Monday, May 31, 2010

Viva Laughlin (unedited)

Not long ago on a blog I wrote that I'm too young to start vacationing in Laughlin, Nevada.

As previously noted, I spent a few days in April vacationing in Laughlin. The trip was with my girlfriend, and we rented a convertible in order to spend a night in Vegas. Remember this?

The trip was ridiculously cheap, which is why we went. Getting out of town is great, and when times are tough, you take what you can get.

I had been to Laughlin once, spending a handful of hours there during a trip to Vegas. I don't know if they still offer them, but years ago there were free buses from Vegas that delivered you to Laughlin for five hours. I was on vacation with my friend and her parents, and we took the free bus one day, just to see the casino town built along the Colorado River. That was the reason Monica and I went to Laughlin. I think her parents spent all their time gambling.

It was interesting to see, but I had no desire to return to Laughlin. But when the price is right, it's hard to say no.

We had a direct flight from Minneapolis to Laughlin on a charter airline. The airport is a single runway parallel to the river, on the Arizona side of it. I don't remember what airline it was, but I liked it. The drinks were a buck or two cheaper than most airlines, which certainly put me in the mood for a 3-1/2 day vacation.

We stayed at Harrah's, the last casino along the river. There are eight or 10 casinos along the river, and one across the street from them. Many of them are easily accessible by walkways along the river. Unfortunately Harrah's is a bit of an island unto itself. It's not miles away, and there's a way to get to the other casinos by walking, but it's not quick and convenient to do. On a hot day in Laughlin, I wouldn't want to make the walk, even if it's a dry heat.

Harrah's is a nice property, and on the weekend the Laughlin casinos nabs their share of varying demographics. It is, after all, 100 miles closer than Las Vegas for many people in Arizona, and touring shows of varying genres do come through town, so it's not entirely a retirement community. But it sorely lacks the opulence and reckless disregard of Vegas.

We arrived on a Saturday night, prime time for the casino cruisers. I was grateful to have a late afternoon flight instead of an early morning flight as is often the case when flying to Vegas. It was a nice day in Minnesota and I spent part of hit hunting down a feature photo for my newspaper(s). Not what I wanted to do, but duty calls.

Our first night was rather modest. We played some video blackjack and I made a few bucks, even though I swear those video blackjack machines are rigged. We didn't venture elsewhere that night.

On Sunday the weather was nice. It was sunny and warm, but the hotel towers shade the pool by mid-afternoon. The pool itself was cold, surprisingly so, and the hot tub wasn't exactly hot. But it was nice to enjoy outdoor pool weather in April.

It may have been my first vacation in Laughlin, but I'm no dummy. I found coupons for two Laughlin casinos inside American Casino Guide, a comprehensive book about casinos nationwide. The book is popular primarily because of the coupons in it, many of which are for the Vegas area, and many of which aren't that spectacular. But there are several two-for-one discounts in it. For Laughlin there were two-for-one buffet deals at Harrah's and another casino up the river, Aquarius. We also had a two-for-one meal deal in the cafe at Harrah's, so that made three discounted meals during our trip. And what did I pay to get this book? Less than $4, delivered. It costs around $15 to get it delivered, typically, but I'm savvy, I used a little of that online magic to get a great deal.

We spent some time Sunday night exploring other casinos. As I noted, it's easy to go from one to the next as long as you're not at Harrah's. They have a water taxi service, however, that runs up and down the river each day. It doesn't run particularly late, so we took one of the pontoon boats up the river that evening and took a traditional taxi back to Harrah's. It costs $4/person for the water taxi. It cost less than $8 for a traditional cab to take us back to Harrah's.

I had some good and bad luck on Sunday evening. On Sunday afternoon I saw the Minnesota Timberwolves were only 5-point underdogs against the Charlotte Bobcats, in Charlotte. The Wolves are terrible, and Charlotte was a playoff team. I bet $25 on the Bobcats. They were crushing Minnesota at halftime. I wish I had bet a lot more than $25, as I easily won that wager.

I entered a poker tournament that evening at Harrah's. I think it was a $45 entry fee. I had good luck in the first hour. I had pocket queens on a hand where an opponent had pocket kings. The flop had all low cards, so I bet a decent amount. The woman called. A queen came on the turn, I bet the rest of my chips, (which technically was an all-in bet, although it lacked the intimidation of an all-in bet.) We turned up the cards and everyone saw how lucky I was. I had to dodge a king or jack on the river to win the hand. She would have made a higher set with a king, a straight with a jack. She got neither, I win the hand.

Unfortunately blinds move fast enough that you can't sit on one big win for a long time. After the intermission the blinds were quickly zapping my stack, so I had to go all in with any decent pocket cards, and when I did it was game over for me. Such is life.

On Monday we rented the Ford Mustang for our trip to Vegas. It was a bit cool by Nevada standards, so the convertible wasn't as appealing as it should have been, but it was warm enough to enjoy the ride, at least during the afternoon. We arrived in Vegas mid-afternoon. How did we spend our first hours? After checking in at our hotel I dropped my girlfriend off at Luxor, where a friend of hers was staying. I went to the Pinball Hall of Fame and spent three hours playing pinball machines of every vintage. It's a working pinball museum, and it's a blast. I could spend hours at that place.

My girlfriend is well connected, she had a comped room for us at Paris, and we also had a free buffet dinner at Caesar's Palace, as well as a late show at Bally's. The buffet was normally $27 per person, and plenty of people were lined up to pay for it. We didn't have to wait, and it was complimentary. What a life I lead!

As for our show, it was rather odd. It was a classic Vegas show. Jubilee has musical numbers, fancy sets and topless women. It's quite a production, but I still don't get the point of the topless women. In a strip club, it makes sense. When dancing and singing, it seems silly. Not every woman was topless every moment of the show, but there was plenty of it throughout the night. It was an entertaining show, although after an hour you've had enough. I wouldn't recommend paying full price to see it, but as a free show, it was something to see. The musical tribute to the Titanic was well done, although watching a Vegas show paying homage to a sinking ship is a bit odd.

After Jubilee ended my girlfriend gambled and I walked down the strip to buy some cheap souvenirs. I was looking at calendars on display near a cash machine in the shop. The dude at the cash machine was dressed a bit sloppy and looked rather confused, as if he couldn't figure out how to make his card produce cash. I minded my own business, but in the back of my mind wondered if my minute pouring over calendars in the shop was unsettling to him, as if I was trying to see him enter his secret code. Sure enough, the guy asks, in English, if I wouldn't mind stepping a way for a minute.

English clearly wasn't his first language, so I didn't immediately understand his request. He said he had obsessive-compulsive disorder, and was offering to buy me something if I'd back off for a minute. At least that's what I thought he was saying. At first I thought he was trying to talk me into some sort of scam that I failed to understand since I had a hard time deciphering his lackluster English. But eventually I realized he was just nutty, and needed space. I was pretty much done looking over the calendars, so I had no problem with that.

A woman working in the store, however, did have a problem. She came over and asked the man if he was bothering her customers. The rather quick exchange ended with exclaiming "fuck you" before exiting the store. The woman went out after him, calling to the security officers who were working in the parking lot of the strip mall. I didn't go to the door to see the exchange, or try to defend the guy. Perhaps I should have, as I could hear some sort of discussion going outside the store. Instead I went about my business and hoped the dude with the bad haircut, pajama pants and flip flops would resolve his issues. I see odd characters like that every time I'm in Vegas and wonder how they came to be there. I assume he wasn't a tourist, but even if he was a local, he probably didn't grow up in Vegas. Somehow a guy who didn't have command of the English language and looked like he had just crawled out of bed was trying to use a cash machine at a souvenir shop on the Vegas strip shortly after midnight on a Tuesday morning in April. Explain that one to me.

We hit the road promptly Tuesday morning so we could have the rental car back in Laughlin by noon. I didn't want to pay for a two-day rental if we weren't going to use the car for two days, so there was no all-night fun and games for me in Vegas. As it turned out, I never wagered one dime in Vegas. If I had more time I would have went somewhere I liked playing blackjack. I had a rental car, it would have been easy to do, but I couldn't afford the time. I also would have enjoyed taking a late night spin up and down the strip with the top down, but it was cool, and very windy, so that idea got nixed.

Our final day in Laughlin was spent at the pool in the afternoon and gambling in the evening. My girlfriend gambled at Harrah's, I went up the river by myself in search of better blackjack action. It was a Tuesday night in April, not exactly the most thrilling night of the year, but wow, it wasn't Vegas. I was surprised by how dead the casinos were. I found decent action at my first stop, which I think was Edgewater. Unfortunately my luck was non-existent. I lost $50 playing $5 hands and went on my way.

The next stop was Aquarius, where I managed to win $50 at a $5 blackjack table in a short period of time. Sensing my luck wouldn't last at the table with a couple of amateur players on the felt, I changed tables. I had early luck at my second table, but that went south. Eventually I cashed out even.

I made one more stop for the night, at Colorado Belle. There wasn't much happening there, just a few tables in play. You'd think it was 5 a.m. in Vegas on a Tuesday it was so quiet at 11 p.m.

I managed to have good luck, winning enough cash at $5 or $10 a hand to cover my modest losses during the trip. It was a hand-shuffle table, and I was about even for the trip. I decided if I was ahead $10 by my accounting that would pay for the cab ride back to Harrah's and I could call it a night. I immediately won three hands, cashed out, called a cab and finished the trip a winner, if only by $10.

We had an early flight out on Wednesday, so there was no last-minute gambling that morning.

I wouldn't pay a lot to go to Laughlin, but I enjoyed the trip. We may do it again soon!

No comments: