Iâ€™ve been lurking for a while, and think itâ€™s time I contributed! R and I just got back from a 5 day trip Thanksgiving week. A little background: We live in Northern California, visiting the Tahoe/Reno area monthly, and Vegas 2 or 3 times a year, sometimes driving, sometimes flying. This year, we had flown to Vegas over Memorial Weekend, and then drove over Labor Day. Sometime in October, Ballyâ€™s sent us an offer for a free video poker tournament Thanksgiving week, it included the entry fee, $25 in food and 3 free nights and either Ballyâ€™s or Rio. Sign us up! Over the years weâ€™ve stayed in most strip properties, with the exception of Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, Wynn and Wild West (those look interesting in the same clause). We had mostly stayed between Orleans (before it was discovered) and Riviera (after no one cared). We are now on Harrahâ€™s radar, after a fluke visit last year. We had stopped to play at Caesarâ€™s, necessitating R fill out a playerâ€™s card, since we hadnâ€™t played in a Harrahâ€™s property in years and didnâ€™t have a card on us. In Harrahâ€™s early years, they handed out playerâ€™s cards without checking driverâ€™s license. So basically, if you tried to get a replacement card, theyâ€™d just fill out a new one for you if you didnâ€™t pop up right away. We now have about 5 old accounts between us. 6, counting the new one R filled out this day. R gave me one of his newly obtained cards, and I sat down at a 50 cent video poker machine. Playing my usual low-rolling one/two at a time, I hit a 4AOK. Now on my second Jack/rocks double, I believed playing 5 at a time was in order. While I never hit another 4OAK, I did continue playing at that level for hours. In between the Harrah bashing, I was paying attention to the free rooms they seemed to give out as a matter of course. As the older properties were fast returning to the dessert, and Orleans had gone on an ego trip, we needed new cheap digs. Letâ€™s give Harrahâ€™s a shot! Within the first few weeks of returning home from that trip, we anxiously awaited the mailbox, nothing, zip, nada. So, the next trip to Reno, we decided to figure out the identity crisis we had at Harrahâ€™s, pick one, and start using the card. What follows is from a Reno Trip report and my attempt to do just that: â€œWe hit Harrahâ€™s to make sure and not lose our points weâ€™d earned at Caesars in Vegas this last September. It had been my birthday, we had seen Celine, and played about 4 hours on VP (loaded) 50 cent level. Thatâ€™s not a lot of play, but should have warranted some mail. We never got anything. I had called them, and they said I showed no tracking and would have to come in. Soâ€¦we went in, R stood quietly off a distance, carrying two packs of free bud from Cal Neva, balancing a drink and a cigar. Meanwhile, the playerâ€™s club had 4 windows, only one for the lowly gold level, which had the new guy who couldnâ€™t figure out the new system. A Â½ hour later, it was my turn. I gave him my driverâ€™s license, and he found 5 accounts for me, dating back to the early 90â€™s. Over the yearâ€™s they never can find me in the system, and open a new account. Apparently, he found them all. He looked at me like â€œIâ€ had done something wrong and he didnâ€™t know how to proceed. â€œLook, I just want the one account that has my current address, so I can get mailersâ€. He told me heâ€™d have to go into each account and read it to find that out. O-K-Kâ€¦., he began checking, and found my current address, only it didnâ€™t have any points. Hmmmmâ€¦what about the points from September? Those 4 hours? I cycled about $5000 throughâ€¦.He then went through each account looking for points. He found none, now itâ€™s been another Â½ hour, the people behind me hate me, R hates me and I hate Harrahâ€™s. â€œCan I have my driverâ€™s license please?â€ He hands it to me, I turn to leave, he wants to give me a playerâ€™s card, I want to get the last hour of my life back, my earlier winning high had been wiped out. Must leave here, must get the mojo back, flee all that is Harrahâ€™sâ€¦â€ After we returned home from that trip, sitting in our mailbox, were free room offers from Harrahs! The only thing was, they were addressed to â€œStanleyâ€, not Râ€™s name. Stanley is his middle name, not something he likes to share, heâ€™s 45, and has hated that middle name for that many years. Apparently, this was the NEW account R had began in Vegas September past. Why they used his middle name in lieu of R is a Harrahs-esque. It also was the reason the Reno office could not find us, I never thought to give him Râ€™s middle name. So now we have the coveted free room offers, R just has to be called Stanley while weâ€™re at the front desk. This year it amounted to free rooms at Rio, Ballyâ€™s, Flamingo and then Rio again. Okay, enough background, youâ€™ve probably quit reading anyway. On to this trip! lIke I said before, sometimes we drive, sometimes we fly. Its 8 Â½ hours to drive, Â½ that to fly when factoring in the line ups, security and car rentals. Surprisingly, you folks from Omaha pay less to get to Vegas than Northern Californians. We have time, so weâ€™re driving. Its 570 miles whether you head south through California and over to Vegas, or over to Reno and south to Vegas. This trip we looped it, heading down through California first. We left at 6 AM and were at Flamingo check in at 3 PM. The only reason we were checking into the Flamingo was because it was Saturday night, and the room was free for the next two nights. We couldnâ€™t check into the tournament free rooms at the Rio until Monday. Over the years, we have stayed at the Flamingo maybe 6 times. Once we had a â€œniceâ€ room, (read, no obvious dirt/defects, good view). The rest of the time they were dirty rooms, broken fixtures, or no room at all, sending us to the Hilton off strip. So checking in, we had no expectations, I didnâ€™t want to try the $20 trick, because for the $20, I was sure sheâ€™d wink and give me a good room that amounted to a higher floor with a partial strip/garage view. I did ask nicely for a pool view, thinking Iâ€™d at least get to see the palm trees. I kidded she probably didnâ€™t get asked that very often. When the women didnâ€™t acknowledge my existence in the slightest, I knew we were doomed. No eye contact=parking garage view. The room was on the 8th floor, a couple higher than the concrete roof in front of us. The furniture was old, chipped, blue (but clean) and the room was the smallest Iâ€™d ever seen there. It was cut into by the maidâ€™s room on the other side. Oh well, free, right? We stopped for a â€œoh $hit weâ€™re in Vegas!â€ drink, and then headed out the back, over to Ellis Island for their BBQ dinner. $6.95 buys you a combo plate with Â½ rack ribs, Â½ chicken, bbq beans, cole slaw, 2 corns, 2 garlic breads and all the napkins you need. Take in a $1 beer. Oh did I make it clear you are splitting this meal? Give the playerâ€™s club your email and theyâ€™ll give you $5 the next day toward food on your card. Since we did this last time, dinner was $2. We tipped $5 and headed out to walk to Planet Hollywood. Tonight was the Red Carpet night, Barbra Streisand was performing by invitation only, stars/rappers, were hanging out to be seen, we did the walk around, and split to Bellagio across the street. Like most of you, our favorite song is Con Te Patiro (Time to Say Goodbye). And yes, it was the one playing when we crossed. That happens more times than it should, and we always feel itâ€™s one of our bigger wins. This is good, because we are now at our third session of video poker, and $20 more each is gone. We pretty much hit and run at video poker, buying in at a nice bar, playing loaded (the coins not us, well, yeah, us too), and taking out a doubling of money. No taking out was happening. However, itâ€™s hard to care when the bartenders are lavishly pouring you cognac and a coffee back, replacing your little ashtray for a cigar ashtray for your nicely lit maduro and you slow play, watching each otherâ€™s cards, kissing for â€œluckâ€ when one of you has 3 of a kind, yeah, weâ€™re those cooing losers, get over it. After Bellagio, we headed to Caesarâ€™s to capture last yearâ€™s luck, not to be found. In fact, we couldnâ€™t get a drink, and they were between music by the barge. WTF? What is it about losing and not getting a drink? Give me a timeframe of gambling an hour without a drink, and I can guarantee Iâ€™m losing in that time. Or maybe itâ€™s that I NOTICE Iâ€™m losing during that timeâ€¦.. We head back to Flamingo for a little play on the Stanley card, and turn in. We have religiously used the card as suggested here: Keeping our ADT high by only using it at one property per trip, using my card for the hit and runs. So far, the offers keep coming in. The next day we decided to do a strip crawl, leaving the car in Valet. We werenâ€™t hungry, so did something weâ€™ve never done before and weâ€™ll never do again, we ate at the food court at Burger King in Oâ€™Sheaâ€™s for breakfast. Actually, we just grabbed a ham sandwich off their value meal. It was bad, Iâ€™m sorry you had to read that. We always make fun of folks who do that, with so many choices. Next time Iâ€™m not hungry, Iâ€™m having a bloody mary with extra olives for breakfast. Venetian was our first stop; we bought in at the bar, slow played, and enjoyed the morning while slowly losing. Our next stop was Wynn. This would be our third time in there. The first two didnâ€™t go well, and I couldnâ€™t get him back in since. When they first opened, the staff was snooty and slow, we couldnâ€™t get a drink (notice this is an important feature to me) and R just didnâ€™t care for the flow of the place. (I disagreed there; I thought it was very understated). The second time in, we took some family members for their buffet/playerâ€™s club special. After standing in line, the club told him they were not offering it that day, due to a holiday. It was not a holiday, it was during a holiday week. It took a lot of fast talking to get R back in there. I told him, if theyâ€™re not offering the advertised promo of 25 points on a new playerâ€™s card for a buffet, weâ€™ll leave and be done with it. Turns out it was a nice stop. They gave R $10 slot play for his email, and advised him if he earned 25 points heâ€™d get a buffet, 50 points, two. About two hours later we had over 100 points each on our cards and 4 buffets. The service was excellent. We found a good place to accumulate the points rapidly, without a lot of risk. The game is a version of video poker called Rapid Three Way Poker (something like that). Itâ€™s near the Red Club desk closest to the high roller area. Basically, youâ€™re dealt 5 cards, and are paid for small pairs on up. You make your draw, get paid again, then, it gives you two more cards for the best of 5 of the 7 in front of you. Play 4 units. That way, you have two units on the first hand, and one on the next two. The first hand pays about Â½ the time, giving you your bet back. It dealt me 4 of a kind twice in that time, for over $100. We continued on down to Riviera. Ugh, why come down here? Nothing to see, same ole penny machines, people grinding it out. Hey donâ€™t get me wrong, I grind it out too, but why not do it in a nicer atmosphere, you know? Over to Slots of Fun, nope, weâ€™re done here, no cigar smoking allowed, obviously they want to be viewed as a high class joint, oh wait a minute, you can smoke cigars at all the nicer places on the strip, Iâ€™m confused. Off we go South, up to TI. We hit a few video poker games, service is fast, lots of machines to play. We sit a machine apart, playing triple play nickels. Between us, is a fellow who seems confused with the game he is playing. I notice he is playing a 10 play machine, at the quarter level. Thatâ€™s $12.50 a pull. It only has 10 play as an option. He only had $20 to start, so Iâ€™m thinking he must have put the $20 in, and just hit max play and it was on the quarter level. Heâ€™s staring the thing down, quiet like, and I notice he is playing Jokerâ€™s wild, and he has been dealt a 4 of a kind. He saves all 4, (I wouldnâ€™t have let him throw it away), and hits for $250. Heâ€™s surprised, canâ€™t figure out why he has that much money, and leaves shortly after. He would have been really surprised if one of the 5 of a kinds would have come in. We head back to the room to freshen up, itâ€™s been nice out and weâ€™ve been able to wear shorts, but the sun has set and itâ€™s time for long pants! After a break in the room, we grab a cab back to Wynn for our first free buffet. We donâ€™t usually cab the strip, but weâ€™d already walked it once, and figured weâ€™d walk back after our meal. Also, with the construction around Wynn, itâ€™s a bit of a hike. There was no line at 8:45 PM, and we were in shortly. R and I arenâ€™t big eaters, we usually split entrees and skip dessert and appetizers, no room! Buffetâ€™s are wasted on us, and when theyâ€™re not, when we really try to put some food away, weâ€™re miserable and the evening is shot. I made a poor choice of food selections, crab and shrimp and sushi, and some salad. The food was quality, but cold and tasteless. Sigh. One of the things I love to do, that drives R crazy, is take my coffee out of a buffet. Bar coffee is nasty, the buffet coffee is about the best part of the meal! Now Iâ€™m not taking food out of a buffet, the last thing I want to see is food coming out of a buffet! But I want that coffee! I have managed to get coffee out of most buffets. I have been stopped once. It was at Gold Coast, 3 ladies converged on me, snatched my coffee cup away, tsk-tsked at me, that was it. This only made me braver; the punishment is worth the risk. My style is simple. Wait for the hostesses to be seating. Note if the cashiers are pre-occupied, carry the coffee along your body away from view. I told R I was taking it with me. No-o-o-oâ€¦ he pleaded. Yup! Iâ€™m off! And off I went without fully preparing. Oops! Thereâ€™s a hostess, is she looking at me? No worries, the cup is at my side, wait! Another hostess, coming at me from that side! She sees the cup! I look past her, past the other hostess, past the cashiers, who are now looking at me, and out into the hall in front of the buffet. I motion and mouth â€œcome hereâ€, to no one. As I walk past the final cashier, I gesture even more widely and actually say, â€œWait a minute!â€ Again to no one. But they donâ€™t know that, they just see I am all about catching this person, Iâ€™m not about the coffee cup in my hand! Are they going to break my stride over a coffee cup? Not these well trained Wynn staff. Or, they thought I was nuts and gave me a wide berth. After all, it was just a cup of coffee. Once I put enough distance between the buffet and myself, and I knew they had given up the chase, I waited for R to join me. We headed out into the night, briskly walking back to the Flamingo and our bed. The next day we decided we would have a good breakfast. We were checking out and would have the car so we chose Ellis Islandâ€™s steak and egg special. New York steak and eggs for $3.49. Cool. We then checked into Rio, asking only for a high floor, believing we would at least get over the top of any garages. We were given a suite in Impana (spelling) tower. We were in the Masquerade tower last time. They are both nice, but the Impana is remodeled, though a bit smaller. The Rio staff are unbelievable, not a meany in the bunch. Once we dropped our bags, we hit the bar for some â€œStanleyâ€ play. We chose triple play quarter video poker. I like super/quadruple/double/triple/one more double game. Something like that. Anyway, it pays extra on face cards and quads with aces and everything, so when youâ€™re not playing max, you can still get $60-70 bucks for one quarter. In the first few pulls, I got 3 aces. I was playing 4 quarters, two on the bottom, one on the next two lines. I got a fourth ace on bottom for 320 quarters, and a 4th ace AND a face card on top for 320 quarters for $160. Good times. So youâ€™re wanting to know how I get good hootch and play less than max play. Skill. This is how you do it. Sit sweetly at the bar with your $20 in view, some singles as well, and wait for the bartender to approach you. If you put your money in, forget him running over right away, youâ€™re occupied. If he does come before youâ€™ve blown through the $20, it wonâ€™t last much longer anyway, so do this instead. Put the $20 in as heâ€™s taking your order, heâ€™ll know that YOU know youâ€™re comped. Hit max, do NOT finish it off, study the cards until he comes back with your drink. Itâ€™s a good time to see the pay tables and games anyway, light the cigar, get your bearings. Whatâ€™s your rush? Then, heâ€™ll see that youâ€™re playing max when he delivers your drink. Off he goes for other customers. Tip well, heâ€™ll probably keep you in drinks. If you have to chase him down for another drink, make sure you have max hit on it when he comes around. This will keep him out of trouble too. Today was the day to register for the tournament. Oh. My. Gawd. What were they thinking? 1000 people standing in line for over an hour. Obviously they were registered upon checking in. Why this second step? The free little throw blanket you gave for a gift was not worth the wait. Also, you could have set them on the chairs the first day of the tournament. People were grumbling, shuffling and not gambling during this time. I was good and stood with R for most of the time, he finally sent me out to gamble for the last 15 minutes or so. Probably didnâ€™t want me to hear him refer to himself as â€œStanleyâ€. After the registration, we headed downtown for some Fremont festivities. Okay, itâ€™s really about the IPA at the Chicago Brew pub. That is my favorite beer anywhere. Itâ€™s hoppy, smooth and a finish that lingers in a good way. Good ole hoppy breath. We shared a burger at Magnoliaâ€™s ($4.95 is a double burger, FF and a drink) picked up our $20 in free slot play and doubled it on video poker. Yeah! Okay, a true confession, we love playing penny video bonus games. Yeah we know theyâ€™re losers, you canâ€™t win, that Harrahâ€™s did a huge study on the psychology of the damn things and their draw. So? Theyâ€™re fun dammit! However, for money management, we help each other avoid them. Keep walking past that Money Storm machine, R. However, we decided in a moment of weakness, that we could play some NEW penny video games. Games that the casino hadnâ€™t figured out were losers to them, yet. This night is was MR WOO, at Binions. What a hoot! I wonâ€™t bore you with it, letâ€™s just say itâ€™s good R won the minor jackpot of $60 to cover my $60 loss (in a Â½ hour) pennies my a$$. Downtown was semi-crowded and fun, but were even, so we chose to leave that way. Heading back to Rio we knew we needed some more â€œStanleyâ€ points. We looked and found a low risk way to rack up points. 50 and 100 play penny video poker. We both use his card, its $7.50 a pull, play deuces wild and your swing is only about $60. Tonight it was $20 each. We played at that level for over an hour, so enough points were made. We also were drinking Grey Goose dirty martinis. Thatâ€™s a new one Râ€™s mom introduced us to on her last visit. That is one toxic drink. Beware. Drink only when you are already in your own hotel, your keys are out of reach, and thereâ€™s a sign around your neck with your room number on it. The next morning we did the bloody mary olive breakfast thing, because Wynn was our choice for an early lunch this day. R did the tournament. Video poker tournaments are pretty much won on the luck of who gets a royal. R and I plotted his strategy, save only hands to a royal, except 3 of a kinds. I stood behind him, rooting him on but sheesh! He was saving unsuited face cards. I think he saved a 10 of spades once. I berated him after, what were you hoping for, a straight? He said he totally forgot how to play, that he got off track on which draw he was on, trying to amass a lot of hands. Anyway, it stressed him out, as did I for giving him a hard time, what an ass I was for even bringing it up. Iâ€™m sorry. Letâ€™s go get a drink and forgetaboutit. On to Wynn. The line for lunch was little longer, but hey itâ€™s free, weâ€™re waiting. Iâ€™m glad we came back. I was choosier in the food. Small amounts of food that had been carefully prepared. Not mass boiled seafood. It was very good, R thought it was just good. After Wynn, we drove to Lake Las Vegas. We discovered this place a few years back and enjoy the cosmopolitan feel. Itâ€™s too hot to walk in the summer, so we thought winter would be nice. Grab a glass of wine in Monte Lago (they have Kendall Jackson wine while playing), and sit outside and watch the ice skaters. You canâ€™t smoke cigars in here anymore, though they have a cigar bar. I think the old ladies are winning out on their complaints with the sticks, guys. No big win/ losses this day, tired early, back to Rio to play a little 50 play poker for points, and upstairs for room service and movies. Good room service and cheap. $25 got us a French dip, and hot wings. More than we could eat, even splitting. The charges came off our slot points on check out. The next day, we went to the tournament early to use the $25 comp at Ballyâ€™s. We ate at the Sidewalk CafÃ©. Good food and service, comp covered it. Notice how little food has cost? The first day was $2 at Ellis Island BBQ after comps. The next morning was $2 fast food, free Wynn food for dinner. The next morning was $8 for steak and eggs both of us at Ellis Island, and oh we did try their egg nog, brewed there, spiked, and odd. Well, the first sip is odd, the rest goes down pretty easy. They serve it on the floor comped. Magnoliaâ€™s was $5 for dinner that night. The next day, free Wynn lunch, and then free room service that night. So far, $17, the next morning, free Bally breakfast, that night, Silverton buffet, ACG B/G coupon for $13, food is $30 total for 5 days. Which is good, and helps rationalize the gambling losses. That last day we went to Red Rock. They were doing a free slot play promotion that lasted through the weekend, though it was bounce back for the next day and we were leaving. Itâ€™s not what took us out there, we like the comfort of the slant tops and chairs and good video poker selection. However in three trips, weâ€™ve always lost. Got to rethink thatâ€¦.. We stopped at Silverton for dinner and some play. We won a little and really enjoyed their buffet. R thought it was better than Wynn, I wouldnâ€™t go that far, but it was not the buffet of yesteryear. Give it a shot. We decided to go home through Reno the next day, staying over. So we had an early night and were on the road by 10 AM. Final thoughts: Thanksgiving is a nice time to visit, not as dead as Christmas, and everything is still hopping. I guess I have to quit Harrahâ€™s bashing, theyâ€™ve been generous on the room offers this year. We had no big wins, or losses for that matter, just a consistent slow bleed. It was pretty busy everywhere, and most service was exceptional, whether downtown, or Wynn. We have a couple Reno trips planned, so donâ€™t when weâ€™ll head back, spring maybe.