Monday, July 25, 2005

I went up to Valley View Casino for a slot tournament this weekend. I believe I mentioned it here before, when I was first invited. The tournament had a $60,000 prize pool, and a $10,000 grand prize. They offered accommodations at Pala Mesa Resort, which unfortunately they booked up before I got a room, so I had to drive all the way up to Escondido both Saturday and Sunday for the tournament. So I felt that Valley View's reputation was on the line; they've treated me right in the past, but it was up to them to impress me with this tournament, or they might lose a player.

I got an early start to get up to the casino for my Saturday morning check-in time. It was the most pleasant drive I've experienced going up there, given the early hours, and I made in just under an hour, give or take. I saw a big sign for the "Viva Las Vegas" slot tournament over their special events room (a trailer, essentially), so I went there to check in, but there was no check-in there, just some sort of lounge set-up. So I went inside, and went to the Elite Players Club booth to get a card. I forgot mine, and I wanted to confirm that I had elite status there. They never officially informed me of my elite status, just started inviting me to elite events, like this tournament, and I did receive a letter explaining changes in the qualification requirements for elite status, but assuring me I had already easily met these higher point requirements. But a quick stop at the booth confirmed that I had elite status, and I got a new card. With the new card, I could use special elite club lines, which proved to be most useful throughout the weekend, as the place was busy. And if you've ever been there, you know the packed casino does not accommodate crowds well.

I found the tournament check-in, and got in line. Not a long line, but it seemed to move slow, as check-in took longer than it needed to. Cross your name off a list, hand you your tournament packet, and move on to the next. But before long, I got an envelope with my tournament times, and information on my free gift. The invitation promised me a free gift worth $1100, and I felt that the quality of this gift would largely determine how I felt about the tournament. When I first saw the gift, I was pissed. I was given a membership in the Aquaterra Dining Club, which entitled me to large discounts on all my dining at the Aquaterra Restaurant and Seafood Bar. My first reaction was, that the casino gave me an Entertainment Coupon Book, only it was good at only one restaurant. I was about ready to tell them where they could cram their free gift, but I decided to look at it more closely while I had brunch (they gave me four free buffets for coming up for the tournament). And upon closer examination, it's not a bad gift. In addition to discounts on dining (50% off a party of two), you receive a number of gift certificates, including breakfast or lunch for two, a free night in the hotel, a free round of golf, and other freebies, and some good bargains, as well. Their website shows that the membership is currently available on sale for $149. I don't know how much use I'll get out of it, but I'll use the free room, I'm sure, and the free meal, if nothing else. And the golf goodies will make a nice surprise for my boss who golfs. Basically, they gave me a nice enough gift, but they blew it by saying it was an $1100 value. They should have just said free mystery gift, or say it had a $149 value, rather than add up all the possible discounts to reach a hugely inflated number so you feel cheated. But as I say, upon reflection, I decided it was a nice gift, and that I would continue to have an open mind about the tournament as the weekend proceeded.

The promised gift was one reason I came; the buffet was another. I love their buffet, and this weekend I had brunch there twice. I'd never had brunch there before, and I was disappointed, somewhat. It looked a lot like lunch. I was in the mood for breakfast, and they didn't have much traditional breakfast fare. But in truth, selection has never been their strong suit, and I'm willing to let it slide (for free; if I was paying for the buffet, I would say the weekend brunch prices are way out of line). And once I found the bagels and lox, I was content. I generally would prefer that buffets have mini-bagels, as you don't want to fill up on them, but as there wasn't that much else that interested me as a main course, I was perfectly content to load a sesame bagel with smoked salmon. I munched on a few other things as well, that didn't really impress, then went to look at desserts, when I discovered that since my last trip, they'd added a strawberry shortcake station. I ended up having two of those, with strawberries, mixed berries, and whipped cream. Hard to mess up strawberry shortcake, I suppose, but I thought this an excellent addition to their buffet; this is probably my favorite buffet, anywhere, when it comes to dessert (Paris Las Vegas probably has my favorite buffet, overall, but shockingly, they really lack in the dessert department). I also had some cake and ice cream and cookies, but the lox and the strawberry shortcake are what mainly impressed me.

To get the buffet talk out of the way, I'll just quickly add that I also had the buffet for dinner Saturday night, and found it as I remembered it. I'm not as impressed with it as I first was, but I always find enough to eat to leave satisfied. The crap legs were really bad, though; tough and stringy. But to be fair, I wasn't very hungry, and only ate it because I had the free coupon. I mostly just wanted to eat desserts, and was more that satisfied there. I ate two huge strawberry shortcakes, and for dinner they had replaced the mixed berries with a heaping bowl of blackberries, which are one of my favorites, and I ate so many I gave myself an upset stomach on the way home. In fact, I thought I was going to puke, just as my car entered "the slalom," a four-mile stretch of road leading to the casino, where construction barricades force you to continue down your single lane of traffic, with nowhere to stop. So by the time I was able to stop, my stomach had settled down, and the crisis was averted.

Anyway, to get back to the tournament, there were three rounds in the tournament; two Saturday, one Sunday. Of course, they stager your tournament rounds, and the final round from the announcement of prizes, so that they can keep you in their casino as long as possible. My rounds on Saturday were at 1:15 and 5:45, and both were the last times in that round. They gave me a $25 match play coupon for showing up, so I used that at blackjack with no success, and later did okay at Pai Gow, and fantastic at Pai Gow. I ended up winning a substantial amount of money, so I was very glad I came, regardless of how I did in the tournament. Which is good, because I had no luck in the tournament, and it was obvious at the end of the day I had almost no chance of winning anything in the tournament. And as the day wore on, and I won more and more money, I was worried about losing all my money before the day was out. I killed some time driving up the road to Harrah's, cashing in my $15 coupon, and leaving. They cut me down to $5 coupons in my most recent mailing, so I saw no reason to play there, if they weren't going to treat me right. So I just ran the $15 through a slot machine, quickly won some cash at blackjack, and after about five minutes, headed back to Valley View. As I say, I'd won a lot of money, and just wanted to kill time until the second round of the tournament. Fortunately, the special events room was turned into a lounge for tournament players. They had baseball on a big-screen TV, and nice refreshments. I had lots more smoked salmon, and they had these fantastic cookies, with icing on top done up sort of like Easter eggs. The first one I grabbed resembled a stuffed lime, but turned out to be mint, and was just wonderful. It was someone frustrating, that I had all those free buffet coupons, yet there was so much food to eat in the lounge I wasn't hungry. But I suppose that's a good problem to have. So I hung out in there some, played a bit more in the casino (at lower stakes), and successfully preserved my winnings for the day. After the tournament, I ate the buffet, and went home.

Sunday I could sleep in, as I didn't have to be back until 1:15. I went back up with a friend, and we ate the buffet after my tournament round. Again, my elite card's status as a line pass really saved us; the lines for the buffet were horrendous (with the exception of Saturday morning for the buffet, when there was no line). I knew I had no chance in the tournament, but to encourage us to return, they were raffling off ten trips to Vegas, with a stay at the Las Vegas Hilton (no big deal, I get free rooms there all the time, and am in fact staying there in two weeks or so), and gave everyone $100 in free slot play for showing up Sunday. Unfortunately, by the time they announced the winners (as expected, I got nothing) and activated the free slot play on our slot cards, I had lost a fair amount of money. I was still up quite a bit for the weekend, but was kicking myself for giving so much of my winnings back. I went to play the video poker machine I'd been playing most of the weekend, but couldn't get a seat, so I just sat down at a random slot machine and decided to play my free play there. I played a few hands, didn't hit much, and was down to about $50 in free play left, when I got triple bar in the first space, a 3x pay wild symbol in the second, and nothing in the third. The machine started flashing lights and a ticket for a substantial amount of money was spit out of the machine. I stared at the machine for awhile, but couldn't figure out what I hit. I finally decided not to worry about it, and played the rest of my slot play without hitting anything. The huge win on this machine meant I was a small winner Sunday, as well, so I made a lot of money this weekend. Later, I showed my friend the machine, and he explained that the wild symbols on this machine counted even if they don't stop right on the line. So I got the three triple-bars payout x3, because of the bonus multiplier (the bonus multiplier only counts if it lands on the line, though).

So, what was my overall impression of the tournament? Well, had I lost money, I'd probably be less charitable, but I think it was a good tournament. There was only about 300 or so players in the tournament, so the odds weren't too bad. Though the $60,000 prize pool was somewhat exaggerated; I don't think they included the Aquaterra membership, but I think they included the $100 in slot play in that figure, and possibly the trips to Vegas. Only about $20,000 in cash, or less, was given out in cash prizes in the tournament. Still not bad, though. And the lounge was a nice little touch, with fantastic food. Overall, a nice way of rewarding their most valued players. It will be a tough call whether I'll go back for the next one, assuming I'm invited. It's a long drive; if I got the hotel room, I'd do it, but if I had to drive out there both days like I did this time, I don't know if I'd do it. But I'm glad I went this time.

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