My First Las Vegas Bet: Flamingo Hilton, 1984
“The old Flamingo Poker Room has been facelifted, refurbished, carpeted over, and whitewashed from the earth. It now exists only in memory.”
I walked past this spot last night, and that’s when it hit me that this was the exact location, the epicenter, the ground zero where I placed my first bet in Las Vegas — 39 years ago.
Now, nearly four decades later, this spot that was the old Flamingo Poker Room has been facelifted, refurbished, carpeted over, and whitewashed from the earth. It exists only in memory, as a “High Limit Gaming” room. But, it was something to behold and more memorable way back then. Here’s the evidence, and the story.
Welcome to the Flamingo Hilton. It’s 1984.
The main pit looks much the same, then and now, just as when the casino first opened up in 1946, the year before the murder of Bugsy Siegel. A rectangular-shaped casino floor packed with craps games, blackjack tables, and ringed with slot machines became the forerunner of what was to come at every other Strip resort, and every casino built outside of Las Vegas over the next 75 years. The Flamingo was the first of many firsts.
I can still smell the smoke; I hear the constant ringing of bells, the silver dollars clanking non-stop as they dropped into plastic buckets. Pit bosses wrote out comps for 2 to the coffee shop if you gave red-chip action. $100 could last an entire day.
Facing the east side of the casino floor were several alcoves. The credit office. The casino manager’s office. Oh, and the Poker Room. A worn curtain hung at the main entrance to the poker room, presumably to keep the cigarette smoke either in — or out. The poker room seemed much darker than necessary. Dangerous even. The seating manager running the list looked like a giant. The poker players were sharks. Circling with the rotation of dealt hands. The green felt. Blood in the water. I was 22.
That poker room may have had 6 tables. Maybe 4. There was also a single table positioned outside the room in the front, demarcated by red velvet ropes. This was the big game. I think it was $10-20 limit.
This maiden Las Vegas visit was the first time I heard of Omaha High-Low Split. What’s that game over there with four cards? That’s $2-4 Omaha. I nodded, pretending to know what the hell that meant. Oh, yeah sure. Omaha. Of course. What was I thinking?
I bought in for a rack of white, sat down in a $1-4 spread limit Seven-Card Stud game, and got my clock cleaned and my ass kicked. I played out of the rack for the first few hands, until the dealer instructed me that wasn’t how things were done in Las Vegas. Chips had to be set out on the table. Fishing chips out of the rack slowed down the game, and slowing down the game was considered heresy.
Everybody in the game at that table smoked, and the ashes dabbled from Pall Mall 100s from what seemed like comically and painfully long times, before finally breaking off from the filer and crashing onto the felt, only to be swiped away by the players’ palm as though swatting a mosquito. Old ladies with blue hair. Men in stained wrinkled white shirts on their third wearing. Pork chop sideburns. The token guy in a cowboy hat. Windbreakers, because the room was cold even though it was mid-July. They all said the right thing at the perfect time. It was like the saloon scene in a western.
Well, I lost my rack, and all the chips in it. It took 45 minutes. Maybe that $100 bill doesn’t last a whole day when you play like shit and a swarm of local grinders are feasting on the virgin tourist like a baby gazelle on the Serengeti.
Broke and busted, I decided to go back to my hotel room. There’s $100 tucked inside an envelope budgeted for tomorrow’s action. Yeah, I can dip into that, and get back the $100 I lost. Sure, that’s the plan. The new plan. Open envelope in case of emergency, and being broke is an emergency. And besides, there’s another poker game across the street at the Castaways and they’re playing hold’em and they serve ice-cold Budweiser longnecks. Let’s try that spot out and see if my luck changes.
READ MORE ABOUT: FLAMINGO HILTON
READ MY ARTICLE: REMEMBERING THE CASTAWAYS