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Vegas keeps changing!

Oct 28, 2003 1:40 AM

(Huey Mahl was a former GamingToday columnist. This classic column has been extracted from the GT archives.)

I’m absolutely amazed at the absorption capability of Las Vegas. You’d think the potential audience base would soon be saturated. But then, of course, the nature of the audience base has been expanded. This is readily seen by catering to family recreationists. But then too, the high-end, premium high roller base is being further exploited by developing dazzling suites and amenities to pamper to their rich needs.

There is no better lure in the country as Las Vegas as a business destination. No other city can offer the fun and excitement to mingle in with a convention, workshops, or seminars. Full attendance and participation is almost assured rather than meet say in dangerous and expensive New York. This little resort destination has more room availability than anywhere else, approaching 130,000. Because of traffic volume, air fares are quite competitive.

Back in the mid 1960s, I came here for a job interview at a large downtown casino. It didn’t work as they liked another candidate better’n me and I wasn’t crazy about the money they offered even though free meals and close parking were part of the benefit package.

At that time, I cruised the Strip and Glitter Gulch and was overawed by the casino expansion. I thought surely the bubble would soon break. I assumed that there was only so many gamblers per capita with the wherewithal to travel here. But, of course, most of us were wrong except for the stupid risk takers who turned out to be wealthy visionaries. A big lesson there; when you gamble, don’t think like others.

Huge new mega resorts opened in the 1990s and all the older ones were renovating, expanding, and adding towers. Downtown is revitalizing. Increased traffic, pollution, water, and inept political planning are the only drawbacks.

But amidst all the dust and sawdust, the economy is still focused on the casinos themselves. The ever-grinding money machine whose only product is hope. Let’s face it, win or lose, it’s fun. And for most, it’s a pre-acknowledged admission price. Some in desperation go for the high-risk big score, and yes, even a few grind out a living here.

Even with the income generators overwhelming appetites of the slot machines, a solo slot arcade does not hold the fascination as a full-blown casino environment where about one-third of the action is on table games.

The old so-called "traditional" games such as craps, blackjack, roulette, and baccarat are not as old as one would think. Imported roulette is the exception. Craps enjoyed its boom from the 16 million GI’s of WWII. Blackjack proliferated after the card-counting exposes of the early 1960s. At the same time, baccarat became popular as a Cuban import of the house-banking modification of chemin de fer. Europe’s great "triente de quarte" was a great card game that never caught on here. It proves we didn’t import foreign gamblers but created our own from the American scene. Now foreigners copy us.

The evolution is only five decades old, quite new in the overall course of history. So you’d think new games should be coming to fare. The trouble with new casino games, they come and go, mostly go. You’d think, with all the innovative pioneering spirit of the entrepreneurs, they’d be given a better shot.

A few survivors have been poker-oriented Caribbean stud and Let It Ride. But these high-house vigorish games have limited appeal for casual players, novices, and tourists. Toss in pai gow. They work best on captive audiences, like on cruise ships, who don’t mind experimenting with new things ”” the cruise itself is probably new.

One new game, Quick Draw baccarat, has perplexed me. It was given a 100-day trial and the "hold" was creditable. The vigorish was less than any casino game. It eliminated the bugaboo five percent bank commission. And it was approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. I wrote about it six months ago and thought it to be a winner ”” it was for both sides of the table. Yet the casinos are reluctant to install it. Why? I guess the term "baccarat" frightens many as being only a highroller game and baccarat patrons are the smallest in the casino. Yet it’s the simplest game to play of them all.

Lately, I have been privileged to witness a new game called "Spanish 21." It uses a "Spanish" 48-card deck which is a standard deck without the 10s. To make up for this, the rules are greatly liberalized and the payoffs are greatly enhanced. It even has huge free bonuses for certain hands. Perfect basic strategy will yield the player 99-plus percentage payback. Look for Spanish 21 to fandango into the casino scene soon. It could revolutionize the pit.

What’s new in gaming today? Everything!