On the last day of my most recent Vegas trip (first in 6 years and last in who knows how long), I had much of the day to myself while my brother was in a conference until 5:30 pm. My goal was to avoid being paralyzed by all the options Vegas has to offer, so before the trip I came up with a plan to do a Downtown video poker crawl and play at all 11 DTLV casinos. I also had a stack of coupons from the American Casino Guide that I bought at the last minute, and almost all of them were for match play or free play at various Downtown casinos.
I had already checked Google Maps to figure out the most efficient order, and had marked down a few bars that I wanted to sit and get a drink at and the American Casino Guide coupons I had available:
- El Cortez
- The D (Vue Bar; $25 match play from ACG)
- Downtown Grand (Furnace Bar)
- Fremont ($10 match play, $10 free slot play after playing $25 for new B Connected members)
- Four Queens
- Golden Nugget
- Golden Gate ($25 match play)
- Plaza ($10 match play)
- California ($10 match play)
- Main Street Station (Boar’s Head Bar; $10 match play)
The rules were simple: Find a decent machine using VPfree2.com as a guide, put in $20, and move on when that $20 was gone or doubled — unless I had a coupon from American Casino Guide or was playing at a comp bar and in the middle of a drink. The hope was that the free play and match play coupons would make me back some of the losses from video poker. Let’s see how that went!
I woke up on my last day in Vegas not feeling great after the previous night’s revelry, and almost scrapped the entire thing in favor of more Strip time (as Kyle assumed I would on podcast episode 104). But listener Justin W. messaged me on Facebook telling me to do what I said I was going to do, and that I shouldn’t let my American Casino Guide coupons go to waste. By the time I finally got off my ass and decided to order a Lyft, I had a bit under 4 hours to complete the run.
My starting point was El Cortez but I didn’t want to spend much time there because I had spent an hour or so on the $5 craps table there the previous night. This plan was all about seeing the places I hadn’t seen — plus El Cortez didn’t have any free play or match play in the American Casino Guide. I sat down and quickly lost my $20 on a ticket-in-ticket-out machine. If I had to do it over again I would have played on one of the many old school coin droppers available at El Cortez. Dumb.
I got briefly sidetracked by a walk through Neonopolis on the way from El Cortez to The D, and I can finally see what Tim on Five Hundy By Midnight means when he talks about the nonsensical layout. It feels like it’s somehow inside out, and if they just designed it so all the stores were outward-facing it would be way more intuitive. It does have a cool sports memorabilia shop that reminded me of the ones I went to growing up (and are now almost extinct), a toy shop that’s overstuffed with vintage and new stuff, and Banger Brewing. I decided to skip the happy hour pints at Banger Brewing to save my alcohol intake for video poker bars.
I moved on to The D, and this is where I really fell behind schedule. I sat at Vue Bar and almost immediately hit four of a kind. I played through a few more hands to see if I could get it a little higher (and because I had just ordered a drink), but when my credits got down to $41 I cashed out rather than risking going below $40. From there I used my first American Casino Guide coupon — a $25 match play that they gave me in chip form. I went downstairs, signed up for a card, and sat at a $5 blackjack table with my $25 match play chip. I won the hand for a quick $50 profit but hung around to play maybe a dozen more hands of break-even blackjack before I decided to take my $50 profit and go place a bet at the Circa-branded sports book, which had the over/under on University of Maryland football wins at 3.5, a full win lower than some other books. By the time I left I had spent over an hour at The D, and making it to all 11 DTLV casinos was already basically impossible. If I ever stay Downtown, The D will get a lot of my play.
From The D, I made the quick one-block detour off of Fremont to go to Downtown Grand. My immediate impressions were that it was welcoming, clean, and very, very empty. It’s also video poker heaven. The American Casino Guide coupon was for a free deck of cards for new player’s club members, which I think they would have given me without the coupon, and another free play coupon that was not as good as their new member bonus. (I think it was $20 or $25 coin-in on slots to get a free play bonus between $5 and $1,000. I got one of those two extremes, but I’ll leave it to you to guess which one.)
I played positive-EV double double bonus at Furnace Bar, chatted briefly with the extremely friendly bartender, and ordered a beer that was comped even though I was playing a positive EV game. Within 5 minutes or so I hit two four-of-a-kinds and was up more than $100 on the machine. I decided I might as well stick around Downtown Grand long enough to earn my free play on slots and ended up giving $20 of my winnings back, but it was worth it because it’s a beautiful property. For a brief visit the emptiness of Downtown Grand didn’t bother me much, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend a whole night gambling there unless I was with a group that could liven it up a bit. It seems like it’d be a great place to stay otherwise, especially with Pizza Rock and Triple George right there.
My next stop was Fremont and it was another time drain, but not because I was having a great time. I had a $10 match play and $10 new member slot play bonus from the American Casino Guide, and they had a promotion where they’d give you $5 after you played $1 if you were a new B Connected member. I didn’t think they’d let me stack ACG new member bonus with their own signup bonus, but the lady at the player’s club desk assured me they would as long as I made separate trips to the desk. I lost my match play on a Pai Gow Poker table and didn’t make much of the initial $5 slot play, and after I lost my $20 on video poker I decided to go ahead and play the $10 free play on the same machine and ended up getting my $20 back. I took the break-even stop at Fremont and moved on. Even for Downtown, Fremont has low ceilings and cramped machines and I can’t imagine going back for more than a few minutes. It’s quintessentially old-school Downtown Las Vegas but it was probably my least favorite place to gamble on Fremont Street.
At this point I had used up well over half my available time before I needed to be back on the Strip if I was going to get dinner before Piff the Magic Dragon at Flamingo at 8 pm. Four Queens wasn’t particularly exciting (although nicer than Fremont) so I played through my $20 and moved on. I think I’d have liked it more if I wasn’t in a rush but it doesn’t stand out to me at all.
I stopped in Golden Nugget just long enough to go to the restroom — VPfree2.com wasn’t showing any good video poker there anyway — and opted to skip Binion’s, which was my restroom stop the night before. For some reason I subjected myself to the entire 10-episode run of Casino Confidential, a terrible reality show that aired in 2012 and is now available on Amazon Prime Video. That was more than enough to get a sense of the property.
Next up was Golden Gate, where I had another $25 match play from American Casino Guide. I played one hand of blackjack, lost the bet, and was very confused by VPfree2’s directions on where to find good video poker. Finally I found something acceptable in a dead corner of the casino and very quickly lost my $20. I wasn’t feeling Golden Gate, although I could see how people would be really into the sort of loungey, clubhouse vibe there.
At this point it was 4:30 and I knew I wanted to make it to Main Street Station, so I decided to forego my $10 match play coupons at Plaza and California. I did pop my head into the Plaza and it seemed like a place I could spend some time if I had any to spare. I skipped The Cal entirely.
Finally at Main Street Station, I found some good Double Double Bonus and, again, quickly went up $50 on a four-of-a-kind and cashed out my ticket. I also had a $10 match play coupon from American Casino Guide, which I used to bet on black at roulette. It hit and I debated pressing it but decided to take my $20 profit. I was about to get a Lyft back to the Strip with some time to spare, but I remembered my primary goal at Main Street Station was to go to Boar’s Head Bar and get some Triple 7 craft beer while playing 9-6 jacks or better.
I found the bar, grabbed a seat, ordered a Carlsbad IPA (delicious) and played for 20 minutes or so while I looked at my gambling log to figure out my final tally for the day and wondered if I was going to make it back in time for dinner before Piff the Magic Dragon. I ended up losing $10 at the bar to finish the video poker crawl up $101; the match play and free play coupons netted me another $15; and I ended up getting three free decks of cards that I had to carry around the whole time. It was a great way to spend a solo day and one of my favorite experiences of the four-day Vegas trip.
If you’re a video poker player or just want a way to quickly get a feel for Downtown, doing the full 11-casino crawl is a great way to do it. Here’s what I’d recommend:
- Start at El Cortez and play the coin droppers.
- Head to Vue Bar at The D and get a drink while playing Bonus Poker.
- Walk over to Downtown Grand and play at Furnace Bar. By now you’re feeling good on a couple drinks, so stop for a pizza at Pizza Rock or a full meal at Triple George.
- Wander through Fremont, Four Queens, Binion’s, and Golden Nugget but skip the gambling unless one of them is really calling out to you.
- Make quick $20 stops at Golden Gate and the Plaza.
- Walk through the California on the way to Main Street Station.
- Leave yourself plenty of time for checking out Main Street Station and hanging at Boar’s Head Bar for Triple 7 beer and full-pay Jacks or Better. This was by far the coolest-looking place Downtown, in my opinion, and I wish I had way more time to spend there.
That at least gets you a quick look at every Downtown casino without wasting a lot of time at the lesser properties. I can’t wait to do this again next time I’m in Vegas, whenever that may be.