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Keeping Its Vintage Charm, El Cortez Casino Floor Will Be Expanding

Written By Marc Meltzer on May 17, 2023
El Cortez Plans Casino Floor Renovations

The El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas is the longest continuously running hotel and casino in Sin City. The casino and hotels opened their doors in 1941.

While the property keeps to its vintage vibe, it’s been updated numerous times over the years. Once again, the casino floor will see some changes.

The property is planning to expand the casino floor in the next year or so. Like most casino operators, they will reconfigure the property to meet customer demands.

Downtown Las Vegas has changed a lot over the past 20 years. When I first started visiting Las Vegas we used to visit the El Cortez for the charm of being asked “Can the El Cortez buy you a drink?” as well as low-limit gambling.

The drink that was delivered was usually a can of beer that in all likelihood was dented. At the time, just about all of the blackjack tables had cigarette burns. This was the charm of “Old Vegas” in the early 2000s.

The Fremont East area of downtown Las Vegas saw significant changes in the early 2010s. Zappos owner Tony Hsieh made numerous investments in the area.

El Cortez had to modernize as the area started attracting millennials en masse. Of course, the property always kept the integrity of a business that opened in the 1940s.

Fast forward to 2023 and the El Cortez casino still feels like “Old Vegas” but is cleaner and doesn’t feel nearly as dated. Most importantly, the property is as fun as ever.

Upcoming El Cortez changes

In a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, El Cortez CEO and Chairman Kenny Epstein shared plans to update the casino floor. He says the current configuration doesn’t work for the number of visitors the casino sees during busy weekends.

Epstein says they’ve already had architects examine the casino for possible structural changes. Similarly, designers are already submitting ideas.

The current plan is to expand the casino floor east. Epstein elaborated on the expansion saying:

“What used to be a big restaurant, we’re taking that out and extending the casino into what we call the fiesta room, adding about 5,000 square feet of new floor and (remodeling) 9,000 square feet of existing (casino floor).”

El Cortez will be adding two bars to the property. One of the new bars will replace the relatively new Ike’s Bar that opened in 2017.

The casino expansion is still in the planning phase. Work on the new casino floor will likely begin next year.

The updates to El Cortez in recent years have changed its customer base. Epstein says visitors used to be about 75% Las Vegas locals. Today locals and tourists visiting the property are closer to a 50% split.

Much like updates to the property over the years, Epstein plans on keeping the vintage atmosphere with the additions to El Cortez.

Recent El Cortez renovations

El Cortez started a multi-phase $25 million renovation project in 2020. That project was completed last year.

The vintage carpet was replaced and some of the gaming floor was reconfigured. Changing the carpet was a big deal for fans of El Cortez. The casino sold 100 pieces of the old carpet and the operator thinks they could have sold much more.

A high-limit room table game was added to the casino floor. After adding slot machines to the room the property removed table games altogether.

All 200 of the Tower Premium hotel rooms were remodeled. Last year, the renovation project was completed when the original 47 hotel rooms were updated.

The property also had a policy change to who can enjoy the property. Last year, El Cortez became the second downtown Las Vegas casino to open only to those 21 and older.

Best blackjack game in Las Vegas

El Cortez has been known as a low-roller casino for years. When I first started visiting the property it had $3 blackjack tables while others had $5 games. The limits are higher now but the casino still offers games with player-friendly rules and lower house edges.

Blackjack has always been a calling card for El Cortez. While there are some blackjack games that pay 6:5 for a natural blackjack, most have the traditional 3:2 payout.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that El Cortez still deals a great low-limit Single Deck blackjack game. In addition to only using one deck, this game allows players to double down on any two cards while the dealer hits on soft 17.

The house edge for the casino is around 0.3%.

For comparison, the house edge for a typical 3:2 blackjack game is about 0.5%. When a game pays 6:5 when a player is dealt a natural blackjack, the house edge is about 2%.

This is one of the few affordable blackjack games under $25 with very player-friendly rules.

Take the time to walk around the casino floor to find the game since El Cortez has numerous blackjack games with different rules.

Playing games with a lower house edge should allow a player to spend more time playing. While having a better chance to win money is great, recreational gambling is also about having fun while playing.

Photo by Wong Maye-E/AP Photo
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Marc Meltzer

Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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