Good deals past and present at the Sahara

After nearly 60 years, the Sahara hotel-casino will close its doors May 16. In the days leading up to its last, you’ll read plenty about this casino’s place in Las Vegas entertainment history. Johnny Carson, Tina Turner and Don Rickles were staples in the Conga Room. The Sahara also sponsored The Beatles’ only Las Vegas appearance in 1964, was the long-time location for Jerry Lewis’ Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and served as the setting for the original Ocean’s Eleven movie.

Lots of Las Vegans no doubt have fond memories of the joint. One of mine is playing baccarat there.

Baccarat? The casino edge in baccarat is slight but insurmountable due to the 5 percent commission charged on winning bank wagers. But back in late 1989, the Sahara dealt baccarat with no commission on the bank, a move that effectively turned the tables on the casino, giving players a 1.23 percent advantage. The maximum bet was $100, which meant that sitting there and firing in max bets on the bank was worth more than $100 per hour.

After five days, the Sahara brought in a detective agency to identify players who were participating in the promotion. Some were professional blackjack and poker players. Others just happened to recognize a good proposition. The Sahara began barring players as they were pointed out by the detectives, while those not known continued to play with the same 1.23 percent edge that had been enjoyed by the expelled players. The situation spawned one of the best gambling quotes ever, when the famed blackjack expert Stanford Wong commented, “It looks like the Sahara is giving away money, but I guess they’re particular about whom they give it to.”

It was a good five days.

You’ll probably want to see the Sahara once more before it closes, and while you’re there, you can take advantage of one of the best current deals in town. For nearly two years now, the Sahara has run “Dollar Days,” which gives you a bottle of beer, a shot (with a free souvenir glass), a hot dog, or even a hand of blackjack for just a buck apiece. It’s offered in the back pit, near the NASCAR Café, 24 hours a day.