No exagerration, it was the best vacation of my life. Six days in Las Vegas was still not enough, but certainly got closer than ever before. Really had two trips. The first four days were spent camped out in the Sports Book of The Mirage betting on conference tournament games. The last two days spent on a search for cheap craps and games with better odds.
The latter subject was the only downside of our trip. (For those of you who don’t gamble, the following probably won’t prove too interesting.) My wife, Ann, and I noticed that Las Vegas has crept decidedly toward worse and worse odds for gamblers. Of course, casinos have always had the advantage, but recently they’ve been changing the games slightly to increase their house edge.
For instance, one could once easily find a video poker machine on which the payouts are 9 times your bet for a full house and 6 times for a flush. A smart gambler who finds one of these machines and plays a good strategy will find that the house advantage in the game is less than one percent. A couple of years back, the “9-6” machines became harder to find. Now, the once-common machines can no longer be found anywhere in Vegas.
The casinos have similarly changed the odds on blackjack. On a normal table with the right strategy, the casino’s edge is about 1.5 percent. A few years ago, a couple of casinos started changing the rules very slightly. The dealers would hit on a “soft 17” — an ace and a six. The change gives the casino a chance to beat players who have either tied or won with their 17 thru 21. Seems slight, but it dramatically improves the house edge. On our latest trip, Ann and I could find no casino in Vegas that didn’t require the dealer to hit on “soft 17.”
Craps is another game where the odds got worse. Casinos used to battle against each other over who offered the most “odds” on craps. Binion’s Horseshoe famously advertised a craps game offering 100 times odds on a $1 bet. Without getting too technical, the more odds the casino pays you, the more the game tilts in your favor (or at least away from the casino’s favor). As recently as two years ago, many casinos offered $3 tables with 10 times odds. On this last trip, most craps tables started at $10 with only double odds offered. We searched all day to find a craps table in downtown Vegas that offered $3 craps with five times odds. Binion’s, just bought out by a company that owns racetracks in West Virginia, no longer offers anything close to 100 times odds.
A couple of cab drivers confirmed our suspicions. They explained that Vegas was finding no shortage of people gladly willing to lose their money. With the increase in publicly owned firms buying casinos, an emphasis on quarterly earnings has followed. These casinos see no reason to offer the very best odds if gamblers aren’t going to notice when they don’t get them.
But, the search for better odds was part of the fun. We visisted 20 casinos in about two days. (I’m trying to publish photos, but having no luck.) We also caught a great show at the Alladin and enjoyed an incredible dinner at Bobby Flay‘s restuarant inside Caesar’s. The pool at the Mirage was incredible and I actually went swimming — once.
Yes, we came back with a sizable chunk of cash, but all of it was the cash we took with us to gamble. So, we broke even. Given we were in Vegas for 6 days, I’d say that’s a pretty impressive return.