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The Whale Hunter

Steve Cyr entices the biggest gamblers to risk millions at casino games in return for over-the-top freebies and service.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Models, May/June 03

(continued from page 1)

Another player, one whom Cyr desperately wants, makes an obscene request: He'd like the casino to send a Gulfstream G-3 jet for him and his friends. Private air transport for a dozen people will cost the Barona $75,000. Initially, the casino balks at this expense. But Cyr goes to bat for his player. "The cost of the G-3 isn't more than two of this guy's bets. On top of that, it guarantees that he'll show up on Thursday night instead of Friday or Saturday. Every casino in Vegas is trying to get him in for the Super Bowl. If we're set to fly in him and his friends, he can't back out." The player, whose $1.5 million line of credit makes him particularly alluring, gets his G-3.

Just days before kickoff, Cyr is still going back and forth with the customer who's indebted to the Venetian, but now he's dangling bait. "I'm telling him that I've got a pair of great seats waiting for him, but he needs to bring us a cashier's check for 50 grand; then it'll be fine," explains Cyr. "The guys asks me if he can get credit from us by paying off the Venetian. I tell him that'd be fine as well. The Venetian doesn't know it, but I'm working on getting them their money."

In debt or not, this gambler is more valued than others, as evidenced by a different player who also has a decimated credit line. "I'm telling him that we weren't able to get any decent seats and I don't want to waste his time. So we'll take a pass now and do something together in the future." As Cyr might put it: It's complete bullshit, but it works.


It seems as if Steve Cyr was born for the game. The son of a Howard Johnson's hotelier, Cyr grew up in Salina, Kansas. He had every intention of going into the family business, even going so far as to attend University of NevadañLas Vegas's hotel management school with that purpose in mind. But while interning at the Barbary Coast Hotel and Casino on the Strip, Cyr discovered that Vegas was a lot more interesting than Kansas and decided to stay.

Cyr's first casino job was at Caesars Palace, where he arranged dinner comps and the like for players who were too small for credit lines. One of his big breaks came after he dumpster-dived outside of a competing casino and retrieved a long list of big-betting customers. Employing the garbage-stained information, Cyr used his brash telephone style to steal business and quickly found himself on the path to success. Relentless salesmanship, intense attention to details, the willingness to play dirty, and a knack for making gamblers feel that he was working for them instead of for the casino all contributed to make Cyr one of the top casino hosts in Las Vegas. Cyr, whose best months have netted him more than $90,000, walks a fine line between the house and the suckers. While he and the casino clearly share a financial interest in seeing players lose, Cyr has a way of getting as much as he possibly can for his guys. "My guys know that I'm not a corporate dick who only cares about keeping a job and getting a bonus," says Cyr. "I need to make the house happy, but I also make sure my players are happy."

Cyr is a bundle of raw nerves and high energy three nights before the big game. He walks through the suites that his players will soon occupy, making sure the appropriate music is on (Stones for one guy, Eagles for another), tuning the TVs to ESPN, fiddling with lights and leaving a few Cohiba Lanceros in some rooms and big bottles of Grey Goose vodka in others. "First impression," he says, sliding open a balcony door, "is everything."

One downside to the Barona is that the casino hasn't acquired its liquor license yet. The Barona is compensating by placing single-serving bottles of booze in its rooms. Cyr knows that these won't cut it with his hardest-drinking players, so he's sending bellhops and butlers out on liquor runs. This way, Cyr can provide full-size bottles that will augment the pewter flasks he's purchased so that his players can do all the drinking they want, wherever they want. "When people drink, it gets their adrenaline going and they play more," says Tanya Chiodina, Cyr's girlfriend and partner. A former bartender at the Pink Taco restaurant at Vegas's Hard Rock Casino, Chiodina initially ingratiated herself to Cyr by providing him with inside info on the bar's highest-betting patrons.

By Thursday night, Cyr's biggest player, a man we'll call Mr. G-3, has checked in. He likes the luxe but comfortable 4,200-square-foot room, with its leather and rustic earth tones, fireplace, Jacuzzi and butler. But the player seems to be even more impressed by the Barona's private gaming room. Unique to the Barona, it's a sanctum, located below the standard high-rollers room, where the biggest whales can gamble in absolute privacy. Abstract art dots the walls of the comfortable wood-paneled lounge, which features a giant-screen TV and a large table loaded with hors
d'oeuvres. Mr. G-3 likes it so much that he's soon playing blackjack for $30,000 to $50,000 per hand, and spewing expletives as he quickly falls behind by some $400,000. Not quite a third of Mr. G-3's credit line, but it's enough to play havoc with the guy's emotional equilibrium.

Soon after he cashes in for his fifth stack of $100,000 in chips, however, something remarkable happens: Mr. G-3 begins to win. And win. And win. Face cards appear to be his inalienable right and in 30 minutes the $400,000 deficit becomes a $500,000 credit. Knowing better than to push things beyond that, he tips the dealer $2,000 and heads to his room for dinner.

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