Every Monday morning, high-roller host Steve Cyr used to take a private plane from Las Vegas to San Diego. There he would collect “Mr. C,” one of his wealthiest and most free-spending clients. Steve made sure Mr. C. was settled at the blackjack table by 9 am, and would have him home again by 4:45 in the afternoon. That way, Mr. C could pretend to his family that he’d been at work all day, running his vast construction company. One Monday in 1994, Mr. C arrived, excited at having landed a $200 million job that would make him a $30 million profit. This would enable him to pay off his casino debts (estimated at around $11 million, shared between various casinos), retire and live off the interest. All he needed to close the deal was a deposit of $350,000 paid in cash by the following Friday, but as he had taken out loans on all his equipment, he decided he’d try to win it at the tables. Playing $20,000 a hand, he was up $300,000 in the first half-hour, had amassed $700,000 by lunch and by mid-afternoon, after a miraculous run of luck, was showing a profit of $1.5 million.
Nervous that a huge sum of money was about to walk out the door, the casino persuaded Mr. C. to stay for dinner, enjoy a bottle of champagne and play a little more. As a safeguard, he had a check cut for $400,000 — enough to meet his business needs and show a little profit besides — that he gave to Steve for safekeeping. He ordered Steve that on no account was he to let him spend it. But when he returned to the table after dinner, his luck had changed, and by 10 the next morning, he’d gambled away the lot, including the check he’d given to Steve, plus another half-million. Over the next 48 hours, he lost $2 million more in the other casinos trying to win it back. Six months later, he had lost everything and filed for bankruptcy. Six years after that, his sons still won’t speak to him.
“They’re going to gamble anyway; they might as well gamble with me,” says Steve 36, from his base at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. For 15 years, his job has been finding men like Mr. C, getting them to come to his casinos, separating them from their money and sending them home thinking they’ve had the time of their life.
“A third of my players have so much money that it doesn’t matter,” says Steve. “They can lose $100,000 and it doesn’t affect them. A third shouldn’t be here, but they are. And a third are young people trying it out. As their wealth increases, their gambling increases. And they’re not going to stop, because I’m going to make it too much fun for them.”
For the casinos, it makes perfect economic sense to provide rich men with too much fun: By spending thousands, they make millions back. For the gamblers, it’s the fun that makes all the difference. After all, they can buy whatever they want anyway, and they have a relationship with money that’s beyond the imagination of most ordinary people.
“I took a bunch of big players on a cruise around the Greek islands,” recalls Steve. “One of them was an older gentlemen who played up to half a million a trip. He always had to complain about everything, you know, ‘I’ve got to have the biggest suite’ and “My old yacht is bigger than this.’ He even tried to tell the captain how to navigate.
“Now, I had given specific instructions not to bring expensive jewelry and loads of cash because it was a foreign country and I didn’t want to worry about that. Everything was prepaid; I had 20 grand spending money for them and they could take their credit cards, so they didn’t need a lot of cash. Well, we were up on the top deck and this guy, bragging, pulls out this huge wad of cash, and I said, ‘What the hell did you bring that for?’ He said, ‘I always walk around with this much.’ At just about the end of that sentence, we hit a pretty big swell, he was jolted against the rail, and it just went right out the into the sea like confetti. He had a Silence of the Lambs look of terror on his face. He lost two checks for $300,000 and 40 grand in cash.”
In order to lure the high rollers (the wealthiest of which are known as “whales”) into the Hard Rock Casino, Steve employs a mixture of genial charm and rocket-fuled salesmanship. He used to watch the movie Glengarry Glen Ross every single morning to absorb the ferocious sales techniques of the Alec Baldwin character. (“He made me watch that movie on my first day,” confirms one of Steve’s trainee hosts. “What’s my name? Fuck you — that’s my name.”) And as a competition for high rollers is intense, Steve has no hesitation about arriving unannounced on the doorsteps of millionaires to pitch them the casino. And he’s not unfamiliar wit the occasional dirty trick. “Say you’re a million-dollar player ad I find out you’re going to Bellagio tomorrow,” he says. “Well, I can get your Bellagio number from central credit. If I call early enough in the morning and get a clerk who doesn’t know what she’s doing, I’ll pretend to be that player. ‘Hey, honey, this is John Smith, account number 12345. My wife is sick, so I can’t make it. Could you cancel my room and my limo?’ Now the guy comes into town, the limo isn’t there, he’s pissed off, and I show up. Works pretty well. That’s dirty, but if I’ve got to get a guy, I’ve got to get a guy.”
Once he has them, he has to keep them. And big players, who are used to having their every whim indulged, need special handling. On the day FHM visits the Hard Rock, Steve is expecting “one of the world’s top 10 slots players,” a man who lost $3 million on the machines last year. To accommodate him, Steve has installed a special slots that cost $100 a pull and pay a jackpot of $250,000. He’s a little nervous about whether his guest will arrive, as he was supposed to come before and didn’t. He’s also expecting an investment banker, his wife and her three girlfriends. “He’s going to fuck ’em all,” he says, checking the complimentary suite to make sure there are enough beds.
To Steve’s relief, the slots king arrives and is soon settled in front of the new machines, feeding them special $100 coins and insisting everyone join him in frequent shots of tequila. One of his entourage asks why he never plays any other games. “Because I have to think too hard,” is the reply. A roar erupts from elsewhere in the casino. “Sounds like someone just won 20 bucks on the craps table,” he laughs, ordering another $20,000 rack of coins. A woman is helping in his quest for a massive jackpot by pressing the Play 2 Credits button with one of her enormous breasts. Steve is pleased at the way things are going, and heads off to another casino to try to seduce another whale he’s heard is in town.
“This guy loses $3 to $5 million a trip,” he says, making his way down the Strip in a limo, “And he’s a disgusting pig. If he’s playing blackjack and wants to go to the bathroom, he’ll just go right there, under the table. But for $3 million a trip, he can shit in the corner if he wants. We can always get a new carpet.” Unfortunately, Steve misses his prey this time, as the whale has left his party, leaving behind a roomful of hookers eating pretzels.
Back at the Hard Rock, a team of 10 people is keeping the slots player busy and making sure he doesn’t get bored. While security guards and cage staff keep him supplied with money, flunkies laugh hard at his jokes and produce leather jackets from the Hard Rock store for him to try on.
Of course, in the long run, the casino always wins, and Steve has to be creative in making sure his clients settle their debts. He estimates that 15 to 20 percent of his players go bloke or stop gambling each year. “Say you owe me a hundred grand and you’re hurting because you don’t have it. I’d call you and say, ‘Ed, I know you’re a degenerate’ — that’s how you have to talk to them — ‘and I know you’re going to come in with cash and gamble. I just want a shot at your money. But if you win, I’ll split it with you.’ Say you come in with 10 grand and win 30, I’ll take 15, take it off the hundred, and I’ll work with you. Now, if you lie to me and I catch you playing someplace else, I can zap your account tomorrow. When you sign that thing for central credit, I can zap any account I find on you. I can do an asset search; I can put a lien on your house. I’ll motherfuck you. I’ll shake your hand Sunday, then turn up at your bank Monday, take the money right out of your account and you’re fucked. If it bounces, that’s a felony in this state, and you’re going to jail. That’s what we did to Larry Flynt. He threatened to throw me out of his office because I took $2.4 million right out of his account. I thought his bodyguards were going to kick my ass. We made up though.”
By Sunday morning, less than 36 hours after his guests started playing, Steve is relieved. His two players — and he looks after 70 men who regularly gamble more than $100,000 per trip — have brought $300,000 through the door. The slots player has dropped $220,000 and headed home happy. And although it seems not everything went smoothly wit the investment banker’s caravan of women, he still found time to lose $80,000. So as Steve settles down to watch the Super Bowl, for once he can relax without having to play nursemaid to his rich friends. “I like gamblers and I like being around gamblers,” he says, “but my goal is that a guy loses a hundred grand, shakes my hand and says, ‘Steve, I had a great time; I’ll see you next month.”