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Best of Star Brooks

Gaming Guru

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Up, Up and Away!

8 September 2003

It's that time of year again in Reno... the sky is full of beautiful multi-colored hot air balloons as the Great Reno Balloon Races are in progress... a sight that amazes me every year. Truly majestic in appearance, the balloons float gracefully across the Reno skyline, and the biggest draw of all is the "Dawn Patrol" where several balloons ascend before the sun comes up, creating a glowing and awesome sight which is accompanied by music and creates a visual and audio treat for all. If you didn't make it this year, make your plans for next September... Next week it is the Reno National Championship Air Races/Air Show (September 11-14) at the Reno/Stead Airport off Highway 395 north of Reno... and September 24-28 is Street Vibrations, when thousands of motorcycles invade Reno for the 10th Annual celebration... which I look forward to because I like to see the art these masters of motorcycles create... legendary people like Jesse James bring their finest creations to the show... I'm sure many of you recognize the name from the TV show, MONSTER GARAGE... I'd like to be able to afford some of that art!

I've been out checking out all the new games in Reno as well as some of the older games...making comparisons on pay tables... yes, it is almost impossible to find "full-pay poker" on the video poker games, but I have to look at it from a reasonable stand-point... most video poker games are going to be 8/5 machines... which means that it will pay 8 coins per coin in for a full house, and 5 coins per coin in for a flush. I could spend all my free time running all over Reno looking for a full pay machine or I could take the gamble and possibly win and "make do" with a lesser pay. I have decided that I should just "make do" and keep playing the video poker without sniveling about pay tables... and I have won enough to declare that 8/5 machines are just fine with me. I was complaining for a couple of years about there not being enough video poker, about the removal of many of the progressive video poker banks, and the dwindling of the video keno games. Happily it has come to pass that the players have been heard. For years I watched dozens and dozens of my friends switching to penny slots or mindless coin-eating nickel machines... but at the same time, I started to notice that loads and loads of the new coin-guzzlers were sitting empty... and now the slot manufacturers have brought back tons of new multi-game multi-denomination slots with all kinds of poker and keno combinations. And that is where you find the bulk of the people when you enter any casino in Reno or Sparks.

I visited Duke's Casino in Sparks yesterday... my excuse is always going to be the Starbucks coffee served to the gamblers on the casino floor, but truth is I just happen to like Duke's a whole lot. It is convenient, friendly, comfortable, has all my favorite games on the floor... has a great restaurant (VIVO) and everything is ticket technology, which means no waiting for anything, which allows me to hop from slot to slot when I want to... ticket technology has ruined me... I find no reason to have to visit casinos that can't figure out how to pay me off by hand unless I know they are fast... all the big downtown properties are going ticket technology, or have staff levels sufficient to pay me off extremely quickly... but one or two little bitty places won't or don't and I do try to avoid them. (Tip... if it is a small casino and you are waiting and waiting and waiting... and your cell phone happens to have a signal inside... do what I did at one little bitty place... after 25 minutes of not seeing a soul, I called their main cage on the cell phone and got some red-faced help to cash me out so I could leave--a decision I made after the first 15 minutes had gone by...)

I also have been poking at some of the newer games on the floors. I happen to like the newer version of Monopoly, the Free Parking bonus game. When you reach the free parking bonus, it is possible to buy more cars to park... 10 coins per car per every 9 line bet (45 cents), which enables you to make a little more profit... and the parking meter bonus is good... if you can get 3 parking meters on reels three, four, and five... it gives you free spins and it is possible to rack up a good profit there... I don't see the point of playing the nickel version of "Cash for Life," which is the new Bally progressive... if you play the nickel version, to win the progressive you have to play 27 nickels... or $1.35. Same meter is on the quarter version which only takes 3 quarters... 75 cents. I've also noticed that nickel players appear to have a very hard time reaching any bonus games or making as much money. Yep... I'm a bit frugal on thoughts... but after all, how you play the game counts when you are working on a limited bankroll. Also out is a new 9-line version of Red, White, and Blue... in a multi-denomination slot... get three American flags in a certain position and it takes you to a bonus that appears to have fifty or more stars to pick from. Pick a firecracker and it is over, but I never got burned, and always picked the cash bonuses, which were really fair. I found the version I played out at Tamarack Junction out on the south end of Virginia Street... they are all ticket-in technology with the exception of a very few machines... and they are just finishing their second birthday celebration. Happy Birthday, Tamarack Junction! They are also expanding, so look for a larger Tamarack in the future!

Once again it is time to cover the subject of tipping. I know you've heard it before, but so many people seem oblivious to the fact that casinos employ people in certain positions at lower wages because they are in a job that may or may not get them tips. I think it is common sense that bellhops, waiters, waitresses, beverage servers, maids and that sector of employees are working for wages plus tips... but sometimes people don't think the same thoughts about change people, or key people or for that matter, keno runners... but they also rely on tips just as much as the rest... if a change person has been attentive to you, brought you change, provided you with service... and then you hit a big jackpot... it is nice to take them into consideration. It doesn't have to be much... it depends on how much service you've received... how much you've won, and nowadays... how long you had to wait for the jackpot to be paid.

I'm old-fashioned... or so I'm told... when I started gambling the basic going rate was 10% of the jackpot. I'm a believer in the fact that a service deserves a service. For those wondering, 10% sometimes isn't more than 5% and that is when I haven't seen the expected service level. For instance, if I win a jackpot that isn't taxable and if that payoff takes 15-25 minutes, I am more inclined to drop the tip level considerably. If I have had friendly service, if the employee has taken a moment to smile and be friendly, and if I haven't had a wait longer than 10 minutes, they are more likely to get 10% out of me for making that effort.

I also don't like to see casino employees cry... but stiff one who has been working their butt off when you just won thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands of dollars... or maybe a million or more... and that is what they are going to do when they get out of the public's eye. Most ignored are the keno runners. I did that job once many years ago. It wasn't easy, it required running through a restaurant three trips per game... one to pick up people's tickets, one to distribute their "real" tickets, and one to make pay-offs... 46 games almost killed me...the restaurant was clear down at the other end of the casino from the keno counter. I had 50 or more tickets to distribute per game, and I had to remember who played what and where. Sometimes I made extra trips just to pay off a 50-cent win. I was at the tables more than the waiters and waitresses were, but the tips were slim and sometimes next to none. So I am extremely nice to keno runners, having sympathy for them from experience. Even if I don't win, it is worth a buck or two every couple of games... and if my numbers all happen to come up on the keno board they are the ones that will get my 10% tip without question.

So think about it when you are on the casino floor and Lady Luck deals you a great win. Just think about it in general. Could you live on roughly $6-8 bucks per hour on a 32-40 hour week (or less) and was that win something you didn't have before you got there?

Having fun in Reno is what I do best. There is just so much going on and it is almost a constant flurry of things to do... games to play, food to taste... the list goes on and on and on. It's growing, and it is better than it has ever been. The Downtown Reno Association has formed with Harrah's Reno, the Silver Legacy, Eldorado, and Circus Circus... providing visitors all kinds of entertainment, and of course, the Stay, Play & Win $1,000,000 guaranteed slot tournament being held next month... you can earn entries at all four for the play-offs... so don't forget to make a note to visit Reno! And don't forget, Brew n' Balls has returned to the Reno Gaming Guide with its growing list of Monday Night Football Parties in Reno... as well as many more jackpot winners from popular casinos like Atlantis, Silver Legacy, Eldorado and others. If you want to see more jackpot winners added in, let your favorite casino in Reno or Sparks or even Lake Tahoe know about the Reno Gaming Guide... See you in Reno!