Worth a stop on one's list of best blackjack sites

December 03, 2013 3:00 AM


Tropicana Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Blackjack Tables Thanksgiving is a time to reflect. It was 17 years ago when I set out on a 2,500 mile journey from Daytona Beach, Florida, to Las Vegas and set up shop.

Along the way I set my road itinerary for gaming sites. For example, I made it a point to drive the first day as far as Biloxi to take in some of the Mississippi casinos.

There weren’t any more the rest of the way, but I did have lunch in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, because I loved the name and thought Bob Barker might show up. I remember hitting Flagstaff, Arizona, during a snowstorm and crossing into Nevada to desert again.

Cut to a couple of days ago when I was watching an account of the top 10 hockey arenas and it made me think of compiling my best blackjack venues. I don’t play 21 nearly as much now as I did then, for good reason. Back then I was a tourist and able to bring out $1,000 of gambling money. Now, living in Vegas, you can’t play tourist every day.

I have to say, by far my best blackjack experience came at the old Tropicana with that Sistine Chapel-type ceiling. I happened to get a seat immediately to the left of big Jonathan Ogden, who was playing in the NFL at the time and would go on to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Well, Jonathan could have made the blackjack Hall of Fame. Thanks to him, I had the greatest run of success ever in gambling, walking away with over a grand. But that was nothing compared to what J.O. left with. I kid you not, he must have had a run of 10 or 12 wins in a row and he was putting in so many $100 chips I couldn’t even count.

Ogden had so many great cards it both inspired and embarrassed me not to at least risk enough chips so he wouldn’t laugh. I have never had the chutzpah to play that reckless since or ever experienced the success of that day.

What I did learn was to appreciate the game and those at the table you often play off. You can find 21 anywhere, but the right chemistry is so difficult to locate. It’s like “the zone” athletes seek, where they seem unbeatable.

Yes, the Trop was my favorite place to play. My worst experience was at the Sands in Atlantic City where I won $300 in about five minutes and talked myself into quitting so I wouldn’t lose it.

The problem was I had absolutely nothing to do. Unlike Vegas, Atlantic City was boring. It was winter, my dad and I had made the all-day excursion from Long Island by bus and didn’t want to spend the time in the hotel room doing nothing.

So I went back down to the blackjack tables and the Sands proceeded to take back all the money won and then some. I rode back home totally pissed, but didn’t have the guts to tell my dad what happened for fear he would kill me.

Anyway, that’s the best and worst. Now for the eight in-between, definitely worth a stop on anyone’s bucket list of blackjack sites.

Trump Marina (Atlantic City): The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe how different it was to be that far removed from the center of AC. Definitely the best venue at that time to play 21.

Beau Rivage (Biloxi): Very upscale with that Mississippi charm. Antebellum homes all along the waterfront overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Thank goodness for the gaming, it rains constantly there.

Stardust: Sadly, no longer around but what a marvelous casino. There was the legendary sports book, a wonderful lounge show that was free and an awesome 50’s-style restaurant.

Caesars Palace: You couldn’t get a table under $10 but what incredible atmosphere. My first experience was shaking hands with “the champ” – Joe Louis, who at that time had the role of official greeter.

Desert Inn: One of the smallest casinos, but second to none in elegance. Same with the sports book. Once had a conversation at the bar with LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster. Wish it were still around.

MGM Grand: Never saw a bigger casino before or since. It just seemed endless. When I played the $25 tables, I remember the pit boss immediately showed up with a player’s club card for me. Nice touch.

Golden Nugget: The finest casino downtown with the feel of a Strip resort. That fabulous pool and outdoor 21 make it a summer stop, especially when Tony Miller comes out with the College Football Games of the Year.

Bally’s: Always enjoyed the tables there. It’s where I really got to learn the nuances of 21. Still love the Times Square-type electronic information board outside and the monorail from MGM Grand.

Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at MarkMayer@GamingToday.com.

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