I spent a few days in Vegas and did a four hour drive to California with my friend AJ and his son Dillon. If you’re ever in Las Vegas and want to see something different and interesting, I encourage you to take a drive on I-15 and head towards Southern California. On the way, you’ll pass by Jean, Nevada with its’ assortment of casinos.

The real gems are the casinos in Primm, Nevada, located just on the Nevada and California border. There are three casinos on in Primm: Buffalo Bills, Primm Resort, and Whiskey Petes. All three casinos are similar, but with different themes.

The limits at the three Primm casinos are low and comps are super easy to acquire. I scored a buffet for three after 60 minutes of playing craps and 30 minutes of blackjack. To give you an idea of how easy it is to get comps, I had a host approach me after buying in for $500. The host gave the the ‘anything you want’ offer, including an offer to stay and play. I’ve never had a host approach for $500. That’s how desperate they are; so take advantage of that desperation to get free food and rooms.

The Primm casinos are a bit empty on the weekdays, so go on the weekends if you like a livelier crowd. If you want to practice on your own table with little to no interruption, then this might be the place for you.

We drove through on a Monday and came back on Wednesday. Buffalo Bills and Primm Resort was a ghost town on both occasions. I was prepared to make a video, but a single person video wouldn’t have been too exciting. Although my friend AJ has been known to play craps, he isn’t much of a craps fan. Dillon is only 18, and the minimum age in Nevada is 21.

Gambling at Primm was good to us. I had a roll that lasted at least 20 minutes, rolling by myself. At the blackjack table, AJ and I only played one shoe, but won practically every hand in the shoe. If we had 17, the dealer busted. It seemed like the dealer busted left and right. Almost every dealer 16 became 25 or 26. I literally won every double up. It was a dream shoe. Strangely, neither AJ nor I had a blackjack.

The Native American Casinos in California

Continuing into California, you will take I-15 and head into San Bernardino county, which is the largest county in the U.S. There are several very large Native American casinos in San Bernardino. We decided on San Manuel and Morongo.  Both are enormous complexes and now operate as class 3 gaming facilities, which offer Vegas style gambling.

I remember going to Casino Morongo as an advantage player (AP) in the mid 90s, and back then, it was a class 2 gaming facility.

Class 2 casinos are essentially gussied-up bingo halls. The slot machines at a class 2 facility aren’t really slot machines; rather, they’re bingo games disguised as slot machines.

In Vegas, when you play a slot machine, the slot will activate a random number generator that determines the result of your spin. Your spin is independent of all the other machines in the casino (with the exception of networked jackpot games that have a shared jackpot, such as Megabucks).

In a class 2 gaming facility, when a player makes a wager on his or her slot machine, the slot then links up with a predetermined number of slots in the casino. The casino determines how many players are playing, calculates the total bet by all the players for that game at that moment, the house then takes a cut as their share and pays out the prizes to the players who participated.

It’s really just a virtual bingo game that happens very quickly. Most players don’t even know that they’re playing bingo.

A class 2 casino is not allowed to profit off the house edge. The casino is only allowed to make a profit via an ante or by offering bingo (hence the reason why the slots work the way they work). The big downside to this is that a class 2  facility charges an ante on table games, such as blackjack or craps. The ante is their profit, and the casino is then required to return the money won from the house edge to the players.

Nowadays, San Manuel and Morongo are class 3 facilities and they no longer charge an ante on their games. The only remaining downside is that the casinos are not allowed to use dice or balls. Tune into the weekly contest when the video becomes available, and you’ll see what I mean.

First to San Manuel, Where Things Start to Get Weird

After our time in Primm, we drove to San Manuel so that Dillon could play. Dillon had just turned 18 and wanted to have his first casino experience.

The craps at San Manuel is card craps, which usually opens later in the evening around 5 p.m. Card craps is just craps that played with cards instead of dice.

Notice the shuffler on the table. Card craps!

The casino was a bit slow, but perfect for Dillon. If we wanted, we could have had a table to ourselves. It’s a perfect set up for a beginner. Like they say at Planet Fitness, it’s an intimidation free zone.

Right as we were about to sit down and play, we were approached by a security guard who asked for Dillon’s I.D. Turns out that Casino Morongo’s minimum age is 21.

So I stayed and played a few hands with AJ while Dillon went to gas up the car.  After a up and down run at the blackjack table, I was down about $200 and went to play 3 Card Poker. On the fourth hand, I hit three queens and made up for all my losses on the blackjack table.

I went back to the blackjack table and played some more blackjack with AJ. Without realizing it, three hours had passed. Time flies at the table.

I asked AJ what happened to Dillon. Surely, it doesn’t take three hours to fill-up.

AJ texted Dillon to see if everything is ok. Dillon says he’ll be back to pick us up in 30 minutes and he’s bringing his girlfriend. This was all news to AJ.

‘I thought this was his first time in California?’, I asked AJ.

‘Yea, it is,’ he said. We were both puzzled.

After about 45 minutes, Dillon shows up with his girlfriend Hannah, who he had been dating on FaceBook. I’m not that old and I’m pretty aware of tends, but this internet dating thing is all new and strange to me. But, live and let live.

Hannah is a good looking girl and seems pretty cool. Dillon did well.

We go and play blackjack, where I was counting cards. I was near the end of the shoe, and the remaining cards were creating towards a highly profitable count. I figured since we were going to leave, I’d hammer the shoe with a 30x bet. That’s not something I would normally do unless I wanted to be backed off.

Split hand. I ended up winning the hand on the right, losing the hand on the left. The true count was +10 with only about 100 cards left.

I ended up winning the double up hand and losing the other split hand, for a profit of $150.

We get in the car and head off to Morongo.

Let’s Go to Morongo!

At Casino Morongo, the age minimum is 18. Because the age minimum is so low, security is vey careful to check anyone that looks even remotely close to 18.

Security carded Dillon the moment he stepped foot on the floor, but they didn’t card Hannah.

Dillon says to Hannah, ‘hey they didn’t card you’.

I’m thinking to myself, ‘Dillon, she doesn’t look anywhere near 18 or even 21’.

Later I ask Dillon, ‘how old did Hannah tell you she was?’

He replied, ’18’.

I clarified, ‘Not how old you think she is, but how old did she tell you she is?’

I wanted to see if Hannah was being honest with Dillon. I’m practically his uncle through association, and I care about the kid.

He replied, ‘I don’t know, I’m not gonna card her.’

‘Dillon, I’m pretty sure she’s not 18, I’m gonna guess she’s closer to 25.’

He didn’t seem to care or think anything of it.

I have no problem with any type of age gap, either way. However, mind you, Dillon had just turned 18 a few days ago and had been internet dating Hannah longer than 3 days. That would mean she was dating him when he was underage. Then again, I guess if they waited until he was 18, that would be a different matter legally. His dad did say that this was his first time in California.

Anyways, some things I’d rather not know more about, and some things are not my business.

Back to the Gambling

The four of us played some EZ baccarat, which is the commission free version of baccarat. In EZ baccarat, if the banker wins with a three card 7, then banker bets push. On winning banker bets, there is no commission. The house edge is 1.02% on the banker, which is slightly better than traditional baccarat at 1.06% for the banker.

Baccarat is a fun game, and I worked on my counting for the side bets.

A few people have asked me about counting the side bets at baccarat, and yes, it’s profitable to count the Dragon 7 and Panda 8 baccarat side bets. Not too many people know about it, so the casinos tend to not give much heat to a baccarat side bet counter.

If you want to know how to count the baccarat side bets, here is a good article on how to do it: counting the baccarat side bets.

The good news about counting the baccarat side bets is that baccarat cards are dealt slower than blackjack cards. Unlike in blackjack, where there can be lots of cards on the table, baccarat has a maximum of 6 cards out at any one time. Also, unlike blackjack, the casino will allow you to have pen and paper at the table to help you track the count. If you want to get serious about counting the baccarat side bets, I would advise against using pen and paper at the table because it’s too obvious.

Bad news is that Morongo didn’t have either the Dragon 7 or Panda 8. They had some other side bet called the Golden Monkey.

I still worked on my mental count. It’s one thing to practice counting cards at home, it another to actually count in a casino where there are distractions.

After about 30 minutes of baccarat, I was down $900. About 30 minutes later, I was up $800. I called it a game and colored up my green chips. Dillon was up $150, AJ was up $300, and Hannah was up $120. We all played banker on pretty much every hand. It’s quite nice – and rare – that everyone in the group wins.

Poker

If you’re not interested in poker, the Tl;DR synopsis of this subpart is that the players at the Morongo $1/$2 game are very weak. It’s possible to make a small living off the game, if you know what you’re doing.

Dillon and Hannah then leave, and AJ and I head to the poker room to play some Hold ‘Em.

I used to make a small living playing poker at Morongo in the 90s. The games were pretty soft back then, and the rake was pretty low. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was $4 max.

Nowadays, for Hold ‘Em, Morongo usually has at least two No Limit games running. One game is $2/$5 No Limit Hold ‘Em with a max rake of $7. That’s a pretty steep rake, although $1 of that rake goes to a jackpot. When AJ and I were playing, the minimum buy-in was $200 and maximum buy-in was $500.

The other game was a $1-$2 No Limit Hold ‘Em game with a $40 minimum buy in with a max buy-in of $100. The rake is a very steep $6 per pot. That’s a really high rake for such a small buy-in range. Note that some websites say the rake is $4, but I was just there, and that info is outdated. The total rake is $6 on the $1/$2 game, for a fact.

Given a choice, I think the Morongo $1/$2 game, at the time of this write up, was more profitable because the $1/$2 players played very loosely. It’s much easier beat a loose game with lots of callers, especially if the rake is high. It’s just a mathematical game of odds and implied odds, especially if you know half the table is going to chase you down to the river and showdown.

Both AJ and I sat down at the $2/$5 game. As expected, it played really tight.

While it’s very possible to beat a tight game, the $2/$5 game was just full of ‘nut peddlers’, which is a poker term for poker players who only play the best hands. I don’t mind playing against timid and weak nut peddlers because they’re easy to bluff off a hand. If they call a bluff bet, it means they have the draw on the board or they have nuts or near nuts. It’s really that easy. However, the high rake and tiny pots meant that it was nearly impossible to be profitable.

After the first orbit, I started observing the $1/$2 game and saw that the players were really loose. I went to the poker manager went put both our names on the list for $1/$2.

After two orbits, we picked up right before the blinds came back to us and moved to $1/$2.

The Limit Hold ‘Em Games

On a side note, for those who are interested in this info, Morongo offers Limit Hold ‘Em games. I didn’t play the limit games, but at night, when the casino gets busier, they will spread a variety of limit games.

The limit games are $2/$4, $3/$6, and $4/$8. All three games feature a ‘kill’, meaning that when the same player wins two pots in a row, the blinds double on the next hand.

I didn’t play Limit HE, but the rules seemed to be standard rules. Betting after the river was uncapped, while raises before the river was capped at 4 raises.

The limit games, especially the $2/$4 and $3/$6 game seemed especially soft and ripe for picking. There were lots of callers on practically every pre-flop round, and the players seemed a bit mostly like level 1 thinkers.

On the issue of ‘leveling’…

A Short Lesson on How to Peg Weak Poker Players 

To be a professional poker player, you don’t need to be the best player in the world, or even the best player in your city. Heck, you don’t even need to be the best player in the casino. You just need to understand the game enough so that you can be better than everyone else at the table, or at least identify the players who are better than you and avoid those players (if you want to be a profitable gambler, you have to learn to set aside your ego).

Here is an example of what I mean…

I sat down first at the $1/$2 game and bought in for the max $100. On the third hand, I had pocket aces on the cut-off, which is one position before the dealer button. All the players had limped in for $2, so I raised it to $15 hoping that they would all come along.

On a full table, where everyone runs out their cards without any decisions, pocket aces will win approximately 30% of the time. If everyone calls, that’s a 8 to 1 payout for a 30% win rate. That payout is a very good proposition, even if you lose 70% of the time.  The theory of successful gambling isn’t about winning or losing specific hands, but about having the advantage so that your wins make up for your losses.  You can’t be bothered by the fact that you’ll lose 70% of the time, so long as the payout is makes up for the losses and leaves you with a profit.

I’ll take a 8 to 1 payout on any situation where I’m 30% to win

So here is where the power of observation of important. You can often gauge how weak or strong the players are by noticing whether or not they’re able to predict what will probably happen. It’s called ‘leveling’.

The player to my two seats to my right had $38 after his $2 call. I figured that the pot already had $15 (small blind didn’t yet complete the big blind), so if I raised it $15 to go (meaning $13 raise), the total pot size of $30 would lure weaker hands into calling.

In case you forgot, I have pocket aces and $98 in my stack.

Sure enough, the small blind called $15, and so did the big blind. Then everyone else called until action got to the guy with the $38 stack. Mr. $38 looked at his stack, looked at the pot and went all in for $38. That was just as I expected.

So now I understand that the players in between me and the player with the $38 stack do not use level 2 thinking. They’re level 1 thinkers, which means they just make decisions based on what is happening now and only now. They don’t think about what their opponents might do or have; rather, they only think about what they have. If these players (in between myself and Mr. $38) had noticed what was happening, they would have realized that the price to call was going to be $38, not $15. Because they didn’t think that far ahead, I was able to string them along and manipulate the pot.

These players are extremely easy to beat. They’re the kind of players who will pay your mortgage and bills, if you’re a professional poker player.

If you want to know more about deep level thinking, this website has a good synopsis of it: thinking in levels.

Back to the hand…

The player immediately after Mr. $38 folded, but the player after called $38. According to the math in my head, the pot is now approximately $196. In a $1/$2 game, that’s a huge pot, which looks even bigger because it’s all $1 chips.

When it gets to me, I reraised all-in for $83. The pot is now a bloated $279, which is an absolute monster for a $1/$2 game and would compel the other players to call.

The small blind folds, as did the big blind.

The next player in line calls, which then, as I predicted, resulted in the next three players calling the $83 all in. Finally, the last player, seated to my right, called the final $83.

The pot was an enormous $629, if my math was right.

I was all-in against 6 players, with one only qualifying for a portion of the pot. There was some side action because a few of the players had more than my all-in amount.

I now have an all-in decision free run out for $629. I’m not sure of the win probability of pocket aces against 6 players, but I surmise that I’m in a highly profitable situation, since I’m being laid better than 5 to 1 against six players.

The flop comes and bam, an ace in the door card. I have a set of aces that holds up. I got to see the other players cards, and turns out the set of aces wasn’t necessary. No one had better than one pair.

Poker theory says that I’m not supposed to care about winning or losing specific hands, but – let’s be real – it feels good to actually win a pot.

In the end, if you can out-level and out-think your opponents, you can make a living at poker. At this $1/$2 game, a decent players could probably earn around $10 to $20 an hour on average.

Where are Dillon and Hannah?

After a few hours, I ask AJ, where is Dillon. Turns out Dillon left with Hannah.

It’s now way after midnight.  One of the things about playing live poker is that time just flies by even faster than playing at table game.

By the time we call it quits, I’m up over $800 on a $1/$2 game. Granted, most of that $800+ was from that big aces pot. After that pot, I was winning about $20 an hour.

I walk back to the baccarat pit and ask the floor for a comp to the rooms. AJ and I end up staying the night at Morongo. The casino was a bit dead, so they had plenty of vacancy. On a side note, if you aren’t sure whether or not you qualify for a comp, it’s best to go back to the original floorperson where you were playing or betting the most because that floor/pit is more likely to write you a discretionary comp. If you ask a floor or pit who did witness your play, they can only go by what’s in their comp system.

Another bit of trip advice about these California casinos is that they’re often very empty on the weekdays and comped rooms are easy to get. Also, there are plenty of non-casino hotel rooms nearby that are never sold out. Don’t book and prepay for a room offsite until you know for a fact that you aren’t getting a comped room. Don’t worry about being overcharged for a last minute room. I’ve never been charged more for a last minute room request. Renting a hotel room isn’t like buying last minute airfare.

If you’re still worried, take a screen shot of the rate on a site like Hotels.com or Expedia and show it to the front desk. They’ll often match the rate.

After a late night of play, AJ and I wake up around 11 a.m. Dillon and Hannah were nowhere in sight. AJ texted Dillon, who said he was coming and would meet us in 30 minutes. If you’ve never driven in Southern California traffic, it’s at least 45 minutes everywhere. I played the over/under 30 minutes game with AJ, gave him 2-1 odds on under 35 minutes. I insisted on the over. Sure enough, he showed up in 45 minutes. I was up $20 for the day.

Actually, I felt bad about the bet and gave the $20 back to AJ.

We all decide to have the Morongo lunch buffet. I head back to the baccarat pit and get four food comps. I’m really stretching these food requests, but if you know me, I’m not afraid of asking.

We all go have a late lunch, and during the entire time, Dillon and Hannah seem nervous. Dillon tells his dad that he’s relocating to California and moving in with Hannah.

I’m thinking to myself, kids move fast nowadays.

As we’re eating, a table next to us leaves. I see no visible tip on the table, but I do see a giant mess. It bothers me immensely when people don’t tip buffet waitresses. They work just as hard – if not harder than regular waiters – filling drinks, removing dishes and keeping tables clear and uncluttered. I go over to the table, and sure enough, no tip.  I put four red chips on the table for the waitress. She was the sweetest lady ever and deserved it.

Seriously, people, please tip the buffet waitresses.

After lunch, we all head off to play some slots. There are lots of slots at Morongo, and they’re class 3 slots. We spend the next hour or so playing slots. I really love slots. I just wish the casinos were a little more generous with the slots. They seemed a bit tight, so we didn’t play long. Even though there were lots of slots, the seats were very empty, as you can see from the pics below.

Later that night, we head back to Vegas.

We had a long talk with Dillon on the drive back. All I have to say is that kids nowadays are way different than when I was growing up. Maybe it’s the internet dating thing.

Dillon insisted that he was making the right choice. I like to handicap things, and at first I gave it 20% that Dillon would actually move to California. Then he said that Hannah inherited a successful group of businesses from her dad and that she owns them in a trust. Ok, now it’s 60%, and I’m curious.

I’ll update this story in a few months. I had just written an article on how Dillon was a level headed kid with maturity beyond his years. I wrote that article on the plane before all this happened.

This trip with AJ and Dillon was quite interesting and we all had a lot of fun. I also got closer to my friend AJ and his son Dillon. That’s part of the reason I love casino road trips. I find out more about my friends and I get closer to them. It’s a great way to bond and reinforce a lifetime friendship.

Originally, this road trip was going to include more pics of the surrounding areas, but San Bernardino doesn’t really have anything interesting to show. It’s mostly industrial and grey. Nothing really special to look at (apologies to me friends who live in San Bernardino). Also, AJ and I were up stuck in the casino most of the time because Dillon and Hannah hogged the rental car.

On my next California road trip, I’ll probably take a detour and head up to the northwest. I hear that the trip is beautiful and scenic, which would make for a good pictorial trip report. I’ve never been up there, and I have the trip on my bucket list. If you have any advice for any long road trips, let me know. I’m always looking for ideas.

Posted in: Baccarat, Casino, Gambling, Travel

15 thoughts on “RoadGambler’s Road Trip to California Casinos”

    • RoadGambler says:

      Yes, all three have the tub game. On our way out to California, it wasn’t open at Buffalo Bills, but they had it.

      We asked about the tub game, and the floor said that all three casinos had the tub game and told us to go over to Whiskey Petes, where it was open.

      I played it for a little bit at Primm when we drove back.

      The game is $5 minimum with 3,4,5x odds at all three casinos.

  • Did you play any card craps?

    Living in Cali, that’s all I have access to…the good news is that barrage northern California has 10x odds….they just opened a few months ago…

    • RoadGambler says:

      We did not have a chance to play. I thought that all California Native American casinos were 18, but that wasn’t the case with San Manuel. By the time the game opened, we were ready to head to Morongo.

      I hear that the new Harrah’s casino is pretty nice. I’ve received an offer for free airfare to that casino.

      Thanks for letting us know that it’s 10x. Good info!

  • If you come down to San Diego, I believe all (certainly most) of the casinos have a version of card craps. Each new shooter generates a new card lay out. Some of the places change the cards every roll (which I hate) but most of them go with the initial card set up stays for as long as the shooter does not go out. Cards 1-6 are shuffled and placed randomly over die spots 1-6. The dice determine the cards, the cards determine the action. Essentially an extra step for all the same bets and odds, but it does take a little while to get used to. Sometimes that 1/6 mid-point roll is a good thing :). The casino closest to my house even offers 10x odds.

    • RoadGambler says:

      Mike, have you been to casino Barona lately?

      Baron was one of my favorite casinos in the early 2000s. They had a version of Mississippi Stud that was beatable. I got banned from that game at Barona. If you’ve been there lately, do you know if they still deal Mississippi Stud face up?

      When I do my Pacific Northwest road trip, I’ll try to swing by San Diego, if time permits.

      I’ve played that version of card craps. It take a bit of getting used to, for sure. But at 10x, it’s still a great game, cards or no cards.

      Thanks for the info.

      • I did a quick stop by at Barona a couple months back when I was heading home from the sticks (also known as my sister’s house) because there was a huge accident on the 67, so I went back woods which takes me right by there. We may head up there again next month (the wife really likes the Italian restaurant they have) and I’ll check it out on the M Stud. Things have changed up there quite a bit, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
        The 10x casino’s crap table is kinda small (7 players a side is packed, when they go to 8 you get an idea what a sardine feels like in the can), but they’ve been getting enough biz lately that they are supposed to be putting in a second table in about a month.
        Be ready for most crap player etiquette rules to be consistently violated around here. My only real complaint.

  • Alan Sherman says:

    Loved the poker talk…getting 6 players with nothing to come in with you at $83 a pop must’ve been a dream at such a small stakes game. That’s just crazy.

    • RoadGambler says:

      The players at the 1/2 game are relatively weak.

      What helps is the $40 buy-in, along with the 18 age limit. It encourages people to play loose. I love loose games.

      Maybe I was just there at the wrong time, but I remember the 2/5 game not being so tight back in the day.

  • Seems u left a large tip for those cheapskates…most buffet diners leave 1 or 2 dollars a person….i have seen that 10% of the bill is a recommended buffet tip……You may want to write up an explanatory poker article…i am familiar with the game but large and small blinds went over my head.

    • According to Dillon’s dad, they’re currently living together, those crazy kids.

      I don’t know, but I’m getting to the bottom of this, if just for curiosity’s sake.

      A few weeks ago, I was humbled myself, so I’m going to withhold further judgment until I know for sure.

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