Casino Whale in the Desert
In casino lingo, the term, “Casino Whale”, refers to a gambler capable of playing at the highest stakes allowed. This is not your ordinary big-betting “high roller,” who might only wager a pesky few thousand dollars in a sitting.
The Casino Whale is among the wealthiest men and women in the world, to whom £50,000 represents not a bankroll but a single wager. A casino whale can drop a million at the baccarat table in an evening without blinking and still tip all of the staff with a smile.
Casinos are prepared to lavish their whales with comps of private jets, limousines and offers of rebates on losses where an agreed betting turnover has been reached.
Just like their namesakes in the ocean’s depths, the true casino whale prefers to play their games in seclusion. They value their privacy and demand the utmost discretion regarding their habits. The largest of them are a rare breed indeed— true billionaires.
Casino Whale Hunt in the Desert – The Secret of Las Vegas Superhost Steve Cyr
In pre-1990s Las Vegas, casino marketing executives were all cut from the same cloth; sharply-dressed and smooth-talking with street-savvy. They rose through the ranks of operations – dealer, floor-man, pit boss, shift boss and casino manager.
When it was time to leave the trenches, they went “upstairs” into the executive offices, where they hosted a handful of established players according to the unwritten rules of old-school Vegas.
Then Steve Cyr showed up… Read about Las Vegas’s highest of high rollers, and what a casino will do to keep them happy.
Casino Whale Worth Hunting
Perhaps only 700 to 1,000 exist in the entire world. And they are sought after by casino operators with a fervor and devotion not unlike Captain Ahab’s obsession with the white sperm whale in the novel “Moby Dick.”
Casino marketers will travel to the ends of the earth and commit every resource at their disposal to catch their prey.
In Las Vegas, where casino whale hunting is a major industry, a million-dollar credit line and a willingness to place bets of at least $100,000 to $250,000 defines the biggest of whales.
Only the largest and most secure casinos can handle this kind of action—the properties owned by MGM-Mirage, Harrah’s, Wynn and the like. Their annual profits are dependent largely upon their ability to entice the huge leviathans to stay, play, and pay at their resorts. Competition is fierce.
As an example of just how lucrative catching big fish can be to a casino-resort, consider the makeover conducted by the Las Vegas Hilton in 1993. The entire 30th floor of the hotel, measuring over 40,000 square feet, was converted into three casino whale mega-suites, the so-called “Sky Villas,” specifically designed to cater to and attract Asian whales.
The foremost of the three villas is named the Verona. Covering 15,400 square feet, it was the largest hotel suite in the world when it opened on New Year’s Eve 1994 and is still the biggest in Las Vegas.
The Verona includes three separate bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms with two hot tubs, two fireplaces, and tons of marble used for pillars, floors, arches, pedestals, counters, statues and a 2,000-pound dining table. Its ceiling features hand-painted frescoes in the style of Michelangelo.
A Bosendorfer grand piano valued at $85,000 is located in the Verona’s living room near a glassed-in observation area overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. It has its own private swimming pool, a rooftop garden with a grassy lawn, a fountain, and a pond stocked with Japanese koi.
The pillowcases are threaded with gold. And the adjacent Tuscany and Conrad villas, measuring 13,200 and 12,600 square feet, respectively, are no less opulent as the second- and third-largest suites in the city.
During the eight months of the Sky Villas’ construction, Hilton’s executives worried over the numbers, trying to calculate how long it would take for the whales’ gambling losses to cover the $40 million cost of these renovations.
The most optimistic estimate was six months. In fact, it took only three. The whales lost an average of nearly $14 million a month at the Hilton’s private high-roller tables.
Quick to capitalise on a trend when one presents itself, Las Vegas opened dozens of such luxury accommodations over the next dozen years, primarily aimed at visiting whales. The 9,000-square-foot Hugh M. Hefner Sky Villa at the Palms Hotel & Casino is reportedly the priciest room in town now at $40,000 a night.
Others with rack rates starting at $10,000 or more have their own themes, such as a suite with a hip-hop motif, DJ booth and hydraulic bed; a penthouse designed to resemble a British rocker’s flat; units with their own regulation-size bowling lanes and indoor basketball courts; and the sleek, contemporary Scandinavian-style Skylofts at the MGM Grand.
For a discrete place to bed and bathe, whales can easily afford to plop down $17,500 a night (the Verona’s listed rate). After all, a week-long stay would only cost about the same as their first bet at a hand of Blackjack.
But they needn’t trifle with such banalities. The casinos are more than happy to provide the whales with rooms and much, much more for free, just for the opportunity to host their gambling activities.
A Casino Whale of a Day
Let’s suppose you are a bona fide casino whale who wants to spend a weekend in Las Vegas to see a heavyweight fight or perhaps celebrate Valentine’s Day with a special someone (or two).
All it takes is a phone call to your casino host to get the ball rolling. A private jet or leased aircraft can be arranged to fly you into town from anywhere in the world. Don’t worry about reservations or ticketing.
Your host will take care of all the mundane details. Just relax with your guest and enjoy the selection of complimentary food and beverages served by your personal flight attendant—easily a $5,000 value each way.
You will arrive at the executive air terminal, avoid the lines at immigration, and be greeted by your assigned limo driver. Enjoy a sip of Dom Pérignon champagne as you are whisked to the resort’s private entrance.
No need to check-in. The host is waiting upon your arrival to hand you your villa keys and a couple of $1,000 tickets to that fight or musical revue you wanted to see tonight. The host also slips your companion $1,000 in vouchers to use at the hotel shopping arcade.
In your room, the luggage has already been delivered, along with a room service cart full of your favourite treats—imported Bordeaux cheeses and wine, or plates of dim sum with hot jasmine tea, or a Hawaiian fruit basket and Belgian chocolates.
A private butler (or two) is on hand to see to your every need throughout your stay—draw a bath, turn-down the bed and warm the sheets with gloved hands, or just keep out of sight until summoned.
Dinner arrangements are whatever you wish. The best steaks, the newest gourmet restaurant—you can dine where you like and charge it all back to the resort, no questions asked. You will never have to stand in line or wait for service.
Everything is taken care of, from transportation and roses on the table to after-dinner mints. And of course, your seats at that evening event you selected are the best in the house. Nothing less will do.
All that your casino host asks in return is that you spend some time playing your favourite games at the casino. You like craps, perhaps. A room has been set aside for your private use, with your own table and crew, a personal server, and an open bar with premium liquors.
Don’t bother with cash, cheques, or credit cards. All that is needed is your signature to draw chips upon the million-dollar credit line already established for you in advance.
Your companion can enjoy a gratis spa treatment or some shopping while you play, or else join you at the table. The host will even provide your friend with a few thousand in chips to play with.
And when it comes time to cash in, win or lose, just a couple of signatures are all that’s required to settle the accounts.
If by chance you have come alone on this trip and would like some fresh companionship, just let the host know. Surely something to your liking can be arranged, even in a town where sexual solicitation is strictly illegal and hosts can lose their jobs for pandering.
For you, the whale, there is always a way. For you, and only you, all of the mighty resources of the resort are at your disposal. Just stay and play, and give the house an opportunity to exercise its slight advantage at the tables.
The Mathematics of a Casino Whale
How can a resort-casino still make money while providing so much for free? The answer is in that “slight advantage” the house has on every turn of a card, spin of the wheel, or roll of the dice. Before any freebies are ever offered, the accountants have worked out the value of a whale’s presence to several decimal points.
In the scenario just presented, the casino gave away about $40,000 in perks (short for “perquisites”) or comps (short for “complimentary goods or services”).
Since the room, private plane and limousine are owned by the resort, the real cost is probably only about half that, but even if it were the entire $40,000 at face value, the casino call still afford to give it away. Here’s how:
Most casino whales play table games, specifically roulette, baccarat, craps or blackjack. The house edge on these games ranges from about one percent in the case of blackjack to just over five percent for American-style double-zero roulette. When wagers are huge, the profits can pile up very quickly.
European-style single-zero roulette, for example, has a built-in house advantage of 2.7 percent. To gain £40,000 from a roulette table, the house needs to see a little less than £1.5 million in bets placed upon it.
That’s 300,000 bets of £5 each at the tables in the casino’s main pit, or just 30 bets of £50,000 at the whale’s table. Since the ball drops about once every two minutes, it would take the casino a number of months to make its investment back in the pit. At the private wheel, it takes only an hour.
This is just as true of the other table games. Over the long term, the house edge guarantees a profit of $10,000 or more on every million that is played, and the faster the cash is wagered, the sooner the casino reaps its reward.
For that reason, a craps shooter wagering $100,000 a roll in Vegas is actually worth far more than a thousand players betting $100 or ten thousand wagering $10. It is so much faster and easier to cater to a single huge high-roller than an entire casino crowded with “fleas.”
Casinos maintain extensive files on whales. They know not only what games they like to play and how much they wager, but also how long they typically stay at the table, what strategies they play, and what types of comps they prefer.
This information helps the casino determine how much can be given away, because just having lots of money is not enough to qualify as a whale. A true whale needs to have “the bug,” that genetic or acquired compulsion to take risks by gambling.
Every casino whale is expected to spend at least four or more hours at the table a day. As the casino knows all too well, the longer a player stays the greater the likelihood of losing. It is simply mathematics. In fact, casinos use a formula called “theoretical loss” to rate their players:
Loss = (Average Wager) x (Hours Played) x (Game Pace) x (House Edge)
Using this formula, it is easy to see how the various factors impact the casino’s rating of a player. A large average wager can easily increase the anticipated loss, as can long hours of play or fast decision-making.
A whale betting $50,000 at roulette for four hours at 30 spins an hour and with a house advantage of 2.7 percent is worth $162,000. Giving away $40,000 in perks is easily worth the risk—equivalent to losing a single bet.
Banking on Baccarat
Because the house advantage is extremely low and the stakes can be extremely high, baccarat has long been the preferred game among the whales of the world.
Its reputation as the game of choice among high rollers dates back to 1922, when the so-called “Greek Syndicate” set up shop at the casino in Deauville, France.
Led by Nicolas Zographos and his crew, the casino announced “tout va”—“anything goes” or no limits—which immediately drew the attention of the wealthiest men and women of the world.
Among the earliest baccarat whales were the Aga Khan and Baron Henri de Rothschild, making wagers of ten million francs or more on a single hand.
In 1923, the Finance Minister of Chili won 17 million francs, which was easily offset by the 30 million francs lost by French automobile mogul André Citroën over the ensuing years.
Today, baccarat is enjoying resurgence, particularly among Asian whales. In 2009, 16.1 percent of all the revenue generated on the Las Vegas Strip came from baccarat tables, most of it in private games and concentrated around special events, such as concerts and prize fights, and especially during Chinese New Year.
That’s up from just 11.3 percent in 2005 and 13.3 percent in 2007. In November 2009 alone, the amount wagered on baccarat at Strip casinos totaled $690.8 million.
Nor is this phenomenon limited to Las Vegas. In Macau, the casinos are now dominated by baccarat tables in much the same way their U.S. counterparts have been taken over by slot machines.
By one estimate, whales at the Las Vegas Sands’ three resorts in Macau wagered $16.7 billion in the third quarter of 2009, most of it on baccarat.
Obviously, casinos outside the former Portuguese colony would love to get in on this whale hunt. The biggest fish are located in China and Hong Kong, where the economic turndown has been less severe than in other parts of the world.
However, the difficulty of obtaining travel permits from the Chinese government makes hosting the whales problematic. Visas are typically arranged through junket operators—third-party hosts who demand commissions as high as 40 percent for delivering whales to the tables.
What makes baccarat so wildly popular among Asians? Some say it is the ability to seat ten at a table and play as a large group. Others point out that little or no talking is required, so there is no language barrier.
Being able to bend, fold, and peek at the cards allows chi energy to be brought into play. And certainly the tremendously high stakes—up to $250,000 a hand—has its appeal, too.
With this in mind, more and more resorts, from the Venetian and Palazzo to the Hard Rock Hotel, have been adding private baccarat rooms to their casinos. Although they may sit empty much of the year, the mathematics still works and baccarat easily pays for itself as an incentive for whales.
Casino Whale Bait
Free rooms, food and show tickets, private jets and limousines, shopping vouchers, butlers and hosts available 24/7, and even sex partners—these are all perks of being a casino whale, but they are nothing a moderately high roller can’t afford on his/her own dime. Indeed, they are worth less than a single bet to the biggest of fish.
Knowing this, casino operators have had to come up with greater and greater incentives to lure whales and retain their loyal patronage.
Before the 1980s, most comps were controlled by pit bosses and casino vice presidents, but as the value of whales became better recognized, a new generation of whalers arose, using telemarketing, personal services, guile and new deals to hunt their prey. Account managers and hosts carried the new harpoons of the gambling industry.
Of special interest to whales, and the Asian variety in particular, are deals related to money—making it, saving it, winning it, or protecting it.
These come in many forms, from the old-fashioned extension of credit lines and flexibility in table maximums and minimums, to creative uses of fees and discounts that only certified public accountants could dream up. Here are five of them:
1. Appearance Fees. Also known as “show-up money,” this is the practice of handing cash to a casino whale just for swimming in.
When the practice began, the amounts were nominal, but today it is not unheard of for a whale to receive $100,000, $150,000 or even $200,000 in free play, just for coming to the table. The amount offered has a direct correlation to the theoretical loss formula.
2. Discounts. This practice reportedly started at Caesars Palace in the 1980s, offering a five percent discount on losses to high rollers who paid off their markers (credit lines) within 30 or 60 days. From there, it expanded to a ten percent discount on any losses above a million dollars.
Then it became 15 percent on two million and 20 percent on three million or more. If a whale has already lost, say, $1,700,000, it is worthwhile to keep playing and either win some back, or claim the rebate if the losses reach two million—like $300,000 in free bets.
At some casinos, the five percent discount threshold has been lowered to $100,000 to attract mini-whales. Since the discounts only apply to losses, the casino cannot possibly lose by offering these.
3. Reimbursements. Some whales don’t mind paying their own way. They have their own private planes and limos. They bring their own personal attendants with them and reserve rooms and sometimes even entire floors for their entourage. If they win, they don’t mind footing the bill.
But if they lose, the casino can offer to cover the expenses. In fact, reimbursing airfare at $2,500~$5,000 per guest has been a perk for decades at major casinos around the world. No receipts are required for these “reimbursements,” thus whales are encouraged to bring their families and friends along.
4. Dead Chips. This deal started in the Far East. The whale is offered a “bonus” of, say, ten percent on whatever chips he/she buys. A purchase of $1 million would be accompanied by $100,000, but all $1.1 million of the chips are non-redeemable “dead chips” that must be put into play.
If the whale bets $100,000 and wins, the dead chips are replaced by live ones that can be cashed in. If the wager loses, the whale can continue playing with dead chips. At any time, any live chips that have been won can be used to purchase new dead ones at a ten percent bonus. It is a very clever way to keep a whale tethered to a table.
5. Rebate. Australia’s Crown Towers and Casino in Melbourne worked out a scheme whereby all of a whale’s action, win or lose, is eligible for a 0.65% rebate. It is typically paid out as 0.55% in cash and 0.1% in comps.
A baccarat player who wagers $50,000 on 100 hands, no matter what the outcome, would receive $32,500 in cash plus $5,000 in food, room or other credits. How can they afford this? Since the house edge at baccarat is about 1.06%, the rebate simply lowers it to 0.41%.
Beating the House
Actually “breaking the bank,” winning its entire cash reserve, is a feat few whales would aspire to. They enjoy gambling for the action, the adrenaline rush and the thrill of the unknown. Certainly they enjoy winning, but there is little interest in hurting an institution that has treated them like kings and queens.
As the whales are well aware, it takes a lot of money as well as a lot of luck to beat the house at its own games. That said, over the years, a few have succeeded against the odds in taking a table, a pit, or an entire casino to the cleaners.
First and most famous among them was British engineer Joseph Jaggers. In 1873, he managed to squeeze a roulette table in Monte Carlo for £80,000 by detecting a biased wheel.
Then, in 1891, a London hustler named Charles Deville Wells went to Monte Carlo and turned £400 into £40,000, forcing several roulette tables to close over the course of three days.
He returned later in the year and won £10,000 more, becoming the inspiration for a hit song called, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”
Flash forward to 2001. A number of super-wealthy high rollers “from the Middle East and the Far East” jet into London and check in at an exclusive casino. They drink champagne, dine on caviar, and establish themselves at the roulette wheels and blackjack tables.
Gambling up to £250,000 a time, they hit a phenomenal streak of good luck. Over a two-month period, they walk off with £4.5 million in winnings.
No one would reveal their names. In fact no one would ever have known this happened, except it was the end of the fiscal year at Crockford’s Casino in Mayfair. The stakeholders were going to demand to know why the anticipated annual profit of £28 million had suddenly dropped by more than 15 percent.
As chief executive Bob Wiper put it: “In normal circumstances, we would expect the figures to even out and such a loss would not have been made public. However, we (were) obliged to issue the profits warning because there is no guarantee that this loss will be recovered before the end of April. This is the nature of the gaming industry.”
It is also the nature of the industry not to reveal the names of its highest rollers. Whales from the Middle East, China, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong eschew publicity of any kind, no matter how wildly successful they might be.
As an example, London Clubs International, a previous owner of the Les Ambassadeurs Casino on Park Lane, reportedly saw its profits cut by £15 million in one year due to “the exceptional luck of less than five people.” No names were ever released.
“These are not people who have high public profiles,” said one source inside the casino. “Their names would probably mean little or nothing to the man in the street anyway.”
Of the 180 or so mega-whales in the world, only a few are generally known to the public, and mainly for their losses, not their winnings. One exception, and among the most prolific whales of all time, was Australian billionaire Kerry Packer, who passed away in 2005.
He once won $20 million in a single session playing blackjack in Las Vegas, but he may be best remembered for dropping £7 million in three weeks at Crockford’s—a U.K. record at the time.
A revealing story of Packer’s penchant for high-stakes gambling comes from a visit he paid to the Stratosphere Casino in Las Vegas. Apparently he met an oil investor from Texas who wanted to challenge the Aussie billionaire to a poker showdown.
The Texan bragged, “I’m worth $60 million!” Packer nonchalantly pulled out a coin and replied, “Okay. I’ll toss you for it.”
More recently, in November 2009, the revered “Fifty,” one of London’s oldest casinos, had to send a letter to its members, explaining that the tables were closing after paying out a series of seven-figure wins.
One of the biggest was by Newcastle United owner and Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley. He pocketed £1.3 million after just fifteen minutes of roulette play when the ball found his number: 17 black.
“The restaurants and bars will continue to trade as usual,” said the note sent by London Clubs International, the administrators of the Fifty, after 182 years of being nibbled on as prey, a few big whales bit back and enjoyed the last swallow.
Biting the Hand that Feeds
Despite their apparent wealth and all the perks they receive, not all whales can afford their gambling habits. Syrian-born billionaire Fouad Al-Zayat blew through an estimated £25 million in Mayfair, London before calling it quits in 2007, when ordered by the High Court to pay the Aspinall’s Club £2 million, plus £50,000 costs, for a bounced cheque.
Similarly, Saudi Arabian entrepreneur and international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi hurt London’s Ritz Casino by bouncing cheques worth £3.2 million. And the Grosvenor Casinos chain once had to write off £5 million in bad debts, mostly related to a single individual’s unpaid losses—no name given.
Keeping your name out of the news becomes almost impossible when lawsuits and tax authorities get involved. San Francisco-based Ausaf Umar “Omar” Siddiqui used to make $225,000 a year as a top executive at Fry’s Electronics, but his gambling obsession knew no limits as he fed off the credit lines and perks extended by casinos.
“His game was blackjack,” said an employee of the Venetian, where Siddiqui used to stay in the lavish Chairman Suite, with four bedrooms, 24-hour butler service and 26 television screens. “He would bet $200,000 a hand, and he liked to play quick.” He once lost $8 million in a day.
According to Marcia Hartman, a former Las Vegas casino employee who saw Siddiqui in action, “He was playing about as high as you can get. That’s what the casinos are looking for. They are going to give a big player, a casino whale, anything in the world he wants. From an ego point of view, he soaked it up.”
But Siddiqui’s ambition greatly exceeded his resources. Over a ten year period, he amassed gambling losses as high as $167 million. To finance his debt, Siddiqui allegedly got involved in money laundering and wire fraud, taking at least $65.6 million in kickbacks from vendors, with commissions as high as 31 percent, through a “fraudulent company” he set up in 1998.
In 2009, federal agents finally arrested him on fraud charges. With nine counts against him, Siddiqui faced 140 years in prison.
Sometimes, however, a whale’s gambling habit may actually be a symptom of a crime rather than its cause. That was certainly true of the man known on the Las Vegas Strip as “Mr. Ye,” who stayed almost exclusively at the Venetian, playing $200,000 per hand in the casino’s high rolling baccarat salon.
He reportedly lost up to $80 million and received a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini as “thank you gifts” for his play.
As it turns out, Ye’s money came from his import-export business, which was shipping huge quantities of chemicals from Asia into Mexico, and then moving them into the Mexican Mafia’s methamphetamines labs.
A raid on Ye’s Mexico City mansion by drug enforcement agents turned up more than $207 million in cash stashed inside suitcases, file cabinets and closets, and hidden in walls.
Save the Casino Whale
When a whale gets into money trouble, there are not a lot of options. It is not a simple matter of taking out a second mortgage or raiding the children’s college fund.
Most try to win their way out, “chasing the dragon,” which often leads to even greater losses. The amounts at stake are so large, sometimes crime seems like the only way out.
Such was the case with Wayne John Seiler, an Australian energy executive who stole more than $1 million from his employer to pay for his gambling addiction.
He did so by substituting his own bank account number on company invoices to divert funds. A County Court in New South Wales convicted Seiler on four charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception.
According to his attorney, Seiler was a lonely man “totally overawed and seduced” by the lifestyle of a Crown Casino high-roller following the break-up of his marriage. He committed the thefts to “keep up the appearance of his high-rolling lifestyle.” Gambling “took over his entire life.”
This view that whales might be victims and casinos should be held responsible for their massive losses and ultimate behaviour is being tested in courts right now.
In June 2009, gambler Harry Kakavas brought a lawsuit against Australia’s Crown Casino for $35 million, claiming that he was “lured back after a long absence, including by flying him from his former Gold Coast home to Melbourne on its private jet, despite knowing of his pathological gambling addiction.” He owes the casino more than $1 million.
In a similar case, a philanthropist in Nebraska, Terrance “Terry” Watanabe, who owes almost $15 million in Las Vegas gambling debts, brought a suit against Harrah’s Entertainment for alleged “breach of contract, conspiracy and negligence.”
He accuses the casino giant of manipulating him with the “secret intention of siphoning his wealth” by “plying him with drugs and alcohol while he bet and lost millions at roulette and slot machines.”
Watanabe says he suffered a net loss of $112 million playing at two Harrah’s properties, Caesars and the Rio. Their sole intention, he claims, was “to harvest the wealth from a mega-whale whom the casino ruthlessly allowed/encouraged to continue playing while incompetent and incoherent.” Las Vegas odds makers favour the likelihood of an out-of-court settlement.
Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, an ambitious lawyer from Minnesota named Arelia Margarita Taveras filed a $20 million racketeering lawsuit in federal court against seven casinos. After losing over $1 million at the tables, she is claiming that they “had a duty” to notice her compulsive gambling problem and cut her off.
To cover her mounting losses, Taveras had dipped into her clients’ escrow accounts. Disbarred in June 2009, she now faces criminal charges. She lost her $500,000-a-year law practice, her apartment and her parents’ home, and she owes $58,000 in federal taxes. She claims that she considered swerving her car into oncoming traffic to commit suicide.
“I was going for days without eating or sleeping,” Taveras explains. “I would pass out at the tables. They had a duty of care to me. Nobody in their right mind would gamble for four or five straight days without sleeping.”
Except, perhaps, a whale on a losing streak. The casinos’ rebuttal: Taveras brought her problems on herself. Says one observer, “How are you supposed to know whether this was a woman who was just having a good time, or had money and was just lonely, as opposed to someone who couldn’t control themselves?”
How to Become a Virtual Casino Whale
Let’s suppose you don’t have a net worth of billions. You can’t establish a credit line of a million, and you are not willing to risk big bets for hours on end at the craps or baccarat tables. There is still a way to get treated like at high roller by casinos, both online and off: Slot machines.
Instead of table games, a certain breed of mini-whales actually prefers impersonal gaming in the form of slots. Decades ago, when pit bosses determined who received comps and whose place was at the back end of the queue, these players were called “slot sluts” and were treated with disdain.
But as slot profits gradually overtook table gains in the 1990s, new systems were introduced to track and reward these heretofore invisible high-rollers.
Slots are today considered the “cash cows” of the casino floor. They provide consistent service to patrons 24/7. They never take days off. They do not require health insurance.
And in addition to the low overhead, they provide the house with a high advantage—typically four percent or more, and sometimes as high as 25 percent, the maximum allowed by law.
Based upon the formula for theoretical loss, a “slot whale” betting $50 a spin every 10 seconds for four hours at a house advantage of five percent is worth $3,600.
That’s not in league with the $50,000-a-spin roulette whale, but there is another factor associated with slot whales that makes them extremely valuable to a casino: mitigation of risk.
When a roulette player gets on a roll, it can easily cost the house hundreds of thousands in losses, plus all the comps given away. When a slot player hits the top jackpot, it is usually less than $100,000, and it occurs much more rarely than a lucky streak at the table. What’s more, losing with consistency is a characteristic greatly valued by whale hunters.
In this regard, almost all casinos nowadays, including those online, have developed frequent player clubs for slot enthusiasts. It is easy to rate play automatically and generate rewards commiserate with the level of play achieved.
The most valued players are accorded VIP status and given perks previously reserved only for high-rolling table whales.
For example, most online casinos have a Casino VIP Club who will assigns a dedicated “loyalty manager” (akin to a host) to each of its members. This manager can arrange tickets to events, such as Wimbledon tennis matches, football matches, ballet performances, or F-1 racing.
There are special members-only vacations and outings. Cash bonuses and access to high-stakes rooms are also offered.
Of course, the secret to being treated like a loyal whale is to behave like one. Of the many factors commonly taken into account by frequent player programs, there are five you can easily take control of, namely:
1. Become a Regular. The more often you show up the better, even if you do not wager a lot. Frequency of play counts highly in the hierarchy of rating players.
2. Refer Other Players. Many loyalty schemes reward referrals with cash and comps, and they also track lucrative sources. Become the member they depend on for new business, and you will be that much closer to whaledom.
3. Participate in Events. This includes showing up for tournaments, knowing about and taking part in promotions, signing up for offers, and otherwise involving yourself in all aspects of casino activities.
4. Use Your Comps. It does nobody any good when bonuses go unused. Be aware of whatever deadlines are mandated and take advantage of all that is given away.
5. Befriend Your Host. Get on a first name basis with a person in charge of comps. Even though much of the tracking is automated, personal contact with an account manager can often spell the difference between being treated like a whale or being left to tread water all on your own.
And one more suggestion: If you do enjoy table games, even if you always bet the minimum, be sure to introduce yourself to the pit crew or show your player’s card whenever you buy in. Then, ask to be rated.
Having your name known and getting rated is the only way to qualify for comps. If you do this every time you play, the rewards will build up. Soon, you can stop being a flea and start swimming with the big fish.