Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Caesars in The Catskills - Well, Almost the Catskills

According to @howardstutz on Twitter and in this morning's Las Vegas Review Journal, Caesars has throw its hat into the ring with a $1 million application in the hopes of securing one of four casino gaming licenses available in New York State. Good for Caesars; but, they have a lot of work to do.

Although there will be bids for casinos in the upstate Southern Tier area of NY and in the Albany area, there will also be bids for casinos in the formerly popular Catskills region. None will be available during this wave in the highly populated NYC/Long Island area. The area that Caesars in seeking to locate in has some issues, however.

The Orange County of New York is not the Orange County of California. Although there is a large airport nearby (Steward Airport) I hesitate to call it a major airport. The largest city in Orange County, NY, Newburgh, has been a depressed area for a long time and not somewhere that casual tourists venture or will want to venture. The area Caesars is investigating is close to, if not adjacent to, a very large discount outlet shopping center called Woodbury Common Premier Outlets, and that's where the problem begins.

The "Woodbury Common" problem, which on weekends and during holiday shopping times is significant, is a massive traffic boondoggle. The only major artery in the area is the New York State Thruway, Interstate 87. Travelers trying to get in or get out of the area, unless they are coming from the west, must use this artery. But, the Thruway is not the problem - the access roads are. The developers of Woodbury Common seriously neglected or ignored the impact that traffic would have on the area from the shopping center alone. The impact that a large casino resort will have on traffic could be a deal breaker.

Map of Woodbury Common Premium Outlets and Environs

Without exaggeration, there is one way into Woodbury Common and one way out - the same way. Before Christmas and in the weeks afterward, waiting in traffic for an hour or more to exit the shopping center is a common experience. Shoppers have taken to "renting" parking spaces from nearby homeowners to avoid the gridlock. By the time you wend your way onto a public road that connects to the Interstate, your state of mind is a shambles. These will be the same public roads that casino visitors will need to negotiate in order to get into or out of the area.

At 52 miles from the heart of Manhattan,  a Caesars casino near Woodbury Common Premium Outlets would be the closest casino to New York City's 8+ million inhabitants. That's less than an hour away and a welcome alternative to the two large but insufficient slot establishments in Yonkers and Queens. The players are there and they will come but they will not return unless Caesars can guarantee a pleasant way to get in and out of the area. Without a major traffic study and some major infrastructure renovation, this project is doomed to failure.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Getting ready for the twice yearly trip to the City of Sin (and fun, of course). What clothes to bring? How much dough? Do I take that chip marker that I was so lucky with on the last visit? What about that orange shirt I was wearing when I made the final table at that small afternoon tournament at Harrah's?

Superstition is part of gambling and those who cannot admit it need to have a good heart-to-heart talk with themselves. The more rational among us know it's all a bunch of hooey but I'm taking that orange shirt anyway!

A few more thoughts on superstitions . . .

Mojo, Voodoo, or Just Plain Luck!

Walk through any casino in the world and the air is pungent with superstition. Gamblers are, by far, the most superstitious group of human beings you will ever meet. They believe, contrary to every mathematical formula built into every game of chance on the casino floor, that they can influence the outcome of their play. And, don’t try to convince them otherwise! The only logic to all of these gambling antics is no logic at all.

 Start at the slot machines. How many times have you seen a player, man or woman but in this case mostly women, talking to the machine they are playing?

“Come on now! Pay off! You know you want to!”

All the while they pet and pat various parts of the machine to create good vibes. If the machine hits only once during, or soon after, this elaborate ritual, the player’s system is reinforced and will continue unabated. If nothing happens, excuses are easily manufactured and the practice continues anyway. For some slot players the charm is to play an entire bank of slot machines instead of just one. Back and forth, pulling handles or pushing buttons, this slot machine dance is well known and rather common place. Every time one machines scores, the need for the ceremony is fortified.

Craps tables are a haven for superstitious types. Read just one book about dice and the math is very clear – over time more sevens will come up than any other number followed by sixes and eights and then fives and nines right down the line. Snake eyes and box cars pay 30-1 because the odds of them hitting are a mere 1/36 or about 3%. Patterns in the short term can be very different but unadulterated dice land randomly and observant dealers and pit employees are always on the look out for scammers who attempt to physically influence the way the dice land.

Nevertheless, the number of gamblers who throw dice in every conceivable odd manner, hoping to influence the outcome, defies logic - high in an arc, straight down and banging off the rear wall, setting the dice on the table before picking them up, pre-shakes and mini rolls. None of it makes any difference but don’t try telling a gambler that. For the shooter, his or her technique is what works and no one will ever convince them otherwise.

I once observed, and won a little money with, an old fella at a craps table in the Golden Nugget downtown in Las Vegas.  

He was hot, having two impressive rolls one right after the other, so much so that after he sevened-out on the second string of rolls the players around the table willingly passed the dice back to him. After another spectacular series of passes and after winning a bundle he turned to walk away and I naively asked him as he passed by if he always rolled like that. He looked at me, seriously, and said, “Only when I have my underwear on backwards!”

I tried. Didn’t work for me!

** Wish me luck! **

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gambling Without Losing

Every gambler’s dream is gambling and never losing. It doesn’t happen that way. Walk into a casino and the deck is stacked against you. The house odds are set so that over time the house always wins even if you take them for a bundle once in a while. Remember, it’s a business.

In these days of fast growing and constantly changing technology, however, you can simulate accurate and realistic gambling scenarios in the comfort of your own home. Digital technology in the form of computers, cell phones and electronic tablets is now able to simulate casino gambling in a very precise, accurate way.

For those of you not familiar with the newest kinds of cell phones and tablets (iPhones, Blackberries, iPads, etc.) there’s an entire new world waiting for you out there in digital space. These new (new for old timers like me!) cell phone computer programs are called “apps” which is short for “applications,” and for a small fee and sometimes no fee at all you can shoot craps, play blackjack, have a turn at the slots and even “bet” on Keno while you are sitting on your couch, riding the train to work, or vacationing in Aruba! Frankly, it’s amazing.

Now, I’m not talking about internet gambling, which is still not approved in the USA (recently approved in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware!). Pending bills before many state legislatures may change that very soon and then you can risk your own, real money if you want. These games use “play” money but the thrill is every much as authentic as playing for real.

 Two games that I can personally recommend, one a craps game and the other a blackjack game, are easily available for iPhones and iPads.

The craps game is called “Aw Craps!” developed and produced by 24x7digital. (A Review) It costs a whopping $1.99. For that meager layout you get a very slick craps layout that allows every conceivable craps bet you can imagine. Have a scheme? Try it out here for nothing. Unlike many inferior products, this game calculates and allows for all odds bets and even keeps track of statistics. It’s quite good.

The blackjack game is called “Blackjack 21” and it’s made by Smash Atom Software (Another review!). This one is free! You can set your table limits, bet as much as you like, and experience every bet you would at a casino from surrender, to insurance, splitting cards and double downs. You have to put up with a few banner ads that scroll across the top of the screen but after a while you don’t even notice them.

Poker your game? Try the ZYNGAPokerStars or WSOP apps and you will get very close to a realistic online poker experience. Not surprisingly, you will meet players who go “all in” on every hand. This definitely takes away from the experience and from your learning. It’s best to avoid NL Hold ‘em “cash” games and stick with Sit N Go formats or Multi-Table Tournaments (PokerStars has the best of these). For some reason players are more reluctant to push all their chips in without a decent hand in these games.

All of these games are fun and challenging – almost like real gambling – and they won’t cost you a bundle. In fact, they won’t cost you much at all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mt Airy Casino - Worth a Visit?

 Right off the bat, I was not impressed. It seems to me that Mt. Airy is pushing on the “resort” front and on the “casino” front as well. However, I’d wager that my opinion is in the minority since the place was packed on a Saturday afternoon when we visited and very few patrons were complaining. The issue, I guess, is what does one compare this venue to!

The ride from New York is a fairly easy one, straight on I80 from where I live in Westchester County, and closer by about 10 or 15 minutes than Mohegan Sun in Connecticut which is about 2 hours away. Traffic on a Saturday late morning in April was light and moving compared to the trek up I95 to the Indian casinos, a journey that always yields heavy traffic, multiple big rigs hogging the road, and invariably an accident that adds many minutes to the trip.

Mt Airy, a former Poconos vacation destination that catered to couples and weekend getaways in the 60s, 70s and the 80s, is much improved over the building that used to occupy pretty much the same area. Billboards along the way still advertise “lovers’ retreats” but my guess is most of those places are taking a back seat to Mt Airy and the few other Pennsylvania casinos that are within 25 miles of here.

Valet parking is free and you can tip whatever you like but the cars are lined up on the access road waiting for a valet to check them in. Someone needs to take a look at this system and organize the “flow” in a different way. I’m sure Dr. DeNaples, the owner of record, would prefer customers walking in to his establishment with a smile on their faces rather than a scowl from waiting in traffic.

The building itself has a retro rustic look with many stone and wood touches. The entranceway/lobby has a high ceiling and bodes well for the first time visitor. Once you ride the escalator to the 2nd floor you are greeted with a large open room and the ding of slot machines welcomes you to the casino floor.

There are lots of slot machines at Mt Airy, over 2000 in the 62,000 square feet of gaming space. Aside from a few machines that were recently vacated, every machine had a user and some had anxious guests waiting for others to leave. Slot machine business was brisk to say the least.

My wife and I sat down at a $10 blackjack table (there were no tables with a lower minimum when we were there) dealt out of a shoe of at least 6 decks. There was a “designer” side bet that could be made if any of your cards matched the dealer’s cards. Only one person at the table was playing this option – he was either feeling very lucky or he was unaware of the high odds in favor of the casino that these kinds of bets have. I never saw him win this bet once.

We both won, almost doubling our stakes, and moved to a crap table, also $10 minimum. When we first arrived, there was only one crap table open but after an hour or so there was another. The third crap table was closed. Craps was a pretty standard operation with 3,4, and 5 times the odds accepted on pass line bets. There were no additional wagers offered. We lost most of what we won at blackjack but that’s gambling. After a couple of hours on the casino floor many of the $10 tables had changed to $15 minimums and many others had notices that they too were moving up in stakes. My guess is that by Saturday evening the minimum on any table game is $15.

My wife played a few slot machines to no avail and if you do not enjoy slots, Mt Airy is probably not the place for you. Upstairs on the 3rd floor there is a small poker room. When we visited there were two $2/$4 limit full tables, two $1/$2 no limit full tables and one higher stakes no limit table in operation. There were small waiting lists for each game. The manager seemed like a pleasant person which is the norm for most poker rooms. We didn’t play but the room was inviting.

Mt Airy has a large buffet room which we never got into since the line snaked around outside of the restaurant area and moved very slowly. We opted for Betty’s Diner which seemed like another option but that too had a line that was ominous. Another fancier restaurant was closed and apparently only opened in the evenings.

Mt Airy reminded me of what casinos in Atlantic City used to be like when they were the only shows in town – crowded, noisy, unhappy looking people wanting to lose their money any way they can. Yet, for most, this is a viable option if you can deal with the crowds. Many seemed willing to do this.

One last caveat, Mt Airy casino is smoky, very smoky. I am not a smoking Fascist, having had the habit myself and knowing what a hold it has on people. Nevertheless, casinos large and small that invest in sturdy, efficient ventilation systems have conquered the problem of second hand smoke very well. Mt Airy has not done that at this point. The poker room, as is the procedure for most poker rooms where players sit in the same place for hours on end grinding away to make a few bucks, is smoke free!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning the Hard Way: An Education at the Craps Table

Growing up in an urban environment in a family of Italian ancestors, you were never very far away from some sort of gambling. The swarthy guys hanging around the street corner candy shops with scratch sheets of the day’s races were a familiar sight. Running home after elementary school each day to pick up my grandfather’s 15cents for a loaf of French bread and his long list of three digit numbers to be played at a nickel and dime apiece seemed normal and natural. Unloading your brother’s piggy bank for a fist full of change to play poker in the park with a bunch of like-minded friends was a weekly activity.

So, in my early thirties awaiting the opening of the only legal casino gambling in the USA outside of Las Vegas, was something like a dream come true. Atlantic City in 1978 held a good deal of promise as a place to makes one’s fortune the easy way.

My father-in-law was a much more experienced and much more fervent gambler than I would ever be. Soon after Resorts International opened, he made the three hour journey there 2 or 3 times a week, parked himself by a craps table and played until he was satisfied or broke. Following a rather successful week of winnings where he was way ahead of the game and proved it by buying bicycles for each and every grandchild, he invited me along to learn the game.

“It’s an easy game!” he said on the long drive down. “Whatever I do, you do!” Eager to learn I fingered the small wad of “hundies” in my pocket – his winnings from the previous week that he had handed over to me as “seed money.” It all seemed easy enough!

And that’s what I did. Every time he pulled out a hundred dollar bill and plunked it down on the table in exchange for chips, I plunked down one of the ten he had given me. Every time he made a $5 pass line bet, I did too. Come bets, hard ways, no problem. And on and on until his $1000 was gone and so was mine! We stared at each other in dismay. His luck had changed and mine never got off the ground.

Yet, for me that first frenzied losing session at the crap table just doing whatever he did, taught me a lot about gambling and craps in particular. Easy come, easy go is not a common expression for no reason. To this day I rarely, if ever, take out a second hundred dollar bill at the same craps table or at the same online casino game. A hundred dollars can become a thousand very quickly. You can get a good education at a craps table.