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Rolling Las Vegas

Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 1)

There was an Arab gentleman at the Riviera on the strip. He was betting $1,000 at a time on the "Big Six," a proposition bet that pays even money on a 6-to-5 shot. In effect, on every roll of the dice this fellow was handing the casino $166. (If he was absolutely committed to betting the number six, he could have "placed" the bet with the croupier, who would have charged him the standard 5 percent commission, $50 per $1,000.) Anyone who has played craps for more than ten minutes knows that of all the things you mustn't do, playing the Big Six is foremost. You never play the Big Six; it's the classic sucker bet.

Anyone who has played craps for more than ten minutes also knows that you never tell another person how to spend his money. But the hard-bitten dice players gathered around the Arab's table simply couldn't stand to watch. "I can't take it," said a seasoned crap player named Bob. "It's your money and all, and you can do what you want with it. But do you know you could be saving yourself 11 percent a roll by having the house place the six for you?" he asked the Arab.

Replied the Arab, "Of course, I am perfectly aware of this. But I would rather take the disadvantage than have someone else touch my chips."

This is the kind of gambler who keeps the casino's electric bill paid. And the kind of gambler who ensures the casino can endure the gargantuan swings of fortune.

The odds and the table aren't everything to some gamblers. There are some gamblers who simply crave atmosphere over value. They often end up at some of Las Vegas's "classier" casinos, like the Mirage, famed for its faux volcano. Here, and at many other casinos along the strip, players don't get the full odds, the amount of money you can increase your initial wager behind the line, which is available at other gambling establishments. The Frontier on the strip, and Binion's, Union Plaza, and the Lady Luck downtown offer full, or ten times' odds. But most others give two to three times' odds or, on special promotion days, up to five times' odds.

The players at houses like the Mirage, however, are not as concerned about a few percentage points they're giving up to the house as they are with the sensory pleasures of the game: the brilliantly lighted tables, the scantily clad cocktail waitresses, the crisp spring of the carpet. Higher minimum bets also dissuade the plebeian masses from spoiling the loveliness of it all, and whether the bettor is a novice or a veteran of the felt wars, he is treated like the most important high roller who ever walked through the gold-plated doors. Everything about a place like the Mirage contributes to the casino's tony image--and, in turn, the gambler's image of himself. Of course, it is the patron's play that pays the Mirage's bills.

But such subtleties--and giant swings in luck--are what casinos are all about. And the way each institution handles these swings is a direct reflection on how it does business, especially when guys like one prominent New York City businessman, who also happens to be a big gambler, come to town. For his reputation's sake and for the credibility of the casinos' pledge to protect identities, the gentleman in question will remain anonymous. This New Yorker often helicopters to Atlantic City, where he entertains friends and colleagues in a lavish courtesy suite and gambles more than any sane man should. His story is one that tells all there is to know about craps.

One week, the New Yorker flew to Las Vegas to play craps. He had established a credit line at a top casino well into the millions, though he certainly had no intention of playing that much. After a week of shooting dice, calling out combination bets and riding out the inevitable streaks, the New Yorker counted up his credit vouchers and realized he was down close to $600,000. Though he would never admit it to anyone, least of all the casino, this was more than he could afford to lose. He was so distraught he didn't even bother taking the casino's complimentary limousine; like a true New Yorker, he hopped into a cab and headed for the airport.

Now this abrupt action caused some concern at the casino's front offices. The casino loves customers like the New Yorker. It adores them, in fact. Because sure as rolling a seven is a 2-to-1 favorite over a ten, a craps player will over time make the casino very rich. To the casino bosses, such a businessman as the New Yorker is a trophy marlin on the hook -and they are willing to do almost anything to reel him back in.

A limousine was dispatched to retrieve the departing mark. That it happened to be filled with Champagne, gifts and two phenomenally expensive call girls would, the casino hoped, impress upon the New York businessman the casino's sincere desire to take very good care of him. At the airport, the professional companions approached the gambler and delivered a message. "We want you to come back. Anything you want for the rest of your stay you can have, including us." The New Yorker went back.

Three days later, after much imbibing, carousing and yes, crap shooting, the New York businessman/gambler returned to the airport--with $3 million of dice-begotten profit. "It's a wonderful game, he was heard to say. "A wonderful game."

Michael Konik is a writer based in Hollywood, California.


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