The Gambling Gourmet [Kicking Back With Jersey Joe]
Too hungry to get up from that exciting blackjack game? Can’t stop for even a moment to get a bite to eat during that hot slot session? The El Cortez Hotel and Casino, one of the nations oldest, has the answer – The Gambling Gourmet. Could this be the next trend in food? I had to give it a try!
The El Cortez Hotel and Casino is located at 6th & Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, just one block east of the Fremont Street Experience. The El Cortez was established before the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip.
It was opened in 1941 as Vegas’ first casino resort. The few other gambling halls that had opened downtown in the previous decade featured bare bones games, small restaurants, sawdust floors, and very small (or none at all) hotels, while the El Cortez had 59 rooms to offer.
Within a few years of opening, mobsters Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Gus Greenbaum, and Moe Segway would purchase and run the property.
A few years after, the previous owner J. Kel Houssels would buy it back, so the mobsters could go on to finance the construction of The Flamingo on the Vegas Strip. (The money pit of The Flamingo would become cost Siegel his life, as he was gunned down in a mob hit a few years later.)
Jackie Gaughan, a rising legend in the gaming world, would purchase the resort a few years later and it stayed in the family until 2009. To this day, Gaughan still walks the casino floor and talks with visitors about “old Vegas”. The player’s club bears his name.
When compared to other casinos in the area, the El Cortez is quite old and a bit run down, but its ranch style was once one of the shining stars of downtown Vegas. As more tourists began to frequent Vegas, the property was expanded with several additional hotel towers.
The original hotel rooms that opened in the 1940’s are still available, but are not handicapped accessible. They can be reached by climbing a small staircase in the middle of the casino floor. The long and narrow hallways in this section give the hotel the feel of an old giant ranch house.
The rooms through most of the property have not been renovated since the 80’s and have a vintage Vegas feel. Amenities include antique roll top desks, a separate sofa/living room area, and heat lamps in the bathrooms. (Sorry, no shatphone next to the toilet.)
A new hotel tower, known as the Cabana Suites, opened in 2009 adding 64 suites from the shell of the closed Ogden House hotel that had been adjacent to the property. The boutique hotel tower has a modern-classic feel and features some of the newest rooms downtown. It is only accessible by crossing a side street and often without the assistance of a much needed security guard. Imagine the room service carts wheeling back and forth over and over across the outdoor street.
The casino floor is older looking, but improvements are ongoing. Newer slot machines are beginning to appear and they always have at least one or two of the latest games. Many older slots can still be played, although no original coin in games are available.
Late night, the casino can get a bit smoky, even to the point where a slight haze or fog will roll in.
With the El Cortez being an older property and forced to compete with not only the other hotels downtown, but those on the Strip, the casino offers low table game minimums and low cost hotel rooms. This aside with the intimate charm of the smaller property has built it a very loyal fan base. The entire property still maintains the “vintage Vegas” feel that has been lost among the mega resorts.
A current promotion on their website is offering rooms for as low as $31 per night (plus $4 tax), but with $35 in food and casino free play it basically totals out to $0.
Rooms are also discounted for frequent gamblers who use their player’s card. Guests are also given several free small airline bottles of booze to enjoy in their rooms upon arrival. The casino has won multiple “Best of Las Vegas” awards from Casino Player magazine including:
Best Downtown Hotel 2009
Best Blackjack 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007
Best Keno 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008
Best Video Poker 2008
Over the years, the casino has been known for some wacky offers to entice players. Right now, they are giving away a free Klondike bar with any win of $25 or more on Wednesdays!
To further keep their players gambling, the El Cortez has instituted an original idea that I have never seen in any other casino… The Gambling Gourmet!
The Gambling Gourmet began a few years ago and is basically room service or diner style food, delivered right to the player a machine, table game, or bar. The menu is quite extensive and is pretty much anything you could order from room service (although it is NOT the official room service menu it’s more like a diner menu.) From appetizers such as chicken fingers to full spaghetti dinners, they’ll wheel it right on out!
While signs advertising the service are posted around the property, ordering can be a little bit of an ordeal. Hungry patrons are required to stop a slot attendant or bartender and ask for a waiter. The bartender will then page the waiter on a walkie talkie and he or she will arrive to take your order. The waiter delivers the food on a room service cart that gets parked next to the machine.
A group of three of us was enjoying the large video poker bar when we noticed the couple next to use chowing down on nachos and chicken from The Gambling Gourmet. They passed us their menu, so it was time to give it a shot.
The bartender approached and we inquired on how to order. He paged a server on his walkie talkie and we waited… and waited… and waited. For the next 25 minutes or so, we continued playing until the bartender noticed the waiter had never come. We were about to give up, but he paged again, and poof the guy appeared.
On a few previous trips, I had seen several other gamblers enjoying The Gambling Gourmet while they played. One woman was eating a turkey dinner (turkey, potatoes, and a vegetable of some sort) and I kind of recall another eating some type of pasta dish. You can clearly see what people are chowing down on, since the trays are parked right in the aisle next to the machine. The turkey lady would take a spin or two, then lean over to her cart and cut a bite of meat, then right back to her game!
We went with the chicken fingers and a chicken quesadilla. The thought was that it would be far easier to deal with finger foods while playing instead of a full meal. It took about 15 minutes, but our cart appeared with each item on a plate under the classic silver room service dome. A few small cups of ketchup, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing, plus a few plates were also provided.
Having no choice, I placed my plate right on top of my machine and took some of the finger foods and sauce. I absolutely made sure to clean up with hand sanitizer and not to touch the filthy game or buttons. I had seen the couple next to us, just take a bite, and put their greasy fingers back on the bar top poker machine. There was no way I was doing that! To me, that’s like licking the pole on the New York City Subway. Germaphobe alert!
The $6.50 chicken fingers were a bit overcooked, but the $6.75 quesadilla was good. We paid the waiter when he wheeled out our food and of course, made sure to tip.
After the meal is done, you just pile your refuse and dirty plates back on top of the cart and push it aside. Eventually, the waiter returned to take it away, and when he did the gentleman sitting to our left flagged him down to place an order.
With having a few snacks, we were able to continue on with our Downtown Vegas experience!
What: The Gambling Gourmet
Where: El Cortez Hotel & Casino
Location: downtown Las Vegas, Nevada
Cost: average cost of diner food
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: A little odd, but casinos will do anything to keep players at the machines and it looks like the El Cortez has found a way to do it. The service seems popular and each time I’ve visited, I’ve seen at least one person eating.
It’s a little gross to think of the people having the appetizers and then using those same greasy fingers to touch the screen, button, chips, or cards. All of which are quite filthy and loaded with germs. I know I wouldn’t want to be the next person who sits down and has the PLACE BET button covered in grease.
The slots, poker machines, bars, and table games aren’t made with space for large plates. There is often barely enough room for a drink, so adding flatware on top can be difficult. The carts also take up some walk space on the casino floor.
If you try it, my advice is to load up on the hand sanitizer and keep your fingers off the machine. The prices aren’t too expensive, but do you really want to have a steak dinner while at a machine?
I suggest just taking a break and properly eat. If the food were in more portable containers (like something you would get in a drive thru to eat in the car) this could work better. Also for as long as we waited, we could have properly gone to a restaurant which would have been easier. It’s a cool novelty, but unless you absolutely can’t leave the machine or table – I say skip it.