Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Casino Review: Crown Casino (Melbourne, Australia)

When relocating overseas I usually check for the closest addresses of three places: the supermarket, Ikea and the casino. Having spent most of my life in a country where casinos were illegal (though lately that has changed), heading down to Crown Casino is always a bit of a treat. I usually go a few times a month as long as I'm having decent luck.

The nice thing about Crown Casino is that it's also part of the massive Crown Entertainment Complex, so there's lots to do... meaning your friends/family/other half can entertain themselves while you gamble.

Crown Casino in Melbourne is the biggest casino in the entire state of Victoria (actually, it's almost the only casino), and is very conveniently located just behind Flinders Station and within walking distance of most of the city's major hotels. You can stay at Crown Towers if you really plan to spend your entire holiday at the casino, never to emerge into natural light outside, though there are cheaper options not far away, including Crown Promenade Hotel and smaller hotels and hostels on the other side of the Yarra river.

Crown Towers


Note: Photo-taking is forbidden in the casino. Lady HengHeng was warned by casino staff but managed to escape with these exclusive photos!

Crown Casino has a nice mix of games and isn't overly dominated by baccarat like many Asian casinos are (though there are sizable baccarat rooms to cater to the Asian clientele). I have found the dealers to be very professional. They know what they are doing and seldom make mistakes. Some are quite friendly, particularly the blackjack dealers. The roulette croupiers and baccarat dealers tend to be a little more reserved.

The interior is enormous and you will get lost amidst the dizzying carpet patterns and the ringing of the slots machines. After my tenth visit I still had trouble locating the change counters and the escalator to the second floor. Getting lost isn't that bad though, since the casino and even its toilets are extremely clean and quite attractive. Different areas are even matched with different styles of background music. The more spacious and posh-looking rooms have more jazzy, mellow tunes, haha. There are 2 floors of games; many of the lower minimum bet blackjack tables are upstairs so don't forget to go up the escalator if you're a blackjack fan.

There are two or three major concentrations of blackjack tables ($10, $15, $25, $50, $100), though they can be found all over the place. Hardcore players will be happy to know that they use at least six to eight decks, stand only on hard 17, allow doubling on 9, 10 and 11, allow doubling after splits, allow no surrender, and the dealer doesn't peek for blackjack.

Some of the blackjack dealers are really funny and a pleasure to play with; others are quiet but always very quick and efficient. There are other variants of blackjack like Crown pontoon, pontoon pandemonium and sports blackjack with funny rules like having the 10s removed, etc, but I don't advise you play them seriously because they all have worse odds than regular blackjack.

Standard blackjack table

One thing that seriously annoys me is the use of card shuffling machines at all blackjack tables. After every hand, the cards used for that round are immediately fed into the card shuffling machine. This wasn't the case before, but in about June this year they placed this evil device on every single blackjack table. This means not only that you can forget about card counting, but also that the days of crazy winning streaks may be over and the game is now much more random.

There are two major concentrations of roulette tables ($2.50, $5, $10, $25) on the lower gaming floor, as well as rapid roulette (electronic version, can go as low as 50 cents per bet) on both floors. The behaviour of croupiers varies though they are generally quite professional. I have come across a few, however, who were very impatient and didn't give players much time to place their bets.

There are both American-style wheels with 0 and 00 and European-style wheels with just one 0. There seem to be more of the single zero variety. I suggest you stay away from those with 0 and 00 since they offer worse odds.

Rapid roulette

There are two rooms dedicated almost entirely to baccarat ($10, $25, $50, $100). One in particular has different furniture and carpeting from the main area and is more spacious and pleasant. As you would expect, most of the people playing baccarat are Asian tourists. There's rapid baccarat on the ground floor as well which works in the same way as rapid roulette--the dealer stands in the centre while players place bets on their own computer screens.

Aunties and uncles in the baccarat room

There a few other novelty games like the wheel of fortune, sic bo or da xiao, pai gow and some poker variants like caribbean stud poker. If you're there with people who don't gamble much, they tend to be strangely attracted to wheel of fortune and sic bo. There is also a craps table; not many people are familiar with the game which is a shame. And as if that's not enough, there's a sports bar with a big screen and sports betting facility.

Wheel of fortune

Oh yah, there are also slots machines everywhere, mostly occupied by older people.

Ang moh aunties and uncles playing slots

Texas hold'em fans will love the Crown Poker Room, which is located two floors below the casino. Most games are no-limit with small blinds of $2, and there are computerized and automated tables for beginners.

Entrance to Crown Poker Room


Crown isn't as crazy as many of those themed casinos in Las Vegas and Macau. There are no wild animals walking around or fake historical landmarks. Those of us who are used to more gimmicky casinos may find the decor a bit nondescript. However, Crown is by no means modest--the complex's interior is sprawling and quite tastefully blinged out (for a casino anyway).


The Crown Entertainment Complex boasts quite a wide range of foods for most budgets. Outside the casino there are expensive restaurants like the overhyped Nobu. The A$60 buffet at Conservatory is quite good value for money, while the famous cakes at Greco are so-so. Cheaper options also exist in the form of a food court right outside the East entrance of the casino and a pizza stand, as well as good old McDonald's, KFC and Krispy Kreme at the other end of the building.


If you can't even bear to step out of the casino, you can always eat inside the casino itself. The more prominent restaurants are Margo's, which serves affordable pasta, and Shò Noodle Bar, which serves A$10++ soups and noodles. There are bars as well if you feel incomplete without an alcoholic beverage.


Random bar

If you want to eat inside the casino, but don't want to spend more than A$10, head to the East2West food court where you can order fried rice or noodles and choose from a variety of economy rice-style dishes. The food is, as expected, not fantastic, but still way better than the free buffet on the Long Jie cruise.


If you want to save even more money, there are a few snack bars hidden inconspicuously throughout the casino. If you go up the escalator to the second floor of the casino you can find one of these snack bars about 10 metres to the right of the change counter, beside the $10 blackjack tables. The snack bars serve quick and greasy fare like burgers and fish and chips. I heard the fish and chips used to be only A$2; unfortunately times have changed.

If you are really cheapo and don't want to spend a single cent (or you've lost money, hey it happens to the best of us), you can still order free drinks as long as you are sitting at one of the games. There is usually a lady pushing around a drinks cart with free coffee, tea, soft drinks and mineral water. These drinks are only available to slots players, but if you're really desperate you can strategically position yourself nearby and pretend to be fishing for coins to feed into the slots machine just as she walks past.

The eateries inside the casino usually don't close before midnight and may even stay open until 1 or 2am on weekends, so don't worry about losing track of time.

Other Entertainment

As its name suggests, Crown Entertainment Complex offers quite a few amusement options including shopping. Those who have won at least A$2,000 at the casino can part with their winnings at Prada and Burberry. Those who have only won A$200 can still shop at FCUK and Witchery.



There are also clubs, bars, a cinema, a games arcade and a bowling alley within the complex. Hopefully these are enough to keep everyone else entertained while you gamble.

If you don't want to spend money on non-gambling related entertainment, take a stroll along the banks of the Yarra River right outside Crown. At night, columns lining the Yarra Promenade right outside the casino spew forth noisy and startling fireballs. These mini volcanoes pollute the air and kill quite a few unsuspecting birds. I'm quite certain the riverside location and fireballs contribute to good feng shui.

The outside world


Classy casino in a nice city with a wide range of games and great service. Pity about the blackjack card shuffling machines.

Games: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 7.5/10

Other entertainment: 8/10

Address: Southbank, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia
Website here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Happy mistakes

Yesterday, I popped by Crown Casino in between running some errands and played $10 blackjack for 5 minutes. Only had $70 on me so I figured I would leave if I lost it all.

Won $52 in 5 minutes. Yay! Small sum but very satisfying for a couple minute's diversion.

You know how some people believe certain mistakes are meant to be when it comes to gambling? Like striking 4D because you misread a license plate or flat unit number.

That seems to have been the case here. When I changed $70, the dealer asked if I wanted $20 in $2.50 chips. Now, usually they only give $5 or $25 chips because people normally only use the $2.50 chips to bet on perfect pairs. I seldom, almost never, bet on perfect pairs.

However, I misheard the dealer and thought he was just asking if I wanted $5 chips so I said yes, and ended up with $20 worth of yellow $2.50 chips and $50 worth of red $5 chips.

Not wanting to make noise, I decided to bet on perfect pairs even though I don't usually do that, just because I had the $2.50 chips. Many people bet on all the players at the table when playing perfect pairs because it's annoying if a player you don't bet on gets a pair. However, because I only had $20 worth of $2.50 chips, I only bet on myself, $2.50 each time.

On the second hand, I got a mixed pair of kings (different suit and colour). This pays 6 to 1.

On the fourth hand, I got perfect pairs! Two 4s of hearts. Perfect pairs pay 25 to 1, so I got $70 for that $2.50 bet.

Played a few more rounds and then left to run my errands.

Speaking of happy mistakes, this reminds of another time a couple of months back when I played rapid roulette (the croupier stands in the centre spinning the wheel and everyone selects numbers on their own touch screens; you only have something like 25 seconds I think to place bets on each round) at Crown Casino. I was placing 1 bet on 6 individual numbers each time.

Either the touch screen didn't work too well or my fingers were clumsy; on one round instead of placing one bet on 0 I accidentally placed three. I frantically tried to correct my mistake but ran out of time. I cursed silently as the croupier set the ball in motion.

Of course, the ball landed on zero and I went home very happy.

Seems that when your gambling luck is up, even mistakes work in your favour.

By the way, if you're wondering why Lady HengHeng has been hanging out at Crown Casino so much recently, I will be stationed in Melbourne for a few months, so you can expect a review of Crown Casino very soon.

Read more:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to find your lucky days in the Chinese almanac and improve your gambling luck!

Many people, even if they are not believers in feng shui or Chinese astrology, will make sure important events such as their wedding fall on an auspicious date. Even people who usually scoff at such 'superstitions' will shut up and play it safe when it comes to events for which every little bit of luck counts.

So it seems logical that gamblers (I refer to recreational gamblers here as professional gamblers probably don't have as much leeway to pick and choose dates) should be mindful of the dates on which they choose to gamble, because gamblers of all people should realise the importance of luck--particularly windfall luck!

I, Lady HengHeng, am currently studying the art of bazi (most commonly understood as the eight characters derived from a person's date and time of birth in Chinese fortune telling), so perhaps one day I will be able to teach you how to calculate your lucky days according to your own personal bazi.

However, let's face it, most people aren't going to agonize over bazi calculations when all they want to know is if they will have good luck in mahjong tonight.

I discovered this wonderful online version of the Chinese almanac (tong shu) that gives you an easy (though general and therefore not deadly accurate) way to gauge your luck for the day.

Simply check the forecast for your Chinese zodiac sign under the heading "Horoscope Forecast for the Day". Hover the mouse over your sign for additional tips.

Now, obviously because this prediction is based only on your year of birth and not your exact date and time of birth, it's going to be rather general.

Furthermore, luck moves in various cycles. There are 10-yearly, yearly, monthly, and even hourly cycles. So just because your zodiac sign's forecast is good for a particular day doesn't mean it's automatically going to be a lucky day for you because you may be going through a bad month, year, etc.

To complicate things further, there are various species of luck such as wealth luck, relationship luck, mentor luck, etc. The type of luck most recreational gamblers are hoping for is windfall luck or gambling luck, which may result in a sudden and unexpected flow of cash. Days which bring good luck in certain areas may still lack gambling luck.

However, I've observed that the daily horoscopes can give some indication of general luck on a micro level, and that this does sometimes seem to coincide with windfall luck. For example, there was a lunar month earlier this year when I had exceptional gambling luck--I went to the casino about eight times and won money every time. I had good luck in other areas too and even received three responses to job applications I had sent out earlier when the previous month nobody had responded.

Now, of these eight days I went to the casino, some spelled good luck for my zodiac sign according to the almanac, while some were only average. However, on the good days I tended to win more money. Also, there were two instances when my good luck coincided with days that were very auspicious overall. On these days, I had incredibly good gambling luck! The other people at my blackjack table were amazed and many people even started betting on my square.

However, some lunar months are worse overall and it's hard to win money even on a supposedly lucky day. If you know your gambling luck is down, it may be time to take a break. If you persist for recreational or social reasons, reduce your bet sizes and consider the losses costs of entertainment, or try to go on days that are relatively luckier for you according to the almanac.

If you are especially keen on maximizing your gambling luck, you may want to consider playing during auspicious hours. The online almanac sets these out in a nice table.

Sorry to nag, but please remember, there are many other factors that can affect a person's gambling luck such as the fengshui of their house and their knowledge of the games they are playing. Still, it's nice to know when you have that little extra.

Have fun gambling! Don't go overboard okay?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Biggest lottery jackpot in the world at the moment...

.... is in Italy at US$176,648,902.22... and more if nobody wins today.

Wah. Makes the S$10 million Toto draw in Singapore look like pocket money.

Even tourists are flocking to Italy just to take part in the weekly draw. Looks like the next time you decide to go on a gambling trip, there's no need to even check if there's a casino at your preferred destination.

More info here.

Apparently the Pope and government in Italy are outraged that people are placing money above religion in their frenzy to win the lottery.

On the other hand, on our side of the world, hopes of winning the lottery seem to make people visit temples more often and pray even harder. Heh.

Friday, August 14, 2009

How to beat the roulette croupier

I once asked an acquaintance who used to work for a well-known casino cruise operator to share some secrets about what goes on behind the scenes. He told me that roulette croupiers are trained to hit spots on the wheel with some degree of accuracy.

If, as most people believe, roulette is a game of absolute randomness, each number on a single-zero wheel has a 1/37 chance of being hit. A well-trained croupier is, however, able to significantly increase a number or sector’s chance of being hit.

My acquaintance went on to warn me that croupiers are trained to observe the spread of bets across the table, and to try and hit numbers or sectors with the least bets.

Most roulette strategies require you to spot patterns in the croupier’s spin. However, these strategies only work if your croupier is the trusty sort and fairly consistent on each spin. If your croupier is an asshole and deliberately keeps his spin as unpredictable as possible, there is nothing much you can do to predict where the ball will fall.

In my experience, croupiers at the bigger and more luxurious casinos like Crown Casino in Melbourne tend to be steadier than those at dodgier casinos like the Long Jie cruise, Leisure World cruise, Royale Star cruise and Genting casino.

That doesn’t mean you have to abandon roulette altogether at the dodgier casinos. But when you know the croupier can control the game, you should maximise your winnings by following a few simple pointers:

1. Avoid tables with few players. With less people around it’s easier for the croupier to check which squares nobody has bet on and target those numbers during his spin. And never ever play at an empty table.

2. If you can’t work out a discernible pattern, try not to bet on squares that everyone else is betting on; you can bet that the croupier is doing his best to avoid those numbers.

3. Place your bets as late as possible, after the croupier has started spinning if possible. If the croupier frequently hits numbers with few or no bets, beat him at his own game and bet on empty squares after the ball has started spinning.

4. Unless you have a predictable croupier, avoid being too predictable yourself. If you unfailingly place a stack of chips on 5 every spin, don’t be surprised if your croupier diligently misses it.

5. Don’t offend the croupier or other players at the table or else you may find that none of your numbers are coming out. If tipping is practised at your casino, parting with a few chips may bring greater gains later. Some people suck up to their bosses when they know he'll throw them some scraps--same concept here.

If your casino is dodgy and/or your croupier an asshole, you are really at the mercy of the croupier and it’s going to be tough to spot patterns in the dealer’s spin. The best you can do is to try and make your bets look as innocent and as unobtrusive as possible so the croupier won’t mind hitting your square.

As you can see, roulette is often not so much a game of chance as it is a negotiation between croupier and player. Actually, that can work to your advantage in certain circumstances... but I'll talk about it another day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hello for the first time

I just realised that I think about gambling almost everyday. I'm certain I'm not the only one though. Such thoughts aren't reserved for those crazy drooling homeless-looking people who fit the stereotype of 'addicts' on government-run websites. Anybody reading this has probably been touched profoundly by gambling in some way:

That familiar feeling of fond anticipation at the end of a long day as you await the evening release of Toto or 4D results....

Taking a well-deserved break in the middle of the work day queuing up at the Singapore Pools outlet below the office....

Engaging in impassioned debates on the best way to analyse roulette results....

Diligently memorising your printout of the blackjack basic strategy table....

Basking in the camaraderie that arises from shared loyalty to the soccer team you and your friends just bet on....

Sensibly telling yourself that you can live without that Prada bag, especially since the money can be put to better use at the casino....

Satiating your thirst for the great outdoors by venturing into the mountains (Genting casino) or taking on the high seas (Long Jie cruise)....

Meticulously doing research on whether casinos are legal at your next holiday destination....

Fantasizing about the ultimate trip to Las Vegas, where everything is free thanks to the casinos....

Since we all recognise how integral gambling is to our lives, this blog will document random thoughts, tearjerking accounts and the occasional pearl of wisdom related to any sort of activity that gives you a shot at that winning feeling.