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Stratosphere Slot Tourney TR - David Berman

Discussion in 'Vegas Trip Reports' started by Sonya, Jul 4, 2001.

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  1. Sonya

    Sonya Queen of VMB

    Nov 28, 1999
    Western Washington
    Trips to Las Vegas:

    My Trip Report

    Posted with David's permisson:

    It was nearly a year ago that I wrote my last full-fledged Las Vegas
    trip report, that one chronicling our cross-country drive to take up
    residence in fast-growing Henderson, Nevada.

    Now that we are locals, a "trip" usually consists of nothing more than a
    drive to a nearby destination to dine, see a show, etc., and then return
    home. I report on many of these activities when I think the information
    might have value for visitors, but descriptions of these stand-alone
    experiences certainly don't reach "trip report" status.

    Last week, however, we checked into the Stratosphere for a few nights,
    primarily to participate in that resort's All-Star Slot Tournament.
    Combining the tournament with the other things we did, I hope at least a
    few readers will agree that some sort of mini-report is merited.

    Other than saying an occasional farewell to a few dollars here and
    there, I am not a slot player. But I've long been curious as to how a
    slot tournament operates, and I wanted to undergo the experience not
    just for myself, but also for the benefit of those who have never
    competed in one and wonder what is involved. With just this one
    tournament under my belt, I can't say how Stratosphere's event, a
    no-entry-fee competition with $21,750 in prize money, compares to the
    tournaments staged by other resorts. I'll leave that to our experienced
    slot-tourney competitors to decide.

    Stratosphere is working hard to market itself to locals and visitors,
    building "brand loyalty" with a regular schedule of tournaments,
    coupon-rich promotional offers, and special events. As appears to be the
    practice with its competitors, joining the resort's player's club seems
    to be all that's necessary to start receiving enticing offers by mail.

    After taking a pass on invitations to several Stratosphere tournaments,
    this rabid baseball fan couldn't resist the offer for the All-Star Slot
    Tournament, which promoted a baseball theme highlighted by the presence
    of retired Major Leaguer Steve Sax. Remembering the admonition of
    friends that these tournaments sell out fast, we promptly called and
    made our reservations when the invitation arrived a couple of months
    ago. During that call, I was asked to choose my tournament session times
    and also asked for our room preferences (non-smoking, king, etc.).

    In late afternoon on June 26, Rosalyn and I packed our two pieces of
    carry-on luggage, drove down to the Stratosphere, parked in the garage
    and entered the building. Stratosphere's tour-group lobby is just off
    the stairs/escalator leading in from the garage, and there was a sign at
    the bottom to direct tournament players into the lobby. There, a
    friendly young lady registered us for our room and upgraded us to a

    Next, we moved down the counter and I stood in a short line to be
    processed for the tournament. A cheerful young man checked off my name
    on the contestant list and then had me draw my slot-machine numbers from
    four separate envelopes corresponding to the times of my contest
    sessions. Next, he gave me an envelope containing badges for Roz and me,
    as well as printed sheets explaining the contest rules and prize
    structure, and a survey form with questions to measure our satisfaction
    with the entire event. Finally, I was given a high-quality Stratosphere
    shirt in the size of my choice; the shirt, featuring the Stratosphere
    logo, was a gray knit with thin black stripes, evoking a baseball shirt.

    Our mini-suite, in the original tower, was nice for the price, which of
    course was free. The sleeping area was standard hotel quality, nothing
    fancy, though it did have a 25-inch TV with a good selection of
    programming. A separate alcove, essentially a small room, was furnished
    with a chair and footstool, a desk and lamp. The bathroom was adequate,
    with standard tub/shower, single sink, hair dryer and long counter for
    toiletries. There was an ironing board and iron, as well as a safe.
    Facing east-northeast from the 14th floor, we had a lovely view of
    Sunrise Mountain.

    Those who have never visited the Stratosphere, or who haven't been there
    in quite a while, should be pleasantly surprised by what they find. The
    casino is nicely laid out, with lots of space between banks of machines,
    and 40-50 table games. Their sports book is cozy and new. A lounge just
    off the casino floor features live music in the evening, very enjoyable
    to listen to while playing in that area of the casino. Of course they
    have the tower with its thrill rides and gourmet restaurant at the top;
    a shopping arcade which is, finally, almost fully leased; a food court
    near the tower entrance; and a variety of dining options, including the
    excellent Fellini's Italian restaurant, Hamada of Japan, Montana's Steak
    House, a buffet, etc.

    Neighborhood friends of ours were also playing in the tournament, and we
    joined them for dinner at Lucky's, Stratosphere's new 24-hour coffee
    shop. The two men had delicious hot turkey sandwiches, made with freshly
    roasted turkey, while the ladies each had prime rib dinners. Using $15
    meal vouchers received in a separate promotion, our total bill was $4.00
    per couple.

    After dinner I did some gambling in the casino, winning $250 at $10-20
    blackjack and then giving back $100 of it on a Wheel of Fortune machine
    and .25 video poker.

    On Wednesday morning it was time for me to start tournament play.
    Several banks of slot machines had been set aside for the tournament and
    roped off from the general public. A continental breakfast was served
    from 8 to 11 a.m., offering juices, coffee, bagels and cream cheese,
    Danish pastries and sugar-free muffins.

    This tournament had 250 participants, with prizes awarded to the top 50
    finishers. First place prize was $10,000, with other prizes as follows:
    Second, $2,500; Third, $1,500; Fourth, $1,000; Fifth, $500; 6-10, $250;
    11-20, $200; 21-50, $100.

    The tournament area was decorated with inflatable balloons shaped like
    baseballs, and there were lots of baseball items on display. The color
    scheme was blue and white, possibly in keeping with the team colors of
    the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom Steve Sax had his best years.

    Each competitor played in four 15-minute sessions, scheduled two per day
    over the two-day span of the tournament. My sessions were at 10:30 a.m.
    and 2:30 p.m. each day. After the first day's competition was completed,
    standings would be posted so that all would know how they fared going
    into the second day. My responsibility was to be sitting in front of the
    respective machines whose numbers I had drawn upon arrival.

    According to the information I obtained from About.com Casino Gambling
    Guide Bill Burton, many slot tournaments operate as this one did. Each
    machine started with 1,500 credits on its counter, which counted down at
    the rate of 100 credits per minute until the 15-minute session ended.
    The machines are adjusted to pay off, which means to accumulate points,
    with most (but not all) spins as the countdown continues. The points are
    aggregated and continue accumulating as the counter runs down.
    Absolutely no skill or technique is required, as the players feverishly
    tap the "spin reels" button on their machines so that the wheels spin
    again as soon as they have stopped and have been credited with any
    points earned on a spin. Other than the occasional squeal of "jackpot"
    and the vocal urgings of observers, all you hear is the non-stop
    clackety-clack of the spin buttons being tapped, slapped or pounded by
    the players.

    After the two first-day sessions, the tournament leader had a bit more
    than 40,000 points. I was in 77th place with 30,724 points, out of the
    money but not without a chance.

    After our Wednesday sessions were over, we drove the 15 miles back home
    to change for the evening, which would be only the third time since
    moving here that I've worn a coat and tie.

    Our Wednesday evening choice of activity was a tough call, as we had to
    select one of two interesting invitations. A close friend who is an
    Internet consultant for the TV Food Network had invited us to be her
    guests for the taping of "Iron Chef American" at the MGM Grand, and we
    also had an invite to attend a media party and performance of the new
    rock and roll revue at New York-New York's Cabaret Theatre.

    Which would you choose, especially if you are as big a fan of "Iron
    Chef" as I am?

    We chose the New York-New York event, reasoning that the "Iron Chef"
    taping would probably be accompanied by long delays, and possibly poor
    lines of vision, for the taping of a show we'll be able to see on TV in
    a few weeks anyway. And the media party/show just sounded flat-out like
    it would be more fun.

    I think this turned out to be a good move. The party, which started at
    8:30 p.m., was held outdoors in the Brooklyn Bridge area of New York-New
    York. It was to honor the recently opened show starring Cornell Gunter's
    Coasters, Buck Ram's Platters, and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.

    As we entered the party area, we were each given triangular-shaped
    crystal candy dishes, along with the official press kit for the
    production. There was an open bar, platters of cheeses, beef and chicken
    on skewers, fresh fruits, an incredible assortment of elegant desserts,
    and several types of coffee. Most of the performers were mingling and
    chatting with the guests, and it was simply a romantic interlude under
    the neon of the Strip, in the balmy summer air.

    At 9:45 we filed into the Cabaret Theatre, where Rita Rudner holds forth
    earlier most evenings with her stand-up comedy act. Joined by a house
    full of paying customers, we awaited the start of our trip down memory

    The three aforementioned acts have joined together to present a revue
    that has lots of high points and a few low ones. The first thing you
    must remember is that if these groups still had all their original
    performers, most of them would be septuagenarians, and of course some of
    them are no longer even alive. In fact, the only "original" in any of
    the three groups is Martha Reeves.

    What makes it all work, however, is that each of the groups is
    absolutely true to the original sounds and arrangements, and all the
    performers are supremely talented. And what also makes it work is that
    the show is lots of fun, as all the performers generously and wisely
    encourage the audience to sing along and even to dance if they feel the

    You are bound to enjoy this show at its reasonable $46 cost. It's a
    blast to take a trip back in time with the Coasters doing such favorites
    as "Charlie Brown" and "Yakety Yak," the Platters singing "My Prayer"
    and "Magic Touch," and Martha Reeves singing "Heat Wave" and of course
    that Motown anthem, "Dancing in the Streets."

    Just a couple of problems with this show. It lasts about 75 minutes, and
    the groups are rushed for time. Not all the songs are sung in their
    entirety, and that's a loss. It would have been better to have added
    another 15 minutes or so to the running time, or else -perish the
    thought- feature two groups instead of three. The other problem is the
    legendary and gracious Martha Reeves herself; though she works hard at
    her segment, it's impossible to hide the fact that the voice, a la Wayne
    Newton, isn't there anymore. Still, maybe that's not so important when
    you are watching a living legend who is enshrined in the Rock and Roll
    Hall of Fame, as are the original incarnations of the other groups in
    this show.

    This revue is due to run for 12 weeks, though a showroom manager told me
    they are hoping to gain enough acceptance to continue beyond that time
    on an open-ended basis.

    Our casino gambling, all at BJ, was less successful on this second day,
    as we were now ahead only $5.00 for the visit.

    After our second night at the Stratosphere, I repeated the previous
    day's routine of enjoying the continental breakfast and playing in the
    tournament. I was hoping to draw a lucky machine, but it was clear that
    my morning point total of 14,972 wouldn't help me advance in the

    Lunch was a blast! Stratosphere has a '50s diner called Roxy's. I know,
    you're probably saying, "Everyone has a '50s diner called Roxy's!" But,
    to steal a phrase from Emeril Lagasse, THIS Roxy's Diner has kicked it
    up a notch. Every member of the serving staff has to qualify by passing
    a musical audition, and the crew includes a bunch of very talented young
    people. Some are currently music/theater arts majors at UNLV and
    elsewhere. One of the fellows, Mark Levine, has a steady evening gig as
    a member of Jump, Jive and Wail, a popular swing band that works
    steadily around the Valley. If you're lucky on a visit to Roxy's, you'll
    hear Mark do his phenomenal Louis Prima/David Lee Roth hybrid of "I
    Ain't Got Nobody."

    Every six or eight minutes, the waiters and waitresses perform a rock 'n
    roll number, complete with theatrics and embellishments. They use the
    entire restaurant floor as their stage, and will even get willing
    customers into the act. While we were having lunch, every server was the
    featured singer in a different number.

    The food is good, too. Typical diner food, such as burgers, fries, tuna
    melts, etc., all at reasonable prices with the show included at no extra

    Now it was nearly 2:30 p.m., time for my final tournament session. This
    time I fared much better, hitting three 2,500-point jackpots and
    finishing with 18,936 points and a total of 64,532 for the tournament.
    While I wouldn't know my place in the standings until the evening
    banquet, I was hopeful that I might have sneaked onto the money list.

    With a few hours to kill until the 7:30 p.m. banquet, we settled in for
    a long blackjack session which went very well, leaving us ahead $330 for
    the visit.

    As a first-timer, I thought the awards banquet would be a perfunctory
    affair, perhaps with a serve-yourself buffet and a quick announcement of
    the winners. But I couldn't have been further off in my expectations.

    An open bar was set up in the outer lobby of the Broadway Showroom, home
    of the American Superstars show, as we waited to enter. I was stunned to
    see what a beautiful setting awaited us inside. The entire room was
    filled with round tables seating 10, each table covered with a linen
    tablecloth and set with china service and linen napkins. Gloved servers
    delivered crispy, warm French rolls and solicitous waiters poured wines
    and took drink orders. The baseball theme was maintained, with red,
    white and blue centerpieces incorporating beer cans, boxes of Cracker
    Jack, candy bars, and baseball trinkets.

    We were served salads of California field greens with an ethereal
    vinaigrette dressing, and then our exquisite entrees arrived: crispy,
    herb-crusted half roast chicken, with piped, whipped potato en croute
    and al dente steamed baby vegetables. The desserts were individual apple
    crumb cakes.

    We thought we had seen the last of the Roxy's entertainers, but several
    of them appeared on stage to entertain us with more numbers from the
    '50s and '60s, including "Boy From New York City" and "Greased
    Lightning," from the musical "Grease."

    Steve Sax, who at age 41 looks like he could step right back onto a
    Major League diamond and fit in, was very gracious during the evening.
    He spent most of his time at the back of the room, posing for free
    photos with all who wanted them, signing autographs and chatting. He
    broke away only during the presentation portion of the evening, when he
    announced the names of the top winners and gave an outstanding,
    15-minute talk about his baseball career and lessons he's learned along
    the way. Long-time fans will remember that Sax had an early case of
    "Knoblauch disease" along about 1983, when the second-baseman made a
    Major League-high 31 errors. But he eventually overcame what was really
    a mental block and went on to be a five-time All-Star, playing a total
    of about 13 years with the Dodgers, Yankees and White Sox, and retiring
    with a career .281 batting average.

    After the five top winners were called to the stage to collect their
    cash prizes, I heard the announcement I was hoping for. Every winner but
    the first five had to visit the casino cashier cage to sign for their
    winnings and collect their prizes. The announcer told us that the
    cut-off for prize money was 62,681 points, so I knew that my score of
    64,532 was a money-winner.

    I went down to the cashier cage, presented my driver's license for
    identification, and was handed a crisp $100 bill. My good score in the
    final session had jumped me into 34th place for the tournament!

    I hope my description of what may or may not be a typical slot
    tournament will encourage other neophytes to try the experience. We
    could not believe how much fun we had, and we met lots of very nice
    people from all over the country. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we
    immediately signed up for the August tournament, which Roz is greatly
    anticipating because it has a soap-opera theme and will feature Peter
    Reckell from "Days Of Our Lives."

    Our "vacation" didn't end there, either, as we followed up with a
    long-weekend trip to Arizona, where we attended a performance of "1776"
    by the Flagstaff Light Opera Company, toured Sedona and the incredible
    town of Jerome, visited the fascinating Indian ruins at the Wupatki
    National Monument, and made our first-ever pilgrimage to the
    awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. All those tales, of course, will have to be
    told in another forum.

    Here's a link to Bill Burton's information on slot tournaments:

    And here's the link to the Stratosphere Hotel-Casino Web site:

    --Best wishes from David in NV
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