Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Bellagio Hotel and Casino (VegasSummer 09, entertainment, gambling)

While a lot of things remained the same, there have also been a good a number of changes at the Bellagio, mostly in the casino. The rooms are still very nice, with a huge bathroom that has both a bath and a shower. The cable is decent, and still has the four Chinese language channels. The minibar is still just as expensive, with $8 for a bottle of Fiji water and $13 for an ethernet cable as they don't have wireless. I remembered to bring my own ethernet cable this time!

As for the casino, it's very clear how things have changed. I arrived on a Tuesday and it was pretty quiet in the casino around midnight. Things picked up somewhat towards the end of my stay as people were coming for the 4th of July weekend. Apparently it's a pretty big deal because a lot of Californians will go to Vegas during that time as Vegas' fireworks laws are less strict. Even then, the biggest sign that things were different was the fact that there are now $10 minimum tables at the Bellagio. I remember for the longest time that at best the minimums at the Bellagio were $25 and those tables would be filled. Now, even the $10 tables don't get that much action. Another difference I think I noticed was that when you used to ask for water while at the tables, they'd give you bottles of Fiji. Now, they give you small bottles of water with a Bellagio wrapper on it. Of course they still have Fiji available, you just have to ask for it specifically.

The only table game I played was Pai Gow tiles. This is actually a simple game hiding under a complex interface. I chose this game for a few reasons. One, almost all the dealers were friendly Cantonese-speaking folks. The night shift floorman was especially friendly and wrote me a couple of two-person comps for Noodles and kept offering me buffet and steakhouse comps. Second, this is the best game for sitting for long periods of time while preserving bankroll. 41% of the hands result in a push, and because of the necessity for hand-shuffling and stacking, only about 40 hands get dealt per hour. I ended down about 260 after playing 8 hours at 50/hand and 4 hours at 100/hand. Lastly, you're allowed to touch the tiles, feel the dots, and try to squeeze out the tile you want. I've always said that this texture part of gambling is a big attraction to asian gamblers, though I don't know why exactly.

I always suggest that people play Pai Gow tiles, and if the casino you're at doesn't offer it, even Pai Gow poker is a fun substitute. Here's an introduction to the game from one of the best casino gambling sites out there, wizard of odds: . Notice that even if you ask the dealer to set the hand the house way for you every time and you bank every time heads up, the house edge still only comes out to about 1.5%. If you play any of the more optimal strategies that he lists at the end, that number comes down a lot more.

Some things, however, don't really change. There were a couple of older guys who flew in from Hong Kong vacationing with their family. One of the guys was betting 5k-10k per hand. By the time i saw him again the following night, he had about 230k in chips in front of him. Also, while the floorman was more than generous with comps, when it came time for me to leave and deal with the pit and the casino host, it was like pulling teeth to get an extra $50 taken off my hotel bill. While the Bellagio is still probably the best place to play Pai Gow tiles, unless you're a big player in general, I don't see why you would want to stay and play at the Bellagio. The aura of superiority and luxury is gone.

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