Virtuoso Travel Week Las Vegas
Virtuoso Travel Week Las Vegas
Virtuoso Travel Week made a believer of me. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


“We have a winning system,” they told us. “It never, ever fails. It feels like stealing money from the casinos.”


The annual Virtuoso Travel Week Conference in Las Vegas can make for a few opportunities to explore Sin City before and sometimes between the sessions. Ironically, the thousands of international travel advisors and providers that converge on Las Vegas, due to the creative theming and architecture of the hotels, can, with one sweep of the eye from up high, see Paris, the Pyramids, New York City, Venice, Rome and more. 

But we, as travel shepherds, as Pope Francis once suggested, have to smell like sheep. We cannot view travel experiences from 20-stories up. In order to provide authentic coverage and advice we need not to dip in but to dive in, experience, and share. Come with me head-first into some of my Virtuoso Travel Week experiences and maybe you’ll try them yourself.

A Lip-Smacking Secrets Revealed

The meaning of the golden sliver of artwork that stretches behind the sprawling check-in desk at Aria Resort likely escapes most who walk in or check in to the swank property. But not for those who join the acclaimed Lip Smacking Foodie Tour “Savors of the Strip” strolling dining experience. Between short walks to immediate seating for dining courses at tough-to-book gourmet restaurants, Lip Smacking’s guides, in this case Tom Svoboda and Jim Hickok, gave the backstory of local art and architecture.

I won’t ruin the surprises of Aria’s artworks, but be sure, after your Lip Smacking Tour, you will forever walk through that property with new perspectives on a number of various pieces.


Lip Smacking Foodie Tours guide Las Vegas
Guide Tom Svoboda and Aria’s “desktop” art. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Food As Art

Lip Smacking’s “Savors of the Strip” tour, which visits three to four restaurants in three hours, varies. My most recent experience included Javier’s finest foods of Mexico; Julian Serrano Tapas (both in Aria); and Mastro’s Ocean Club next door among the luxury Shops at Crystals in City Center. 

In a town with so many flashy dining options, Lip Smacking gives the opportunity to sample three or four restaurant experiences and be presented with plenty of menu offerings. One can see why the Los Angeles Lakers are known to favor Javiar’s fresh tortilla chips with four signature salsas; enchiladas de mariscos; and chicken enchiladas with guajillo sauce washed down with a guava and Chambord margarita.

“It’s a marathon; not a sprint,” Svoboda reminds the dozen diners before we cross the casino to Julian Serrano Tapas, where, as soon as we sat, were served Spanish Manchego bread; chicken croquetas; dates stuffed with goat cheese, bacon and apple puree; and Valencia paella. My son Harrison, who was with me on the tour, had his foreign study in Madrid and was so delighted to taste authentic Spanish fare again he went back to Julian Serrano Tapas the next day. 


Proud of paella at Julian Serrano’s
Proud of paella at Julian Serrano’s. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Our last stop, Mastro’s, served shrimp cocktail; tenderloin and sea bass and a plate of desserts Svoboda assisted in divvying up including berries, chocolate cake, cheesecake and a show-stopping butter cake.


Dish of desserts at Mastro’s Las Vegas
Dish of desserts at Mastro’s. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Las Vegas People Watching and Encountering

Las Vegas is not just a mishmash of internationally themed resorts and restaurants, but it is also a curious crossroads of people you might not otherwise ever encounter. This was evident on the Lip Smacking experience which allows for, if you wish, interaction with others on the tour. 

During the Javiar’s seating a young couple from Los Angeles told me, ironically, they had never been to the original Mastros or Javiars in their hometown!

There was a couple from Iraq now living in Detroit and, at Julian Serrano Tapas I chatted with a birthday gathering of people from North Pole, Alaska. One of the family members was an Alaska State Trooper and another served in the military. Her father was director of the U.S. Space Force!

If that wasn’t enough intrigue, it was over dessert at Mastro’s when my son and I met two young professional fellows from Utah. They told us, quietly, they’d just hit a $3,000 jackpot at another casino.

“We never lose. Ever,” they insisted. “We win every time so in a sense we never really pay for our trips to Las Vegas.” 

Needless to say, Harrison and I leaned in.

“We have a winning system. It never, ever fails. It almost feels like stealing money from Las Vegas,” one of them said, alternating turns talking.

At this point I was afraid to speak or ask questions or seem too interested. I was terrified they might not reveal the deal! They spoke mainly to my son, who, in his mid-20’s, was closer to their age. 

“There is a certain type of electronic game” … (they named the game) …”and on this multi-game machine you can play a certain game” … (they named the specific game). “We thought a lot about it and came up with an algorithm. We play certain numbers” (they showed Harrison the actual numbers) “and they eventually win.”

Upon some gentle questioning they explained the most they’d ever put into the machine without a hit was $800. We told the boys we’d keep it all on the downlow. 

We were skeptical, but eager.

What Next?

The Lip Smacking Foodie Tour concluded, and though each course had been paired with a specialty cocktail, Harrison and I needed a drink to process what we’d just learned. 

We walked from the quiet Shops at Crystal through the subtle, dark Aria and down into the properties bumping JEWEL nightclub, where the director of event marketing, James Rhine, met us and steered us up an amazing, 3-D light-up staircase and into a balcony of themed suites overlooking a floor full of fun people drinking and dancing under dazzling, special effect lighting and music played by, to use an anachronistic term, disc jockeys.  

Rhine described JEWEL as a “boutique nightclub” …but said it can hold thousands of revelers. It was a jewel of a place to unwind and ramp up.


Bejeweled staircase at JEWEL nightclub
Bejeweled staircase at JEWEL nightclub. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


JEWEL Las Vegas nightclub
JEWEL’S vibrant scene. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Unspooling the Scheme

After jumping at JEWEL, we repaired to the casino at the base of The Venetian’s Palazzo tower. Lip Smacking Foodie Tours has a lunchtime walking tour at Venetian and the property has become a true hotbed for culinary experiences, including the Italian BRERA osteria and, most recently, the new WAKUDA sushi restaurant, which is meant to evoke Tokyo’s Golden Gai district of alleyways, mysterious doorways and paper lanterns. 

The Venetian brought in an authentic Sumo wrestling star to open WAKUDA. There is debate as to whether he was actually bigger than the two “life-sized” Sumo statues that center the indoor/outdoor dining room. They anchor Michelin two-starred chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s first restaurant in America. 


WAKUDA’S Sumo Las Vegas
WAKUDA’S Sumo surprise. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


As fate would have it there, in the corner of Palazzo’s casino near the Grand Lux Café, we spotted the specific multi-game machine mentioned by the boys from Utah. I don’t know why, but Harrison and I both looked around, like we were getting away with something, before we sidled up to the machine. It had the feel of approaching the Zoltar fortune teller machine in the movie “Big.”

I funded the initial buy-in, but Harrison, who’d typed the numbers of the system into the notes app on his phone, carefully played the way he’d been taught. He’d also written the pattern down on paper and, because he felt dodgy looking at his phone or a card, later spent an hour committing it to memory. 

After about five four-dollar pulls, we hit for $200.

You can imagine the looks on our races and jubilant reaction until we, once again instinctively, tried to play it cool. We didn’t want to be the rubes who overplayed our hands and ruined the deal for the Utah algorithm boys. We didn’t want to be the characters in the movie “Goodfellas” who drew unwanted attention by buying fancy cars and furs after the Lufthansa heist.

A number of pulls later, the machine hit for $800!

Amazed and excited, we invested another $200 back into the machine…and shortly after won another $250. 

We then cashed in for the night with grins on our faces and a secret in our stomachs.


Harrison piling up secret method winnings
Harrison piling up secret method winnings. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


The Ending

When the sun rose over Nevada the next day – actually, a few hours later – Harrison and I resisted immediately searching for another algorithm-advantageous machine. 

But by midday we were over at Planet Hollywood for lunch at P.F. Changs, by invitation of our cousin Marybeth Garrett. The restaurant has a view of the Strip on one side, and, on the other side, its entrance opens into Planet Hollywood Casino. 

As we exited, full of lettuce wraps and pork dumplings, Harrison and I without looking (I swear), found another of the specific brand of the multi-game machines. 

We slipped $100 worth of $20’s into it.

Within 10-minutes of playing, we hit for $1,300.00!

It was magic! 

At that point we were laughing…and began scheming about how we might hire a squad of lackeys, like in the movies, to work the machines in shifts around the clock! Jobs? We won’t need jobs anymore! And we made a pact not to tell anyone about this apparent chink in the Las Vegas armor! We’d found a mathematical back door! We also figured we’d better not hit any particular casino too heavily. We’d spread it around. Harrison and I thought we were a true two-person “Oceans 11!” 

 …Then the trail went cold. 

Loss after loss. 

Machine after machine.

Money in…nothing out.  

We began to wonder just how deep into our winnings we should go in an attempt to hit again. Neither of us had the stomach, algorithm or not, to put $800 into a machine, which is the deepest amount the Utah boys said they’d ever gone before striking. 

We made one last pass…by going back to the original machine we’d found at Palazzo. No luck. 

A last gasp at the airport machine on the way out of town provided an equally empty result.

We were left to wonder: Why were we so successful at the start?

Did we fly, like Icarus, too close to the sun? Were we akin to the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and just unable to handle the magic? 

What was this all about?

Trust the Science. Professional Advice. 

We didn’t wonder for long, though. Haunted by the absence of magic, I consulted Jim Wise, the vice-president of marketing at FireKeepers Casino Hotel, a popular, cutting-edge, creative property in Battle Creek, Michigan. It’s where Midwesterners go to “get their Vegas on.”

Wise is wise about such matters having spent a big portion of his career in the casino industry in New Jersey and Michigan.

“All I can tell you is that particular brand of video betting game you played has been in existence for decades. I snicker at this story because for every person who has an ‘angle,’ each casino that presents that game has a bunch of people who do nothing but analyze the games to ensure that the chip inside is paying to the percentage that Gaming Laboratories Incorporated confirms it is set for,” Wise explained.  

The algorithm “hack,” then, was just anecdotal timing? 

“If you happen to go and win ‘every’ time, that’s great,” said Wise. “But don’t overdo it because it will balance out. I laugh because there would be a line of people three-deep to get to those particular machines if there was really an angle to find a way to win.”


FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan
FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Read more on Michael Patrick Shiels’ travel blog, The Travel Tattler. Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]

Michael Patrick Shiels

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