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It’s no longer your daddy’s casino town!

My first trip to Las Vegas was in 1984. My parents took us there to pretty much tell us that they would be retiring to Las Vegas the following year. They wanted to show us what a fun town it was – and it was! We stayed at the Tropicana, spent way too many hours at the tables and when we did leave the place it was to check out all the other cool casinos up and down the strip and in the downtown area. A lot has changed about Las Vegas in the 25+ years since I first visited.

First of all, the Tropicana was all the way at one “end” of the Strip back then and there wasn’t much around it. If you ventured down to Flamingo Road, you came to the legendary Dunes hotel. If you wanted to go into any of these casinos, you had best have a good set of walking shoes on – their entrances were not two feet off the sidewalk. They were all set back from the street. None of them were setback further than the spectacular Caesars Palace. That’s why they had to build the first people mover – which of course only took you into the casino. If you wanted to leave, you had to walk.

You could head downtown and have a keychain made (for free) with your initials on it at the Golden Goose. Somewhere around here I have a picture of my best friend and me along with $1 Million taken at Binion’s. My folks took me to a little ice cream shop in the Four Queens where a single scoop was 25 cents. Yes, this was 1984, not 1925!

Las Vegas the city has changed much too. I’m guessing that there are now about 2 million more people there than there were in 1984. Once upon a time, there was wide open space to separate Henderson from Las Vegas. Now one just runs into the other. If you went to the North, there was not much there – unlike today wheRE a thriving place known as Summerlin exists.

Inside the casinos, the changes have also been dramatic. Back in 1984, the only game really worth playing was blackjack. We played for $2 or $3, and even with a big shoe, the payback was still well above 99%.

You could head down to the Las Vegas Sports Club and play for $1 and with some of the most liberal rules you’ll ever find. There was no video poker. There were no proprietary table games. Three Card Poker hadn’t even entered Derek Webb’s mind yet. Let It Ride was still several years away. For the most part, you played blackjack, roulette, craps or the slot machines. If you really wanted to throw away your money, you could sit in the keno parlor, which was still quite popular back then.

In 1984, playing slots meant playing the old-fashioned way. Every time you won a hand, you had to wait for the coins to drop out. You prayed you didn’t get one of those machines that couldn’t seem to drop two nickels without churning the barrel a few times. You had to make sure you had “wetnaps” with you because after an hour of putting your coins in the slot before every play, your hands would be black.

In 2010, technology has taken over. Now, the last place you’ll find real coins is in a casino. You put a bill into the slot, you get “credits” and you just press the buttons until you’re ready to cash out. When you do decide to cash out, the machine will simply print an “IOU” that you can redeem at a teller window or even at an ATM-like machine.

Thankfully, one of the biggest changes in the casino is that many of those slot machines have been replaced with video poker machines. Now players have an extra choice when they want to play a 99+% game. Without the computer, video poker would not be possible. Thanks to modern day technology, a single machine can offer the player multiple variations of video poker playing at multiple denominations. This gives the player far more choice to play what he wants rather than being told what to play by the casino.

Less impacted by technology, but still greatly changed over the past quarter century are the table games. Many blackjack tables have been replaced with a vast new array of games with a little more gusto. Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Ultimate Texas Hold’em and others can be found in virtually every casino in Las Vegas and beyond. The latest trend, which is starting to bring technology to the table games, will bring even further changes in the coming years.

I found myself reminiscing about my first trip because I came across about 20 copies of my father’s video tape “Winning at Video Poker” in a box. I had to laugh because it is only available on VHS – which made me wonder what to do with them. I don’t know how many VHS players there are still out there, but if you’ve got one and you’re interested in one of these tapes, I’ve got a deal for you! They originally sold for $20, but in order to clear shelf space, I’m going to sell them for $7.50, which includes shipping and handling. If you’d like a copy, please send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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