Friday, April 14, 2006 | 7:18 a.m.
If you're interested in the Hooters casino on Tropicana Avenue from a gambling perspective, I hope you're a poker player because the place is a blackjack wasteland.
It's not news that paranoia strikes deep among people who run blackjack pits in Las Vegas, but Hooters takes it to a new low.
At most casinos, even those with the lousy, shallowly dealt two-deck blackjack games you see around town, they're content to suddenly shuffle the cards whenever anyone with half a clue raises his bet, thus rendering the game unplayable. This odious practice, unfair to sharp card players and square tourists alike, is known as "preferential shuffling."
The games at Hooters are so bad, they don't even have to resort to preferential shuffling.
The casino offers table after table of blackjack that pays off at odds of 6-5 on a natural (two cards that make 21) rather than the traditional odds of 3-2.
While 6-5 blackjack has, unfortunately, become widespread in recent years, Hooters takes it a step further by restricting players from doubling down except on hands of 10 or 11.
(My vision of hell goes like this: I'm sitting at a 6-5 blackjack table for some reason, and I attempt to double down on a 9 against a 6. The dealer shoves my chips back at me, informing me that particular bet is not permitted.)
It gets worse - or at least more absurd.
At least one table at Hooters that uses a continuous shuffle machine (CSM) to keep the cards in play also has a small sign on it preventing "midround entry" by would-be players.
Such signs are common at traditional (non-CSM) blackjack tables to discourage card counters from jumping in only when the cards are in their favor. But with a CSM, the cards can't be tracked. It's essentially all one infinite "round," so why try to prevent midround entry?
As a review of Hooters on the Web site advantageplayer.com put it, "In what universe does this make sense?"
Like that reviewer, I too was disappointed to discover this blackjack bizarro world. As a new kid on the block and an independent casino operator - rather than yet another outpost of some corporate gaming monstrosity - Hooters had an opportunity to establish itself as a cool, boutique destination where blackjack fans could enjoy a fighting chance.
I did get a sense of what might have been in Hooters' cozy three-table poker room. It offers no-limit Texas hold 'em for small buy ins, a friendly and efficient staff and a loose, laid-back vibe. Also, complimentary fresh quesadillas and other snacks about 5 a.m.
You get to the poker room by walking right past all those blackjack tables, and not looking back.
After a sneak preview of the impressive race and sports book at Red Rock Resort, I concur with Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports operations for Station Casinos, who said Thursday the book will be the best place in Summerlin to watch a sporting event.
The book's centerpiece attraction is a set of three side-by-side jumbo screens, each 18-by-32 feet - which equates to 96 feet of consecutive video wall space. Each of the big screens can be divided into at least 10 possible configurations displaying horse races, sporting events and Station Casinos odds, according to Jason McCormick, director of race and sports at Red Rock.
The book contains 213 seats with TV monitors in addition to five VIP booths in the rear. The amount of money bettors are required to wager to qualify for VIP status will vary, according to McCormick. Real high rollers will probably fill the booths during busy periods such as football weekends, with lower rollers invited to use them during slower times such as a Monday or Tuesday during baseball season, McCormick said.
The book offers full bar service as well as direct-to-your-seat food service from the adjacent Turf Grill.
The Station Casinos sports book "hub" - where betting lines originate and are adjusted for all of the company's casinos - was moved to Red Rock from Palace Station on April 5.
Red Rock Resort opens Tuesday evening, meaning Wednesday will be the first full day of operation for the race and sports book. The book will be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. during football season.