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Last Updated: November 17, 2014

Palm Springs

Located a five-hour drive from Vegas, and only two from Los Angeles (in good traffic), there is a cluster of casinos scattered around the Coachella Valley, where Palm Springs and neighboring desert communities are found. After some procrastination, I finally decided to pay most of the seven casinos in and around Palm Springs a visit. I consider this blog entry a follow up to my San Diego Trip Report of 2009, given the reasonably close proximity. Most of this page was based on a visit in September, 2013. The exception is the Tortoise Rock casino wasn't open at the time, which I visited in October, 2014.

In general, Palm Springs casinos attract an older clientele and are not as flashy and loud as those in Las Vegas. I suspect they also have a larger than average Hispanic clientele, as evidenced by lots of Latin music concerts and promotions for Mexican Independence Day. As with every casino in California, only nonalcoholic drinks are free to players. At the "wet" casinos, which include most, the cocktail waitresses will serve you alcoholic drinks, but expect to pay bar prices. The gambling age in California is technically 18, but if alcohol is served on the casino floor, then you must be 21 to play. In the Palms Springs area, the only dry casino is the Morongo.

There isn't a great deal to do in the Palm Springs casinos besides eat, drink and gamble. I didn't notice any casinos with nightly live entertainment, nightclubs, bowling or shopping, beyond the standard gift shop. Many did have celebrity guest acts, and they bring in some pretty big names. Palm Springs seems to concede customers looking for an exciting nightlife to Vegas, while they concentrate on locals and the millions of people in the L.A. area who just want some no-nonsense gambling.

Blackjack rules are pretty consistent, with the best odds at the casinos that stand on a soft 17. 6 to 5 blackjack is not as common as it is in Las Vegas, but is gaining a foothold, so be sure to stay away from that. Spanish 21 is surprisingly popular, and many casinos allow re-doubling. In Three Card Poker, some casinos offer the rarely seen 1-4-6-30-40 pay table on the Pairplus, so kudos to those who do. While I found video poker at the 25-cent level to be nothing special, I did see lots of 9-6 Jacks and 16-10 Deuces at the $1 denomination and up.

Since this was my first visit to the Palm Springs casinos, I signed up for a player card at each one. It is practically a requirement for any casino to offer something to new players. This report says what each property gave me.

In an effort to gauge the looseness of the machines, I picked a GameMaker machine at random and recorded the video poker games available and the pay table for pick-8 keno, both at the 25-cent denomination. For blackjack, I noted each distinct set of rules I encountered. The limits reflect the lowest I observed for that corresponding set of rules. I also made notes on the rules of some of the table games. In alphabetical order, here is my report about each casino.



Agua Caliente



The Agua Caliente, or "hot water" casino as they often call themselves, has the most hotel rooms and table games in the Coachella Valley. They are located in plain view off the I-10 freeway in Rancho Mirage. In case "Rancho Mirage" sounds familiar, it is where Gerald Ford retired to after his presidency and where he later died in 2006.

As I walked around the casino, I stopped to ask the dealers at craps some questions. The game was empty, as is often the case with craps in California, I suspect because they use cards instead of dice. The dealers were very friendly about explaining things. Later, I wandered into the high-limit room and the same dealer from the craps table recognized me and asked, "any more questions?" I've always got lots of them, so I started firing away. Perhaps in fear I would never leave, and never play, he said, "You can ask five more questions." This reminded of the Dr. Know scene in the movie A.I., so I carefully thought of the best queries I could think of. After four questions, the dealer went on break, so I want the record to show that they still owe me one more answer.

One of the things I learned in my four questions was that the dealers keep their own tips. Overall, I think this is a good thing for the players, assuming they tip, but bad if they don't. Dealers independently tipped take better care of their tipping customers than dealers at casinos where tips are split amongst hundreds of dealers.

After my line of questioning was cut short, I played some blackjack in the main pit. It was a rather uneventful sitting. The dealer was not very chatty but dealt a good clean game. They were running a drawing ticket promotion where every blackjack earned a drawing ticket. The first time I got a blackjack, she gave me several tickets, but after that I got just one each time. Maybe I wasn't tipping enough. Later I put my entries in the drum. Somebody please inform me if I win the car.

After all the questioning I signed up for a player card. The bonus was $5 in free play.

  • Blackjack

    Agua Caliente Blackjack

    Decks Soft 17 Double after Split Surrender Re-split aces Limits House Edge
    6 Stand Yes No Yes $50-$1,000 0.36%
    2 Hit Yes No No $25-$500 0.47%
    6 Hit Yes No Yes $10-$500 0.57%
  • Craps: 12 cards are used from two decks with different back colors. Two cards are drawn at random to represent the roll of the dice. 3-4-5X odds.
  • Keno: The 25-cent pick-8 followed the 10,000-1,550-98-12-2-0-0-0-0 for a return of 90.67%.
  • Roulette: Double-zero card wheel.
  • Spanish 21: Re-doubling allowed, for a house edge of 0.42%.
  • Three Card Poker: 1-3-6-30-40 pay table on the Pairplus, for a house edge of 7.28%.
  • Video Poker: VPfree2 indicates six different games with a return of 99.50% or higher. The best is 60-100-11-6 Super Draw Poker at 99.75%.

    The machine I randomly chose had an average return of 98.32%. Here are the details.

    Agua Caliente Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Deuces Wild 20-12-9 98.94%
    Bonus Poker Deluxe 8-6 98.49%
    Bonus Poker 30-8-5 98.48%
    Jacks or Better 9-5 98.45%
    Double Double Bonus 9-5 97.87%
    Triple Bonus Poker Plus 7-5 97.67%
    Average 98.32%
The Agua Caliente at a glance:
  • Rooms: 362
  • Restaurants: 4
  • Gambling age: 21
  • Slots: 1,140
  • Table games: 48
  • Poker tables: 10
  • Bingo seats: 700
  • Address: 32-250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
  • Phone: 760-321-2000
  • Web site: www.hotwatercasino.com
A reader adds that they have a nightclub — "The Lounge" open from Thursday through Sunday nights. The Lounge offers a mix of lounge music, Tribute Bands and Tailgate Parties plus they also have an events center called "The Show" where they have concerts at times.

Augustine



The Augustine is easily the smallest of the all the Coachella Valley casinos. It is located about eight miles south of the I-10 freeway. Surrounded by farms, I suspect they don't capture much of the I-10 traffic and thus rely on locals for their customer base. The most positive aspect of a locals' casino in a jurisdiction with legalized gambling is that the clientele tend to be more savvy gamblers, so casinos are forced to offer them better odds and stronger benefits to keep them coming back.

As an example, I was welcomed with a pretty generous new player incentive. The guy at the counter asked if I played slots or table games. Regardless of the truth, the wise answer to this question when applying for a player card is "slots." This is because they probably give the same amount of free play in either slot credits or promotional table game chips. The problem with promotional chips is they are usually the "use once" type, meaning they are worth slightly less than half of face value. Compare that to free play in video poker, which is worth about 99% of face value.

That said, how did I answer the question? "Table games," of course. Sometimes I'm too honest, or stupid, for my own good. So he entered me into the system and gave me $10 in promotional "use once" chips. However, this is one of those rare times when honesty paid. The guy then said, "Normally we only do this for repeat customers, but I'm going to give you a free ace voucher too." Ka-ching! I love free ace coupons, because they are worth just over 50% of face value. The maximum bet allowed for use with the coupon was $25, which is what I made. Luckily, I hit a blackjack for a $37.50 win! All's well that ends well.

Considering its remote location, the Augustine was surprisingly crowded and lively. I got the feeling that I was the only tourist in the place. They offered a double-deck blackjack game with the stand on soft 17 rule, which I couldn't resist playing. Cocktail service was frequent and the atmosphere was festive. I found it to be a pretty fun place to play.

Blackjack:

Augustine Blackjack

Decks Soft 17 Double after Split Surrender Re-split aces Limits House Edge
6 Stand Yes No Yes $3-$300 0.36%
2 Stand Yes No No $15-$500 0.26%
  • Keno: The 350-250-70-30-1-0-0-0-1 pay table is used for a return of 92.62%. Remember, you can use my keno calculator to verify any pay table.
  • Three Card Poker: The liberal 1-4-6-30-40 pay table on the Pairplus is used, for a house edge of 2.32%.
  • Video Poker: VPfree2 indicates two different games with a return of 99.50% or higher. The best is 9-5 Super Double Bonus at 99.69%.

    The machine I randomly chose had an average return of 96.74%. Here are the details.

    Augustine Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Jacks or Better 8-5 97.30%
    Joker Poker (two pair) 100-16-8-5 97.19%
    Deuces Wild 20-12-9* 97.06%
    Bonus Poker 6-5 96.87%
    Double Double Bonus 9-5 95.27%
    Average 96.74%
  • The Augustine at a glance:
    • Rooms: 0
    • Restaurants: 2
    • Gambling age: 21
    • Slots: 700
    • Table games: 8
    • Poker tables: 2
    • Bingo seats: 0
    • Address: 84001 Avenue 54, Coachella, CA 92236
    • Phone: 760-391-9500
    • Web site: www.augustinecasino.com

    Fantasy Springs



    The Fantasy Springs is an upbeat place that seems to attract a younger crowd than average for the area. It is located right off the I-10 freeway in Indio. The casino is open and brightly lit. The pool area was small compared to what I'm used to in Vegas but still well appointed. My room was well furnished and stocked, including a coffeemaker and safe. My only complaint is the mattress was too soft, forcing me to sleep on the floor. Then again, I make this complaint about hotel mattresses a lot.

    The new player card offer was pretty strong at $10 in free slot play (not valid on video poker) and a $10 food credit. The free play was rather difficult to figure out how to redeem. I didn't initially know you had to run $10 through the machine first to get it. In addition, both the pre-play and free-play had to be done on certain machines with an orange sticker only. About 15 minutes of my time was wasted figuring out these rules.

    For the $10 in food credit, I hit the buffet, which was pretty nice. The only one I can compare it to in the area is the Morongo, which was not as good. My standard litmus test for the quality of the food is the shrimp. The ones at the Fantasy Springs were pre-peeled, juicy and about the size of a bishop in a tournament chess set. They get points for creativity, too, with unusual items like couscous and sauteed Swiss chard. At 10:00 PM, when I ate, there was no line and the service was fast.

    To kill some time and get a feel for the place, I decided to play some blackjack. The dealer was very friendly and engaging but kept making incorrect statements about strategy. This is something I can never let stand, so corrected her often. After many corrections, she remarked, "You must have been a math major." How did she guess? No wonder I get backed off so quickly when I count cards.

    I thought I was an obnoxious nonsmoker, blowing smoke away from me or turning into a human windmill when a smoker shows up, but I truly met my match that night at the Fantasy Springs. I had been sitting at second base with what seemed to be an outgoing couple in the last two spots. After about 20 minutes of this arrangement, a tattooed biker-looking couple sat down right between us, and the guy was already smoking. I could see the smoke was blowing directly in the face of the couple already sitting there. The gal stood up in a huff and asked to color up her chips. Her man followed her lead. While waiting for the dealer to count the chips, she flipped him off right in his face. It wasn't the usual cowardly parting f/u; rather, she gave him every opportunity to react while she was standing there waiting on the dealer. The smoker looked like he lifted heavy objects all day long and rode with a motorcycle gang in his spare time. Of course, a gentleman can't retaliate against a woman, so she pretty much could do as she pleased with immunity. He seemed to have a Buddha-like calmness through the whole thing, only remarking after they left, "They allow smoking here."

    Blackjack:

    Fantasy Springs Blackjack

    Decks Soft 17 Double after Split Surrender Re-split aces Limits House Edge
    6 Stand Yes No Yes $10-$500 0.36%
    2 Hit Yes No No $15-$500 0.50%

    Note the rule that in the double-deck game the player can't re-split anything.

  • Craps: The same card procedure and 3-4-5x odds as at the Agua Caliente.
  • Keno: The 10,000-1,652-98-12-2-0-0-0 pay table is used, for a house edge of 92.31%.
  • Race book: The Fantasy Springs has a large race book, which looked much like the sports and racing books you see in Vegas, sans sports betting. It was the only one I noticed in the area.
  • Spanish 21: No re-doubling, for a house edge of 0.76%.
  • Video Poker: VPfree2 indicates two different games with a return of 99.50% or higher. The best is 9-5 Triple Bonus Plus at 99.80%.

    The machine I randomly chose had an average return of 97.19%. Here are the details.

    Fantasy Springs Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Bonus Poker 7-5 98.01%
    Double Bonus 9-6 97.81%
    Deuces Wild 20-12-10 97.58%
    Jacks or Better 8-5 97.30%
    Joker Poker (two pair) 100-16-8-5 97.19%
    Double Double Bonus 9-5 95.27%
    Average 97.19%
    The Fantasy Springs at a glance:
    • Rooms: 261
    • Restaurants: 6
    • Gambling age: 21
    • Slots: 1,956
    • Table games: 27
    • Poker tables: 5
    • Bingo seats: 750
    • Address: 82-245 Indio Springs Drive, Indio, CA 92203
    • Phone: 760-342-5000
    • Web site: www.fantasyspringsresort.com

    A reader adds that they have bowling plus an Events Center where they have concerts, plus the Lit Lounge which has live dance bands on Friday and Saturday nights, plus another attraction that's coming in there. This is called the "Rock Yard" and it will reopen in April 2014.

    Morongo


    The Morongo is the first casino you pass on the I-10 freeway traveling east from Los Angeles. So, it has a big geographical advantage. From downtown Los Angeles, it is only 89 miles away, and a straight shot on the I-10 the whole way. In terms of number of slot machines, the Morongo is the largest in the Coachella Valley, and it's barely behind the Agua Caliente in both rooms and table games.

    Whoever runs the Morongo must love slot players, or vise versa, because there are a sea of them surrounding a much smaller table games area in the middle. Almost all the slots are the modern video variety. You'll have to hunt around for what few video poker games they have.

    Another curiosity about the Morongo is they are the only dry casino in the Palms Springs area, allowing them to have a gambling age of 18. The Barona and Sycuan in the San Diego area are also dry. You might think this would attract hoards of youngsters between the ages of 18 and 21 from the LA area, like Tijuana does, but it doesn't. Instead, they seem to attract what looks like the crowd that gets bussed into Atlantic City every weekend. I've been in the place on weekends during previous visits, and it was crowded. The line to the buffet was about 100 wheelchairs long, stretching across the casino.

    The sign-up bonus at the Morongo was $10 in free play or food credit. I was very hungry when I arrived, so chose the food credit. Fortunately, this time I was there on a Thursday late morning and there was no line for the buffet. The buffet was decent, but nothing special. The shrimp had to be peeled and the sushi was the type that is mostly rice and looked and tasted like it was made by machine.

    • Blackjack:

      Morongo Blackjack

      Decks Soft 17 Double after Split Surrender Re-split aces Limits House Edge
      6 Hit Yes No Yes $5-$200 0.57%
      6 Hit Yes No Yes $50-$2000 0.57%

    • Keno: The 10000,1652,98,12,2 pick-8 pay table was used, for a return of 92.31%.
    • Spanish 21: The liberal re-doubling rule is used, for a house edge of 0.42%.
    • Three Card Poker: The liberal 1-4-6-30-40 Pairplus pay table is used, for a house edge of 2.32%.
    • Video Poker: VPfree2 indicates one game with a return of 99.50% or higher, which is 9-6 Jacks or Better at 99.54%.

      The machine I randomly chose had an average return of 97.03%. Here are the details.

      Morongo Video Poker

      Game Pay Table Return
      Double Bonus 9-6 97.81%
      Bonus Poker Deluxe 8-5 97.40%
      Bonus Poker 35-6-5 97.36%
      Jacks or Better 8-5 97.30%
      Deuces Wild 20-12-9 97.06%
      Triple Double Bonus 9-5 97.02%
      Double Double Bonus 9-5 95.27%
      Average 97.03%
    The Morongo at a glance:
    • Rooms: 342
    • Restaurants: 5
    • Gambling age: 18
    • Slots: 2,000
    • Table games: 46
    • Poker tables: 10
    • Bingo seats: 500
    • Address: 49750 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, CA 92230
    • Phone: 951-849-3080
    • Web site: www.morongocasinoresort.com

    A reader adds that the Morongo has a bowling alley in the another building (the old caisno), a nightclub (Vibe — which is open only Friday & Saturday), and there is shopping about a mile away at the Desert Premium Outlets and Cabazon Outlets.

    Spa


    This is definitely a unique member of the Palm Springs group of casinos. This is the only one right in downtown Palm Springs. Normally, when I think of tribal casinos, I think of a location out in the sticks somewhere, but the Spa is definitely the exception. How the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians got this prime piece of land from the white man, I don't know.

    From the outside it looks more like a classic hotel than a casino. However, in what I would call the back, they do indeed have a medium-sized casino. As opposed to just about every other casino in the country, the Spa is classy and understated. What little signage they have is small and modest. You really need to plan to go there to know it exists.

    I got to the Spa pretty early. It was my plan to eat breakfast and play a little before catching the first tram at 10:00 to hike Mount San Jacinto, an activity I highly recommend and have had the opportunity to do three times in recent years. When I arrived at the Spa, the only restaurant I could find, the buffet, wasn't open yet. Fortunately, the snack bar was, and my breakfast burrito was pretty darn good.

    The casino on an early Friday morning was dead. One blackjack table was open, where I had a pretty uneventful session.

    The casino is owned by the same tribe, if that is the right term, as the Agua Caliente. Thus, the player cards are the same. When I asked to sign up for a card, the gal typed my name in the computer and said, "You already signed up at the Agua Caliente yesterday." So, no new player bonus for me there.

    I'd like to warn you that if you try to search for the "spa casino" on the iPhone you'll likely be directed to the Morongo. The machine probably thinks you just want anywhere that has a casino and spa. It might not be a terrible idea for them to rename the place.

    Blackjack:

    Spa Blackjack

    Decks Soft 17 Double after Split Surrender Re-split aces Limits House Edge
    2 Hit Yes No No $15-$500 0.46%
    6 Hit Yes No No $5-$300 0.64%

  • Keno: The 10,000-1,550-98-12-2-0-0-0 pay table is used for a return of 90.67%.
  • Roulette: Double-zero card wheel.
  • Three Card Poker: The stingy 1-3-6-3-40 pay table is used on the Pairplus, for a house edge of 7.28%.
  • Video Poker: VPfree2 indicates five different games with a return of 99.50% or higher. The best is 60-100-11-6 Super Draw Poker at 99.75%.

    The machine I randomly chose had an average return of 97.35%. Here are the details.

    Spa Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Jacks or Better 9-5 98.45%
    Bonus Poker 7-5 98.01%
    Double Bonus 9-6 97.81%
    Deuces Wild 20-12-9 97.06%
    Double Double Bonus 8-5 96.79%
    Triple Double Bonus 8-5 95.97%
    Average 97.35%
    The Spa at a glance:
    • Rooms: 228
    • Restaurants: 5
    • Gambling age: 21
    • Slots: 1,000
    • Table games: 30
    • Poker tables: 0
    • Bingo seats: 0
    • Address: 140 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
    • Phone: 760-323-5865
    • Web site: www.sparesortcasino.com

    A reader adds that they do have a lounge but it's open (at least currently) for football only. Some shopping is available on Palm Canyon Drive which is only a short drive/walk away.

    Spotlight 29


    The Spotlight 29 is a quirky place, beginning with the name. The 29 comes from the fact that they belong to the Twenty-Nine Palms band of Mission Indians. I have no idea about the "spotlight." In the early days of aviation, planes had to use spotlights at night to navigate, so that would be my best guess.

    The first casino you'll see driving westbound on the I-10 from Arizona will be the Spotlight, although the Fantasy Springs is not far beyond it. Located in the triangle formed between the I-10, I-10B and the 86 highway, the location is also kind of bizarre, like an island between highways.

    There is no hotel attached to the Spotlight. It is pretty much just a big barn casino and an events center. I found the casino to be rather dark, quiet and empty, but maybe I just hit it at a slow time, late on a Thursday night.

    The new player offer was pretty chintzy: $2 off the buffet and a free buffet my next visit, as long as it was between 3 and 13 days in the future. However, I give the Spotlight props for a self-service beverage bar in the main casino. They are the only Palms Springs casino I noticed to have one.

    Another oddity I noticed about the Spotlight was signs above certain banks of machines that said, "These slots are chairman approved 'certified loose.'" As someone who used to run a service certifying casino odds and fairness, this caught my attention. So, I asked the gal at the player club desk who the chairman was and how was he certifying his machines were "loose." Not surprisingly, she had no idea. Doesn't everyone ask questions like these?

    So, I shrugged it off and played an obscure game called High Card Flush. I've played this game before in Laughlin and Vegas, so it was nice to see an old friend. Anyway, about ten minutes later a lady in a suit walked up to me and asked me what I asked at the player club desk. So, I asked it again. She also reacted like it was the first time anybody asked and had no idea of the answer. I tried to be more specific, asking exactly how the chairman defined a "loose" slot machine, and what regulatory agency or firm did he use to verify the claims made in the casino. I may ask well have been speaking in one of those African clicking languages, based on the lack of any substantive response.

    If you didn't know already, I'm a sucker for "free" t-shirt. The Spotlight had an offer where if you earned $3 in reward credits, you could spend them on a t-shirt/baseball cap combination. I was all over that! Fortunately I found a 9-6 Jacks or Better machine near the beverage bar and fired away at the $1 denomination-game ($5 a bet). After playing about 50 hands, or $250, I still had not earned $1 in comps. I wasn't going to lose a ridiculous amount chasing that t-shirt. After asking a couple staff members, I was informed that it takes $300 in play to earn $1 in comps. I thought it was excessive to run $900 through the game for a t-shirt and cap, so decided not to pursue it further. Although the expected loss would have been $4.14, assuming perfect play, a standard deviation of the session would have been $297. I'd have felt stupid if I lost that much chasing a damn t-shirt. Plus, my jacks or better ability is rather rusty, so perfect play is not something I can safely assume right now.

    • Blackjack:

      Spotlight 29 Blackjack

      Decks Soft 17 Double after Split Surrender Re-split aces Limits House Edge
      6 Hit Yes No No $5-$300 0.64%
    • Keno: The 350-250-70-30-1-0-0-0-1 pay table is used for a return of 92.62%.
    • Roulette: Double-zero card wheel.
    • Spanish 21: No re-doubling is allowed, for a house edge of 0.76%.
    • Three Card Poker: The seldom seen 1-4-5 pay table is used on the Pairplus, for a house edge of 5.57%.
    • Video Poker:

      VPfree2 indicates a 97.30% Jacks or Better game only. I personally saw a 9-6 Jacks game at 99.54%, so I suggest the Spotlight 29 monitor should do an update.

      The machine I randomly chose had an average return of 98.32%. Here are the details.

      Spotlight 29 Video Poker

      Game Pay Table Return
      Deuces Wild 20-12-10 97.58%
      Jacks or Better 8-5 97.30%
      Joker Poker (two pair) 100-16-8-5 97.19%
      Bonus Poker 6-5 96.87%
      Double Double Bonus 8-5 96.79%
      Average 97.15%
    The Spotlight 29 at a glance:
    • Rooms: 0
    • Restaurants: 2
    • Gambling age: 21
    • Slots: 1,000
    • Table games: 30
    • Poker tables: 0
    • Bingo seats: 0
    • Address: 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella, CA 92236
    • Phone: 760-775-5566
    • Web site: www.spotlight29.com

    A reader add that the Spotlight 29 also has a club which is also open only on events nights.

    Soboba

    Sorry, Soboda, you were too far off the beaten track, and I didn't have time to grace you with a visit.

    The Soboba at a glance:
    • Rooms: 0
    • Restaurants: 1
    • Gambling age: 21
    • Slots: 2,000
    • Table games: 21
    • Poker tables: 0
    • Bingo seats: 250
    • Address: 23333 Soboda Road, San Jacinto, CA 92583
    • Phone: 909-654-2883
    • Web site: www.soboba.net

    Tortoise Rock


    It is a stretch to say the Tortoise Rock is in the Palm Springs area because it is located way out in 29 Palms. As I mentioned in the introduction, it wasn't open yet when I first did this blog entry in September 2013. My visit there is based on a visit when I drove through 29 Palms in October, 2014.

    The Tortoise Rock is located just a few blocks outside central 29 Palms. As is typical of a casino with no competition in the vicinity the building is a glorified big box. The facility is nice and clean but there isn't much to do except get down to business and gamble.

    I visited at about 10 AM on a Saturday morning and the place was quiet. There were about five players playing slots. These five players were outnumbered by visible employees by about a 2 to 1 ratio. The table games were getting ready to open when I was there as the dealers washed the cards and counted the chips.

    My only financial interaction with the Tortoise Rock was the purchase of a breakfast burrito at their snack bar, the only place to eat in the place. It took them what seemed like ages to make it but I must say it was tasty. Based on overheard conversations, I think the bored employees were slipping in requests that were head of my order in line. While I'm on the topic of food & beverages, kudos to the Tortoise Rock for having free beverage bars in a couple spots in the casino!

    Speaking of bored employees, I was worried that security would give me a hard time for opening writing notes as I prepared for this review. It seemed that there were more security officers than customers in the place and certainly none others that looked like they were casing the joint. However, to their credit, nobody bothered me at all and the staff in the table games were were very happy to answer my questions.

    With the introduction out of the way, here are my comments on the specific table games.

    Blackjack



    There were five blackjack tables, all with the following are the blackjack rules:

    • Six decks
    • Dealer hits soft 17
    • Double after split allowed
    • Surrender NOT allowed.
    • Player may re-split to four hands, except aces may be split once only.

    The house edge under these rules is 0.64%.

    Video Keno



    A randomly chosen game on a Game Maker machine had the 1-0-0-0-1-30-70-250-350 pay table for a return of 92.62%.

    Video Poker



    I checked a random 25¢ Game Maker and found the following games and pay tables.

    Tortoise Rock Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Jacks or Better 8-5 97.30%
    Bonus Poker 7-5 98.01%
    Double Double Bonus 8-5 96.79%
    Deuces Wild 20-12-10 97.58%
    Joker Poker (two pair) 100-16-8-5 97.19%
    Average 97.37%

    Other Games



    The following other table games were available:

    • One Spanish 21 table with the normal rules of the dealer hitting a soft 17 and re-doubling not allowed.
    • One Face Up Three Card Poker table. This was quite a surprise. I've seen this game only twice before ANYWHERE.
    • One pai gow poker table.
    • Four live poker tables.

    Player Club



    The player club is connected to that of the Spotlight 29. I asked if there were any promotions of new players to the Tortoise Rock who already had a Spotlight 29 card, but was told "no," because they are considered as two parts of the same organization.

    Tortoise Rock at a Glance



    • Rooms: 0
    • Restaurants: 1 (snack bar)
    • Gambling age: 18
    • Slots: 490
    • Table games: 8
    • Poker tables: 4
    • Bingo seats: 0
    • Address: 73829 Baseline Road, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
    • Phone: (760) 367-9759
    • Web site: www.tortoiserockcasino.com/

    Casino Comparison

    The following tables rank, in order from best to worst, the five casinos I checked in blackjack, video poker, and video keno. For blackjack, I went by the best game available. For video poker and video keno, I went by the randomly selected 25¢ game.

    Blackjack Comparison

    Rank Casino House edge
    1 Augustine 0.26%
    2 (tie) Agua Caliente 0.36%
    2 (tie) Fantasy Springs 0.36%
    4 Spa 0.46%
    5 Morongo 0.57%
    6 Spotlight 29 0.64%
    7 Tortoise Rock 0.64%

    Video Poker Comparison

    Rank Casino Return
    1 Agua Caliente 98.32%
    2 Fantasy Springs 97.63%
    3 Morongo 97.40%
    4 Tortoise Rock 97.37%
    5 Spa 97.35%
    6 Augustine 97.26%
    7 Spotlight 29 97.15%

    Video Keno Comparison

    Rank Casino Return
    1 (tie) Augustine 92.62%
    1 (tie) Spotlight 29 92.62%
    1 (tie) Tortoise Rock 92.62%
    4 (tie) Fantasy Springs 92.31%
    4 (tie) Morongo 92.31%
    6 (tie) Agua Caliente 90.67%
    6 (tie) Spa 90.67%