The glittering lights, the irrepressible glamour, and, of course, the dreams of winning big: gambling in Las Vegas isn’t just an activity, it’s a lifestyle. And few know that better than Anthony Curtis, who’s called the city – and its casinos – home since the age of 21. One of the country’s best known professional players, he’s taken home huge jackpots in tournaments like the World Matchplay Blackjack Championships and the Atlantic City Craps Championship, and is behind both an insider’s guide to the city’s best deals (Anthony Curtis’ Las Vegas Advisor) and an independent publishing house that publishes gambling and strategy books (Huntington Press). In short, for anyone looking to dip a toe or two in the Las Vegas gambling scene, he’s the man to know.
We spoke to Curtis to learn the ins and outs of his path to gambling superstardom, his favourite addresses in the City of Sin, and tips on how even inexperienced players can tip the odds in their favour.
Let’s chat about your background. Your interest in gambling started young. When did you know that it was something you wanted to do professionally?
“I was always a good game player and I had an early grasp of probability. When I was about 16, a family friend gave me a book on blackjack strategy and I understood it. From there I read everything I could get and pretty much taught myself. I knew I could beat the game and formulated a plan to move to Las Vegas as soon as I turned 21.”
Walk us through some of the biggest gambling successes of your career.
“I played at low stakes for a few years until I was recruited to play on a professional tournament team. During that time I won what was considered to be the most skill-based blackjack tournament ever devised – the Las Vegas Hilton’s Matchplay Blackjack. That’s what put me on the map. I won several big tournaments after that, the biggest money-wise being a crap tournament in Atlantic City with a $125,000 first prize.”
Tell us about the Las Vegas Advisor. What inspired you to start the guide, and how would you describe your audience?
“Winning gamblers have a finite shelf life, and after a while I’d become too well known to continue playing (at least without constant hassles with the casinos). I realized that there was nothing like LVA that would help visitors with all the good things the city has to offer. Through my early, lean years, I learned where all the deals and specials were and how to take advantage of the incredible competition level among casinos. Today, our customers are from all financial levels – low-rollers looking to do Vegas on the cheap to wealthy visitors who want the inside info on how to get the most out of the city.”
You’ve branched out into publishing with the Huntington Press. Which works are you particularly proud to have published?
“We have the best blackjack and video poker books in the world, and several of the best poker books. Through playing and publishing, I’ve met many expert gamblers that I admire, several of whom I’ve published, including Peter Griffin, Ian Andersen, Max Rubin, James Grosjean, and Richard Munchkin. All five of whom are in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.”
What do you enjoy most about the Las Vegas lifestyle? Any insider tips for those looking to discover something a bit different on their next visit to Vegas?
“There’s a lot to like, but 24/7 action is right at the top. There’s the clubbing: The newest major nightclub to open is Omnia at Caesars Palace, joining XS at Encore and Hakkasan at MGM Grand. For incredible cocktails, hit the Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan. Among the many steakhouses, there’s Carnevino at Palazzo and N9NE at the Palms. For awesome buffets where price is no object, go to the Wynn, Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, or Caesars Palace. And don’t forget shopping. The top shopping emporiums are the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Desert Passage at Planet Hollywood, and the stand-alone Fashion Show Mall on the Strip.”
For the novice gambler, which casinos are must-visits, both on and off the Strip?
“To get the best feel for Las Vegas gambling, you have to visit one or two of the most famous casinos, like Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, The Venetian | The Palazzo, and Aria. But to get the most bang for your buck, head downtown where there are a dozen casinos all in one place – you’ll get better odds downtown, and in the locals’ casinos, than on the Strip. At last count, there were 21 casinos dealing $3 blackjack minimums, including California, the D, El Cortez, Fremont, Las Vegas Club, and Main Street Station downtown, and Circus Circus on the Strip.”
You’ve specialised in blackjack. Why is it your game of choice, and is it a good starting point for most new gamblers?
“I chose blackjack because it’s a beatable game. But it’s also a game that provides all levels of player their best chance to come out a winner, or at least lose less per dollar wagered. Pick up any book or go online to brush up on “basic strategy” to cut the house advantage to under 1%. If you don’t want to take the time, then follow these rules: Hit till you have at least 17 if the dealer has a 7-A showing (yes, that means hit your hard 16s against a ten). Stand on any hand of 12-16 if the dealer has a 2-6 showing. Double 10 and 11 against dealer 2-9. Always split aces and 8s. Never take insurance.”
For someone with no prior gambling experience, what’s the best way to quickly brush up on some basics?
“The rule of thumb is table games are better than machines and crowded tables are best. The reason is that your pace of play is slower on a crowded table, so the house edge has fewer opportunities to work on you. Plus, busy tables are more social and fun. Obviously, the more you study and prepare, the better you’ll do. A very good starting point is The Frugal Gambler or More Frugal Gambling, both by Jean Scott, or Gambling 102 by Michael “the Wizard of Odds” Shackleford.”
Apart from casinos, where else do you frequent in town?
“Many of my favourite hangouts are at the casinos – I like downtown. But away from the casinos I like several local bars: Money Plays on W. Flamingo, Irene’s on W. Spring Mtn. (great ham & eggs), and the Crown & Anchor pubs. For excellent Asian food, check out the Chinatown area on W. Flamingo. For all-you-can-eat sushi, try Jjanga on Decatur Boulevard.”
After the whirlwind of Las Vegas gambling, what are your recommended stops for relaxing and revitalising the next day?
“West of town is Red Rock Canyon, where you can hike or drive the loop. If it’s not too hot, you can walk the Strip. If it is too hot, check out the Conservatory at Bellagio. Relaxing at the pool is a given wherever you are. And on Sundays, bloody marys are $2 at Irene’s. That’ll unwind you and wind you back again.”
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Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to Las Vegas from London, bringing the casinos closer to home.
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Written by Claire Bullen