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Swim-up blackjack in Las Vegas casino pools makes a comeback

At these blackjack tables, they don’t use electronic card shufflers.

Women dealers, dressed in dark blue tops and short shorts that reveal their athletic bodies and tattoos, shuffle six decks of cards by hand.

It is not for show. It is a necessity at these tables.

So too are the small, white bath towels stacked next to the dealer.

The players need them to dry their hands or to cover their phones and money, as they are sitting in a waist-high pool at Caesars Palace.

Las Vegas casinos have plenty of table games. And most have pools.

Yet, for a city that thrives on offering memorable experiences, only a few casinos in town let you celebrate a great blackjack winning streak – or drown your bad luck – by dunking into a pool.

Caesars and Tropicana have five and two swim-up blackjack tables, respectively, offering play seven days a week.

Hard Rock Hotel has three swim-up tables and several poolside tables, including craps, open from Thursday through Sunday. The games are offered mainly during daytime hours from mid-March to October.

Experience to take home

The five tables at Caesars’ Fortuna pool are laid out in a U-shape and tucked under a balcony held up by Romanesque columns. A bar is located just behind the tables.

The balcony doubles as a sun blocker and waterfall. Streams fall through its floor, splashing into the Fortuna pool around the shaded blackjack tables.

The balcony also serves as an ideal spot for roughly a dozen surveillance cameras. All gaming — whether indoor or outdoor — must be under surveillance cameras.

Four of the five blackjack tables at Caesars Fortuna pool are busy by 12 p.m. on an August Saturday. Supervisor Chris Richards expects them all to be filled by mid-afternoon when the DJ hits the turntables and juices up the party atmosphere, driving more people to the pool.

“What you get out here is a different experience that you can take back home,” Richards says of the gaming, his voice slightly muffled by the sound of the crashing waterfall.

The swim-up blackjack tables aren’t just hot on the weekends.

On a late Tuesday afternoon, there are 15 to 21 people playing blackjack at Caesars’ Fortuna pool over the course of nearly two hours.

Some are groups of four to five, others are single players or pairs. New players regularly wade through the water to take a seat at the tables as others leave.

“I love it. It’s a great idea,” said Ryan Gorby, who played two hours on a recent Tuesday at Fortuna. The Denver resident said he has played swim-up blackjack on previous trips.

“Out here, its more relaxed. The girls are wearing less and are trying to make it a more fun atmosphere,” Gorby said.

Brenda Nunez worked indoors as a dealer for a few years before taking a job at the Fortuna pool. Nunez, who takes a few minutes to shuffle the cards by hand, agrees the pool environment is pretty chill.

“It is more intense to work inside,” she said. ‘”People are here at the pool to have fun.”

Wet money, wind

Although it’s called swim-up blackjack, no one really swims up to the blackjack tables.

Two woman in their 20s made their way through the pool to the blackjack tables clutching their white and beige purses to their chest with both hands.

Not only is the water too shallow for swimming, but your money and chips will get wet unless you have them in waterproof holders.

That said, the tables will accept your dripping dollars.

“Every once in a while, they come up with money soaking wet,” said Joseph Totoro, VP of Casino Operations at Hard Rock.

Playing outdoors is also subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

While heavy rain and lightening can shut down outdoor games, it doesn’t happen frequently. Heavy wind that could send cards or money flying is probably of greater concern, said Totoro.

“We will close it down for the day if we feel the wind is too strong,” he said.

Karl Bennison, chief of enforcement at the Gaming Control Board, said he couldn’t recall any disputes coming to his office caused by wet and wind-swept cards during outdoor play.

Not a business, an amenity

In-pool gaming has been around since at least the 1950s, according to Las Vegas historian David Schwarz. The Sands and the Dunes were the first to offer it, he said.

There were floating craps games and even mechanical slots by the poolside, said John Fort, director of casino operations at Tropicana. The latter were more of a gimmick, Fort said, since water and mechanics don’t mesh well.

Neither floating craps nor gimmicky outdoor slots are available today for regulatory and practical reasons.

Fort doesn’t consider the swim-up blackjack tables a business like those inside. Rather, they are a pool amenity much like chairs, towels and music.

“To be able to sit in the pool, stay cool, have a beer, play blackjack — it’s a great experience,” said Fort, adding the betting limits are lower.

That is not to say that visitors aren’t interested in serious play outdoors. Fort said whales sometimes request a seat at swim-up blackjack tables with high limits.

While in-pool gaming is rare, most casinos do offer poolside play like blackjack and craps under roofs that shade the area.

But Fort says people generally don’t play the poolside games for long when its 115 degrees even if they are in the shade.

“The big challenge is making it comfortable for the guests,” he said about poolside gaming. “The heat here is repressive.”

Poolside tables at the big dayclubs like Encore Beach and Rehab, though, generate good business as the music, booze and party atmosphere make it a fun, social experience.

“This area does very well for us. The craps table is very popular,” said Totoro. “Some of our biggest players come out here.”

Contact Todd Prince at tprince@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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