AS FAR as Roberta Pickett is concerned, it was $100 well spent.
"When I left," said the 53-year-old Myrtle Beach, S.C., resident, "I really felt I could play craps."
Pickett was referring to her recent dice-shooting lesson at Trump Taj Mahal with Assisted Casino Entertainment Services' (ACES), the Taj-based gambling school that is unique to Atlantic City.
Free gaming lessons have been offered for years by other casinos, but ACES' tutorials are a far cry from those available elsewhere.
"This is a unique setup," explained Christiaan Van Buuren, the South African native who is the company's director of operations.
According to Van Buuren, the key differences are ACES' one-on-one lessons (as opposed to the group classes at other gaming halls), and that they include play at "live" tables once the instructor and client believe the latter is ready to gamble with cash.
And, he said, "We don't just teach the games, we make people feel as comfortable as possible. We teach them casino etiquette - where to sit, where not to sit, how to get a players card, where to cash chips . . .
"The most important part of our lesson takes place before we go out on the casino floor, in what we call the pre-play interview. It's where we get to know the student; we ask them what their expectations are."
During her recent visit to the Taj, Pickett had hoped to learn what appeared to be an impossibly difficult and complicated game. (Craps is a breeze once you master the basic, easy-to-grasp fundamentals.)
A couple of hours after she and her teacher, Linda Little, met, Pickett had fulfilled her goal, thanks, she said, to Little.
"She was really a great teacher. I tried to get [free] lessons from casinos before, but she really made me understand the game."
That, suggested Van Buuren, is a testament to ACES' experienced (and state-licensed) staff, which he compared to golf pros at a country club.
Pickett noted the $100 fee was pretty much irrelevant, because ACES provided her with $50 in "match play" vouchers as well as other casino premiums.
Lessons can cover craps (the most requested game, according to Van Buuren), blackjack, baccarat or roulette. Poker is not included because "coaching" of players is legally prohibited, which means tutors cannot offer advice while the game is in progress.
Van Buuren noted that while the average student is 35 to 55 years old, they come from all economic, social and ethnic backgrounds.
Incidentally, Van Buuren said ACES is not responsible for any money students might lose after taking the company's courses.
For more information, or to register for a lesson, call 609-290-2975, go to www.playwithaces.com or go to the Guest Services desk in the Taj's hotel lobby.
at B'walk Hall
Tickets go on sale at 10 this morning for the Aug. 28 rave-up headlined by Aerosmith and featuring opening act Sammy Hagar & the Wabos.
The date is just one of 18 on Aerosmith's upcoming, "Cocked, Locked, Ready to Rock" tour, which is not slated to hit Philly.
And speaking of being "locked," nothing is official, but the smart money says Hagar will spend some of his down time at the just-opened Sammy Hagar's Beach Bar at Bally's Atlantic City. After all, it's hard to imagine the leather-lunged rocker would disappoint Harrah's Entertainment Inc. poobah Don Marrandino who, besides being in charge of all four of the company's AyCee properties (including Bally's), is one of Hagar's best buds.
Show time is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $195, $125, $89.50 and $59.50. Order tickets at www.livenation.com. VIP packages (which, according to a Live Nation press release, may include opportunities to meet band members, backstage tours, early entry passes, premium seating and/or merchandise) are available through www.aeroForceOne.com or by calling 508-791-3807.
Congrats to Paul Sandler ("Paulie" to his many friends), general manager of the Palm Restaurant at the Quarter inside Tropicana Casino & Resort, for getting the chain's annual "Operator of the Year" award for excellence in restaurant management.
In last Friday's summer entertainment preview, we mistakenly had Daughtry booked at the wrong casino. The band, fronted by former "American Idol" contestant Chris Daughtry, will be at the Trop Aug. 7.
Chuck Darrow has been covering Atlantic City and casinos for over 20 years. Read his blog http://go.philly.com/casinotes.