens - the progressive on Dueces Wild grew from $1450 to $1850 over our stay, and we wasted a few hundred chasing it. The various progressives on DB and DDB also cost us. The "Mikes" bar is one of our favorites. Those guys are personable, funny, and creative in their drink making. The D - the upstairs bar has 8/5 BP with a few progressives, and also features good bartenders (Jason is our favorite) who will make pretty much anything with good-quality stuff if you're playing and tipping. We met a couple at the bar we'd met at the same time last year. The guy was back to try for a royal on his favorite machine on his birthday (Wednesday). He'd done it twice. We were next to him when he did it last year. I don't know about this year, as they weren't there yet when we stopped by Wednesday evening. The Fremont - the breakfast buffet seems to be in decline. We ate there Thursday morning. I always say it's hard to screw up a breakfast buffet (normally our buffet meal), but they're getting close. Dried-out ham, under cooked bacon, overcooked potatoes, glue-like scrambled eggs - it wasn't pretty. Hardly any selection and not well tended. They've got the omelet station but the line stayed way too long to bother. The pancakes are always good though. The multi-hand Super Times Pay at the Fremont is the crack of video poker, offering 8/5 BP too (seems these machines often have worse pay tables). Nothing is more frustrating than finally getting the 10x multiplier and coming up dry. But we did get a single quad at 8x, so that was $250. This wasn't a good gambling trip, as that was the biggest win of our stay. Getting to Sams Town - the shuttle doesn't stop at the Cal while exterior construction is taking place there. It has the same schedule, but sits at the Fremont for about twenty minutes until the scheduled Cal departure time (used to go from the Fremont to the Cal and then to Sams Town). So, follow the Fremont schedule and you've got quite a bit of time to catch it there. Sams Town - maybe the last to offer $5 Pai Gow, but you almost have to inherit a spot at the single table offering it, and around noon they now raise it to $10. I'm still confused. Right next to it there's an empty $10 table with a bored dealer. Meanwhile, people are constantly cruising the $5 table hoping for a spot. Do casinos really lose money on $5 Pai Gow? We played the full-pay dueces for a couple of hours, being the "good luck fairies" for those next to us that we seemed to be this trip. We bled slowly while a woman sat beside my wife, popped in a $20, made seemingly random holds, and hit four dueces twice in about thirty minutes. Some trips are like that. The Golden Nugget - very busy with the rodeo crowd. The last of their decent VP is no more. The eight or so 8/5 quarter VP machines are now 7/5. Come on GN! Does the viability of your business really hinge on that? It's still our favorite place to stay. The heated pool was comfortable the one time we used it, even with the low 60s daytime temperature. And of course the hot tub is great. Checking in was a clusterf*ck (see my "$20 trick" entry), but I'll forgive them once. Golden Gate - what's not to like about $5 blackjack and friendly, comely dealers? Well, maybe they could step up the drink service. It's my favorite place for blackjack, but you can get pretty thirsty there. Thursday afternoon I finally got my wife to play blackjack. During the day it's just dealers of either gender in normal dealer attire. I'm thrilled, since Pai Gow was the only table game I could get her to play and $5 Pai Gow is no mas. While playing she arranged her chips in a bunch of uneven little piles and chose from various ones to bet. I finally asked why. She had arranged them by the pictures of the girls (I never noticed that each chip has a girl's picture) and would choose one she thought looked "lucky." Everyone including the dealer got a good laugh from that. Good Groupons - if you like a change of pace, go to East Fremont. The Vanguard Lounge has a $40 drink Groupon for $21, and if you wait until Groupon has it's 20% off sales it's only $16.80. They make true craft cocktails. Top-shelf liquor, fresh ingredients, and syrups they make themselves. It's a calm, relaxing place in the evening. I guess around midnight (according to the bar tenders) it turns into a PBR, Red Bull and vodka nightclub. Another good Groupon(in the past, anyway) is The Market. $20 of stuff for $14, or $11.20 when on sale. We've use that for sandwiches previously. This trip we tried to get sandwiches to eat at the airport on the way home, but they wouldn't honor it for prepared food. No idea why as the coupon excludes only sale items and Peets Coffee and it wasn't an issue before. We probably won't get that one again. That's all that comes to mind. I hope our next trip will be for the first rounds of the NCAA tournament, but so far airfares for that are way high. Oh, that brings to mind one last thing - amazing difference in sports book odds for the tournament. Her alma mater was 18 to 1 at one, 17 t0 1 at another, and 35 to 1 at William Hill (the Plaza) to win the tournament. So of course she bet there. But William Hill was only 9 to 2 on Kentucky, while the GN was 5 to 1, so I bet there. I'd be happy to lose that bet, but it's a consolation prize in case they win!