VEGAS - September 17-20 September 30- October 9 VEGAS HOTELS: ORLEANS the good: $39 weekdays. I found the Orleans to be everything I have been reading about. The rooms were comfortable and spacious, filled with coffee pot and ironing board and room to sit and write. The lounge music was exceptional, the access to the strip was easy with a car; the Rio and Gold Coast even easier to explore with not strip traffic to contend with. The full pay VP was everywhere. Coupons included a free day at the spa, lots of beads at the gift store, free drinks. Two free night coupons at checkout. Lots of free drink coupons. the bad: $89 weekend days. Our friends left after one night because construction noises kept them awake. Desk clerks claimed there was no way to predict where or when noises might occur so room movement was not a solution. The elevator warning noise could be heard inside the closed door of rooms well down the hall. Why do they need such a loud noise to tell people the elevator has arrived for them? Arenâ€™t lights and open doors enough of a clue? tips: Use the free drink coupons during lounge music acts. Plenty to drink and free music and dancing for just the price of a tip. ARIZONA CHARLIEâ€™S the good: $29 weekdays and $59 weekends. I liked having my room just a short stairway walk from my car and separate from the casino. Easy, uncrowded casino. Plenty of full pay Double Bonus. Friendly dealers. Another good spot for lounge music and dancing. Clear and easy to understand cashback and comp policy. the bad: Too far from the strip if that is your main destination. Rooms were poorly designed and bare bones. Or it may have just been my particular room as I took an oddly shaped room with two private sleeping areas to accomodate visiting family members. Unheated pool. Heated pool is a drive down the road at the RV park and using it is awkward. GAMBLING: video poker: I played Double Bonus at the Orleans, Arizona Charlies, and 10/6 Jacks or Better at the Stratosphere . I loved the new ticket machines at the Orleans. I could put in a hundred and not have to worry about waiting for a hopper full when cashing out. I could play just minutes before a time to go to dinner with friends or while waiting for a live poker game and know I could get away with no difficulty. I also like the game telling me my score in money rather than in quarter units. I did not win at the Orleans, but that is just the way it went. I played a 9/7 Double Bonus triple play in nickles for fun and actually did very well at that. It was just to the right of the stage and a good place to play away the time between lounge acts as it also had the ticket payouts so I could make the music in time for a good seat. I also liked playing at the Stratosphere but there are only four of those 10/6 machines (only four of them in the entire World I guess)so they are sometimes busy. The 9/7 are also there, but I find the strategy changes to accomodate the higher paying flushes too difficult to keep straight. These four JOB machines are the least volatile of all video poker possibilities and the easiest to play with just a basic JOB strategy. Quads eluded me for the first part of the trip. At Arizona Charlieâ€™s I hit aces twice and finally on the last day hit the royal so the video poker paid my gambling for the trip. Since I go armed with Tomskiâ€™s color coded printed strategy sheets, I can look up those statistically close and difficult hands. I still find that Double Bonus a challenge to play near perfectly. I can see why the casinos can keep it paying back over 100% and depend upon imperfect play for their profit. CRAPS: Maybe someone can set those dice, but not me. I lost almost every roll all trip at all different casinos whether I played pass or no pass or the complicated hedge, rolled myself or bet on others. I lost even with about ten different matchplay attempts when the advantage was mine. The closest I got to winning was at this cute little new table at the Nevada Palace where quarter chips make it possible to bet a dollar on the pass and still take correct free odds on 6 and 8. I played there for an hour with my grand nephew and only lost $3. It is a great little table and fun to try dice setting. I thought I was doing pretty well but I was too sick to play too long. Donâ€™t play there with a raspy voice, however. I got grilled by a dealer. I was teaching Mike the game but my extensive laryngitis made me limit my words, and sound like I might have come direct from the Sopranos. She carded Michael again, gave me a suspicious stare when I returned a dropped die, and started asking me who I was and if I knew Mike. â€œFor our protectionâ€ she said. I got a little testy, but afterward my niece said they probably thought I was an old letch hitting on a young boy, or that he was a young boy hitting on an old gay guy. Gee! And I didnâ€™t even have my multicolored Mexican bag with me! BLACKJACK This was my retirement blow-out-once-in-a-lifetime aggressive gambling trip so I decided to play this great double deck game at the Orleans at $25 a hand using my coupon that pays triple on the first blackjack. Well, out came the double downs to give me the advantage. I lost them. Soon my basic bankroll for the day was gone so I pulled back to $5 a hand and on the first deal came the blackjack. Ouch! The dealer tried to hide my coupon, but the pit boss was looking on and there was nothing to do but take the measely fifteen dollars. I also met my wifeâ€™ brother from California. He is a card counter so we tried the best single deck game in Vegas at Binions the night before they ran out of money. It wasnâ€™t our fault. We tried to help them remain solvent. Rich decks or poor we lost at blackjack too. And then I lost at a $3 game just passing through SlotsnFun. Lost six in a row and quit. SILVER STRIKES I am beginning to think that these are loose slots because people keep the coins as collectibles. Anyway, I made money or broke even every time, coming home with some from the Orleans, the Gold Coast, and the Stratosphere. Now I need to find a way to display the collection and trade my doubles. SLOTS I donâ€™t play slots. Some of those around me played nickles and some quarters but no big wins this trip. LIVE POKER Iâ€™d explored a little of the information on live poker games, but people on the internet are tight lipped about such opportunities because they donâ€™t want others poking into good games. I play very low stakes seven card stud because I think the Hold â€˜Em is too competitive and too predictable for the better players. I am not a great player, so I hope to sit at tables with loose tourists used to playing around the kitchen table. Then I have a chance. I played at the Bellagio, The Orleans, The Luxor, Circus Circus, looked at possibilites at The Stardust and The Saharra. There just were not enough tourists to give me much of an opportunity. When the players all know one another by name and know the dealers, it is time to get up and walk. When the bets are all tight, and no pots get beyond ten or twelve dollars, it is time to move along. When fewer than five people are at the table, it is impossible to win anything. I was actually at one Circus Circus locals table where they talked about how nice it was to play â€œhonest pokerâ€ and told everyone their cards after every hand. They never bet. They all told stories about so and so and the dealer was in the mix of the talk with them. I felt very unwelcome. I left when one woman with pocket aces failed to ever bet an aces over fives hand and won a pot of five dollars at the showdown. I found the Orleans rather tough and Iâ€™d avoid it most times. Bellagio had a tough reputation, but I found my table to be average. It was a quarter ante game which made it hard for tight locals to just come and wait all day for the nuts. The Luxor was great until dinner time. Everyone quit. I was disappointed when I only took a small pot on four nines there, but the house added a $40 special award. I also took an experienced local and very tight player for his bankroll on a hidden full house. He was so mad that he had misjudged me as a complete rookie that he left the game. I guess Circus Circus is my favorite as they have more bad beat awards. But it all depends on who is there. Finally, my cold wiped me out. You canâ€™t be sick and play live poker. Tic Tac Toe I did not beat the Tropicana chicken but I heard someone else has done it. ENTERTAINMENT: After seeing a variety of shows in Vegas, Iâ€™m finding that I am tiring of those midpriced impersonation shows where entertainers pretend to be famous singers. We saw Honkey Tonk Angels at the Gold Coast and one in Laughlin with male country impersonators. I see that it is a more and more popular genre of musical entertainment. The Scintas were a step up from the usual. One fellow in that family is incredibly talented and really carries the show. But I may be prejudiced as they are from West Side Buffalo. However, I guess I best like the lounge acts because the setting is more intimate and the performers more accessible. There is more music and less hoopla. I like the freedom of sitting for a while and watching the performers or doing a little easy dancing and not being tied into a time frame. It certainly is an inexpensive way to experience live music. Iâ€™ve begun to do a little investigation before going to vegas by finding out who is playing where and running google searches to get reviews or information. This trip I enjoyed Nick Conte, a jazz blues group playing songs I knew mixed with some original pieces. I also was impressed with Huck Daniels who I saw at the Stratosphere opening a Monday blues review. The groups to follow were not memorable, but Huck was very talented. I caught The Checkmates at Arizona Charliesâ€™ and enjoyed their act which has been around Vegas for a long time now. I was not impressed with Susan McDowell or The Next Level, except that the girl dancers were sexy. Finally, I went to see Viva Las Vegas, the cheapest show in Vegas and it was great, just like old vaudeville. I am tired of two other things. I donâ€™t want to be told when to â€œput my hands together.â€ Iâ€™ll do it when the music moves me. And I donâ€™t like all the flag waving, maudelinly sentimentally patriotic, oh-how wonderfully-we-love-our-country endings that so many shows have begun to exploit in order to produce a mandatory standing ovation as a closing. BUFFETS and FOOD I loved Bellagio The Gold Coast, and the Orleans. The Stratosphere was fine. The Rio was way over priced but the deserts were the best Iâ€™ve ever tried. The Saharra was a real bare bones buffet. Donâ€™t eat there. Boulder Station was fine. Arizona Charlieâ€™s East gave me quite a lunch for about $5. I ate there often because I played there. Samâ€™s Town has dropped that great fudge ending and I found their buffet disappointing. At the Nevada Palace cafe we ater simple, tasty cooked food and the waitresses were so easy and friendly that they became part of the family. Some of us were there just there to talk and ordered nothing, but we were never rushed or made to feel in the way. On the contrary, the staff joked and told stories and encouraged us to take our time and enjoy each otherâ€™s company. The Orleans graveyard specials had cold eggs twice. Arizona Charlieâ€™s specials were tasty including the inexpensive T-bone steak. The service there is very friendly and out to make you feel relaxed and happy. FINAL TIP Order a water with every drink while gambling. The tip is the same. Because they will not bring a covered water bottle, stick a few bottle caps in your pockets and you can cover the water and easily take it along with you as you wander. It will keep you cheaply hydrated. SIDE TRIPS LAUGHLIN- At the last minute we grabbed a $25 room at the Flamingo and spent one night. It was a fine room with a view of the water. People in line ahead of us had coupon specials mailed to them for $7 rooms there. We walked to the famous watch store in the casino next to the Flamingo and bought a few. All sell for $20 and there is everything you could ever imagine there. I think they advertise 30,000 watches all out for easy examination. It was great to see the river and we were given free show tickets. FLAGSTAFF- Using this fine town as a home base for four days we spent one day exploring the Grand Canyon, another seeing Walnut canyon and other local Native American places of interest. We took in sunset in Sedona and the setting sun colors were intense and wonderful. We bought tourquoise jewelry from native American craftspersons. We ate at Black Bartâ€™s steak house where the waiters and waitresses pause from their duties to sing old musical numbers all during supper. They were all music students from Northern Arizona University. From there we went down to Tucson to see family.