As Steve Cyr’s voice first boomed down the phone line, I sensed a wild ride ahead. Although his unmistakably all-American, ‘can-do’ enthusiasm was not totally unexpected, the sheer exuberance of his attitude and the fervour with which he recounted his evolution into a Las Vegas ‘superhost’, left me in little doubt as to his credentials. As Steve so eloquently puts it, “I came to this town [Las Vegas] and had no juice. Now I am the juice.”
Although Steve may not be a household name, if you’re a whale (a high roller in gambling parlance) seeking out the crème de la crème of the gambling world, his is a name you must know. Whether negotiating the best possible betting limits on the tables, organizing tickets to impossibly unobtainable events, or taking your children to Sea World while you gamble, Steve is ‘the f***ing man’.
Steve’s is a classic Vegas story. Born and raised in Kansas, he was preparing to follow in the footsteps of his father as an hotelier, when Las Vegas first came knocking. As a student of hotel management at UNLV, Steve fell in love with gaming as quickly as his original plans fell by the wayside. It was during a two-week internship during his study that Steve recalls his first exposure to the realities of Vegas. “I was stationed in surveillance, and on one of my first nights, a guy lost $38,000. I was like, ‘Holy s**t, this is great!”
As a keen student and observer, Steve also learnt very quickly about the power balance in the casino. “I didn’t want to be the hotel manager; the casino host was the guy that had all the power. They were able to come along at any point and tell the hotel manager to eat s**t and die,” Steve quipped with typical straight-shooting aplomb. “You’ve got to have that cocky, no bulls**t attitude or else people are going to abuse you.”
His first job in Las Vegas was as a slot host at the age 21, on the graveyard shift at Caesar’s Palace. His role as a maintenance host required him to tend to the needs of anyone buying in for over $500. “All I’d need to do was say, ‘Hey, I’m Steve Cyr and I’m buying you dinner later. If it was a Saturday night, I’d try to get them back for the Sunday brunch,” he said. “After that, I’d take their name, address, pone number and date of birth, and so began my database of players.”
Tiring very quickly of this role, Steve understood the need to break free of the oft-laborious process of career advancement in the casino game. “First you had to be a dealer, then you’d move up to floorman, pit boss and shift manager, before finally 20 years later you become a host,” he said. Using his telemarketing know-how, he decided to try something different. Asking his manager for a list of all players who hadn’t played in over a year, but had previously lost over $10,000, Steve embarked on a mission that would ultimately revolutionize the way casinos marketed to their clientele. “I just started to get on the phone, and it was so easy,” he remarked with trademark confidence.
In the following six months, Steve earned Caesars Palace $700,000 in new business, but as was the case in those days, he saw barely an extra penny as thanks. In swashbuckling style Steve thought, “F**k that! I wanted to be making the six-figures the old guys were on.” Luckily, he found a receptive ear in the form of Jimmy Newman, who Steve places high on the list with the Steve Wynn’s of the world. Newman allowed Steve to start a boiler room, blessed with a list of all the casinos inactive players. From those humble beginnings, Steve was making $33 million every two years. “I like to think that I had a small role in changing what casino hosts do,” Steve said. “Now they have marketing degrees, know how to use direct mail pieces, and how to get people on the phone.”
In spite of being fired from several jobs through the ’80s because of his abrasive tactics and hyperactive mouth, Steve repaid the faith of those who originally believed in him in spades. “I was definitely the first host to make regular domestic players feel like rock stars,” he said. “If I knew you were a big player, just for coming in I’d throw you $5,000.” To a layperson, this sounds nothing short of lunacy. How could casinos, who so fervently pride themselves on economic management, allow this sort of brash expenditure? Steve explained, “The $5,000 I give a player makes them feel obliged to play, and could cost them $50,000 in the long run,” he continued. “My best conversion came from a guy, who while his girlfriend went on a $3,000 fully-funded shopping spree, lost $238,000 in two hours.”
However, the greatest coup of Steve’s career came when controversial American pornographic magnate Larry Flint joined the growing list of whales. As the story goes, Steve bombarded Flint with phone calls, personal visits, even a fruit basket every Monday for six months, until finally Flint phoned Steve back and said, “Jesus! I feel like I owe you some money.” And how did Steve respond? He gave Flint $100,000 simply to walk into the front door of the Hilton . “I went over to Rio where he was playing and opened a little satchel with 20 $5,000 chips inside and said, ‘These are for you. I don’t care if you ever f***ing use them.” And use them Flint did. He took $1 million out of the Hilton, but as is the case with almost all of Steve’s whales, he soon gave it back along with another $9 million by the year’s end.
It is their relationship with his players that most fascinated me. To very briefly explain the business of Steve Cyr, he acts very much like a Jerry Maguire-type agent, trying to broker the best deal for his clients and the casinos. Unfortunately for his players, the best deal for the casinos means losing money. And when you lose, Steve wins. In Nevada, he operates on ‘theoretical loss’, which means that he receives 5-7% of your credit line, thereby making money even if you win. However, in jurisdictions like California and the Bahamas, Steve works solely on loss. If you win, he sees nothing, but if you lose, the casinos kick him back 10%. Steve is more than happy to put this notion in plain English, “I had a guy lose $1.7 million in the Bahamas the other day, and now I’ve got $170,000 more in the bank.”
With such an emotionally perilous business model, it’s hard to understand how players keep coming back. “Have I burned players out in my career? Absolutely. Have I taken players too high? Absolutely. But my goal is that a guy who loses $50,000 will turn around to me and say, ‘I had such a great time. See you on New Year’s Eve. “He continued, “The thing that separates me from other hosts is that I’m up front with my players; they know I’m making commission. They know that’s what I’m there for, but they also know that I’m getting them the best deal.”
When referring to the ‘best deal’, Steve is speaking of the behind-the-scenes wrangling between casino staff, management, and agents about betting limits, playing conditions and discounts on losses. “I tell my clients, ‘If you wouldn’t go into divorce court without an attorney, how can you go into Las Vegas without Steve Cyr?” Matters that would be considered menial at smaller stakes are of imperative importance for a whale. For example, Steve is able to negotiate whether players can split more than once, or if they can double after a split in blackjack. Further, because almost all high-rollers play on credit, Steve has been known to negotiate discounts on losses in exchange for quick repayment.
However, it is not only his on-table nous that keeps players coming back. As one of his whales stated recently, “It’s not often that Steve says ‘no’ to anything.” Put simply, if you want what money can’t buy, Steve Cyr can get it. Whether is a round at Shadow Creek and a handshake from Tiger Woods, or ringside seats at the Ultimate Fighting Championship and a personal visit from Randy Couture, he’s your man. Just make sure, as Steve blatantly puts it, “Don’t embarrass me afterwards; make sure you get out there and f***ing play.”
One of the most bizarre requests Steve can recall involved his newest whale, a million dollar player at only 32. “I was at the Berona when his girlfriend requested go-go dancers, not strippers, to dance to disco music as they played,” he said sounding still somewhat bemused by the events of that night. “So, we blocked off a private section of the casino and created a sort of mini-discotheque, and he played for 29 hours straight; some of the dancers almost died from exhaustion!”
It is this exact level of hospitality that keeps Steve atop the world of casino hosting. “I don’t care who you are, if you’re a risk taker and a gambler, I want to know you,” he said. “I once threw Bill Gates out of a suite because for all his wealth, he wouldn’t risk a cent. I’d rather have the construction worker that puts up $5,000 in his place.” The mere mention of the Gates incident fuelled a tirade towards celebrity, understandable from a man in his business. “If they [stars] are not going to play, f**k them,” he said belligerently. “Sure I’ve comped Ben Affleck, but Ben will risk $200,000. I’ve taken care of Michael Jordan before, because he brings $100,000 to play blackjack. I’ve also put Charles Barkley in a Sky Villa, but he plays roulette at $5,000 a roll. It’s a very simple equation for me.”
Now with 72 players on his books that risk anywhere from $100,000 to $5 million during a weekend – 11 of which are $1 million and up – Steve has firmly established himself as the whale hunter supremo. Also, having established H-Six as the number one junket organization, what hopes does Steve have for the future? “I think there is still a mystique that Vegas is seedy and full of hookers, but really gambling is accepted; it’s not just for the rich and wiseguys,” he said. “My next goal is to be an owner and I also hope that the future brings legislation of online gaming.”
Here, here, Mr. Cyr. We hope to see you at an online casino nearby in the near future.