I've went to Vegas for the Big Smoke event the past 3 years, but actually attended the event for only the last 2 years. 2 years ago was a solid event with good food. Last year's event was good, but the food offerings had gone downhill. The recession obviously had taken its toll, though it seemed like the event was as crowded as it was the prior year when things were a bit better economically. Regardless of the food quality, it's still a worthwhile event to experience, as you'll get more than your money back in cigars and alcohol.
A few suggestions for those who have never attended:
1) Go with as large of a group as possible. When you get your ticket books upon entry, go through the book and map out which cigars are being passed out at which booths in which row. Divide up the tickets so that each person is in line with everyone's ticket to redeem with that particular manufacturer. Some of the lines are hellaciously long (e.g. Rocky Patel if he's in the booth signing autographs and taking pictures), so it's best to fan out to limit the amount of time everyone stands in line. Once you have all of your cigars, divide them up and then just cruise around partaking of the alcohol samples and food.
2) Keep note of which manufacturers are offering to give you a new cigar if you smoke the one they give you during the show. Obviously, smoke those cigars and return the band for a new one before you leave.
3) If you don't mind the "gamble", you can buy tickets to the event for below face value from "scalpers" a few hours before the doors open. These scalpers are actually guys who got tickets comped to them by casino hosts, and would rather get some cash rather than attend (or who got extras they won't use). I had tickets comped to me the first 2 years, but my gambling frequency decreased in 2009 so I had to resort to paying for my ticket last year. I think I paid $300 for 2 tickets IIRC. Obviously, the gamble is that the tickets could be counterfeits, so check out what the tickets look like from several sellers before taking the plunge.
As for why I missed the Big Smoke 3 years ago? I had tickets for the Saturday event, but was also entered in the Venetian's weekly poker tournament that started at noon that day. I never considered the possibility that I would go so deep in the tourney that I would miss out on the event entirely, but I did manage to make it to the final table and ended up chopping $30K with 3 other guys.
During the tournament, I started chatting with a guy at one of the tables who had a Cigar Aficionado bag with him. He had attended the Big Smoke event the previous night, and told me what to expect. I ended up busting him when he pushed with A-8 into my pocket Aces when we were down to 3 tables, and gave him one of my Big Smoke tickets since my chip stack was large enough to cruise to the final table.
Luckily, I had a buddy who went to the event that I gave my other ticket to. He went back upstairs with about 20 minutes before the event was over, and the folks working the front desk gave him 2 ticket books. After collecting all the cigars, I told him to split everything up 50-50 since I was never going to be able to use my ticket anyway. He was happy to get double the amount of cigars, and I was happy to have gotten at least one ticket's worth of cigars while I was grinding away at the tournament.
I also went last year to the Big Smoke and had a great time. I have my room and flight booked for this year. But I am not sure at this point if it will be a conflict with other plans. I had a blast last year met a bunch of great people. If you have never been to a Big Smoke it is a must to do at least one time.
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