Scantily clad showgirls and strippers are nothing new in Las Vegas. What is new is that they have moved from the showroom and lounge to platforms above the blackjack tables, which are typically high-traffic areas in casinos.
Richard Strafella, vice president of casino operations at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, sees the dancers as a revival of the Las Vegas showgirl. "We lost so many of the lounge acts and dancers; it brings back that mystique," he said.
But the eye candy in what casinos call the party pit may distract from lower payouts. If you fancy yourself a card player, you may end up playing blackjack with inexperienced gawkers who split 10s.
Most tables in a Las Vegas party pit are dedicated to blackjack. Traditionally, getting a blackjack, or 21, on your first two cards has paid 3:2. If you're playing at a $10 table, that means you get $15 plus your original $10 back.
But in the party pits at many casinos, the house takes away that slight player's edge in favor of a 6-5 payout — you get $12 plus your original $10. A 20% difference in payout not a big deal to you? You're the ideal party pit customer.
"Looking at pretty girls is going to cost you more to play," said Anthony Curtis, president of LasVegasAdvisor.com, a website offering Las Vegas deals.
Those looking for the 3:2 payoff on blackjack need to visit the downtown casinos, where Curtis said Binion's, Four Queens, El Cortez and Silverton offer it. But if it's dancers you're looking for, head for the Strip.
The Mandalay Bay hotel is one of five MGM properties with dancers and party pits (the others are Luxor, Excalibur, Monte Carlo and New York New York). The pit, near the House of Blues, offers blackjack, roulette and craps, as well as music and, of course, dancing girls.
"We play what my kids would listen to — Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Rihanna — songs the dancers can dance to," said Rick Fields, Mandalay Bay's senior vice president of casino operations. The dancers look like the girls next door, if your neighbors wore knee-high boots, bustier tops and short-shorts. During Super Bowl events, they'll don white-and-black referee outfits.
The pit "attracts people who want to sit in a fun, high-energy environment and don't want to worry about taking the wrong card. It's certainly not for the serious gambler who is concentrating on what they're doing," Fields said.
Mandalay Bay pays 6:5 on blackjack, with table limits from $10 to $500.
At the Hard Rock, Hell's Belles may be the first thing you see as you walk into the casino. The pit is just inside the valet parking entrance.
Shocking? No. Suggestive? Certainly. The Hell's Belles dancers are allowed piercings and tattoos, and their costumes include thongs, leather bustiers or a Western vest and boots. Tips are accepted for the tricks and flips they do on 20-foot-tall, floor-to-ceiling brass poles that give the pit the look of a gentlemen's club.
A quarter of the customers in the party pit are women, Strafella said. In September, Katy Perry and Rihanna attended a bachelorette party and sat in the pit, watching the girls dancing.
The Hard Rock hedges its bets in terms of gambling. Of the Hell's Belle's 12 blackjack tables, six in the front, for those "just coming in for the experience," pay 6:5. More seasoned gamblers gravitate to the back six tables, which pay 3:2. Table minimums start at $15.
Harrah's hotels with party pits include Harrah's, Planet Hollywood, Flamingo, Paris and Caesars, with its Pussycat Dolls pit outside the Pure nightclub. Caesars partnered with Robin Antin, co-founder of the Pussycat Dolls, on its design.
The Pussycat pit has succeeded in attracting the 25-to-fortysomething demographic, said Jimmy Wike, a vice president at Caesars Palace. "Caesars has been a traditional casino — this made us attractive to a different group."
Two girls dance at a time, in elevated cages with the inevitable pole, swaying to hip-hop by Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Ke$ha and Nas. Hired for their "classy, wholesome" looks and long, straight hair, the dancers wear bustiers, shorts and pink-and-blue caps. The all-female dealers also dress attractively.
The Pussycat Doll pit includes 12 tables: nine blackjack, two roulette and a three-card poker table. The blackjack tables are a mix, with some paying 6:5 and others 3:2. Minimum bets start at $10, with a table limit of $2,000. Wike said the party pit is not a fad. "Pretty girls and music never go out of style."