Ever since its opening in 1975, the California Hotel & Casino has had to compete hard for business. Even though it occupies a prime downtown location, being at the corner of Ogden Avenue and Main Street puts it a block from the bustle of Fremont Street, just far enough away from the foot traffic to keep it from becoming a Las Vegas landmark. To cope, “the Cal” has had to develop a highly targeted marketing strategy along with a full range of amenities that visiting gamblers demand. The focus of activity is a gaming floor covering 35,848 square feet and featuring 28 table games, including 18 dedicated specifically to blackjack.
California Tables & Games
The Cal’s pit area is best known for its four-table craps pit, where shooter Stanley Fujita once held the dice for a world-record three hours and six minutes. That legendary stint gave rise to the casino’s “Golden Arm” club , open exclusively to those who’ve rolled the bones for an hour without interruption. But blackjack players needn’t worry about being treated like second-class customers. This casino preserves all kinds of gaming traditions, including 3:2 payouts for natural blackjacks and low-stakes tables where beginners can feel welcome.
The main game here is $3 six-deck blackjack dealt from a shoe, where the dealer hits on soft 17. The rules are quite tight, with no doubling down after splitting (DAS), no re-splitting of Aces (RSA) and no surrender available, all of which translates into a House edge of 0.78%. The $5 and $25 double-deck versions are a bit more inviting, applying the same set of rules but with a House edge of just 0.60%, owing to the reduced number of decks in play. The table maximum for all of these blackjack games is $1,000.
It is best to avoid the $5~$200 single-deck games that pays only 6:5 for a natural blackjack. Those looking for some variation might want to try the $10~$1,000 tables that offer the “Bet Set 21” side bet option. Note that although the casino’s slot floor extends to the mezzanine where the sports book is located, all table games are grouped in the ground level pit area only.
The California’s founder, Sam Boyd, came up with a novel idea to set this hotel apart from all others. Instead of mimicking some exotic foreign locale or fantasy theme, he decided to offer a comfortable “home away from home” specifically for visitors from Hawaii. He knew from time he had spent in the 50th state that Hawaiians love gambling, despite the lack of legal places to play there. He also knew that many Hawaiians think of Las Vegas as “the ninth island,” owing to the city’s sizeable “kama’aina” community. He set about branding his hotel-casino as the “headquarters” for Hawaiians traveling to Las Vegas, along with establishing charter flights and low-cost tour packages to lure traffic from Honolulu directly to his door. So if the casino floor features dealers wearing aloha shirts, there is a clear reason why.
B Connected for Frequent Blackjack Players
Because the California Hotel & Casino is part of the Boyd Gaming Group, it shares its “B Connected” player’s club with such sister properties as Sam’s Town, the Gold Coast, the Orleans and Suncoast as well as Boyd’s casinos outside Nevada [ ]. The loyalty program has three levels of membership, each with its “own unique set of rewards and benefits,” from Ruby to Sapphire and Emerald. Perks range from cash back, dining discounts and special pricing on merchandise to room upgrades, priority services, event invitations and more. Blackjack players earn points based on the average amount bet and time played. Ever player receives an online account for tracking play and identifying new promotions, too [ ].
The Inside View
The “Aloha Spirit” evidenced by players and staff at the blackjack tables is reflective of the laid back and friendly way of life found in the tropics. However, it can also seem somewhat insular, rather like visiting a foreign country, where everyone speaks another language. In fact, don’t be surprised to hear some pidgin at the tables. Fortunately for mainlanders, on the California’s mezzanine level is the entrance to a sky bridge that links this hotel-casino to another Boyd Gaming property, Main Street Station, just across the street. The atmosphere there should seem much more familiar to those who are less comfortable with Hawaiian culture, while the blackjack games are just about the same.