By LV Bear
“LV Bear” is the pseudonym of a Las Vegas-based professional casino patron, advantage player, and outspoken casino critic who regularly visits casinos throughout Nevada and elsewhere. He is a frequent contributor to www.bj21.com and other informed gambling and casino-related websites. LV Bear can be reached through his website, www.TheBearGrowls.com, a unique weblog where he voices his sharp criticism of the casino industry and its many violations of business ethics, players’ rights, and its corrupting and negative impact on society in general.¬ More about the Bear can be found at http://www.thebeargrowls.com/?page_id=2
LV Bear is a regular visitor to Reno, having made ten to fifteen trips there every year for the last fifteen years. He is normally a high-stakes player, but agreed to spend a few days playing at below-normal stakes at various casinos throughout northern Nevada, to get a glimpse at what opportunities might exist for lower-stakes players.
Reno and other parts of northern Nevada are different from most casino destinations throughout the world. By “Reno,” I mean the general Reno area, including Lake Tahoe. I like Reno. Most employees are friendly. Most casino management still behaves as if it appreciates having customers. Comps are easy and generous. If you are accustomed to the hostility, rudeness, and mostly lousy games found throughout Las Vegas, Reno will be a pleasant surprise.
Single deck blackjack that pays 3 to 2 is still found almost everywhere. Other blackjack games are also offered, some quite lucrative, but in this article we will primarily address the single-deck games. To determine which casinos offer other playable games, see Current Blackjack News: https://bj21.com/cbjn
Sample issue: https://assets.bj21.com/newsletters/pdf_files/000/000/028/original/CBJN1805.pdf?1525361174
Basic elements of successfully counting cards at single-deck blackjack in Reno include:
1. Recognition that the correct approach to the single-deck game is different in many ways than multi-deck games.
2. Proper game selection. See this link for a general guide: http://www.bj21.com/bj_reference/pag...election.shtml
3. Accurately counting the rounds that are dealt, to properly gauge penetration and to be able to recognize preferential shuffling.
4. Large bet spreads in short, anonymous sessions.
5. Not becoming a “familiar face” if it can be avoided. If you become familiar, other strategies must be used, which are beyond the scope of this article.
General Reno Information:
Flights to and from Reno are numerous and inexpensive. Reno’s airport is small and efficient. Some may find it more economical to fly to Las Vegas and buy a separate round trip ticket to Reno. Southwest Airlines is the airline of choice to Reno.
A nice feature of Reno is that local chips are interchangeable at almost all local casinos, both at the tables and at the cages. Therefore, there is no reason to go to the cage after most sessions. You will save time this way. Note that a few casinos have maximums on how much in “foreign” chips they will cash. Eldorado, Silver Legacy, Atlantis, and Peppermill are usually the best at cashing “foreign” chips without unreasonable limitations or hassles.
A car is necessary for Reno. Most of the worthwhile casinos are in a relatively compact area, but trying to navigate it without a car is foolish. Car rentals are cheap. Sometimes you can find a better deal by checking prices online a day or two before your scheduled arrival, then canceling your earlier reservation and rebooking at the lower rate. Parking is free and easy everywhere. Self-park is usually more efficient than valet, with a few exceptions.
If not staying in a downtown hotel, the best downtown parking is the Eldorado valet. It is safe, efficient, and you can easily walk to all the downtown casinos from there. However, I do not recommend walking to the Sands Regency after dark. Drive to it separately. All others are safe to walk to at any hour if you use common sense. In addition to the two mentioned, downtown casinos include Cal-Neva, Circus Circus, Harrah’s, and Silver Legacy. There is a second-level indoor walkway between Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus. Use it instead of walking outside.
Self-park garages to avoid are Cal-Neva and Harrah’s, especially after dark, Cal-Neva because of the unsavory characters who frequent the place, and Harrah’s because it is a slow, winding garage that wastes time entering and exiting. Use self-parking at all other casinos except the large ones in Lake Tahoe, where valet is usually more efficient. The slowest valet service is at JA Nugget and Atlantis. The self-park at these two casinos is not convenient but is better than the slow valet service. At Peppermill, use the parking garage, unless you have a Diamond or Platinum parking pass, in which case the outside parking lot by the sportsbook is usually the fastest. Otherwise, proceed directly to the top (sixth level) and you will usually find plenty of places right by the elevator. To save time when entering the Peppermill property from Virginia Street, use the southernmost driveway, not the one with the traffic signals unless you intend to park in the lot by the sportsbook.
A quick route from Peppermill or Atlantis to Grand Sierra is to take Moana Lane to the 395/580, instead of Plumb Lane. Reverse it from Grand Sierra to Peppermill or Atlantis.
To generate comps for use on future visits, you will need to determine which casino(s) you want for a “home base,” then play a narrow, polite blackjack spread there for a few hours so as not to risk getting backed off, or play other games and still play a strong anonymous blackjack game. You will have to determine which approach is best for you. Reno room comp mailers are generous and plentiful. Once you get on a mailing list, you will stay there for a long time, usually monthly offers with no play requirement. An approximate minimum level of play to get lots of room offers, some free play or cash coupons, and enough comp “points” for free food while in Reno is about three hours of blackjack with a weak, practically break-even spread, maybe 1-3 in black. If you get comps based on blackjack play, be prepared to put in this time on most visits to keep the offers flowing. In addition to the expenditure of time, another downside is that you waste a place to play aggressively because you will become known to the pit and therefore unable to play anonymously.
Video poker $5 machines ($25 per hand) will get you decent comps with less time wasted. I personally know only 9/6 Jacks and 8/5 Bonus, which have a low house edge but are good for room and food comps at most stores. Video poker is boring, but I force myself to play it at the better-comping stores to keep the freebies flowing. The value of the freebies is far more than the expected loss at video poker. Of course, the variance at video poker is huge, so small-bankrolled players cannot prudently use this method of extracting comps. About $15,000 of coin-in (about an hour of play at the moderate speed of 600 hands per hour) will put you into the decent comps category at most Reno casinos.
If using the video poker method, do not play blackjack on the same visit to that casino. If you get backed off blackjack anonymously, surveillance can backtrack you to the video poker machine and discover your identity, resulting in the probable loss of your comps. Naturally, you can return later to play aggressive blackjack anonymously. Even if you get backed off, your room and free money offers will continue, because they will have no way of knowing you are the same person.
Though comp policies change often, as of this writing the most generous comps appear to be from Eldorado, Nugget and Grand Sierra. Boomtown is an easy room comp for moderate stakes blackjack play.
Individual casino comments:
Let’s define the levels of play I’ll refer to throughout the brief visit to each casino in the area. Some casinos will be playable for players at certain bet levels but not at others. Therefore, we’ll break it down and define the players as follows, based on their normal maximum bets:
Max bet of under $100 = tiny stakes
Max bet of at least $100 but less than $300 = low stakes
Max bet of at least $300 but less than $500 = moderate stakes
Max bet of $500 and above = high stakes
Reno and Sparks:
ALAMO: This little truck stop is unplayable for all but tiny stakes players. It has just a $100 max, but play at or near the max is not tolerated for long. The typical patron is a coin-playing truck driver.
ATLANTIS: A nice, well-run casino that is playable at all stakes.
BONANZA: Unplayable at any stakes. Preferential shuffling is rampant, even against tiny stakes players, who would otherwise be the only ones who could play there because of the $100 table max.
BOOMTOWN: Playable at tiny to moderate stakes. Dealers keep their own tips. As mentioned above, room comps are easy. Biggest problem is finding empty tables. The few patrons are packed into little losing clusters by management’s table-closing tactic.
CAL-NEVA: Playable only at tiny to low stakes. Anything else will get quick, unpleasant scrutiny. Quick to back off anyone suspected of the slightest amount of brain usage, and often the backoff is belligerent and nasty. This is one of the few casinos where I feel fear for my personal safety from some of the staff. Some of the security guards look like they were just paroled from prison. Sometimes their behavior is as bad as their looks. Dealers keep their own tips. Many incompetent dealers, watch for errors.
DIAMOND’S: The worst place in Reno. It’s in a dangerous slum neighborhood, with a clientele of mostly street people and drug addicts. There have been stabbings in the parking lot. This place makes Cal-Neva look like Bellagio. Diamond’s is unplayable at any stakes. Preferential shuffling is rampant, even against tiny stakes players, who would otherwise be the only ones who could play there because of the $100 table max. Stay away, unless you have a morbid curiosity for the seedy side of life.
ELDORADO: A nice casino with a few good games, but sweaty and intolerant. Dealers keep their own tips. Playable in ultra-short sessions at all stakes. Backoffs are usually polite, but there have been nasty ones as well.
GRAND SIERRA: A nice casino that is playable at all stakes. Dealers keep their own tips. It has improved from a sweatshop into a reasonably tolerant place. The best blackjack game in Reno can be found here, the lone $25 single-deck game. It uses an auto shuffler and rotates two decks, with no time wasted by cutting the cards. The dealer removes the cards from the shuffler, burns one and then deals. With a fast dealer and fast player, the hands per hour can be double the norm. Other casino managers would do well to look at how this game is presented. Though good for brain-using patrons, it is also good for the casino against all regular patrons.
HARRAH’S: Playable only at high stakes. Other than the single-deck games with $50 to $100 minimums, the blackjack is garbage. The high stakes games are better played in the high-limit room, as the one playable table on the main floor (next to the escalator) is usually crowded.
NUGGET (SPARKS NUGGET) A nice casino that is playable at all stakes.
PEPPERMILL: A nice casino that is playable at all stakes in ultra-short sessions. The pit is generally friendly. Game protection at Peppermill is primarily the function of surveillance, which was at one time among the best in Reno. However, the competence and interest of the present surveillance department is unknown. If you are staying at Peppermill, get your anticipated food comps written by the player’s club before you check in. This casino has been known to welch on comps. See: http://www.thebeargrowls.com/?p=69
SANDS REGENCY: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Fleabag motels surround this casino, resulting in lots of dangerous-looking creeps in this place. Customer service is beyond bad. I suggest avoiding it after dark. If you do go there at night, park in the premium player parking area closest to the doors on the east side of the building. Mel’s Diner used to be decent for a quick meal, but it has gone downhill with the rest of the casino and surrounding neighborhood.
SILVER LEGACY: Playable at moderate to high stakes, but quick to back off.
TERRIBLE’S RAIL CITY: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Watch for preferential shuffling by some dealers.
WESTERN VILLAGE: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is only $200. It does not stock black chips in the dealers’ trays. The typical patron is a local flea who bets coins. Poor ventilation makes this place extremely smoky.
Carson City and Minden:
CARSON NUGGET: A waste of time, no need to enter this dump.
GOLD DUST WEST: A waste of time, no need to enter this dump.
CARSON VALLEY INN: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is $300, but table max players aren’t tolerated for long. Watch for preferential shuffling by some dealers.
FANDANGO: Possibly playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. An unethical house policy results in de facto preferential shuffling by dealers who closely follow the policy of dealing a certain percentage of the deck rather than a set number of rounds. The games are unplayable against dealers who follow this policy.
North Lake Tahoe:
All North Lake Tahoe casinos are unplayable for a variety of reasons. No reason to list them at all. Stay away.
South Lake Tahoe:
HARRAH’S: Playable at mid to high stakes at a few tables.
HARD ROCK: Playable at moderate to high stakes.
HARVEY’S (owned by Harrah’s): Playable at moderate to high stakes at a few tables.
LAKESIDE INN: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent.
MONTBLEU: A waste of time, no need to enter this dump.
RED HAWK CASINO (about 50 miles west of South Tahoe, in California): Definitely NOT worth the trip from Tahoe. Nothing special there.